Do Publisher Apps Actually Make Sense?

Yesterday, Eoin Purcell wrote a blog post called “The Opportunity Apple Just Created For Publishers,” pointing out the obvious that we somehow haven’t picked up on. Having empowered publishers to demand agency pricing from Amazon and recently claiming 30% of in-app sales and blocking workarounds, Apple has made it tough for the big e-retailers to make their margins. That 30% is a huge blow.

But, as Eoin points out, publishers could still make a profit if they sold directly to readers through their own apps. If publishers don’t need to offer a retailer a discount of 45% or 55% off the cover price, the 30% Apple commission works well.

But the reason I think we haven’t seen a whole slew of publisher apps is because many publishers are still lacking the brand recognition necessary to make an app useful. Outside genre, publishers rarely have a following. I don’t know a lot of people outside the book industry who loyally read HarperCollins books or collect McClelland & Stewart books. The brand still sits at the author level at best, if not at the category level in most cases. So it doesn’t make sense to create an app that only sells one publisher’s list.

Perhaps publishers could collaborate on an app, but if you don’t have a full offering you probably won’t get very far. Who wants to try to find out which publisher released a book by looking through each publisher’s app? Wouldn’t you just go straight to the iBookstore or to some other e-retailer site you know has everything on offer and click the buy button?

I think there’s still a glitch in the idea for most publishers. But genre publishers should get on it, if they haven’t already.

What’s the solution, other than an extensive branding campaign to build consumer awareness and loyalty? We should really figure this one out because Eoin is right to point out that would be a pretty nice deal for publishers. If you’ve got an idea, let me know below.