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The App Trap: What are They and Why should Authors Care?

Posted by Brittany Lavin on Thu, Feb 03, 2011 @ 07:06 PM

Director, Author Services, LinDee Rochelle, February 3, 2011:

Many of us have a smart phone. Those who don’t—I think I envy you. Like before the computer, life was so much simpler without all the bells ‘n’ whistles; but here we are ringing and whistling—do we know what song they’re playing?

appsToday dear authors, we’re talkin’ about Apps. I confess, the only ones I have on my phone were there when I bought it from Verizon. In less than two years my near-top-of-the-line 3G phone has been supplanted by the new 4G network, the Droid, and the iPhone. Sigh. I haven’t yet even figured out all the features on this one—including its apps.

But whether you’re using your phone, PC, laptop, e-reader, or iPad, you likely have a desktop-full of apps. Unfortunately, many of us have no idea what the term “apps” really means and how it can be beneficial to you, a hibernating writer/author, if not now, certainly in the near future.

Let’s delve into it together

Definition: Do you believe there is a website named WhatIsAnApp? I never cease to be amazed. Alan Boris explains succinctly: “The short answer: App is short for "application," a software program that performs a (usually) useful function such as word processing; a tool provided by a computer that performs a task to benefit the user.”

Boris surmises that the shorter term “app” is preferred for marketing because in addition to saving space with fewer letters, it also denotes “software meant for smaller devices.” However, the overall term refers to the smallest iPhone app, to the most complex multi-use program. Think Microsoft Word and Excel. In basic terms, says Boris, “Application software performs a task for the user and often generates document files.”

You probably picked up on the reference to Word and Excel, but don’t confuse your individual files with apps—your files are documents, but the Word or Excel program you created (and use) them through is an app(lication). Why they don’t simply call them programs so there’s less confusion, I just don’t know.

Some apps are brand-specific and only perform with their brand’s support—as in Apple’s offerings—rendered usable solely for the iPhone and iPad. Others may work with a variety of phones and devices, but your experience with an app may also vary, per device. As much as Apple would like to keep things proprietary, users will ultimately demand multi-system capabilities.

So how do apps relate to authors?

An app could make one of your books interactive, and/or allow readers to purchase all of your books, and interactive products and writings you might create to brand you and your book(s). With an app readers can make purchases, link to your events page, blog, and bio, and experience you, the author, on a more personal level than ever before. Traditional publishers have been providing apps for their most celebrated authors for the past couple of years.

Where there were few apps for mobile devices back in 2001, as of September 2010, Steve Jobs announced a figure of 250,000 just in the Apple Store. That doesn’t count more than 113,000 in Google’s Android Market—and add hundreds of thousands more available in myriad places around the globe. For writers and authors, this means you can jump on the app bandwagon and create your own, so your readers will never be without you! But it also appears we’re already looking at another technology glut.

While you may be thinking that you’d better find your spot on the bandwagon asap, despite the plethora of apps already available, it may be wise to wait. Just like the e-book landscape, practically before the first wave catches on, the mobile apps industry is shifting with more force than the Earth’s tectonic plates.

From the Seattle Times (02/02/2011), “Apple confirmed that it would require app developers that sell e-books outside of their iPad and iPhone apps — through a website, for example — to also sell the books inside those apps. And purchases that originate in the app must be made through Apple, which keeps a 30 percent cut.” It’s all about the money.

But if you want to grab a side-railing on the bandwagon anyway, check out popular Corona SDK, which offers development software subscriptions from $199 to $349; so for some that price is reasonable if you are a DIY author and want to offer your books and products in the latest technology. However, be prepared to hone your “techie” skills.

Although you won’t necessarily need to learn HTML, you will have to switch off your right brain and engage your logical left brain to create an app. Other app development companies specifically for authors provide the service for you—albeit a bit pricey, averaging around $1,000. And of course, this will require a significant amount of time away from your right brain and your writing muse.

apps2You might want to let the dust settle on the apps industry and watch a while longer. Perhaps a wait-and-see attitude is what’s required before we throw caution to the wind and hook our book to the mobile app bandwagon. Better to wait and find a solid seat rather than be thrown off at the first turn.

However, make no mistake, this is the wave of the publishing future and together with e-books, will rewrite the definition of “book.”

Ciao for now! … LinDee

Tags: infinity publishing, infinity, self publishing, authors, self publishing companies, publishing, publishing industry

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