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An iOS developoer’s response to Joanna’s “Why I will never by a book App again”

images.jpgEditor’s Note: the comment below, by iOS developer Rachel Blackman, was posted in response to Joanna’s article in which she expressed her frustration about purchasing an iPhone app and then being charged again for the app on the iPad. I thought it important enough to reprint as a main article as we don’t often get a chance to hear directly from people in the industry. PB

As an iOS developer for my day job and an avid reader in whatever moments I can steal with a book, I can sort of see this one both ways.

The truth of things is that people want a version 2.0 of an app with new bells and whistles. They want a new version for the iPad that does things more than just being ‘the iPhone version on a bigger screen,’ and so on.

But if you spend a year writing a new 2.0 version of something from the ground up, you probably still need to have your rent paid. On desktop apps, you can charge upgrade fees to cover the cost of continued development… but the App Store doesn’t allow that. You either have to branch the app, or just give it for free to anyone who’s ever bought any version of it once, no matter how long ago.

Putting it in desktop terms, let’s say that it’s 1998, and you just bought Adobe Photoshop 5.0. It’s a decent program, right? Now in 2000, Adobe comes out with Photoshop 6… but you bought Photoshop 5 two years earlier, so you should darn well get version 6 free! Okay, then in 2002 they come out with Photoshop 7… and by golly, you’re entitled to that one! 2003, Photoshop CS. 2005, CS2. 2007, CS3. And so on.

It’s a nice picture, in theory. Lord knows those of us who do photography wouldn’t mind not having to spend money on Photoshop upgrades every two years. But on the other hand, Adobe probably would’ve found little revenue in Photoshop by the time they’ve been giving away free copies to people for 12 years.

The ‘I’m going to introduce a separate iPad app’ approach is a way for some developers to recapture money after spending developer time and resources writing a new version, designing for a new usage model and so on. Now, I tend to like the universal approach because it’s simpler on my app library (do I really need two versions of everything in iTunes?) and more popular with users, but I also understand as a developer why not everyone’s going to take that path.

So I can concede that apps… well, sometimes someone’s going to sell an iPad version as a separate product. And even if it can be annoying for users, developers are going to have to try to recoup their costs… be it by ads in products, or selling a new version as a separate product.

But now we come to books, and this gets murkier.

As a reader, I get annoyed if I buy an eBook and can’t read it conveniently on multiple things. If I buy a Kindle book from Amazon, I want to be able to read it on my Kindle, but also my iPad and iPhone in a pinch, or my Android phone, or my desktop computer, etc.

I would never make the same assumption about an app; I wouldn’t expect to pay once for, say, 1Password for Mac back at version 2.0, and get the 3.0 Mac, 1.0 Windows, plus iPhone/iPad and Android versions all for free a year later. But eBooks? If suddenly Amazon went, ‘okay, this book can now ONLY be read on Kindle, not any of the other devices we make our app for,’ I would probably be breathing fire and storming the gates.

Now, if I think about it as physical books I find myself leaning more towards the app side of things. If I bought the hardcover of a book when it came out, that doesn’t mean I also get the paperback for free when it comes out several months later. They may have the same /content/, but they’re different /presentations/, and that’s what I’m actually paying for in the end.

Another example would be movies. If I bought a DVD of ‘Avatar’ and then later get a Blu-Ray player, I don’t magically get the Blu-Ray for free because I own the DVD. The content is the same — the movie — but the presentation is different.

With an eBook, I see myself as not buying the /presentation/, but rather the /content/. In fact some people actually consider this a significant flaw with eBooks, as presentation goes out the window when typesetting, font choice and all the other details of layout are left up to the eReader software.

But book ‘apps’ feel like neither fish nor fowl. Conceptually, you feel like you’re buying the content since you’re buying a digital thing you can copy around and all. That’s just like an eBook, right? But in actuality what you’re buying is the presentation, just as if you were buying a physical print copy.

After all, what differentiates a book app from an eBook is all the added features. Animated table of contents! Built-in kitchen timer! Voice-activated search! Pictures you can smell! And most of those have to be handled differently for a tiny smartphone screen and a large tablet screen.

So even though it feels like buying a book app on the iPad should be a purchase of content, all those bullet-pointed features suggest you’re actually buying the presentation.

This seems to lead to a mental disconnect that can be rather jarring to readers/users, as you’ve found.

Now, I don’t care for book apps as a reader, because generally if I’m reading digitally I don’t care as much about the presentation; I want to buy the content to use it where I please. But I also recognize that book apps /are/ selling the presentation.

And just like paperbacks and hardbacks are sold separately, an app set up for presentation on the little iPhone screen and one for the big iPad screen may well be sold separately, too. Especially since they may well have to cover the cost of additional development.


Why I will never buy a book “App” again: how Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” turned me off to i-Apps

51BqXL93GpL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgI’ve been following the magazine ‘app’ discussion with interest, but not a whole lot of surprise. I have bought exactly one book ‘app’ in my life, and following the recent iPad release of said app, will never do so again. There are two reasons. Firstly, I don’t need all these apps cluttering up my iPad screen when I could buy a hundred plain old non-enhanced ebooks and access them all through one little iBooks icon. And secondly, because I strongly resent the expectation some publishers seem to have that I would be willing to pay more than one time for the same content.

The lone book app I bought was ‘How to Cook Everything’ by Mark Bittman, and at the time, I felt it was a very good little purchase. I already owned this book in print (so there’s payment #1) and felt it was worth the perfectly reasonable .99 to get it all searchable, sortable, filterable etc. in a way you could only get electronically. So I paid, again, and bought the app. Judging from the app store reviews, it seems many people bought it based on prior experience with the book, so I am not alone in paying twice either.

I enjoyed the app, but was dismayed at how terrible it looked on the iPad. I kept awaiting an update that would make it universal, but it never came. Instead, over the holiday break, Culinate Inc. quietly released a brand new iPad-only app—at double the price of the iPod version.

This is a fail of epic proportions. Firstly, Bittman is a brand name already. People are buying these apps because they already have the print copy and are familiar with his work. The iPad-only app would be the THIRD time I am paying for the same content! Secondly, to penalize iPad users by charging them double the price of the previous app—when many of the potential users will own the iPod app already—is highway robbery. Completely unjustified!

I know what the producers of this app would say. They’d tell me that they added features to this new app to take full advantage of the iPad’s screen, and that is worth both the higher sticker price and the expectation that people will pay again. To that, I say hogwash. I would rather give up the ‘extras’ and have a plainer app if it meant I could get a universal version and not have to pay—a THIRD time—for the content. And I would ask them if the extra revenue they’re getting from double-dipping on the people they’ll sucker into buying both versions will be worth the lifetime boycott of their app—indeed, of all book ‘apps’ from whomever—from customers like me who will be wary of getting burned again.

I will not be purchasing the update, obviously. Nor will I ever purchase a book or magazine ‘app’ again. You work with the more universal platforms—Adobe ePub, Zinio, anything I can read on more than one machine or platform—or you don’t work with me at all. Culinate, Inc and Mark Bittman by extension are in my bad books now. Culinate, Inc—you should have gone with a universal app, and if you absolutely could not have made that work, you should at least have kept the prices equal. And Mark Bittman, you should have known better than to lie in a bed with such fleas. This will cost you some PR points from the techies like me who still buy your stuff in paper.


Kids: It’s never too late to do the right thing

Hazel Severson, book thief gone straight, with her neighbors Jim and Laurie Gibson

According to this report in the Sacremento Bee, a 95 year-old woman returned a 74 year overdue book to the Amador County Library:

For 95-year-old Hazel Severson, the decision was straightforward. The book didn’t belong to her, so she needed to return it.

“It was the library’s book,” she said. “I wanted to get it back to them.”

The book in question was a first edition of Seaplane Solo by Sir Francis Chichester. It was his 1933 autobiographical account of his solo flight across the Tasman Sea. Hazel’s late husband, Howard Severson, a Sacramento businessman and longtime aviator, had checked it out in 1936.

According to the Bee, “With the help of her longtime South Land Park neighbors, Jim and Laurie Gibson, she turned the book over to Amador County librarian Laura Einstadter on Oct. 13.”

Severson even offered to pay the late fees, which she calculated to ,700, based on a fine of ten cents per day. But the librarian refused, accepting a donation instead. Eisenstadter told the Bee, “We were happy to have the book back. It’s lovely that she and the neighbors cared enough.