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Tapas Wants to Gamify the eBook Market, But Will Consumers Go Along?

442965594_dd26a5c01c_oPublishers Weekly brings our attention to Tapas Media, an ebook startup which wants to gamify ebook retailing by selling in-app credits which can then be used to buy segments of an ebook.

The company’s newest product is Tapas, a mobile app and marketplace that takes the company’s model of providing content in small amounts and applies it to literary content. The app uses the “freemium” business model—offering some content to consumers for free as an incentive to pay to get more—that has proven successful in the mobile gaming market and brings it to the mobile reading market. Readers are able start books and other stories for free, and then pay to unlock subsequent episodes, or pay for the entire book or story, with prices based on the books’ current market value. Essentially, it’s Candy Crush for books.

Tapas, available on iOS and Android, provides a range of media (all literary at the moment), from books to comics, created by professional writers, all in the form of what Tapas refers to as “bite-sized micro chapters,” or episodes, of 2,000 to 4,000 words. In addition to the freemium model, it enlists a user-engagement model, with features such as rewards for peer-to-peer sharing.

In-app purchases are a big deal in the games/apps market, and that segment accounts for a larger share of revenue that app/game sales.

This has inspired some to think the same model could work for ebooks. Chang Kim, CEO of Tapas Media, told PW that: “We’re trying to apply the proven business model and user-engagement model from the mobile gaming world to reading. If there’s one industry that’s figured out how to monetize content and engage users on mobile, it’s really the gaming industry.”

The problem with that argument is that it overlooks fundamental differences between the ebook market and the app/game market. It also sidesteps the question of whether authors and publishers should want the new model.

One key difference between the ebook and game markets is that it’s easy to download a sample of an ebook and see if it’s any good, but it’s not so easy to sample a game before you buy it.  As a result consumers are less willing to buy a game because they don’t know whether it will suck or not.

Also, ad-supported games have inculcated the expectation that games should be free, and free-to-play games with in-app purchases are arguably just an extension of that trend. (The ebook market has free ebooks, though, which might be pushing that market in the same direction.)

Another difference is that both of the two major app stores (Apple and Google) support in-app purchases. The largest ebook retailer, Amazon, has in-app purchases for games and a digital currency (Amazon Coins), but the coins can’t be used to buy ebooks – not yet, anyway.

With Amazon dominating ebook sales, Tapas' plan to gamify ebook sales will only succeed if Amazon adopts it (Apple and Google will follow suit). Until then, it will remain a niche market, at best.And even if the plan does succeed, Tapas will only play a tiny part, with most of the revenue passing through Amazon, Apple, and Google.

And it’s not clear that the model will succeed, or that authors and publishers should push for it. Right now there’s hardly any content in the Tapas app, but that should change as it leaves beta.

But the more important question is whether authors and publishers should want this model to take hold in the ebook market. Yes, it works in apps/games, but how well?

Given that half of the in-app purchase revenue comes from a fifth of one percent of users, the model arguably doesn’t work very well:

As the 2015 annual Swrve Monetization Report reveals, 64% of all revenues from IAPs in F2P games comes from a mere 0.2% of all players. This number reveals an increase from last year’s report where only 50% of all revenues came from the top 10% of paying players. Further to the point, 60% of all payers (players who make at least one purchase) contribute just a tad over 8% of a game’s total revenue, also known as not enough for developers to care about or cater to.

Do you want that model to become the standard in ebooks?

image by tao_zhyn

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Tapas Media wants to sell e-books in bite-sized chunks – TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond April 11, 2016 um 2:57 am

[…] Hoffelder at The Digital Reader is skeptical, given that the point of freemium games is to get around how difficult it is to “sample” a game […]

puzzled April 11, 2016 um 6:08 am

I’m waiting for them to charge extra for the last three pages of a mystery novel.

Nate Hoffelder April 11, 2016 um 7:02 am

Heh. That would not be a bad idea.

Sweetpea April 11, 2016 um 8:06 am

I had to check the date twice. But it’s not an April Fools joke…

Frank April 11, 2016 um 10:24 am

This model will not work for ebooks.

Nate Hoffelder April 11, 2016 um 12:50 pm

I don’t think so, either, but I am going to let the market prove me right.

Scott April 11, 2016 um 2:09 pm

Giving away a free chapters or two is a good idea, but that’s nothing new. A couple of big problems for this model: Video games constantly add new objectives which incentive spending money to speed up the process of completing those objectives in an (at least potentially) open-ended game world (hence the less than 1%, those with the most extra cash to burn, that account for 50%-64% of the revenues); books, even those in a series, are much more of a closed product. And if the publisher strings along the reader too much, makes it too costly, with chapter-by-chapter purchases, then the reader will simply turn to the print product, in which case the added effort of the "gamified" angle would not seem to be worth it.

Nate Hoffelder April 11, 2016 um 2:14 pm

The ebooks are costly, yes.

The three titles I was interested in were cheaper to buy in the Kindle Store. Buying them in Tapas cost twice as much.

MKS April 11, 2016 um 3:13 pm

I doubt this will work for books in the same way it does for games because of the psychology of the experience is so different. Mobile freemium games are supported by "whales", the small percentage who are usually paying for the ability to play with and against other people; high scores and bragging rights are part of the appeal. There’s no competitive or cooperative aspect to books. (When text-based entertainment has such aspects it becomes a game, and it was one of the earliest forms of computer games.). Amazon already offers free content in the form of the book preview, and if that is sufficiently compelling, the reader buys the book. Selling a book by the chapter is a serial. books in trilogies or series are just forms of incrementally buying big books. James Patterson’s "Bookshots" can also be seen as a way to incrementally purchase text entertainment. Freemium games also contain ads for others games or products and feedback in the form of resources to be used in the game; these interactions with the reader would be annoying interruptions while reading a book. Freemium games require Internet connection which drains battery life. freemium games also make use of dynamically adjusting content to player behavior; if books changed over time based on monitored reader behavior that could be an interesting novelty but it"s hard to see that catching on. People already "gamify" book reading on their own with book clubs, fan groups, fan fiction, and adaptations into other media — including board and video games. Overall, it looks like another startup based on understanding neither games nor books but instead wishful thinking.

Nate Hoffelder April 11, 2016 um 3:14 pm


You explained it better than I did.

MKS April 11, 2016 um 3:25 pm

Freemium games are designed and altered on the fly to offer content appealing to two populations: the avid little fish, who play frequently and recruit other players; and the big fish, who spend money. The big fish are spending money for the fun of playing in an environment with lots of little fish. Now imagine the publishing dystopia of books being written dynamically to appeal to those populations. I think it could be summed up as "The sex lives of famous people."

Episode 106 – Algorithms, Gamification, and Facebook Live | Sell More Books Show April 13, 2016 um 10:57 am

[…] Game, Set, Match […]

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