The book app and the eBook, more than just discoverability separate the two formats

Despite the fact that Amazon clearly dominates book and eBook sales, a significant portion of the digital book publishing industry makes its home inside Apple’s ecosystem. Many of those involved in books within the Apple App Store and iBooks Store come from the tech, design or app development side to things. Here, the book format is blended together with the app builder’s mentality – make your book do something, make it flexible, updatable, and discoverable.

Within the eBook world that deals with Apple’s retail stores, a big debate has been brewing for well over a year: should one launch their eBooks into the iBooks Store, or into the Books category of the App Store?

MMClub-app-screenFor many the issue is all about discoverability. Some developers have told me that they believe apps are more easily discovered inside the App Store than are their eBooks inside the iBooks Store. One reason has to do with the number of books being converted into eBooks that flood the iBooks Store, many of which or simply text conversion – straight ePub.

Another reason to prefer the App Store, one developer told me, was that Apple doesn’t seem to prefer interactive books inside the iBooks Store, whereas creativity and quality of app seems to mean more inside the App Store. I’m not sure I totally agree, but it is true that eBooks created using iBooks Author or other platforms that deliver an interactive experience seem to be preferred by Apple’s team of curators. It is as if Apple was ignoring the areas where they provide the best experience – interactive eBooks – in order to be more like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

But the best and most logical reason many developers still prefer the App Store over the iBooks Store is reader expectations. Inside the App Store, even in the books category, the reader expects to find a product that is not only more interactive, but acts more like an app than a book. That is, it is updated more often, the content changes, there is more input expected from the reader.

The app-books from Disney are good examples. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Paint & Play HD was actually put into the Education category by its publisher, but Apple is currently promoting it inside the Books category under Coloring Books. Is this really a book app, or an app game? It really doesn’t matter because by being placed inside the App Store the buyer knows what to expect – this isn’t simply an eBook that is a children’s story.

Many developers have chosen the Books category to place their apps into over other categories that could have worked just as well. Marvel Comics long ago chose the Books category for their comics newsstand, while launching other apps into the games category. Other comics have done the same, though the Newsstand could have worked for many of them.

Many publishers from Asia have also chosen to use the Books category, even when using the Newsstand at the same time. This creates an interesting problem for them because inside the Newsstand there is no “books” category so using books makes discoverability even more of a problem. Some media observers, a year or so ago, tried to count the number of Newsstand publications available by looking at the categories inside the Newsstand. While seem logical, it ignored the fact that a publisher can place their magazine inside the Newsstand then use another category not found in the Newsstand (strange, I know).

AB-app-screenOne other reason to prefer the App Store involves the tools used to create the digital book product. While some book publishers continue to seek a digital publishing standard, the facts are that the major digital bookstores – Amazon and Apple – are not exactly encouraging this. So one of the biggest challenges facing book publishers is converting their products for the different stores.

But designers such as Joe Zeff Design are using the Adobe DPS to create their apps, and so the App Store is where you will find their products such as Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz (in the Books category) or Notre Dame Athletics (inside Sports). In the case of the Above & Beyond app, additional content was added into the app long after its original release, something that might not occur in a traditional book (other than when an update is necessary). With an app, updates are more the norm, though this is beginning to change for eBooks as publishers realize that updates are a good way to bring readers back to the book.

But if the App Store has certain advantages, one of them – discoverability – appears to be becoming less true. Over the past year developers have seen their download rates decline, and complaints are increasing about the lack of promotional help Apple is giving independent developers and publishers.

“In 2010 I believed you could create a digital product and make money by selling it. I’ve learned three years later that that’s not the best way to monetize an app,” Joe Zeff told TNM a few months ago.

“I’ve learned that there are many business models that can be applied to application development that are much more effective than deriving revenue from one consumer sale after another. That might include sponsorships, that might include using apps to promote other revenue generators, that might include developing apps that build a brand.”

(For the full interview with Zeff, see the new eBook Talking Digital, found inside the iBooks Store – not the App Store.)