Last week the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Deseret Book has produced its own eReader app to make its books available on Apple iPhones and iPads. Since its ebooks were already available on the Kindle, I’ve been thinking about why many publishers have decided to do this, and what it might mean for the future of publishing and for the LDS market.
But the more I look, I can’t find a publisher that is doing what Deseret Book is doing.
Yes, book publishers are creating apps for their books. But in general, those apps are for a single title. In order to either take advantage of the marketing opportunity that selling an app gives them, or to add features not supported in the current format used by ibooks and other readers support, book publishers often spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars creating apps for books.
But this isn’t what Deseret Book has done.
Deseret Book has essentially re-invented the wheel — they are providing an ebook reader and sales app that does the same thing that Apple’s ibooks app and Amazon’s Kindle app (and several others) does. And, from what one reviewer says, the Deseret Book app doesn’t seem to do as good a job. The reviewer says that the Deseret Bookshelf app is slower, crashes occasionally, and doesn’t have as many features as these other apps.
So why another app?
The news articles about the app have all touted the app’s access to more than 1,400 Deseret Book titles (all for sale), which is, as near as I can tell, its main advantage. The reviewer mentioned above says that the Kindle (and Kindle app for the iphone and ipad) only has 1,200 Deseret Book titles, while other apps don’t have any Deseret Book titles available.
By itself that seems like a slim advantage. The review does indicate some features useful to LDS readers—links to the scripture, ability to search all the books purchased. But I don’t see that these, or any feature I can think of, justify a separate app. Are there any ebook features that LDS readers need that other readers don’t need?
Deseret Book is restricting availability of its titles so that the most comprehensive option is to use its app. And in return users get what? One more app using space on the device? The user has to now use at least two apps–one for Deseret Book titles, and another for everything else?
I think I’d be a bit more open to this app if it included all or most Mormon ebooks. There is an advantage to segregating out Mormon items from the noise that comes from the vast volume of titles available. This could be especially helpful for fiction titles that either can’t or don’t include Mormon elements in the description.
Given all this, I am somewhat confused about Deseret Book’s motivation for creating this app instead of simply making the books available through the ibookstore. Its a little hard to believe Deseret Book really wants to create a competing app to ibooks, kindle, stanza and the rest. Is Deseret Book committed to continuing investments in programming this app to keep it competitive with other apps? Surely app development isn’t part of Deseret Book’s core mission!
Instead, this comes across like some kind of attempt to control the market, to keep LDS customers somehow inside Deseret Book’s fold. It may instead be more likely that Deseret Book is trying to serve those customers trying to avoid morally questionable titles, just like seems to be the case for many customers of its stores.
If this is true, then at some point those customers may become dissatisfied when the app isn’t competitive with those done in the broader, national market.