Can authors earn worthwhile royalties from apps?

As I mainly earn my living from writing, two dates each year are of particular significance to me: my royalties are paid at the end of March and at the end of September.

I am in the fortunate position of receiving royalties on a relatively large number of educational books.  By no means are the payments vast but they have been pretty steady over the past few years and I am quietly optimistic that they will continue for some years to come as one of my titles has been in print for nearly twenty-three years.

At the end of this March, however, I was particularly keen to discover the results in financial terms of all the work that I did last year in writing materials for apps. These first six apps are in a series called Let’s Do Mental Maths, one for each age-group of primary education. They were developed by a company called Aimer Media and published, as my books are, by Bloomsbury.  One of them won the Bookseller’s FutureBook Award for a digital non-fiction book – an accolade that I was thrilled about but would probably go unnoticed by the typical buyer.

So was it worth the hours spent in completing endless spreadsheets containing the data in a format needed by Aimer to develop the apps?  Perhaps surprisingly, it was.  The royalties on just six apps amounted to twelve per cent of the total I received – certainly quite impressive in relation to my 165 printed titles.  Furthermore, sales were also strong on the six Let’s Do Mental Maths books on which the apps were based – an indication that the two formats are helping each other’s sales.  Of course, twelve per cent of a figure that is not huge is not something to get too excited about but nevertheless it does make a worthwhile extra element to my total income.

What would I recommend to other writers contemplating the idea of creating apps for the first time?  My list of ideals would be as follows:

1. Write materials that are of real value to purchasers rather than just materials that look good in an app format;

2. Work with a professional app developer who can ensure that the finished product looks good, works really well and meets the stringent requirements demanded by Apple or other platform providers;

3. Seek publishers who will give a fair royalty rate and who are willing to back the apps with appropriate publicity;

4. Try to achieve a symbiotic relationship between the apps and related printed materials;

5. Track sales of the apps regularly by using a service such as App Annie;

6. Use as many avenues as possible to keep promoting all your materials.