Tuesday, 22 November 2011

eBookTreasures III

Here's the last post about eBookTreasures. This one deals with the commercial side.

When we decided to go for this, it was to answer 2 questions:
- how can we help our clients generate revenue?
- how can we provide access to collections on mobile platforms?

Our client base is possessed of some of the greatest treasures in the world, but not with great amounts of money or the appetite for risk. So the commercial model we developed was one that many app developers in this space have used: revenue share. Put simply, we take care of all development and management, we share marketing responsibilities, and the revenues, after the vendor cut, are split. The exact way revenues are split depends on the kind of titles the institution has, and the number of titles they commit to. The better the titles and the more they want to do, the better deal they get.

This effectively gives the library no downside (other than the management opportunity cost), which makes it an easy decision. Which then compels us to keep the quality bar high. We've had to turn away a number of potential clients as we couldn't see us selling enough of their titles to make it worthwhile. To be honest, we're still not sure what the breakeven number is. We know how much work goes into creating an iBook, but we're just about to launch for Kindle, and looking at building out an app. All these costs have to be amortised over the catalogue we have at that point.

We know we'll never sell tens of thousands of any given title - the market for digital facsimiles just isn't that large, but we hope to build a catalogue of several hundred titles each selling respectably over a long period of time. And then there are the crazy spikes we sometimes see. When the last Alice in Wonderland movie came out, we saw 40,000 downloads a month for an online version we did. Nothing to do with us.

Pricing has been interesting. Kindle wisdom would tell you around £2.99 is a sweet spot. But we're not on Kindle, just iBooks for now, and the pricing seems different - not so many self-pubbed authors for one. Then the only alternative to buying some of our digital facsimiles is a print facsimile, and they can cost thousands. Add in the provenance of our titles, and we decided on a somewhat premium pricing model, but still cheaper than Big Six ebooks of their latest hardbacks. So, £9.99 for a complete large facsimile, less for smaller ones. To hedge our bets somewhat, we did highlights editions of books like the Luttrell Psalter and Leonardo's Codex Arundel. To our surprise though, the complete versions have been outselling the highlights versions 2:1. We're slowly learning more about our audience.

We're three months in, so it's early days, but we're really encouraged. Books are dropping into the system week by week, and we're taking a long view of this. We might just be building the greatest library in the world, and making some money for our clients at the same time.

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