Lorena Jones became publishing director of Chronicle Books last fall, and she’s focusing on the newest part of her job: developing dynamic digital content for mobile applications, enhanced e-boooks, and iPads.
The former publisher of Ten Speed, Jones worked at Ten Speed for 15 years. Now she’s going digital and embracing the learning curve.
“Five of us here are trying to learn all this stuff at warp speed,” she said. “We work super collaboratively.” Jones has done about a dozen deals since January, including six iPhone apps and 3 iPad apps. She calls the products “suites.”
She’s developing her talent pool, working with both established Chronicle authors and new writers excited about digital media. “I think of it like the Matrix. I think about what authors know in a 360 degree perspective. How can that knowledge be developed and expanded and rendered in video, audio, an interactive game or a quiz?”
All the big publishing houses are busy developing and producing electronic apps. Ten Speed, for example, made the app for David Lebovitz. Publishers are deciding how much they want to invest and experiment, said Jones. It’s an intriguing issue, since apps sell for just a few dollars compared to a hard-cover cookbook, which typically retail for $25-$35. Publishers need sales in the hundreds of thousands to make the investment add up.
For now, Chronicle is content to experiment. Some of the process is familiar, mirroring producing a book, Jones says. She gets involved at the acquisitions stage, determining whether a book has digital potential. She’s attracted to reference and tool-based books, so cookbooks are a natural. She decides whether the author is suited to the project, and maps out the deliverables and a production schedule.
At this point, since the technology is new, Chronicle plays a big part in imagining and producing the content. Chronicle produces app pieces in-house that cookbook authors have never heard of, she said, like ”a shopping cart with an aggregated shopping list, provided in an Excel spreadsheet.” It is used to create an interactive grocery shopping list, based on recipes the user selects.
For a recipe app, Jones might narrow down a cookbook to 35 essential recipes. Headnotes must be edited or recast for the screen. She identifies opportunities for additional learning moments, such as videos that appear as sidebars. She thinks about what would make more sense as a video versus text, such as whipping egg whites or making caramel. She coaches the author on how to write a script for the audio in these videos, then the author records the media in a studio, with a producer.
What if writers have ideas for a digital content? “They just have to articulate their thoughts, not create a full-fledged proposal.”
I asked why techie authors should work with publishers versus try to create this content on their own as entrepreneurs. At this point they get a lot of hand-holding, said Jones. She feels there is an advantage in Chronicle ‘s vendor relationships. I’d add that the publisher provides some marketing support, a distribution method, and Chronicle pays writers to create digital content.
So what do authors need to do to be attractive in this new medium? “Authors have to learn to work in the video medium,” Jones said. While some can communicate well in audio, it’s not for everybody. But you don’t have to be Giada, she said. Not yet. “We’re not so focused on entertainment quality, more like PBS at this stage.”
What should food writers do to step up their skills? “Get familiar with the devices and the way people are consuming content on them,” she advised. “Everyone should have a smart phone where you can buy and use apps. Have access to an e-reader. We’re all going to know someone who has an iPad. Play around with them, see what you like about them. You will start having those thoughts: this part of what I know would make a great app. ”
What if you’re not interested in developing digital content? Jones is reassuring. “There’s always going to be a market for books, and the digital products we’re making are not replacements,” she said. “There are books that should not have digital products for them, particularly single subject or trendy books.” Asked for an example, she said she didn’t need an app based on 50 gingerbread cookies.
As for me, I just got my first smart phone and spent 15 minutes yesterday trying to type a Twitter message on the super-sensitive Apple keypad. I have a long way to go. I have yet to download the cooking and food apps and play with them, but I’ll get there.
What about you? Are you downloading apps and seeing how they work? Are you fantasizing about your own app or already working on one? Or are you thinking you’ll stick with just type for now? Let’s discuss.