Travel publishers tell tales from tablet land
Peter Guttman, photographer, journalist and author, knows something about making money and burnishing his brand through travel-app publishing.
His Beautiful Planet HD apps for iPhone and iPad, which have been featured by Apple more than a half-dozen times, at their height were producing about $1,600 in sales per day, Guttman says.
The apps, which sell for $1.99 per download and were developed by Banzai Labs, feature more than 600 images (of some 1.2 million the photographer has taken) from Guttman’s travels across 160 countries.
“It’s not always making $1,600 a day, but Beautiful Planet HD has fortunately stayed in the top 20 virtually since the iPad came out,” Guttman says.
Before publishing Beautiful Planet HD, Guttman had been considering paying a developer to create the app, but Banzai Labs approached him and they agreed to share revenue from the app instead, he says.
Guttman says getting your app featured in the App Store has much more impact than a news article, which may give your article “a 3-day bump,” and that publishers should study which apps get featured and why.
Easier said than done, right?
Beautiful Planet HD has been featured in the App Store’s iTunes Travel Top 10, Staff Favorites, Apps for the Great Outdoors, Planetary Science, and Coffee Table Apps, and they periodically rotate back into the lists, Guttman says.
Another tip is to carefully consider how to categorize your app, Guttman says, adding that he categorized his Children Around the World app as a “book” instead of as a travel app and that paid dividends. Guttman calls the download business an “insane” market, with people willing to buy luxury items in other realms but “going crazy if you have the gall to charge 99 cents.”
“If you are going to charge $1.99, you better have your act together,” Guttman warns. Meanwhile, Guttman feels the resources it would take to convert his iOS apps to Android “is not worth the effort.”
Guttman’s remarks took place at a Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) Editors Council meeting in Brooklyn, New York, May 5. Guttman took part in a panel discussion, along with representatives from USA Today and Frommer’s. Catharine Hamm, travel editor at the Los Angeles Times, moderated the conversation, focusing on the theme, “How do publishers spread their content across different mediums?”
Hamm summed up the frustration of many publishers trying to navigate the hodgepodge of platforms. She noted that developing some apps for the Los Angeles Times has been a lengthy and complicated process.
“I’m really glad I’m doing this panel which allows me to ask this question, WTF?” she said, producing much audience laughter.
Here are some key points from the other panelists:
Patty Michalski, editorial mobile manager at USA Today
When working on a big, interactive story, it’s important to get all the stakeholders — Web and the various mobile platforms — together to figure out strategy, Michalski says.
Whether it is for the Web, iPhone, iPad, Kindle or other Android device, “you have to figure out where it’s going to be and then figure out what the content is,” Michalski says.
“There has to be a good marriage of design, usability and content.” And, in that regard, it is important to avoid “letting one area drive the bus” because diverse platforms have myriad requirements, Michalski says.
When the third generation iPad, with its retina display, came out, it was vital to examine images across Web and mobile platforms she says, adding, “We had to make sure they were in tip-top shape.” And, it would be wise to keep in mind that although all the buzz was about the so-called iPad 3, many readers are still using iPads 1 and 2, Michalski says.
Tablets lend themselves to an immersive experience and readership patterns are different than with smartphones, Michalski says. USA Today found that traffic from tablets spikes in the mornings but declines during the middle of the day,” she says.
“We saw tremendous readership [on tablets] starting at 7 p.m. until midnight” and a “resurgence of long-form” article reading, Michalski says.
In addition, USA Today found that readers who download its apps are generally more engaged than users who just browse the Web, Michalski says. Once your mobile products are published, it is important to keep updating them and USA Today does so “continuously,” although some app features have been phased out, she adds.
Jason Clampet, senior online editor, Frommers.com
iPads and Kindles are very different products, Clampet argues. “There are ebooks that look fantastic on an iPad and ebooks that look fantastic on Kindle,” Clampet says, adding that if publishers try to do the same thing on both devices, “it’s going to be crap in one.”
The Kindle is a simpler device than the iPad, Clampet says. “It’s not a matter of cutting and pasting from a different shell into a container,” he adds. Like USA Today, Frommer’s sees different usage patterns based on devices. Clampet says Frommer’s gets a lot more page views per visit from iPad users than from iPhone owners, for example.
“And the return on the Apple investments is always much higher,” Clampet says, noting also that there are multiple stores in play in the Android market so it is harder for developers to get paid. Mobile users can be “hyper-critical,” Clampet says and they don’t shy away from letting you — and everyone else — know if something doesn’t work.
“We’ve dropped apps that weren’t as good as Peter’s,” Clampet quips. Clampet advises publishers to stay focused on their products. “You really need to be selfish about that one product and the time you are working on it,” Clampet says.
BN: Photo from Beautiful Planet HD app.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.