Hachette UK has "canned" many of its apps to focus on "fewer and better" following its acquisition of mobile apps and games developer Neon Play in June, its chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson has revealed.
At the same time, he said in the future games could be as important to its business as children’s books or sci-fi and fantasy.
Appearing on a "virtual panel" at today's FutureBook Conference (1st December) via video, Hely Hutchinson said that Hachette had adjusted its apps strategy to a "less is more" approach. Publishers are “amateurs” in the app space he admitted, himself unable to name a single example of an app from the book world that had "blown [him] away". Following a review of its app programmes on his new hires’ advice, Hachette had since “canned” many of its apps to focus on "fewer and better".
"Neon Play consists of professionals in the world of app-making and game-making, and marketing and monetising what they do, whereas publishers are all coming at it really as amateurs,” said Hely Hutchinson. “On the basis of their advice we’ve canned a lot of our apps, rethinking our app strategy essentially to do fewer and better with more professional input so they actually have some weight.”
While the mobile games market is “intensely competitive”, with companies throwing millions at the marketing of games, Hachette could add value through its contacts with authors and brands, Hely Hutchinson said. Neon Play would meanwhile be "left free, and plenty of time free, to do what it’s good at”.
Looking to the future, games could be "as important a part of our business as children’s books or sci-fi and fantasy", claimed Hely Hutchinson, who added that diversity was "healthy" to ensure growth. Considering the competition, he said books were "holding up remarkably robustly", with audio growing, but he wanted to encourage the business to think outside of "set-in-type" books to explore revenue streams close to its core skillset.
"The book market is in secular decline, whether the platform is print or in e-book, and it’s quite hard managing businesses in decline to make them continue to thrive, to be profitable and preferably growing their sales and profits," said Hely Hutchinson.
“I think part of the job of far-sighted managements is to think about what else you could do that is close to your skills-set that will enable your business to grow. We see our skill-set really as taking creative work to market, and the games business fits into that, certainly the smaller mobile games business, and whether the idea for the game comes from an author or it comes from the staff at Neon Play, or it comes from a brand we’re associated with, there’s creative work to be done by Neon Play to turn it into a game that’s fun to play. If we can make that work, on the scale of Neon Play, we can probably do it again. Games could be as important a part of our business as children’s books or sci-fi and fantasy."
Models worth exploring when approaching the monetisation of apps include advertising, sponsorship, and in-app purchases. The latter is an "iterative" approach showing consumers are often willing to spend "quite a lot of money". Of apps where the main revenue stream is simply buying the app upfront, he warned the model was "barely working at all now" and such apps had to be "very strong and targeted" to achieve any success.
Hely Hutchinson made it clear Neon Play was free to produce games that had nothing to do with its books. "I want Neon Play to be another successful division of the company," he said. "If there's connectivity, that's great, but it's not compulsory." He added: "It would look neat if the biggest selling game did come from an Hachette author, but one has to be realistic and realise that may not happen."
Likewise, if the author of a "bookish book" wants nothing to do with the gaming part of the business, that was also fine, he said. The Hachette chief also stressed there would not be a "land grab" for the rights to gamify books and it was "essential" to go back to the agent, regardless of whether an author's contract was silent on the subject of these rights.
Hely Hutchinson's attitude to dwindling attention spans for long-form content was a pragmatic one. "I don't think accepting consumers want to do other things is a form of treachery," he said.
He added: "The amount of time people spend with a huge variety of opportunities for them is entirely positive. The fact that they are still willing to read and buy books is good. But there just aren't enough hours in the day for them to be limited to reading books to the same degree as they did."
See a preview of Hely Hutchinson's interview below: