Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Children's Books, Authors, & Apps, Oh My!

Digital picture books have arrived on the scene, and I am trying to understand what it means for aspiring picture book authors and illustrators. So I contacted David K. Park, co-founder of MeeGenius, a publisher of digital picture books for the iPad, iPod Touch, and the iPhone. I asked him how the whole process works.

“You would submit your manuscript,” David explains. “Our editors would review it. If we agree to publish it, we would enhance it with audio playback and word highlighting, and create the personalization tool for the text. We
 would then make the book available on the web, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad in days.”

Days? He must have meant to say months.

“This process would be weeks instead of 18 months to bring a traditional book to market.”

Okay, so what’s the catch for authors and illustrators? We must have to pay to bring our stories to life, no?

“We are not currently charging authors and illustrators to enhance and distribute their books," David says. "We understand they are plunging into this paradigm, so we want to be as supportive as possible.

“We offer 30 percent royalty on the net price of a book. For example, for a $1.99 book purchased on iTunes, Apple received 30 percent of that, which leaves $1.40. Authors and illustrators received 30 percent of that $1.40, or $0.42. So if an author/illustrator creates a book that gets downloaded 10,000 times, they received $4,200.”

That 30 percent would be split between an author and an illustrator, so for picture book authors, that’s about 15 percent, or in this example, $0.21.

How does that compare with the traditional model? According to Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon website, for a traditional 32-page picture book priced at $16,
“Half of the $16 is the wholesaler and bookseller's part--their overhead and profits. On average, the publisher receives $8, or perhaps a little more. Assuming that the publisher does a print run of 10,000 copies (this is fairly typical), of that $8.00,
• $3.20 is overhead
$1.60 is the royalty to author and illustrator

• $1.76 is the cost of paper, printing, and binding (binding is about half of that)

• $0.64 is the cost of preparing the plates
This leaves 80 cents profit per book, assuming all goes well and that the entire printing is sold. And assuming, on the other hand, no subsidiary rights income, which would increase the amount of profit.”
Let's point that out again: That $1.60 is split between author and illustrator, so for the writer, we're talking about $0.80 per book sold. Compared with about $0.21 in the e-book example. So how can an author hope to come out ahead selling digital picture books for $1.99 online?

It remains to be seen how these markets will play out. One thing to keep in mind is that not every traditional picture book is going to sell 10,000 copies. Many do not even come close. While for the digital book, the market is very different.

“There are currently 75 million iPhone, iPod Touches, and iPads in the United States,” David says, “so even a small fraction of that market is very large.”


  1. Very interesting. Thanks for this, Kate. I'm sure it's true that people are much more likely to drop $1.99 on a digital book than $16 on a hard copy. I sure hope so, since it's just as much work for the author/illustrator to create, and we'll need that high volume to make it worthwhile!

  2. Hi!

    Thanks, Kate, for this interesting interview! Kids of today are ready for the take-over by technology that some of us are resisting. But I am wondering about getting stories published by MeeGenius. I am confused about payment to authors. My husband used his phone to order MeeGenius books -- and for $1.99 paid to iTunes he got access to their entire list. Most of the books are rewritten, familiar, old stories with cartoonish illustrations. I e-mailed them to see if I can get a clarification. Maybe in the future they will be charging for each book? I'll make another comment after they get back to me.
    Have a great day! Sheila

  3. Hi Sheila,

    We'll be following up with you personally but just wanted to clarify an issue you raised. The 12 books for $1.99 is an introductory offer. We'll have the in-app featured released in a few weeks and all the books will be sold individually.

    We started with public domain stories because there were no copyright issues. However, we will be offering original works by the community of talented authors and illustrators. We hope you and Kate will be part of that community.

  4. Hi!

    Thanks, David! I think it's a little strange that more authors and illustrators haven't commented. Is that because they aren't interested in the whole digital concept for children's books? If I weren't married to a man who loves digital gadgets, I probably wouldn't be thinking about this either. But kids are really smart about these things! And reading on a tiny cell phone screen will probably be just fine with them. And I'd like them to be reading some of my stories -- no matter whether on paper or an iPhone.
    Sheila Welch