Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From the comments of our StoryPlease post

I wanted to share the discussion Greg and I had in the comments with the StoryPlease folks who are creating a story platform for iPhones.

Skip it if you're not interested in technology. I am very interested. I used to be a newspaper reporter and it was obvious to me in the early 90s that the industry was in trouble: declining wages, keeping positions open to save money, being incredibly cheap when it came to things like business cards (weird when you own the printing press). And this was before Craigslist came along and gave away their lunch.

I left for the world of the Internet at the first opportunity and in three years was the editor of one of the biggest web sites in the world. Had I stayed at the newspaper, nothing like that would have happened and today, I'd probably be lucky to still have a job.

There are some parallels to publishing (along with some huge differences). The advice I'd like to give, though, is to be loyal to storytelling. That's the aspect that has lasted through the ages. The formats can change, but the principles and power of it don't. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see a distribution platform like this work, and actually expect someone to succeed out there doing this.

Gregory K. said...

Just for some perspective... an iPhone app returns about 70 cents on the dollar (29ish cents goes to Apple, the rest to the entity who posted the app). If you split that between an author and an illustrator only, it's 35 cents per dollar each. One would assume that StoryPlease is taking a percentage first, of course, and this is where their lack of specifics makes a huge amount of difference. If they take 10 cents, that cuts an even split down to 30 cents each - almost a 15% drop. If they take 20 cents (which doesn't seem outlandish)... that drops an even split to 25 cents per dollar... or nearly 30% lower.

Also, simply putting an app up on the store doesn't guarantee sales - there are over 100,000 apps there, after all, and not all of them sell - so I'd want to know from them how they plan to make sales (even while accepting that they're new and might not yet have a track record to show). This ties back into the math above - selling 1,000 at 1.99 would lead to $700 in the even split (best case) scenario. But 500 at 1.99 in the latter scenario is $250.

Anyway, none of this is reason not to check out the company, but trying to get those details would be pretty important, seems to me.

December 6, 2009 10:21 AM
Martha Brockenbrough said...

Greg, this is really helpful. I asked point blank about the money and you saw the answer I got...very vague. And why do it on a case-by-case basis?

Still, I'm interested in new storytelling platforms. I do think it's good that they're looking for actual storytellers and artists--as opposed to people who think it's easy to do this sort of thing.
December 6, 2009 1:06 PM

Ash Bhoopathy said...

HI Martha and Greg- thanks for letting people know about StoryPlease and for the feedback!

I don't know of other traditional publishers that publish their equity split on blogs. But even if they do, we're new to the game, looking to do things differently than traditional publishers.

There's one thing that's undeniably true: In today's digital world when children have a panoply of media and digital technologies (read: VIDEO GAMES) that compete with analog children's books, a story platform for the iPhone and other digital devices that will be released soon (an iTablet?) will be in demand.

We plan to continue to add nice features to our app to make it really a wonderful experience for kids and parents.

We're particularly looking for artists and writers that are hungry, talented, and not afraid to take some bold steps and try something new. This might be an additional revenue stream for now, but could blossom into something much larger -- and without the strict contractual obligations a publisher might have. Want to publish a digital version of your story and see how it goes before printing it on a dead tree? Why not? Isn't that what the blogging medium has taught us anyway? Pixels are cheap, ink isn't.

For now, I know that we're putting a lot of hard work and effort into making a fabulous platform, and we're looking for people who are willing to put hard work into creating wonderful stories for children.

If we find those people (and only those people), then we'll talk equity with them, in private...

In any event, thanks for the feedback! Good luck to you both, and I'd be honored to give either of you a free version of the app if you wanted to try it.

Cheers!
The StoryPlease team

December 6, 2009 9:14 PM
Martha Brockenbrough said...

Ash,

Publishers pay varying advances based on how many sales they think a book will generate. They also give authors a percentage of sales (the advance is the anticipated first year's sales), and this percentage is fairly standard. I think what people are wondering about is whether you're doing the advance model and what percentage of the overall sales authors/illustrators will receive.

If you're not paying an advance, which tends to be the variable amount, it doesn't seem like a big thing to say what the author/illustrator percentage would be. The total would still depend on sales, which you wouldn't have to reveal.

I think people in the industry are curious about new platforms. We approach this as a business, though, and without knowing what the financial picture might look like, most people are going to stick with the established publishing channels.

December 7, 2009 7:50 AM
yakshaving said...

Publishers pay varying advances based on how many sales they think a book will generate.

Yep, I understand. We're not sure how many sales we can generate just yet. We are not in any financial position to give any advance, and I can be pretty upfront about that. We're not a large company.. in fact we're just three people tryna make something work here.

I understand the rationale behind wanting to know what the equity percentage would be, and I'd be happy to speak to anyone who emails us about that in detail if we think there's a good fit between our work styles.

Definitely see the need to approach this as a business and understand the need to know what the financial picture is like. Unfortunately, the app store is run a little bit more like your local state lottery than a real business.

I think risk averse people should stick with established publishing channels they're familiar with. Traditional books, printed on paper aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Well.. not in the next 5 years anyway :)

Thanks again for your support!

1 comment:

Gregory K. said...

Thanks for posting this, Martha. I'd been meaning to jump in again, and this prompted me.

It was nice to see the StoryPlease team say "hi" and answer questions. I understand why they don't want to be tied to any set formula right now - there's so much unknown.

That said, if part of what they're saying in their outreach is that this could be "an additional revenue stream" or "something much larger," it doesn't seem unfair to know what that might mean. Yes, sales figures are unknowable, and so the "much larger" must be left completely to the imagination for now. But there's a huge difference between being paid per copy sold (and within that, being paid 10 cents or 30 cents), being paid a lump sum, or even being given equity in a developing company in exchange for your work. Perhaps this is decided on a case by case basis, but even stating possibilities or ranges would give authors/illustrators a sense of whether this is worth their time to explore. After all, money is being used as part of the reason to submit... so some clarity would help.

By the way, I don't agree that the app store is like the lottery. Rather, I think it's also a business, and while there are iFart lottery-like exceptions, most apps sell based on the app/developers reaching their target audience as opposed to just making an available app. The app business is starting to mature enough that there are clear ideas about what works and doesn't.

Someone will make money with stories on phones and tablets, and it might very well be StoryPlease. I like that they're not just thinking in terms of replicating a book, but in adding more. Still, there's a big difference between taking a risk as a three person company (and bravo!!!!) and taking a risk submitting to that company. That's the point I was making... and guess I still am!