iPhone Updates: Missing Manual Already #2; More Book Apps Hit iTunes

We released David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual as an iPhone App on Friday, and by Saturday it was already the #2 for-pay App in the Books category on iTunes (where it has remained, behind only the Classics App), and it continues to gain ground. In just four days, it has become one of our top sellers of the year in electronic format. Notably, even at the promotional $4.99 price, it is the highest-priced app among the top 50 paid book apps. While $0.99 pricing clearly moves merchandise, it’s unlikely that kind of pricing is sustainable for most Apps, including books (for more, see this excellent post from Andy Finnell on app pricing).


Yesterday brought news that several other major publishers are rolling out iPhone Apps of popular titles, including the Twilight series (which right now is priced at $10.99), via an app development company out of New York, ScrollMotion. I haven’t tried their reader, but the annotation feature shown in the screenshots looks pretty neat. We’ve been very pleased with how our books render in Stanza, especially for computer code, cross references, and tables — all of which are quite common across our catalog.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the news of more iPhone book apps, most vocally TeleRead blogger (and TOC Conference panelist) David Rothman:

Some consumers may want hundreds of books on their iPhones. Should publishers put such a crimp on their purchases? And will apps be the easiest things to organize into libraries? I’m open minded about the O’Reilly iPhone guide as an app, given its connection with the machine. But please don’ make an app of every book!

While I share David’s concerns about format lock-in (a big reason we offer many of our books in a variety of DRM-free formats), I think his distaste of standalone book apps is misplaced. Yes, it’s true that right now the iPhone can only hold 148 apps. But given the nature of the device, I don’t think it’s likely that most customers will begin using it to manage/consume large numbers of books they intend to keep for long periods of time. Books on the iPhone likely serve the same function for readers as games do — temporary entertainment, likely to be replaced by the next cool thing that comes along. I’ve deleted dozens of apps myself, at least a few of them ones I paid for.

But regardless of where your personal opinion lies on that issue, if you’re a publisher there are several things to keep in mind as you consider the App Store as a distribution channel:

  • Apple has tremendous power in this relationship. They’re taking 30 percent right off the top, and they alone decide if and when your app appears. For many of your potential customers in this new market, that’s just fine. They don’t care about you or your other products. They care about entertaining/amusing/informing themselves.
  • The App Store is a vibrant and thriving marketplace, but it’s still in its infancy. There is a lot to learn about how to price and promote books this way. For example, here’s a list of sites that promote new apps. Some are pay-to-promote, which sounds kinda gross, but isn’t much different from co-op. Here’s more from the same site on pricing.
  • While this depends a lot on the types of books you publish, it’s likely a small but very active segment of your audience feels the same way David does, and will reward you for offering standards-based, DRM-free versions of your books that they know will outlast you, the device-of-the-month, or the DRM format you’re using.
  • Speaking of DRM, stop worrying about piracy. One of our best selling books in electronic form this year is Real World Haskell, which was written out in the open, and is still available in its entirety from the book’s website. For free. This is not an isolated case, and this book has been a commercial success not in spite of its open availability but because of its open availability.

If you’re interested in reviewing the iPhone Missing Manual App, and are willing to share your review on your blog and in the App Store, drop me a line at andrew AT toc.oreilly.com. I have a limited number of promo codes for free access to the App, and it’s first-come, first-served.

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