Deseret Book creates an app–but why?

6.15.11 | | 22 comments

0-a-mzl.msdqpioj.175x175-75Last 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.

22 comments: “Deseret Book creates an app–but why?

  1. Michael

    Com’on Kent. You already know the answer to your question. You have discussed the placed of Deseret Book in LDS culture for years now.

    DB only thrives if it keeps it prices high and creates a moat around its offerings by limiting availability through retail channels. It caters to a very isolated and naive segment of the LDS population (primarily female) that does not want true gospel scholarship or moral dilemmas in their fiction. They prefer the simple endings where everything ends up OK. It caters to the mountain west political culture and has abandoned any responsibility it has in creating a global, diverse and accommodating LDS culture for all members. Just look at how it mistreats the five million Spanish-speaking members in our Church.

    I think DB’s choice in creating and maintaining this app is a waste of its resources. Sister Dew still refuses to allow Deseret Book to grow to meet its destiny. Fear and simpleness rule in that company.

  2. Course Correction

    Wow! Just what we need. An app to tighten the cultural and intellectual circle for devout Mormons. I fail to see how limiting knowledge to our own group accomplishes the goal of a worldwide church with huge proslytizing goals.

  3. chris

    Marketing and branding. If you want your brand to stay relevant, you need to be in the consumers face. If every book just gets published through Amazon and kindle, etc. then what’s the point of Deseret Book? And the simple fact of the matter is DB does have something to offer their readers that Amazon doesn’t.

    Amazon is a listing service. If you want something that you know is in existence, you can go find it on Amazon. While browsing, you can often come across things you haven’t heard of on Amazon as they are certainly good at that. But Deseret Book is specialized to a certain segment. And as such they not only know what their customers want that is in existence now, they know what their customers want that is not in existence yet. So they have the benefit of not just selling stuff you want now, but being able to develop and distribute content you’ll be interested in the future.

    Take DB away, and that pipeline is going to errode (to the degree that DB is good at it now at least). And DB will most certainly go away if everyone is reading and buying direct from Kindle.

    Also keep in mind. When you buy a book from Kindle, Amazon gets 65%!!!! When you buy a book from DB, they keep it.

    Course Correction sees something nefarious here, as though it’s Amazon’s birthright to inherit 65% of all the revenue from book sales simply because they have a Kindle app. Way to cease any opportunity brother as a reinforcement for your already uncharitable beliefs!

  4. Kent Larsen Post author

    Michael, you aren’t nearly as inhibited as I am.

    I am somewhat confused about DB’s motivation — because I have a hard time understanding how the company can believe that trying to isolate your audience like this will actually work in today’s world.

  5. Wm Morris

    It’s basically the Gospel-link library in app form (or whatever that was called) with the option to add in other titles to the library. I think it’s a pretty decent idea, actually.

    I seriously doubt any of the target audience for this app is really going to limit their culture and intellectual circle to simply this app. That’s naive thinking of its’ own sort.

    As Kent notes, there are times when having a collection of work around one common theme could be very useful in app form.

    And I would suggest that these days app development is a core part of any consumer company’s mission.

  6. Mojo

    I would suggest that these days app development is a core part of any consumer company’s mission.

    And most of chris’s post on marketing and branding (other than the percentages):

    On the surface, and with what I understand about the app (not having downloaded it yet), I agree.

    I may change my mind once I download it and use it.

  7. Kent Larsen Post author

    Chris (3), in the end that is exactly the point, what is the point of Deseret Book? The company seems to think that they are supposed to protect Church members, instead of enlighten them.

    You are right that Amazon is a listing service. A rather good one, if you ask me. Why isn’t Deseret Book a listing service for the Mormon segment? Why does it try to exclude so much of what is available for Mormons? Who made it the expert to tell me what I’m interested in?

    The problem with your view of Deseret Book is that Deseret Book doesn’t do those things well either. And its efforts to “protect” its customers actually end up inhibiting the long-term benefits to Church members. We have fewer good books, and a tougher time finding those books that exist for Mormons because DB is in the way.

    No one is suggesting that DB be taken away. I want DB to be there — I just want them to do a better job and actually help the long-term developemnt of the market for LDS books.

    No one is suggesting that Amazon or other retailers should get a large cut of sales (FWIW, from what I can tell, Apple must be getting 30% of DB’s sales through this app, or they wouldn’t have approved it).

  8. Mojo

    All right, so I downloaded it.

    hey are providing an ebook reader and sales app

    It is NOT a true sales app (like, say, Kindle is presently). To purchase in the iPad, it takes you out of the bookshelf app and sends you into Safari, but this is an Apple issue, not a DB issue.

    Amazon and most every other ebook retailer will be doing the same by the end of the month.

    So kudos to them for knowing the restrictions Apple’s about to put in place and working around them.

    That said:

    First problem. There’s a teeny little “cart” icon in the upper right-hand corner that will take you to the store, but as a whole, I find the arrangement of the icons and what they do (like search) to be klunky and un-intuitive.

    ***

    Second problem. I tried to purchase a title through db.com and the transaction wasn’t going through.

    I was finally able to purchase it in Safari via the app.

    It’ll be a problem if you can’t purchase through db.com and have it sync to your bookshelf.

    ***

    Third problem.

    At db.com, a title I saw said:

    This ebook is readable only on the iPad using the Deseret Bookshelf App. Support for the iPod Touch and iPhone coming soon.

    Lucky I have an iPad.

    ***

    Fourth problem. At db.com I have to ACTIVATE my iPad account. Shades of Microsoft Reader and its DRM scheme requiring activation. (Too bad, too. Microsoft Reader is the most elegant ereading software ever written.)

    ***

    Fifth problem. The fact that these are available on Kindle too means that, if you read EPUB books and/or Kindle books and/or nook books and/or Kobo books and/or Overdrive (library) books and/or iBooks, you now have yet another app to read a specific format from a specific store.

    Which can only mean this is another mutant variation of DRM, possibly Adobe-based, possibly not, which is the last thing anybody needs.

    In this I agree with Kent. They HAVE reinvented the wheel.

    However, I also agree that this is a marketing and branding effort. Lots of companies do this. See the above: nook, Kobo, iBooks.

    ***

    Sixth problem. I can’t port this title out of the iPad and into my hard drive (other than via iTunes backup, which I despise iTunes with the hatred of 1,000 burning suns). I can at least do that with Kindle books and read them on…almost anything I’ve got: PC, BlackBerry, and the Kindle itself.

    BUT. They are in the beginning stages. I’ll be impressed (VERY) if they make apps for everything the way Amazon has, and can sync them across the board. THEN it will be valuable.

    ***

    This is not a problem. It’s an observation:

    I believe the biggest point of this app is to lock down the content of DB to what they can have full control over. I’m a control freak. I get this. But there are other ways to lock down content. I happen to despise locked-down content.

    The second biggest point (I think) is that as I’m looking at it (klunky interface and all), it’s kinda nice having a DB-dedicated app. What they should do is gather the other LDS publishers and charge a license fee to be in the bookstore and available for sale. That way, it’d keep all the Mormons who don’t want to go out into the big bad world of evil books (*koffminekoff*) within their comfort zone. I can totally see why this would be attractive.

    ***

    I’m ambivalent about:

    I don’t know what format this is, but I suspect it’s PDF, because it looks just like a print book and has retained the book’s page numbering system.

    Purchasing is really no more of a hassle (after the initial setup) than iBooks, but more of a hassle than Kindle.

    ***

    These are just a few observations after having played with it for the sum total of about 1/2 hour. I may have more later.

    This is new (possibly beta) and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  9. Mojo

    No one is suggesting that DB be taken away. I want DB to be there — I just want them to do a better job and actually help the long-term developemnt of the market for LDS books.

    They aren’t going to. It’s not in their best interest to do so if their goal is to limit what is “sanctioned” and what is not. And let’s not kid ourselves that what DB sanctions isn’t seen as what the church sanctions.

    No one is suggesting that Amazon or other retailers should get a large cut of sales (FWIW, from what I can tell, Apple must be getting 30% of DB’s sales through this app, or they wouldn’t have approved it).

    No, they reversed that last week. You cannot have a buy button in your app, but you can make it go to the website to buy without penalty.

    NOBODY in their right mind would bow to Apple’s 30% terms, and apparently somebody at Apple finally figured that out.

  10. Mojo

    I also cannot port the book out to my favorite ereader (BlueFire). I resent that. It’s why I don’t buy books at nook or iBooks.

    I’m kinda sorta semi okay with having two apps (BlueFire and Kindle), but more than that is a PITA. The end result is that if I want DB books, I’ll browse their site and go to Amazon.

  11. Larrin

    Currently I can’t even get the app to work on my iPod Touch 4g. It crashes while downloading the free books.

    One more annoyance: It’s at least double the size of any other ebook reader for ipod touch/iphone I can find.

  12. Mojo

    Okay, so my pal Mike Cane just smacked my hand. The new Apple rules are: No BUY BUTTON in the app and no GO TO SITE BUTTON either.

    So if you can’t purchase AT db.com and have it sync, the app is screwed post-June 30.

  13. chris

    Mojo, I just looked around really quick to see the financial reason and that was the first number I came across 65%… apparently it was either outdated or wrong. I’ve seen now it’s down to 30% if you meet certain conditions. In either case, that’s 30% that DB should have every complete expectation of not giving away to Amazon merely because the author doesn’t like the way DB does business now.

    It just doesn’t make sense to give away 10% let alone 30% or 65% of whatever if you don’t need to. Here are the facts. A lot of LDS people know about deseret book. A lot of LDS people trust the DB brand. They will happily buy from DB and not cause DB to give unnecessary profits to Amazon.

    A lot of people don’t know about DB who are LDS. They do know about Amazon. They will find books that interest them on Amazon. DB wins in both cases.

    To the author of this post, you simply misunderstanding channel and distribution marketing. More channels of distribution is better. Especially if you can segment your audience and increase profits (while keeping the price constant).

    I see no reason not to do this. Amazon does not “deserve” 30-35% of DB’s business simply because they have an app that also has other books in it.

  14. chris

    “Surely app development isn’t part of Deseret Book’s core mission!”

    I also want to debate this point. It’s kind of silly if you think about it. You might also ask is retail store front design part of their core mission? Is spending time on retail display fixtures part of their core mission? No, and yes. No, their mission probably involves something about providing uplifting material, etc. to their customers. Yes, in that in order to provide that material you need some dulldrum way to distribute it.

    Which involves researching store locations, meeting with zoning commissions, working with contractors, construction crews, etc. etc. Not to mention all the hassles of shipping, warehousing etc. etc. All of those things have practically nothing to do with their core mission, and yet at the same time, if you fail at one of those things they will fail at their mission. Unless most of the reading world goes digital.

    And then you can just pay 3-5 guys to make a software application and maintain a database. Seems a lot less costly than running hundreds of stores and all the planning, construction, overhead, inventory shrinkage, taxation, vending fees, etc. that goes along with it!

    You’re right to question why they are holding back some titles from Amazon, etc. You’re wrong to think this app is misfocused. If done right it could be the best decision they’ve ever made.

    The late-comers at DB should have been making scriptures apps a long long time ago before standardworks and ldsscriptures.com were on to it!

    If I were DB I would want everyone reading scriptures on my app, and I would want to make the best possible app. And I would be happy to give them free content as well as sell them content on the side. It should be the mecca of the LDS library (irony). They can do things the church gospel app just can’t do.

    So you might as well ask…. seriously, why does the church even have a gospel library app? :)

  15. Mojo

    The late-comers at DB should have been making scriptures apps a long long time ago before standardworks and ldsscriptures.com were on to it!

    If I were DB I would want everyone reading scriptures on my app, and I would want to make the best possible app.

    The church has a complete gospel library app. It has all the standard works, the Ensign, Liahona, Friend, New Era; all the teaching manuals, all the literature, everything. It’s an excellent app. Doesn’t have anything to do with DB.

    The DB bookshelf app does have free books already install in it. One of those is the standard works, but the church’s library app works so wonderfully well, I don’t know why I’d use DB’s.

    So you might as well ask…. seriously, why does the church even have a gospel library app? :)

    Why WOULDN’T they? We are not a church afraid of technology. I would have EXPECTED the church to be on the forefront of that and they were. (I’m a little disappointed with their past negligence of epub and mobi, but oh well.)

  16. chris

    Mojo,
    I’m not really saying the church shouldn’t have an app. But I think a private company could potentially do it better. I think they could add a lot of features and benefits to users that perhaps the church would question why they are “wasting” resources on.

    Does the churches app have tabs? how good is the journal and note taking in the churches app (can I do a key word search on my notes? see a listing of all my notes)? What if I want to highlight just a few words and not an entire verse?

    I think there is a ton of stuff that can be done with the church app and I really hope it happens. I also think a private company can recognize the need and the demand for more (and there are several already doing it) and go out and make it. So DB could potentially do a really good job of it if they were focused on it.

    My thought is the church “should” probably provide a basic app just like the scriptures, but not spend a lot of resources making it the best possible app. If it does 80% of what it needs to for free, that’s pretty good. If they can keep adding to the features and benefits over time without spending too much that’s also good — but it will take time because presumably the church doesn’t need or want to throw a ton of resources at it to make it happen tomorrow. I’m sure the church agrees there are better ways to use its resources than on killer software for spoiled people like me and you with fancy phones or tablets. –but that the same time, it’s also important to do.

    My point is just that a company organized to make sales and deliver value to the customer should be able to do a better job. Especially one with a lot of resources like DB. If I were DB, I’d want to really crush the 2-3 scripture app companies already out there selling their apps in terms of features and benefits and then give it away for free. They’d gain a platform on every phone, tablet, pc, etc. to promote their book sales.

  17. Mojo

    Chris, normally I would agree with you, but while DB is technically a private company, it’s really not.

    And whether they have the resources to take on such a project is…questionable. At best.

  18. Aly

    I still can’t get the db app (via safari on the ipad 2) to let me purchase anything. It keeps losing my details and the transaction never goes through. The db website via my laptop just adds a # to the ebook link when you press buy so you can’t buy it online and then sync via the app either.

    For something that should be polished before hitting the general market, it clearly seems they’ve dropped the ball. Quite disappointed.

  19. Brad

    My first pass at this showed way too many bugs. It’s got to be quick and smooth if they want us to use it, content restrictions aside…

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