App debate dominates Bologna Tools of Change

App debate dominates Bologna Tools of Change

The financial risks of app creation and the dilemmas of handling digital co-editions were the hot topics at the Bologna Book Fair's first Tools of Change conference.

Delegates from 27 countries were present, and yesterday's event (Sunday 27 March) also had an international following via Twitter. The straightest talking of the day came from Mondadori m.d. Laura Donnini, who said the publisher had sold just 2,000 copies of its most successful app. She warned: "You cannot break even if you spend €20,000 or €40,000 on your app with developers. Do not spend too much money."

Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson, delivering the keynote speech, also warned there was a tension between price and creativity in app development, saying the ongoing economic squeeze made value a key issue. "The downward price pressure is impacting on creative investment and experimentation," she said. "The pricing decisions and content decisions you make now will decide whether we have a market."

Lyle Underkloffer from Disney warned against unnecessary overproduction, saying "Simple is best". But Deborah Forte of Scholastic Media sounded a bullish note. She said: "The person who comes up with something truly great, expensive or not, will drive the market."

The problem of international rights sales was highlighted by revelations of a digital "language divide". Italy had digitised just 7,000 titles by the end of 2010, and despite plans for 2011 expansion, Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries also lag behind their English-language counterparts. Brian O'Leary of Magellan Media spelled out the dilemma, which was to either sell digital rights with territories in the traditional way and risk slow negotiations, leading to consumer frustration and piracy; or sell digital separately from print and risk alienating your print publishing partners.

O'Leary suggested some advantages in digital-first publishing, followed by short print runs on demand, including unencumbered worldwide rights and the option to publish as digital-only in small markets.

Also announced at the event was a new development for Bologna's annual Bologna Ragazzi award, which from 2011 will include a prize for digital publishing, with further details to come at a later date.