Touchpress pivots business, selling education apps

Touchpress pivots business, selling education apps

App developer Touchpress is to make a major shift to its business, including selling off the bulk of its education and literary apps, as it moves away from the paid-for app model and looks to brand sponsorship for its future. Touchpress will now focus on music, with free apps designed principally for Apple TV.

The move means the company will divest itself of "about half" its portfolio of apps, those that don't fit with the new strategy, which will include those in science and natural history, including "The Elements", the very first app from Touchpress co-founder and now chief creative officer Theodore Gray, plus most of the literary ones. Buyers for the educational and literary apps are said to be lining up, but no announcement has yet been made about a deal.

"The Elements" was the very first app from Touchpress co-founder and now chief creative officer Theodore Gray.

Touchpress has created some 30 iPad apps, including such celebrated productions as "Solar System" (2010) and "The Waste Land" (2011), in partnership with Faber, as well as "Incredible Numbers" with Profile Books (2014) and "War Horse; interactive edition" with Egmont (2012). Over the five years, it has had seven and a half million downloads, across all the apps, generating £3m in gross revenue. But after celebrating its fifth anniversary earlier this year, and despite becoming profit-making for the first time this year, the company has decided it needed more focus, c.e.o. Sam Aspinall said. "We set out to make beautiful things, and we did whatever we found interesting. It's been rewarding, but as a strategy, it's too haphazard."

Aspinall said: "Everyone recognises we've been experimental, and have found new audiences. Some apps have been tremendously successful while others are beautiful but don't sell in sufficient volume. Even with tremendous support from Apple, it's a challenge to explain to consumers why our apps are worth paying for when the majority of apps are free. Our apps get five-star and one-star reviews – the five-star reviews are all, 'It's wonderful; mind-blowing,’ the one-stars reviews are all, 'I can't believe I have to pay for it', even if it's only £2.99."

Where apps have been created in partnership with publishers, Touchpress owns the technical IP while the partner publisher owns the words, Aspinall explained. "In each, we are entitled to assign rights to someone else, with the publisher's permission... We are looking for a publisher with experience in the education market who can reach a wide audience." Aspinall said partner publishers had been "supportive" of the development. At Faber, c.e.o. Stephen Page commented: "It's been clear that their strategy has been evolving for the last couple of years. We've created four main apps with Touchpress - 'Solar System', 'The Waste Land', 'Shakespeare's Sonnets' and 'Arcadia' - the first, three to four years ago. We will simply look forward to knowing who our new partner is, as the products and their availability will not be affected, so we're comfortable with the move."

Among Touchpress' apps is "The Wasteland", created in partnership with Faber.

For the next five years, the new strategy will focus on music, and enhancing the experience of listening to music, and Touchpress will offer the apps for free, while building the Touchpress brand in the consumer's mind as the place they can go to to see culture reimagined. "When our apps are free, they get downloaded like that," said Aspinall, snapping her fingers. "We made our 'Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy' app free for our fifth anniversary, and although it has quite a niche audience, there were 100,000 downloads in a week. People love what we make, so [the thinking is] 'let's make it free and find another way to monetize it.' There is value in the audience who loves your material, that has value to the brands who want to reach that audience."

Touchpress is to focus "on reimagining how we experience culture – music, performance, opera, dance",  areas Touchpress is already engaged in via apps such as "Beethoven's 9th Symphony", "The Orchestra" and the "Jiulliard Open Studios" app, created for the The Jiulliard School in New York. Aspinall intends to build on those and, instead of producing individual products with individual brands, turn Touchpress into a brand connected to the cutting-edge experience  of performance. Touchpress plans to build its performance partnerships -  with theatres, record labels, conservatoires and sheet music publishers – and, while offer the content for free, make money by attracting sponsorship from the kind of organisations who sponsor major opera companies or art galleries.

A key plank of the new strategy is the just-launched (October 26th) fourth generation Apple TV. Touchpress produced its "Classical Music Reimagined" app specifically for the platform, using features from earlier music apps, including scrolling scores, NoteFall (a graphic which shows keystrokes, altering with the intensity of the strike and the length of the note) and BeatMap (a visual representation of activity in each part of the orchestra). "Classical Music Reimagined" was made Best New App in the Apple TV App Store in the US on launch day, and was downloaded 31,000 times in the first week.