App-etite: Random House opens the book on mobile

The publisher is starting the conversation on smartphones by giving readers facts from the company's non-fiction bestsellers.

Random House of Canada is looking to get people talking this week with its new app, Conversation Starters.

The app features new and bestselling non-fiction books from the publisher’s lineup. When a book is highlighted, a ‘did you know’ factoid from that book pops up. For Open, the Andre Agassi autobiography, the fact reads, ‘Did you know…that Andre Agassi was born with spondylolisthesis, meaning a bottom vertebra parted from the other vertebrae and struck out on its own (It’s the main reason for his pigeon-toed walk)?’

After reading the fact, the user can press the ‘learn more’ button to read an excerpt of the book. The app is also GPS-enabled, showing a map of all the nearby Chapters and Indigo stores. The next step in the app’s development is indicating which locations have the book in stock.

Conversation Starters was developed by Toronto-based Web2Mobile and is available for the iPhone and iPad at the Apple app store. Random House is also working on making the app available on Droid.

MiC spoke with Lisa Charters, SVP and director, digital, Random House of Canada, to find out more about the app.

Q. Tell us about your app: what does it do and why did you develop it?
A. We developed it because Steve Jobs recently shared a whole ton of numbers and one of them was the pace of downloads is now at 200 apps per second. If there are that many people devouring content in that world, we needed to be there. We set out to use the fun and interesting facts from our new and bestselling books, and we wanted to present them in a format that was interactive, so we chose the ‘did you know’ format.

Q. Who is your target demographic?
A. Everyone and anyone (except for kids). It is adult non-fiction books at this stage of the game. We are hoping book readers will be drawn to it, but I really think inquisitive people who like to learn new and interesting facts will also be drawn to it.

Q. How will this app be promoted to consumers?
A. We’ve got a whole lot planned. We don’t go into these things without making sure we can make the awareness happen. Marketing started this weekend with a big Globe and Mail ad (in the first edition of the newspaper’s redesign), and we’ll have all kinds of ads throughout the fall, and we have in-app advertising to reach people who are already app users and smartphone users (Random House worked with US-based AdMob for placement).

We’re also featuring the app in our own banners throughout our six sites, which have a combined traffic of over 150,000 unique [visitors per month], as well as our over 20 different newsletters… We see our Conversations app as the newest member of our marketing team, so we created a business card for it, which can be handed out at author events so people know where to find it.

Q. Why did you think an app was the best way to reach your target audience?
A. One of the things we heard was that people are content hungry. People wanted something substantial to start reading or doing, and we know people are switching their more basic mobile phones for smartphones, and we really wanted to feed them with some content for free. The exploding 250,000-app universe was someplace we had to be, but we also had to offer something that was worth downloading, because it is a big place.

Q. Favourite fact featured on the app?
A. I like the one about The Wave (by Susan Casey), a book we just published about 100-foot waves and how people didn’t believe they existed. It’s a wonderful book…I love the science behind it and that there were people who didn’t believe 100-hundred foot waves existed anywhere.