digital book world workshop notes from 1/24

I’ve been following the tweetstream all day from the Digital Book World conference and I so wish I could be there, if only to meet some of the smarties I follow on Twitter. I had some great takeaways from the workshops yesterday though and was able to pull wisdom out from the publisher-oriented content for my own practice as a writer and 4Culture’s programming as well. Here are the VERY LONG notes I took on Rana Sobhany‘s Mobile Marketing Strategy session. I have some doctoring to do on Alison Norrington’s Transmedia Development notes – they will follow.

Galleycat is blogging some news from the DBW front over on mediabistro. Here is today’s roundup. Also, check out the DBW innovation awards. Added linkage: Kristin Nehls is posting great updates on her blog, as is Paul Biba, very thoroughly.

Mobile Strategy: Marketing Content in an iPhone/iPad era

Rana June Sobhany

Rana is all about mobile and branding. She’s a musician and tech hound who made apps early on and created DJ for iPad. I think what drives her is innovation informed by an entrepreneurial spirit. She has a lively mind. Her rapid-fire delivery and information rich presentation made for some gaps in my note taking. Sorry, man. Go hear her talk if you can, these notes are just the skeleton of her presentation. The meat is Rana’s experience and knowledge.

When designing apps set proper expectations for what your app will be and do. Her belief system for mobile:

  • Passionate about brand vision
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Metrics, metrics, metrics
  • Rapid iteration while maintaining brand integrity
  • Deliver the highest quality user experience possible, always

Digital Content

Discuss digital content first before mobile.

  • The intrinsic value of publishers is their curation of content. Digital took what was the value of publisher and made much of this function free.
  • Moving from print to digital is difficult, esp. for publishers
  • If curation is what you offer how can you stay relevant? Have great content and curate well. Subscription model an emerging and unknown model.
  • Mobile is like print: readily available. Engagement happens on the users’ terms through short bursts of usage.
  • For years “Year of Mobile” was proclaimed but 2010 proved to be that year.

Mobile Strategy: Marketing Content in an iPhone/iPad era

Briefest history of mobile

  • Mobile and digital parallel industries. Mobile thought of as utility, not as content delivery mechanism.
  • 80’s about carriers. 90’s size of cell phone. 00’s smartphone/date. 10’s iPhone (smart phone) era. 1983 first cell phone call placed. 1999 Motorola StarTac was the first currency of cool – less than a pound. 2003 Palm Treo 600 was first widely distributed convergence device. 2004 razor – very small.  2005 Apple’s first attempt to fix the cell phone industry – flop. 100 songs, didn’t own the hardware, clunky interface. Two years later: the iPhone: very quick adaptation, released on June 29, 2007. July 11, 2008 – Apple App store. Death of the “on deck” model.
  • In early days app developers were not in control of their market. Up to 50% commission, exclusivity, pay up front, no guarantee of representation (competitors products thrown into the mix). Today: 97% chance that when you submit app to App store it will be accepted within 3 days. % better as well.
  • As publishers you have access to a lot of great content
  • Users are looking for content
  • Too many choices, not enough data points.
  • How do you connect the dots?
  • This space is not proprietary. There is a culture of sharing code etc – Collaboration as this space is invented. “Collectively ideate”.

Constraints of the space

  • Small screen
  • Short attentions span (3 minutes high end for app, 30 seconds typical) – users are used to having amazing design
  • Demand for quality
  • Eye fatigue
  • Development costs – still through the roof. You have to make something that is the best that you can do, still need to pay for this.
  • Gatekeepers (app store)

Opportunities (outweigh constraints)

  • Immediate
  • Personal – this is what is magical about the device (phone), IPad to a lesser extent. People are attached to their devices.
  • Custom – this is the thing that Apple did brilliantly. One-click technology used by Amazon & iTunes makes it easy.
  • Measurable (data)
  • Fast – can manage amazing graphics etc.
  • Moore’s Law – devices get cheaper, technology more powerful

So Many Options

  • Where to begin? (Harper Collins app? Multiple apps – focused engagement with one title? Maybe a pushed application with dedicated application is better? Still developing.
  • What platform?
  • What apps to build?
  • All-in-one or discrete apps for each title?
  • How to measure?

Mobile is worth it – don’t be frightened by jargon and terminology. Think about this in terms of what you already understand and know. Don’t be intimidated.



  • Most popular mobile internet device
  • 1OS SDK enables third party developers
  • Development across devices and platforms
  • App store is the killer app – 10 billion downloads
  • It coexists with Apple’s iTunes Music store
  • Divided by Category


  • Google spearheaded the project and created a group of more than 30 tech & mobile companies to develop the platform.
  • It’s an open source operating system
  • First Android was HTC G1 released on T-Mobile in 10/08. Has proliferated across multiple carriers and handsets.
  • Java is used for development
  • Market: Android Market. User experience very like YouTube. Developer – self-service model to post and promote. Paymen is a recent addition to market.


  • A new contender in this arena
  • An enterprise device – a business device
  • Blackberry App World: very high price points, limited functionality


  • Had a stronghold on US smartphone market in 2000’s but dropped off as users switched to Blackberry devices and iPhone.

Windows Mobile

  • Microsoft’s mobile operating system
  • Resembles other Windows operating systems which make it easy for end user


  • Very popular abroad
  • Nokia is Symbian’s biggest customer
  • Number of interface platforms
  • Most difficult to master in development and thus the most expensive

Pitfalls of each platform

iPhone: Most attention, but very crowded space.

Android – open (pros and cons) not very high adoption rate, fragmented hardware, code sucks

Windows mobile – dying for content – muscle behind it, still developing

App Store

  • App download rates are a lot higher than songs, though there is a lot more free content on app store than on iTunes
  • Each iOS device on average has more than 60 apps (2008 average was around 10 apps)

Price per song rising from .99 to $1.05 over time

Music gross margin 10%, App gross margin 30%


Process of Building an App

  • Be very honest with yourself about what you are trying to achieve
  • 12 months of plan – look 4 iterations ahead (phase 1-4)
  • Determine a plan for next 12 months before approaching anyone about an app strategy.
  • If you are not constantly making an app relevant and immediate it’s just bad manners
  • Talk to everyone. Learn as much as you can before committing to a vendor.
  • Vendors make money by confusing you
  • Don’t just choose the easiest path to development – do a SWAT analysis
  • Frontier time in the space – make sure you are working with someone reputable who knows what they are doing
  • App should cost between $20K – 100K, regardless of platform.
  • Test on all devices, all operating systems.
  • Users are not forgiving when it comes to bugs from a brand they respect.


  • Positioning cannot be an afterthought
  • Think like your customer
  • You can’t claim your app is something it isn’t at all
  • Your positioning statement is clearly where you intend to go and you actually intend to get there.
  • My product is _______. It does _________ in a way no other app can by ­­­­­­­­____________. Do this exercise. Hold yourself accountable.
  • Marketing and positioning must be completely integrated into the product planning process, even if on a very basic level. If you do not identify, plan and create the mechanisms for consumers to love your product, they simply won’t.
  • Ask these questions: What does your app do? What does your app do better than anyone else’s? What are the most memorable aspects of your app? In what category of the App store will your product live? What are the key attributes of this section? Think about the other apps listed there as well as what customers expect when they go there.
  • Blue icon =good, red icon=not good – weird fact she discovered and shared to illustrate arcane mechanisms informing consumer choices.
  • Ideally what will your customers experience when they engage and/or experience your app for the first time?
  • Who are the main customers? Your core consumer group.
  • What are their characteristics (income, age, gender)?
  • Why do these customers need your products?
  • How do they find out about the products they acquire?
  • How can you reach your primary audience? (They need to open that app at least once a week)
  • Who is the secondary audience?
  • How can you reach core constituencies – how do they find info: blogs. newspapers, word of mouth?
  • What benefits do your customers receive by downloading your app?
  • What words or phrases would you like to have associated with your app? What words would you not like to have associated with your app.
  • Are there any overlaps between these two answers that will hinder your ability to have consumers think about app the way you would like them to
  • What are your competitors doing right or wrong?
  • What are the lessons you can learn that you can exploit for marketing purposes or from a messaging standpoint.
  • What will it take to make your ision a reality? List individual components.

App store SEO

  • Allowed 255 characters worth of keywords. This is up from the 100 characters originally allowed when keywords were first implemented, which indicates that Apple sees the crowding of the app store.
  • The keyword information you in put becomes part of metadata – be careful.
  • App Store sEO affects Web SEO as well.
  • The description is not used at all at this time for searches in iTunes. However the description appears on the iTunes Preview Web page for your app and is therefore indexed by Google and other search engines.
  • Understand the discovery mechanism.
  • Earned media vs. paid media
  • The kitchen sink for advertising: Long-lead press tied up at least three months before launch. Pertinent but small ad spend – $5-25 K in targeted channel base
  • At least one month of pre-promotion email and data capture and subsequent email blast one week before launch.
  • Forum posts on all pertinent sites including Apple-centric sites such as MacRumors and AppleInsider
  • Use social media to your advantage
  • Doodle Jump highest grossing app in history of paid apps in Apple Store
  • Baby sit your app – if you get a good review email everyone again with this info – builds promotion

Measuring Success

  • Pick someone on the ream to be responsible for metrics and analysis around the mobliel program (executive level dashboards – broad strokes)
  • Fail quickly, iterate rapidly.
  • Even today reaching 500,000 downloads is seen as a success, indicating the shift n expectations from the market as it grows – will


  • Length of engagement – generally measured in minutes. Primary metric.
  • Focused engagement: How long (minutes again) a user spends on a specific screen of your app. For instance if you have built a game how long do users spend on the leaderboard screen? How does this compare to how long they spend on the home screen
  • User preference: by comparing these two metrics length of engagement vs. focused engagement you can see how you can improve your application. You must be smart when using metrics so as to allocate resources wisely.
  • All of the most popular apps designed under the 30 second use case: get in and make something happen within 30 seconds.
  • Click through rate: ratio between the users who have seen a lin k or have clicked on it.
  • Conversions: Downloading vs. opening – to convert download to usage
  • Decay: This is an example of a long term metric. Track how user is using the app – does it remain constant or is there a decay in their user time.

App Distribution

  • You are not married to platform but you should be so as not to dilute your brand.
  • Pricing is key ($4.99 is right price for well-curated content that is done well App Store
  • $2.99 base price on BlackBerry App World
  • Adhere to the pricing of your platform
  • Work closely with marketing team – you have 72 hours to make the launch a success. Be innovative but not too innovative.
  • Launch Day: Work closely with your marketing team to ensure that app launches well


  • This platform is a paradigm shift in computing. Make the right choices for your brand.
  • Sometimes you do everything right and it still fails. This happens in an emerging market.
  • resource for data – great thing about being here now, sharing, collaborating, wide open info
  • In-app purchase: supply the shell, control the content. Get buy in for free and then pay for customization. Psychological perk of customization.
  • Can an app be constructed as the new Netflix interface is, to allow downloading but also to give opportunity to present things you might like to buy- discovery mode. ITunes store really needs to be rebuilt. iTunes in the cloud a big dream.
  • (question from developer with Ink House) Independent distributors that can take content and deliver to devices that can function as curators – possible? Film industry model. Rana: thinks app developers are playing that role now.

About Tina Hoggatt

I am an artist and writer and work for 4Culture, King County's cultural arts organization.
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