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Death of digital overstated in recent report

The Publishers Association numbers show consumer ebook sales have collapsed by 17 per cent, but physical book sales are up by 8 per cent[1]. The media took delight in Amazon bashing – “[The Kindle] was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, of Curtis Brown in the Guardian, “ but now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they?”. Is this the death of digital? Absolutely not.

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Smart phones: Changing the rules of the game

Jacob CockcroftJacob Cockcroft is Co-Founder and CEO of The Pigeonhole, a made-for-mobile digital book club, serialising their books in installments delivered straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on the iOS app or website. Here he writes on mobile reading and making digital work for your company.

E-books are on the decline. Digital reading is only for romance novels. Waterstone’s no longer sells Kindle eReaders. Excellent, publishers can go back to business as usual. The physical book has prevailed.

Well, OK, if you want to misread the tea leaves. The inescapable truth is that there will be 2.5 billion smart phone users by 2019, all potential readers. The largest industry oversight is a distinct separation between physical and digital reading, with digital being the cheaper, dirty cousin. There is a tally for physical sales and a tally for digital sales, count up the points and see who wins.

This simplicity fails to understand how mobile phones are hard coded into people’s daily routine, behavior and psychology. They are the single most important discovery tool for anything: holidays, clothes, kettles, and of course books, but this discovery tool could be so much more efficient, if used properly. The art is to exploit the opportunities smart phones provide and, most importantly, to use data driven analytics to hone the message. This is something physical books simply can’t offer (in much the same way that digital books can’t bring the touch, feel and smell of a physical book).

Interaction, sociability, discoverability, immediacy, pinpoint targeting, measurable ROI. View digital reading through a marketing lens and it can bring you all these things. But it has to be fun; it has to compete with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat on the home screen of every IOS or Android device. This is the business of habit-forming products, of providing that 10-15 minute hit of endorphins as someone breastfeeds, or waits for the tube, or a friend to turn up in a bar.

This is the battle that we wage at the Pigeonhole. We are building dynamic reading experiences, something to take part in, to feel as though you are on a collective journey with others, discovering the most exciting books of the moment. It’s not enough to just pipe content onto a phone and expect people to churn through hours of turgid reading, the temptations of the other apps are just too great, even for those with the best intentions. There is no great mystery as to why digital completion rates for traditional reading apps are so low.

You have to make it FUN. Satisfying. Exciting. Challenging. This is all possible, more than possible, it’s real. All of our publishing partners have given their experience the thumbs up, and over half who respond to our surveys would actively recommend the Pigeon to fellow readers. It is still early days (we have a community of over 12,000 users and our Android app is coming in September) but we are getting closer and closer to perfecting the experience.

And it is the author who benefits from us more then anyone. Many publishers are acutely aware that they aren’t delivering for their authors on the marketing front; they just don’t have the bandwidth. Our partnerships solve this, giving the author a direct line to their readers, creating genuine buzz around the book across social media, and facilitating those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to boost the all-important algorithms. In turn, this drives the sales of physical books through direct click-throughs from our site to Amazon and both online and offline word of mouth.

We are the ultimate content marketing platform, using the most powerful thing you can – the book itself. Our serialisations allow any book to fit into any life, whilst offering a structured framework for conversations to play out through between the author and their readers

In this way, digital becomes part of an integrated strategy for the promotion of a book, driving discoverability, author profiles, digital sales and physical sales. Posters on the tube are great, but pound for pound, displays in the Facebook newsfeed of keen readers can be much more powerful. With a holistic strategy like this you really can fulfill the potential digital reading provides.

So my message: Don’t be scared of digital and don’t turn your back on it. You just need to be smarter, more creative and ambitious with it.

Startup snapshot: Books & Magic

Mark Folkenberg Portrait SquareMark Folkenberg is the Founder and CEO of Books & Magic. After years as a professional game developer, Mark and his team have spent the last three years developing their concept and first product.

1) What exactly is Books & Magic?

Books & Magic is a 6-person cocktail of creative minds handpicked from the computer game and book publishing industries, all with a common vision of creating a new genre for books. We are highly inspired by the classical fairy tales, and being located in Copenhagen, we decided to take on the original fairy tale of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen for our first book project.

Our magical augmented reality (AR) book visualises the universe within the text, directly on top of the pages of the book. Simply view the book through our app and the hidden universe is revealed right in front of you.

2) What problem does it solve?

We’ve managed to make the AR experience so convincing and meaningful that it feels like a magical experience. We capture the interest of children and adults by offering a way to actually explore the universe of the book. Fire cannons, unlocking chests or helping the little mermaid on her way are some of the hidden elements that the reader can find and engage with.

Intentionally, the app doesn’t tell the story – for that you would need to read the book. All the raised questions from exploring the universe and the curiosity of finding more hidden elements drives the player into becoming a reader in search of answers.

3) Who is your target market?

The story is the timeless original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, and everyone aged 5+ can be entertained by our magical book. We’ve designed the games with 3 levels of increasing difficulty, so the youngest can play the game which is also challenging the older children.

The book and app can be used solo, each in their own right, however, when they’re used together, the magical book experience is a perfect way to increase the interest for the physical book as well as a great opportunity for parents and children to spend time together.

The product’s main target is parents or grandparents, who wish to share a great story and the original classic with the youngest, to use our digital universe to introduce them to the physical book and perhaps even open their eyes to the magic within the book universe.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

We hope to reach the most of the UK and the rest of the English speaking countries with the message about this new genre, to actually offer children an alternative and less passive use of their mobile devices.

We already offer online purchase and free world wide shipping, but we are very aware that a many parents and grandparents prefer to buy their books in the local bookstore. So we hope to be able to offer this in a broad range of countries during the next year or two.

5) What will be next for Books & Magic?

As a young company, Books & Magic is born out of the digital age. We are a highly creative and very technical company, much more than the average book publisher. We believe in the book format and our take on the digital age is not to dismantle the physical book, but to enhance it.

We embrace the physical separation of the book and the mobile devices and are already working on the next book in the series. A third classical fairy tale book is in the pipeline too. But, we also have something else on the drawing board that I won’t spoil here. You will all have to wait and see. 🙂

Voice-First Future

7 ways to create a premium edition of your book with iBooks Author

iBooks Author is Apple’s digital publishing software, used today to create digital books of all kinds.

A great strategy on how to use iBooks Author – and the interactive, multimedia-driven books it allows you to create – is to turn regular content into ‘premium’ editions by including new bonus features, just like the bonus features of a Blu-Ray movie, and then to charge a modest price premium over the original version.

Here are seven ways to create a premium edition of any book, using iBooks Author:

1) Include the audiobook

Get the original author of a book to record themselves reading the book out loud, and even include additional insights if you like that reside strictly in the audio recording. Then, include that recording within the iBook, with a button on each page that allows the reader to touch it and have the author read to them. Not only does this add immense perceived value to the content, but it also can be monetised as a separate revenue stream by selling the audiobook version separately.

2) Include a glossary

Take all the relevant vocabulary from your title – characters, settings, plot elements if a fiction title, or all relevant terminology from a non-fiction work – and utilise the built-in glossary feature of iBooks Author for your premium edition iBook.  Make sure to hyperlink the glossary terms as appropriate throughout the main text of your work.  Then, monetise the glossary separately as well by producing an iBook that is the ‘dictionary’ of your franchise, and sell that in the iBooks Store as well!

3) Include podcasts, TV interviews, or other media interviews conducted with the author

A curated selection of media appearances made by an author about a new book is a great addition within the actual book!  Readers who are connected with an author, or connected with the topic of a book or a book’s characters, often can’t get enough of the additional insight these media appearances bring.  The multimedia capabilities of an iBook are perfect to be able to include this bonus content.

4) Include video commentary from the author

This is a big one. Having an author speak, directly, yet casually, to the reader about the book or topics at hand, is something readers have shown they are willing to pay a price premium for. And with the rapidly expanding hard drives on iPhones and iPads, while this video might add to the size of an iBook, it is negligible for the end user.  Including video commentary from the author ensures the iBook version will not be ignored by readers, as long as this content is made exclusive to the iBook and otherwise kept off the internet.

5) Include previous books in a series

This practice, which is becoming commonplace in other creative sectors, like video games, makes sense as a consideration for book franchises as well within the iBooks format. Throwing in a previous book in a series, as a bonus inclusion at the end of an iBook, is easy to do and makes it easier for new readers to step up and engage with a franchise knowing they have all the content under one roof.

6) Include hand-written notes, sketches, or photos related to the book’s original production

No matter the genre, or whether we’re talking fiction or non-fiction, readers love to peek behind-the-scenes at the production process of any creative work. Combine that with the knowledge that high-resolution images look great on any current iPhone or iPad, and it’s a no-brainer to include photography, outlines, hand-written notes, or images of any other documents which illuminate the creative process for readers.

7) Include early access to the follow-up book

With iBooks Author and the Apple ecosystem (including iTunes Connect and the iBooks Store itself), publishing new updates to existing titles is easy and seamless.  Letting readers know early access to a follow-up book will be made available via a title update to an original title is a great value-add.

Bradley Metrock is CEO of Score Publishing, a digital media company with the mission of helping people become better interactive content creators. The company partners on content development, offers digital content creation training, hosts several national conferences on digital content creation (including the iBooks Author Conference), and owns and operates leading NCCA-compliant certifications in digital content creation.

ibooks

The Pigeonhole: Serialised, sociable and gamified reading

The Pigeonhole provides readers with serialised, sociable and gamified content. They can join public reading groups or create their own private ones, and save, highlight and comment on their favourite bits. Publishers are able create a buzz around new titles ahead of launch using serialisation, enhance reading experiences with multimedia, test out new products on curated closed reading groups and have access to usage data. Here The Pigeonhole’s Paul French tells us more.

One of the great puzzles in Berlin’s startup scene is its determination to build beautiful products, often at the expense of distribution. ‘Build it and they will come’ is the most foolish thing a startup can tell itself; an engineering bias that sees so many young companies fall apart. The best product doesn’t always win, which is why, as we iterate and improve, I’m fully absorbed in the challenge of marketing The Pigeonhole’s new reading experience.

The challenge is threefold.

Our team has built a boutique online space for savvy digital readers to hang out, a new platform for pioneering authors and a risk-free technology for traditional publishers to experiment with. This trio – and what differentiates digital from traditional publishing – means that my job is not just to sell books. On any given day, we could be testing a new social or gamification product feature, launching a serialisation or drilling into analytical learnings from our new app.

The parade of technologies being created to claim the hearts of mobile readers (for that is what they are) is representative of the current climate: a digital gold rush. And who are readers if not writers? Who are writers if not publishers? We’re embracing the challenge of meeting all three in one place.

In an on-demand culture, more does not equal more. It’s important for us to curate a bespoke book-browsing experience and to make launching books exciting again. Our readers are enjoying a renaissance of Dickensian serialisation and, as we iterate, the first glimpses of what global transmedia storytelling will look like. We want to bring as many people as possible along for the journey. Reading empowers, but sociable reading can bring deep empathy and develop emotional intelligence. It’s also fun.

But the task ahead of us is perilous. There have already been plenty of digital publishing casualties in recent years – months, even. All of which are instructive. The question I love to ask hesitant publishers for Kindle-cradling readers is: “Could you complete this sentence: I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…” The answers give me great hope that the future is far from a closed book.

 

the pigeonholePaul French runs The Pigeonhole’s marketing from Berlin. In the comments, please complete the sentence: “I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…”

FutureBook 2015: Our best posts on mobile reading

It’s the FutureBook Conference 2015 today. This afternoon, Anna Rafferty chaired the discussion ‘On the move: how mobile changes everything’. The panel was comprised of Maureen Scott (Ether Books), Anna Jean Hughes (The Pigeonhole), George Burgess (Gojimo) and James Luscombe (Pan Macmillan).

To join in on the action, we’ve collected together some of our best posts on mobile reading:

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Mobile Reading

Mobile Reading: Why it Matters

This is a guest blog post by Nancy Brown. Nancy is currently managing Worldreader’s content acquisition in Southeast Asia by working with publishers and authors who are interested in extending their reach to global audiences. 

Last April, UNESCO released its study Reading in the Mobile Era. The study looked at the reading habits and preferences of 4,000 Worldreader Mobile users in emerging markets (Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe). The unequivocal conclusion: people are in fact reading on their mobile phones.

Why does this matter?

The increasing ubiquity of mobile technology translates as access for readers and new markets for publishers.

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A very short story: Firing Squad

In the run up to BookMachine Week: The rise of reading on mobiles, short stories and bite-size content – here is a great short story for you to read.

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The warden approached with the blindfold. Would anyone see the sweat breaking off my brow? Sure, everyone was sweating in this heat, but I was different. I would be sweating even if the day were chill.

Would the blindfold be wet too?

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Top 5 digital promo tools: Part 2 – Mobile

There’s has been a huge amount of hype around mobile apps since the New York Times declared a Gold Rush two years ago. Clients are being quoted absurdly high prices for apps. Businesses are developing them purely on the basis that ‘we need an app’ without thinking of how to promote them.

The reality is that they are important. They’re not expensive. They do require a little thought though. Here are two of the best companies active in this sector at the moment.

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