A secret to please keep quiet: I am not just a crass marketer or cold-eyed analyzer of publishing strategy. I am those things, or like to think I am anyway. But, truly and firstly, I love books and reading. (Shhhh…might ruin my rep.) So, this is a post written with the love of reading at the fore, and some cold-eyed analysis at the back.
Yesterday was national Poem in Your Pocket Day, a wonderful opportunity for readers of all ages to, as The Academy of American Poets puts it,
Select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others throughout the day. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.
How cool? A day devoted to poems.
Our daughter’s school was marking the day, so she slipped some William Blake into her hoodie pocket. Why Blake, you ask? Or if you don’t ask that, I ask that you do, as it provides my segue into writing about a bit of great reading serendipity that occurred via an app, specifically Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics. I had been doing some (cold-eyed, data-driven, highly strategic) research and, despite the Apple app store’s horrible search and browse functionality, I had discovered Poems by Heart the week before Poem in Your Pocket Day came along — just in time for our household to use the app to learn Blake’s “Eternity.”
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Thus, Blake in kiddo’s pocket.
Looking at the App as a Reader and Lover of Books
The app is amazing, for a number of reasons and from many perspectives. First, as a reader, lover of poetry, and father:
- It “gamifies” the reading experience while avoiding the cheesy trappings of doing so. It’s fun and makes great use of the cognitive learning aspects of gaming. Specifically, it provides a challenge to master. That challenge? Memorizing a poem. Yes!
- It is elegant and intuitive, both on the iPad but also on the iPhone (in the pocket).
- It is immersive.
- It sells me things, but subtly and only if I want them. In-app purchasing done well. How rare!
And it works. We had “Eternity” memorized in about 10 – 15 minutes. And we had fun doing it. My wife and daughter promptly moved on to Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Many free apps are used once and discarded. Poems by Heart will stay. And I suspect will be used by everyone in the family. Again, very rare and cool. Before I get to the cold-eyed analysis, here’s a walk-through to give you a feel for the app…
Now for the Cold-Eyed, Crass Marketer/Publishing Strategist Bit
From this vantage the app is also amazing. An absolute anomaly and one for which Penguin and those behind the app should be applauded (and perhaps copied). Why?
- They developed it in conjunction with Inkle, a development shop that describes itself as “a software and creative design company formed from videogame industry talent.” The shop has publishing credentials but they are not publishing-specific and are not playing the “enhanced eBook” card in any way. This is true app/software development done well by pros who do that. Kudos to them and to Penguin for engaging them.
- The mix of a design studio with gaming cred with the vaunted Penguin Classics is an inspired coupling and one that I imagine wasn’t the easiest sell in house. Penguin prides itself on design, guards their brand fiercely (though I hear their loosening up a bit), and certainly the Classics folks might be gamers but…well, I’m not so sure.
- It is not an enhanced eBook that fails to satisfy any of consumers’ wants or needs in ways that other media do not. It is an app. One with a purpose and clearly defined use case and value to consumers.
- What a great use of public domain content. Curated, presented in a surprising and new way, monetized, and attached to a brand.
Yes, a brand. I said it.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t believe in imprints as consumer brands. (B2B brands, yes. Just not B2C.) However, I’ve never based this belief on mere opinion and actually also believe that imprints could/can/might one day be consumer brands if they wish to (precedent exists in other media verticals: Pixar, Disney, Miramax circa ’90s, Condé Nast, and more). They’ll just need to behave very differently if they wish to do so. Specifically they’ll need to a) accept/admit that they are not currently B2C brands — if they were, consumers would be flocking to imprint sites, engaging with them in droves, and routinely making purchase decisions based on imprint; and then b) allocate significant resources to B2C imprint branding and pull those resources away from individual title investments.
Penguin is often pointed to as the exception to the rule that imprints are not brands. And it’s true to some extent for the reasons stated above and others both vestigial and current. Generally, people mean Penguin Classics when they discuss Penguin as a brand. And, indeed, a slice of consumers do make purchasing decisions based on the bird on the spine, especially for classics. In the new world, though, there is no spine. And one flat “Eternity” as a digital experience is the same, no matter who put it in front of me.
This is why Poems by Heart is genius. It is the first effort by a publisher that I know of that takes into account all facets of consumer behavior in the digital realm, develops a strategy based on that, maps that strategy to a creative tactical approach, and intentionally enhances their brand. It is aimed at iPad and iPhone and leverages much native functionality (one can record oneself reading the poem, for example), is inherently parent- and kid-friendly matching tablet use cases, allows for social but is not forcing it, and is directly in line with a solid Penguin Classics business strategy — grow the number of classic readers and continue to be the authoritative voice and must-buy brand within the space.
Any publishers who wish to be consumer brands (and I am by no means advocating that they should wish to, nor ignoring the fact that Penguin has more than a small head start here), Poems by Heart is a good primer on what to do. I once heard a marketing guru describe brands as “sponges” which will pick up any and all dirt. This app simply sparkles and, in crass marketing speak, that equals great brand affinity. Well done.