What is the point of an augmented reality app for a book?

What is the point of an augmented reality app for a book?

Earlier this year, author Jay Jay Burridge and publisher Bonnier Zaffre published the first story set in the world of Supersaurs.

Imagine a world where dinosaurs didn’t die out. They evolved and live amongst and around us, as normal as dogs and horses and cows. We have saurs as pets. We ride saurs and the Sunday roast is no longer roast beef but roast triceratops, known as tritops: who uses Latin names for common animals?

In Raptors of Paradise, the first of a six-book series set in the world of Supersaurs, Bea and her grandmother go in search of Bea’s parents who disappeared on the Indonesian island of Aru a decade previously. Raptors of Paradise is an action adventure set in the 1930s, an era before smartphones and jet travel, when the world was still full of places unfamiliar to or undiscovered by Western eyes.

To accompany the book, Jay and his author team have produced an augmented reality app that brings the book to life.

Nicholas Lovell with Jay Jay Burridge

The purpose of the app

Jay is a sculptor by trade, a tv presenter by background (Smart, an art show for kids) and now a creator of worlds. He is visual by nature, which is why an action adventure book aimed at 8-12 year olds has pictures. One hundred of them to be exact. Jay’s saurs are feathered and they have adapted and evolved over millions of years. His drawings, and those of illustrator Chris West, evoke the island of Aru, amplify the emotions of the story and visualise the unfamiliar and unique saurs that have emerged from Jay’s imagination.

Jay wanted the saurs to do more though. He wanted them to move, to roar or to pop up.

That was the creative purpose. The commercial purpose was more prosaic. Publishers know little about their customers and authors know even less. When a book is sold in Waterstones or WHSmiths, no one knows who that customer is (unless they used a loyalty card). When it is sold on Amazon, Amazon knows, but it isn’t telling. An author building a six-book series wants to be able to connect with his fans and his superfans.

The app is the core of the strategy.

When I first got involved with Supersaurs, I sat down with Jay and his business partner Matt Nicholls and we worked through the objectives for the app. #1 was to get customer data so we had direct relationships with our audience. #2 was to sell more books. Down at #27 was “cover its costs”.

Eighteen months later and the book is live, the app is live and we are starting on our journey.

The strategy

In 2013, I wrote a book called The Curve (Portfolio Penguin). Drawing on my experience designing free-to-play video games, I argued that all companies have to compete with free, and that it is possible to do so while still making money. The Curve comes in three parts: find your audience (probably, but not necessarily using free); earn the right to talk to them again; enable your superfans to spend lots of money on things they really value.

The Supersaurs app is part of that strategy.

We expect to “find our audience” the traditional way. Through bookshops. Through Bonnier Zaffre’s marketing clout. Through word-of-mouth. Then we encourage everyone who buys the book to download the free app from the AppStore or from Google Play. Every one of the 100 images animates in augmented reality. The Tyrant roars. Colourful saurs pop up from the page in glorious colour, displaying their plumage or courtship rituals. Rain hisses down. Images spin and rotate.

Players can also partake in a 50 mission game, exploring the island of Aru, helping the heroes and hindering the villains. They must search for saurs and use lateral thinking: What would a hungry former-soldier be prepared to eat for breakfast? What do you feed a Dwarf Tyrant, the evolved descendant of a tyrannosaur, to stop him taking a bite out of the nearest human?

The app encourages people to give us their email address. So far, about 15% of people who have downloaded the app have done so. In return, we send them a short series of welcome emails with goodies from Jay’s imagination: colouring sheets, app hints, do not disturb signs for their bedroom doors and a raptor that can be printed and, with clever folding, turned into a 3D model.

This is the second part of the Curve: earning the right to talk to them again. We want to build a mailing list of people who like our books (or, more likely, their parents). We want to be able to tell them when books 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 come out. As our offering grows, we want to be able to tell them about that too: merchandising, events, spin-offs and more.

And that is where enabling the superfans come in. Because we have a direct connection with our audience, we can drive purchases of all books in the series. We can turn a reader who buys our book because they saw it on a bookseller’s shelf or borrows it in the library into a fan who we can encourage to buy our next book on launch day, and then a Superfan who buys tea-towels showing the best cuts on a tritops, Supersaurs caps and a range of other merchandise.

The strategy is in the early days. We’ve learned a lot. Our app has not yet been featured by Apple, a key marketing component for most apps, because it requires ownership of a physical book (or a digital book on second device) to work. We probably spent more on it that we should have done, because apps are expensive. We are still honing our marketing funnel from book, to app, to email list to next book.

But the initial signs are encouraging. Amazon reviews highlight the app: “My son was so amazed by how the pages literally came alive! Even as an adult, this totally took me by surprise”; “It cleverly merges the world of interactive and the traditional - a pop up book using modern tech”. We have a 15% signup rate from the app. I don’t yet have tie ratios from books to apps, but it’s looking as if it might be very high. We are building an asset for the long term, becoming a company that has valuable IP in its creative work and also in its direct relationship with its audience.

And we are delighting readers, while also knowing who they are. That makes the commercial instincts in me very happy.

Nicholas Lovell will be talking at FutureBook 2017 next Friday 1st December, on the panel 'From virtual reality to games, how should book people be using interactive tech?' To be there live and take part in the discussion, book your tickets now.