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The story of Spacebar Interactive and an app that everyone’s talking about [INTERVIEW]

Simon Hedger

How about if I told you that a free app was used to promote a book which achieved its year 1 sales target in just 2 months. You’d be impressed, right?

A few months ago, the Spacebar Interactive team created a bespoke app for a book called BOLD – how to be brave in business and win. And it sure is creating a stir.

In most industries, there are a number of brands which stand out and create a cult-like following. BOLD focuses on 14 such businesses, and helps businesses compare their models to these brands.

You might be thinking that you’ve seen this before. But you sure haven’t seen this app. It is totally awesome and has significantly helped to drive book sales. The concept received top scores on FutureBook from Kate Russell, tech reporter for the BBC ClickTV series and has described by those in the know as a ‘real innovation’. The Bold app is just one of a number of apps which Spacebar Interactive are currently developing ready to storm the publishing world.

I interviewed Simon Hedger Grace, Managing Director of Spacebar Interactive to learn more.

 

How did you, the publisher and the author get together?

I was working with Kogan Page on other digital ideas for delivering and marketing books. The breakthrough was that Kogan Page and the Bold authors really understood the huge marketing potential provided by the appeal of apps and the power of social media for the publishing world and were prepared to fully engage with Spacebar’s innovative approach.

 

You made the brave decision of providing a free app for customers. In retrospect, do you think you could have charged for the content?

I have to say that this was as much about Kogan Page and the ‘bold’ approach of the authors adopting a freemium model. Yes we could have charged but in this financial climate, people want to be sure they are getting best value for their money before they commit to spend.

The app helps them to do that by letting the author showcase a ‘free sample’ of what they have to offer. The Bold app, for example, lets readers actually try out the product by using the self assessment tool. The results of this then give them access to free valuable advice from authors who are professional business consultants, at the top of their game.

Once readers are convinced of the quality of the product, they are more likely to buy it. We offer them flexible purchase options to buy the whole book or just the recommended chapters. Interestingly we found that 10% of the downloads produced in-app purchases at full RRP.

 

How does the app relate to the book content?

The main difference between an app like the one we did for Bold, and just browsing through an ebook, is that the app is personalized. It provides readers with a chance to interact with the content.

In the Bold app, for example, readers answer questions devised by the authors to rate their business against the characteristics of successful businesses described in the Bold book. The app analyses the results and provides personalized feedback from the authors about where companies should focus to improve the success of their business.

 

What do you think the success of this app is due to?

For the reader, I think the appeal of the apps is that they are fun and interesting with a great user interface and a personalised feel. By using a self-assessment approach, people can quickly pinpoint exactly what they need to learn or develop, in themselves or their company. There is no time wasted reading unnecessary topics or browsing endless websites and money can be saved through free expert advice that directs them to read or purchase exactly what they need.

For publishers and authors, it allows them to respond intelligently to the demands of the current financial climate. Without the expense of making an entire book interactive, the parts that really benefit from becoming interactive are given the treatment they deserve. This provides them with an extremely cost effective, innovative route to market and makes full use of the massively growing marketing power of social media.

 

I’d like to know how sure you can be of the results of self-assessment tools. How do you know how effective the results are?

That would depend on the nature of the material and the expertise of the authors. People will choose an app which has been produced by an author they trust, in exactly the same way that they would if they were buying a book. The Bold authors, for example, are reputable consultants who have been giving live workshops using the material throughout the writing process.

Ultimately the great thing about self assessment is that nobody knows you or your company as well as you do. Self assessment allows you to maximize potential by starting from where you or your company are and building on existing strengths.

 

Simon, there’s been a lot of debate recently about the cost to publishers of working with app developers. What do you recommend?

I think publishers need to be cautious, make sure they really understand what they are getting for their money and insist on flexibility.

I worked for Penguin Books for many years so I am well aware of these issues and keeping costs low for the publishing industry and authors is at the heart of the Spacebar mission. Publishers (including self publishers) will be able to access the app market without having to make the big up front investment that is currently required by being able to use a flexible tiered cost model.

The most cost effective option is that the author/publisher creates their own self assessment tool using a model that we are currently trialing with IC tomorrow, with whom we recently won an innovation award (http://ictomorrow.co.uk). The tool can then be used on the authors website to generate interest and get readers to engage. We call this the ‘Flatpack’ version.

The next cost bracket is that they create their own assessment using Spacebar’s tool and we make it into an app on their behalf. As they have already done some of the work themselves, this is reflected in the final cost of the app. It keeps production costs to an absolute minimum, while still offering the benefit of the unique characteristics of a Spacebar app. This is the ‘Assembly’ version.

We can offer also offer a premium service – the ‘Bespoke’ version – which is totally geared to the customers bespoke requirements and may or may not include assessment tools.

For all our apps, our approach to development ensures that the interactive content is portable across websites, Apple and Android devices. As well as allowing us to provide extremely competitive pricing up front, it avoids the need for costly adaptations and hidden charges further along in the process. Once our web-based projects are live, we also ensure that customers can access the material to make textual changes, without needing to contact us for every minor amendment.

 

What other advice would you give to publishers to keep costs down?

I think the evidence from Bold shows that having the right app in itself saves money – the Bold app paid for itself in sales very early on. The advice I would give publishers is to find a developer who really knows the publishing business well, and then be bold yourself and commit.

 

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Laura Summers

Laura Summers

Co-founder of @bookmachine - the network for forward-thinking #publishing folks; and BookMachine Works - the fresh new creative agency for publishers

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