‘We will break even on this if we can sell about 2,000,” says publisher Christopher Foulkes.
When Apple launched its iBooks Author software in January 2012, the emphasis was firmly on digital textbooks, with some talk about self-publishing potential for authors. 315 year-old wine merchants weren’t mentioned much. Well, at all.
Yet fast forward to 2013 and British firm Berry Bros. & Rudd (est. 1698) has released one of the more impressive ebooks created using Apple’s publishing tools: Jasper Morris’ Inside Burgundy: Côte de Beaune.
The £14.99 e-book was released on Apple’s iBookstore in November 2012, but is getting a serious new year’s marketing push. It makes an interesting case study for independent traditional publishers figuring out the boundaries between ebooks and book-apps.
The ebook takes as its core a section of Morris’ 2010 hardback book Inside Burgundy – other sections will follow – but adds videos, photography, interactive maps and note-taking features for readers to add their own tasting impressions of the various wines.
“A lot of people said ‘it’s a super book, but where’s the screen-based version?’,” says Christopher Foulkes of Berry Bros. & Rudd Press, the company’s joint publishing venture with independent publisher Segrave Foulkes.
The idea: produce a version of the book that would be more portable than a 656-page hardback for people visiting the Côte de Beaune region. Yet Foulkes says when the project was first discussed in 2011, his team wasn’t impressed by existing e-books platforms.
“We started looking seriously at the world of ebooks and were horrified at what we discovered. We were looking for a platform that was stable, flexible and allowed us to produce a book that we knew we’d have control over.”
This was going on at a time when the EPUB3 ebook standard was being signed off, and when Amazon was working on its own Kindle Format 8 to give publishers richer formatting options.
By then, BB&R Press was mulling turning Morris’ book into a fully-fledged app, but despite productive conversations with apps publisher Touch Press, the company balked at the likely costs. “An app costs six figures!” says Foulkes.
The launch of iBooks Author and the iBooks 2 format for iPad textbooks in January 2012 provided the format he was looking for, and work commenced on the first Inside Burgundy e-book, which by necessity would only be available for iPads.
Foulkes says this wasn’t a concern. “We felt that if you had an iPad, you probably drank good wine,” he laughs. “Well, there are exceptions to this rule, but if you draw a circle of iPad owners and Burgundy lovers, those two do intersect.”
A year later, the result is a stylish and elegant e-book with some clever design touches from designer Lizzie Ballantyne, including panoramic images that scroll across two pages without an obvious join in the middle.
The impressive thing – but also the important thing for other publishers to note – is that in an understated way, this e-book is pretty close to some of the iPad book-apps that were generating oohs and aahs in the publishing world a year or two ago – yet designed and produced in-house for much less money.
“We will break even on this if we can sell about 2,000, although we’re not sure if we are going to sell that,” says Foulkes. “We can’t promise anything: we may sell a factor of 10 below or above that!”
That £14.99 price means 2,000 downloads of Inside Burgundy would generate just under £30k of gross revenues, or £21k after Apple’s 30% cut is removed. That gives you some idea of the budget in play here, including commissioning photographs – the hardback book is text-only – and shooting videos.
Foulkes says he was keen not to make the latter gimmicky, but to try to add something to the text. “If you can stand with the author in a Grand Cru vineyard and look down the hill, you’re going to learn something,” he says.
For his part, author Morris is enthusiastic about the implications of digital publishing, including the ability to update his work more often.
BB&R Press has also released a free e-book of his Annual Report 2012/13 as an introduction to the paid title, including his first report on the 2012 vintages and tastings of three, 10 and 20 year-old wines from the region.
“It’s something people would want to buy on an annual basis,” he says, hinting at plans to charge for next year’s version. “Also, the Côte de Beaune book has quite a lot of new material compared to what went into the hardback version.”
Making Inside Burgundy an iPad-only title was based on a choice of publishing formats rather than devices – which is to say BB&R Press was choosing between publishing tools and formats rather than between iOS and Kindle.
A couple of years on from that initial horror at existing ebook formats, does Foulkes see more scope to take this kind of project beyond Apple’s iBookstore? “Maybe, if we could get to grips with EPUB3 without having to be retrained in cybertechnics,” he says.
“For publishers, it doesn’t seem to me that this is accessible. We’ve been working with computers for 20 years, but we don’t feel that we are computer people: we use computers as tools. If we started getting into EPUB3 we’d lose control: our technical ability isn’t there, so we’d have to get specialised people involved, and we’d lose control.”
It’s an interesting insight into the mindset of this particular independent publisher, whose desire for creative control of its ebooks has led it to Apple’s platform rather than Amazon’s.
It hints at iBooks Author being a bigger deal outside the educational textbooks world than was originally suggested, although it also may give Amazon food for thought as it continues to develop its own enhanced ebook publishing tools.
EbooksApplePublishingiPadTablet computersWineAppsStuart Dredgeguardian.co.uk