The Publishing Industry is one dynamic sector that has undergone several transformations with the advent of the Internet. As technology advances, players of this industry have developed systems, cutting across online retailing systems, digital printing, and more recently, digital book formats, to meet the increasing demand of its target audience. These technologies seem to have caught on well with the dynamic market and are gaining much traction.
In spite of this growth in digital publishing, one challenge that persisted was the limited access to retrieve electronically published contents such as books, magazines, newspapers, etc. This is because some E books were only made available on specially designed e-readers by specific book stores. Publisher’s market targets were marginalized and potential readers without these ‘e-readers’ were deprived.
To enhance the readability and access given to readers of digital books, there has been the development of several mobile e-reading apps. This growing trend has been as a result of cues taken from the gradual increase and user preference of mobile apps to mobile websites. These e-reading apps provides users faster and easy access to digitally published contents (books, newspapers and periodicals) on any mobile device; expanding the scope and reach of publications and providing increased returns to publishers.
This study seeks to examine the advent of e-reading mobile apps and the impact they are having on the publishing industry (publishers and readers). It focuses on the factors propelling the usage of mobile apps, the effects they have on publishing firms, users’ experiences with these apps as well as the future prospects of e-reading mobile apps for the publishing industry, including some recommendations on what publishers can do to maximize the potential of these reading apps.
To begin with, mobile apps are application software that are developed for mobile devices such as phones and tablets, usually for information retrieval and communication (Mobile Apps, n.d.). These applications are either pre-installed by the manufacturer or have to be installed by the user either at a cost or free.
Most businesses use mobile apps as a revenue-generating platform, a way of promoting their content or product, sharing content and information with consumers, tracking their users, notifying users of special events and emergencies when the need arises. For example, Financial Institutions use mobile apps to interact with their customers and provide them with services such as paying bills, transferring and receiving money, checking account balance, etc.
E-reading apps are special kind of apps that are specially produced for reading. It is provided through some existing retail eBook distribution channels such as: kindle, Nook, Marvin, Kobo, google play Books, etc. They offer readers some value added features such as highlighting text, annotating, making notes, audio features, etc.
Each apps is designed for peculiar platforms, which helps to differentiate one app from the other. For example, Aldiko is specifically designed for android and supports epub, PDF, and Adobe DRM encrypted eBook. It offers the ability to add notes, highlight text and make notes while reading. The FB reader is also for android, has a dictionary and support in finding books online, etc. Google Play Books also have a font and typeface customization feature, highlighting text, dictionary, map search, etc. IBook comes with a feature to sync all collections, bookmarks, notes, etc. (Corpuz, 2013) These features offered to readers through apps are seen as tools for making reading easier and more comfortable.
Impact of Mobile Apps on Publishing
The advent of e-reading app has affected the publishing industry both positively and negatively;
First of all, the usage of mobile reading devices has undoubtedly increased the audience of many publishers. Due to the increase in the number of potential readers, there is the likelihood that publishers’ sales volume would be affected in a positive way. Unlike previously where eBooks were available to owners of e-readers, the advent of apps has expanded the market by reaching out to owners of other mobile devices either than traditional e-readers.
Secondly, e-reading apps gives publishers the opportunity to know how readers interact with books. Publishers are able to track their readers, know how many hours a reader spends on a particular book, how much time they spend on a session of the book, where they start and pause, which genre of books they prefer to read, etc. (Alter, 2012) These tracking activities obviously allow publishers to know the preferences of their audience and also enable them to easily analyze and refine their services through the various reactions from readers while reading a book. (Alter, 2012)
Also, e-reading apps have become an important tool used by publishers in promoting and branding their products, as well as offering users easy accessibility of their publications. Apps serve as a way of increasing a book’s visibility to customers and providing them information with information as they are requested. These apps also serve as a channel for publishers to interact with their readers.
Despite the above mentioned benefits of mobile apps, there seem to be some existing challenges that poses threats to publishers;
First, readers have high quality expectation but are not ready to pay for the price that comes with meeting such demand. (Hall, 2013) Irrespective of how much resources are invested in the production of eBooks, publishers are push to consider pricing their books very low in order to attract more buyers.
Another concern expressed by most publishers has got to do with the illegal means by which readers gain access to published books. Even with Digital Rights Management Systems in place, some readers have found ways of removing DRM from eBooks. This leaves publishers at a risk of not having a good reflection of sales returns on books.
Readers’ experiences with e – reading mobile apps
In examining different experiences people have with the use of e-readers, an observation of reviews was made on three e-reading apps from Kobo, Kindle and Nook.
kobo Reading Apps
“Still love its simple yet effective interface I’ve been using this app since 2011 & still love it. I now have it on 3 devices and syncs beautifully! Don’t know what people are complaining about” March 26, 2015
“About epub extension I like this app but not the way this crumbles epub book internally… besides, this doesn’t catch up epub extensions itself, so the only way is it to import if recognises the file” March 14, 2015
Kindle Reading Apps
“Obviously all such apps basically do what they are supposed to, but actually I do notice differences, other than “fancy visuals like 3D page-turning.” I find Apple’s books implementation on the iPad much easier than the Kindle app. Not at all because of the skeuomorphic 3D look, but rather because of the ease-of-use” May 2, 2013
“I love my iPad and the Kindle app. My only frustration is that even though I have an Amazon Prime membership, I can’t access the Kindle Lending Library because I don’t own the actual “Kindle Device.” July 13, 2013
Nook Reading Apps
“I love the recently updated version of the nook app. Shopping is easier, I can see the balance on my gift cards, and locating the book I am currently reading is easier than ever. I recommend this app to people all the time” April 3, 2015
“I love the new version of this app! It’s more like the nook. I also like that you can watch video directly from it rather than needing to download the other app” April 4, 2015.
These comments from users clearly indicates that people like the reading apps, but are unsatisfied with what is being offered. They obviously expect more than what the apps offer now. This is a good call for publishers and app developers to start extending services beyond their reach.
The prospects of e-reading mobile apps on the future of the publishing industry
With the evolution of mobile apps, mobile users’ attention is gradually shifting from the web to apps. People’s attention and use of the internet are gradually moving from personal computers (PCs) to mobile devices. An observation in a study from February 2013 to January 2014 in the US, clearly indicates that, the usage of mobile devices eclipse the use of internet on PCs. (Murtagh, 2014) About 99.5% of these consumers use the mobile devices to access content/information. A breakdown of this study is shown below;
With the use of mobile devices, apps are seen to be the most preferred platform as compared to websites. Another survey of about 3,534 smartphone users in UK, US, France, Germany, India and Japan, by Compuware, reports that, 85% of American consumers prefer to use mobile apps (Moth, 2013). Reasons for their preferences as indicated in the study, are; the convenient nature of mobile apps, its fast nature, its ability to ease browsing, better user experience, easy access to bank account and to shop. The diagram below shows consumers’ preferences and reasons for using mobile apps;
This is an indication that mobile apps are gradually taking over the market for most businesses. For publishers, it would be a great avenue to reach their audience since the potential readers spend most of their time on these mobile devices. Due to the progressive increase in the number of usage of mobile devices, there is a likelihood that mobile apps for books will take over the book market.
For developing nations, it would be an opportunity for most readers to get access to books through their mobile phones. This is because the mobile phone is seen as the most used mobile device in developing nations, as a result of the high cost of other mobile devices and computers such as tablets, laptops, e-readers, etc. With the vast number of developing countries in Africa, Africa is seen as the fastest growing continent for mobile phones, with a percentage rate of about 89%. (Zell, 2013). In order for readers in such regions to get access to eBooks, mobile e- reading apps would be a great asset to them, as well as the publishers (which will definitely expand their market).
This is not to anticipate the future of publishing but to look at it from a positive perspective of how publishers can benefit from these apps, as well as giving readers easy accessibility to books, and to provide them with features that will enhance their reading and learning process.
Maximizing the potential of E-reading Apps
From the above mentioned reviews from users, publishers need to explore other new and innovative ways of reaching readers.
First of all, to make these apps more useful to readers, publishers could provide new interactive features for them. An example of such offer, is to provide a more reader friendly audio app for the visually impaired, to enable them highlight, make notes, annotate whiles they listen to their audio books. The iOS kindle reading app offers a similar feature. (Moscaritolo, 2013) Even though these consumers cannot perform activities with their sight, the audio app can be produced to receive commands and provide services the reader requests for whilst reading. A clear example of such feature is Google’s talk back provided on android. With the various tools prompting users of the icons they click on, audio book apps can feature this in the book, by allowing the user to interact with the text through a talk back function. This will enable them to request for services such as; highlighting text, finding meaning of words, and as well as annotating. This feature could also extend an invitation to more users with visual disabilities.
Secondly, publishers could strengthen subscription models to maintain readership on these mobile devices. This will be a way to offer them with reading packages (monthly, bi yearly, yearly, etc). An example of such subscription model for e reading is Oyster. Oyster allows readers of both IOS and android to subscribe. This subscription model comes with a free trial version and also offers one month, three months, six months and one year subscription plans for readers. This model allow readers to get unlimited access to several books, which is updated every day. It also allows readers to search and explore recommended titles based on their likes. Subscribers are also able to download books and read them offline. Such subscription model would help publishers to build their audience, offer readers some packages to help bolster sales.
Knowing the potential of mobile app market in developing countries, there is also the need to offer them the opportunity to pay for books online. To provide that service, mobile payment system could be adopted. This is mainly because the debit and credit card payments are not very common in such regions. These mobile service solutions could help create a payment option for these readers because that have served as a means of offering financial services to certain communities in some developing countries. (Chaia, et al, 2010) This mode of online payment is very uncommon but would be an opportunity for publishers to connect with other readers, as they expand their market to the developing world.
I agree with Natasha Clark’s statement that says, “Mobile could be the key to developing your business and bringing in more traffic, advertising and sales” (Clark, 2014), and I believe that mobile apps are great channels through which companies are branding their businesses and products. The publishing industry is undoubtedly part of this evolution, as they use these apps to brand their firms, market books, reach out to readers, serve the needs of readers, offer features that makes online reading very comfortable, and most importantly, enhancing the learning process through the various tools provided. E-reading apps are obviously a flourishing and a rewarding feature of the publishing industry.
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