I need to start this post with a confession. I build author websites, not apps. So I’m a bit biased in writing this post. That said, I’m going to do my best to give you an honest opinion on this issue, with quotes from others in the field who know more than I do about apps.
Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s start by defining both websites and apps. Most of you use both of these on a regular basis, but may not be totally clear on the differences. For example, you might read news on the NY Times website or you might get highlights on the top stories from the NY Times app. In cases like this one, they’re almost one in the same.
But when it comes to authors, there are distinct differences between the two. And it’s important that you understand these before deciding what you’re going to spend your money on.
The first — and most important — difference to understand is that websites are used for browsing, and an app is a bit more of a commitment. For example, when you’re looking for a good restaurant in the area, you may use your favorite restaurant app. You would then click on the links to some local restaurants that you’ve never tried and “browse” those restaurants’ websites. Let’s say you then pick a restaurant for the evening and absolutely love it. You may decide later on that you want to download that restaurant’s app, through which you can regularly browse the menu, order meals for pick-up, etc…
See what I mean? A website is something that you “visit.” An app is something that you use regularly.
When a LinkedIn member recently started a conversation about whether or not authors should create apps, there were a few interesting responses. The one that I found most helpful was from Kristen McLean, Founder & CEO at Bookigee, Inc.
She said, “Apps are costly, and will generally not return their cost unless you have a good way to promote them, or you make it so awesome that it will spread virally. I have yet to see an app related to a specific book that has performed this way. So, I guess this is a long winded way of saying ‘No, I don’t think so.'”
So does this mean that an app is a bad decision for all authors? That they should all build websites instead?
I would venture to say that’s pretty much the case for 95% of all authors today. After all, what’s the purpose of your author website? Chances are, it’s to sell books. And most people who visit your site probably are first-timers. The purpose of your site should be to entice readers to stay, to read an excerpt, and to buy the book. You’re probably a long way from having a list of loyal readers who will be willing to download your app — be it free or for a minimal cost.
That said, even Kristen says that there are a few exceptions to the website-not-apps rule. For example, if…
1) You’re an app developer yourself, and you can build it with very little cost
2) You’ve got a project that is inherently “transmedia” in that it would benefit from some of the things you can’t do in books but can do in apps. Examples would include adding movies, animations, or game-like interactivity that moves the story forward in unique ways. Examples Kristen gives include Inanimate Alice-http://www.inanimatealice.com and Moonbot’s http://morrislessmore.com/);
3) You are Amanda Havard. http://amandahavard.com/immersedition.Yes, if you’re already a bestselling author, you probably have a whole slew of fans ready to download your app as soon as it’s released. If you’re a self-published author just getting started … not so much.
Now, none of this means that you have to choose between an author website and an app. In an ideal world, you’d have it all: websites, apps, social networking profiles, and e-books in every possible format. But in reality, you have a limited budget and want to use it wisely. In this case, think of an app as something that might be great for you to add down the line, but not a must just yet.