Would you like an app with that?


The world is constantly changing. Since book lovers of all kinds are a part of this world, they’re changing too. Digital solutions are getting more present every day, either to replace something or as an addition to something. That’s why Norwegian publishers and bookstores need to realize that there is a big potential to be exploited. Right now it seems they don’t.

The gas station

An idea really struck me a few months ago during a visit to a Norwegian gas station. Usually I pay for my gas outside by the pumps, but this time I needed something in the store, and went inside to get it. When I wiped my card to pay, the girl behind the counter told me that by entering my phone number on the payment terminal, I would automatically register to a loyalty program; giving me a 10 cent discount per liter every time I wiped my card. Since I didn’t have to spend a lot of time and energy filling out different forms, I found it a pretty good deal and went for it. And even before I reached my doorstep, I received an sms from the gas station, telling me how to complete the registration. Really quick and easy. These things are often irritating and time consuming, but not this one.

I am not saying that publishers and bookstores should do exactly the same thing as gas stations. But the gas station example could surely inspire publishers and bookstores to get to know their customers better, and to dig deeper into the digital world of eBooks and apps. It is obvious there is a lot to gain by taking advantage of these digital opportunities.

Why not jump on the bandwagon? E-books and apps are always in stock without taking up much space, and they are always just a couple of clicks away. You just need to know where to find them.

How come the industry is still hesitating?

Publishers don’t know their digital customers well enough, and hence neither the possibilities created by digital solutions nor how to market their digital products. Also, the customers don’t know the digital products available or where to find them when they are in “buying mode”. It is complicated to find the actual products, even though there are loads of sites selling them.

Take ebok.no (the biggest Norwegian digital book store) as an example. Have Norwegian book lovers even heard of it? Some of us – of course – have, but too many haven’t. Still ebok.no doubled its turnover in 2015 (compared to 2014), and the positive trend – according to statistics from Den norske forleggerforening – doesn’t seem to end.

What about the sites put up by the bookstores? Do they sell eBooks and apps? Of course they do, but it seems they still rank the physical product higher, in spite of the increase of digital readers.

There’s a huge android market too. With over 10 million downloads last year, Aldiko Book Reader is an example of a great, small app in an aspiring market. These apps are user friendly and easy for the reader to handle with their eBook.

The solution

In a competitive and tough market both publishers and bookstores need to get in closer contact with potential customers to increase sales. They need to get to know their customers by getting their names and contact info. If this works out they can even send different information – based on interest – to different customers.

The main key:

  • When someone buys something in a physical bookstore, the store needs to establish a relation with the customer right away, by getting them into a customer register.
  • Paperwork is not a good thing – unless the store wants to scare their customers away. Therefore the register process needs to be quick and easy. Entering a phone number on the payment terminal – like they do in gas stations – is a possible way of doing this.

Everybody wins

Sale doesn’t have to be pushy. At least not if you do it the gas station way. If this works out successfully, the bookstore will be able to adapt their marketing to individual taste, whether it is digital or physical. Making the product «one click away» also makes the threshold for buying lower. As a result publishers and bookstores will be able to sell more books, and authors will be even more inspired to write them. This will be a win-win situation. Even customers would profit from this.

So yes, I would like an app with that.

Monetization strategies for ebooks and book-apps

This post may come across as pretty basic, but clients often ask me about this – so I thought I’d try to write a short overview. Even if nobody else does, at least I can refer to it when someone asks!

So, without further ado, let’s look at a few categories of ways of earning from apps as well as ebooks.

So, this model sounds very simple – and it can be. But as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Publishers delivering their apps for free might get paid by creating value for other products (maybe they sell a paper book in the same series?) or maybe they are looking at an ad-based model, either directly or indirectly. Or maybe it is just seen as general marketing or even market research for a later product. Learning about potential customers is one way to get paid.

Paid app/content
This is the classical “hand me the hot dog and I’ll hand you the money”-scenario. Or rather, tap in your app store of choice, download the content such as app or ebook and charge my credit card as smoothly as possible.

This is a straightforward option. The customer might see the fact that he has to pay before knowing exactly what he is getting as a hurdle. Also, all major app stores charge a fee for selling your app or content this way. This can often be somewhere around 30 percent.

Subscription or paid service
A monthly subscription is an increasingly common way to get paid. The end user often pay a fee to access a library of content of some sort. Sometimes the content is the actual core service (ala Spotify), other times you can have an app as part of a larger offering (ala Dropbox).

The business model is ideal, for the seller, when the usage patterns are like my subscription at the local gym: Paid on time, seldomly used.

Try before you buy was once pretty popular and will fall into the freemium (“free with premium”) category, but more commonly the freemium model involves a taster for free, but a requirement to pay to get the full version. The limitations on the free version vary a lot by type of content, but let’s look at few examples:

– giving away the first chapter of an ebook for free, but doing a traditional per-item pricing on the full ebook
– not charging the first month of a subscription service
– adding additional features by upgrading
– using in-app-purchase to purchase additional titles in a bookshelf app

For ebooks in particular, in addition to the model – choosing the particular channel (as well as technical format, which sometimes is dedicated by the channel, but that might be the topic of another post later) also becomes an important decision to make. Channels include, but are by no means not limited to, the ones we go through quickly below with a few keywords on each.

Amazon: Major ebook player, so far no huge success with its own (Android-based) app store. Huge in US and UK, #1 also many places in the rest of Europe. Marginal in large parts of Asia.

Google: Niche for ebooks, but very strong app store in Google Play. Relatively less willingness to pay for content among Android users, but fast growing user base in many (all?) markets. Huge potential.

Apple: Still the strongest App Store ecosystem for monetization, likely a number two in many markets with their ebooks offering (iBookstore). Relatively closed, but very smooth experience for the end user.

Online bookstores: Many online bookstores also sell ebooks. In some markets they are also operating shared distribution services, so that you can buy in any online bookstore and synchronize to the same app without manually moving files around. Norwegian Bokbasen (linked page in Norwegian) is one example of this type of common service.

Subscription services: Many subscription services start popping up, both for niches and larger general segments. Examples include Safari, Scribd, Oyster, Storytel (popular Nordic initiative primarily for audio books, but also for ebooks), Epic, etc. — even Amazon is doing one. This will be interesting to watch, also from an economic point of view. As far as we know, some of these aggregators are even letting the publishers still sell single titles and taking the risk of offering fixed price to the end user. That is likely to work better with mass adoption than with current specially interested super readers.

If you have comment/correction/additions to this list, let me know and I will be happy to discuss and update my list. The relative importance of the channels also vary quite a bit by geography.

Did you think I would write an entire blog post not mentioning our product? Of course not! But I’ll be brief: We support all of these models with our TapBookAuthor.com tool and supporting platforms, and in many cases the right choice for your content will be to combine several formats and channels. Feel free to reach out if you want to know more.