Lessons Learned: It’s Hard to Sell an App – Guest Post by Julie Landry Laviolette

| December 17, 2012 | 3 Comments

This guest blog post is brought to you by Julie Landry Laviolette, developer of Brush of Truth, a book app for kids 8-12 in a “choose-your-adventure” format.  A mom of two, Laviolette founded her company, Story Bayou, to get tweens reading through technology. She can be found on FacebookTwitter and Linked In.

“Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” Storybook app for kids 8-12

I remember when I first announced to my friends that I was developing an app. “You’re going to be rich,” they said. “Invite me to your mansion one day,” they kidded. We laughed, and I dreamed a little personal daydream of success.

Boy, what a rude awakening …

I set out on a journey in June 2011 to develop a book app for tweens, because that’s the ages my kids were at the time. I had an 11-year-old son who loved to read, but spent all his free time playing video games. My 9-year-old daughter was a good reader, but rarely picked up a book. How could I entice kids this age to read more?

I wrote Brush of Truth, a book app geared to kids 8-12 that lets the reader choose what happens next in the story. The app has 125 pages of story, 65 choices and 20 possible endings. I partnered with Linxter, Inc., in the town where I live, Cooper City, Florida, to develop the app. My job was to supply the words: the text of the book, copy for the website, press releases and promotional material. They took on the tech end: coding the app, debugging, building the website and app updates and maintenance. Here’s what we learned along the way:

Not all platforms are created equal …

Reading is an adventure with Brush of Truth …

In the fall of 2011, the Linxter team and I decided that we would develop the app for iPad and iPhone, and for Android and Windows 7 devices. (When the Amazon Kindle Fire came out in 2012, we added that as well.) The thinking was the more devices, the better the sales.

Here’s the truth: iPad is clearly is the frontrunner for buyers of educational apps. Our iPad downloads outnumber the other platforms by a wide, wide margin.

Most people don’t know what a book app is …

Ok, here’s a fun one. Try convincing people they need your product when they don’t know what it is. When I tell people it’s a book app, they get confused. Is it a book? Is it an app? Complicating things further is the way the iTunes store is set up. There is a section for Books, and a section for Apps. But a book app is found under Apps, in the Books category. Not in iBooks, either, which is a separate app that Apple encourages you to download when you first set up your device. Did you get that? It still confuses me.

Your friends love you, but they won’t buy it …

Confession time. I really did expect all members of my very large extended family, all of the moms I hang with, and all of my Facebook friends to download Brush of Truth the minute it became available. Reality check: It just doesn’t happen. They love you. They support your efforts. But some just won’t download your app. Make peace with that.

Your debut may fall flat …

Julie sharing Brush of Truth at her local public library …

I introduced Brush of Truth in a classroom of fourth-graders at Beth Emet Elementary School in the town where I live. The kids team-read the app on iPads, iPod touches and Android tablets. I prepared a speech, and brought in a photographer friend. I invited the media to cover it. But no one came.

You will be resourceful and make the best of it …

I was disappointed that no one came to my big media launch, but I decided to make lemonade out of the lemons. I had my photographer take pictures of the kids using the app, and of me demonstrating it. We captured video of the kids discussing the choices in the app. I had a nice portrait made of me. Then I wrote a press release about my event, and sent it out: I ended up in a major daily newspaper, three community magazines, a regional parenting magazine and on the Fox TV affiliate in Miami.

The marketing never stops …

I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I submitted Brush of Truth to review sites and signed up for Linked In groups that pertained to educational apps. I started following trends in educational technology. I emailed anyone I knew who I thought could help me. I sent out press releases and email blasts and joined Facebook parties. It was exhausting.

You will learn from your marketing efforts …

Marketing Should be What You Do Best!

After nearly a year of having an app in the marketplace, I am beginning to learn what works for me. Readings at libraries are fun, but they don’t really translate into sales. Having a table at the local StoryBook Fest was a blast, but didn’t result in many downloads. Speaking at schools reaffirms my drive to get kids into reading, but doesn’t really affect my app sales. So I realize those things, and have accepted the fact that many efforts, while worthwhile, won’t raise my rank in the app store.

You will figure out what you do best …

My background is that I’ve worked as a journalist for 20 years, so I’m trained to think like a reporter. I’m really good at writing a press release that gets results. I’m spectacular at coming up with unique story angles. I’ve gotten a crazy amount of press for my app, so I started making suggestions to my app friends on how they could improve their public relations efforts. I eventually developed that specialty into a side business doing PR consulting for app people.

You will decide what’s really important …

What’s really important is often connecting directly with readers …

Though Brush of Truth has ranked as high as No. 12 on the iTunes store for iPad book apps, most days it’s not even in the top 200. Sales trickle up and down. They spike with a price drop and fall in between promotions. It hasn’t made me rich — in fact, we haven’t yet recouped our development expenses. But when a Florida teacher tells me she uses Brush of Truth to inspire her kids to write their own stories, when a New York educator says her kids ask to read Brush of Truth every day, and a 13-year-old New Orleans girl writes that she read the whole story because “it was fun,” I remember why I got into this business in the first place, to get more kids to read. And I’m doing that, one download at a time.

*Editorial note: This is the 10th guest authored post I have personally chosen (and edited) for my blog, representing an exceptional range of topics and truly thoughtful posts about the educational app market, parenting in the digital age and what the future holds for all humans who subsist on a digital media diet.

You can find all of our top-notch guest posts about the children’s app market here.

Julie Landry Laviolette is author of Brush of Truth, a book app for tweens, and founder of Story Bayou. Brush of Truth, named 2012 Media of the Year in Interactive Books by Creative Child Magazine, is on iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android and Windows 7. For information, visit www.storybayou.com or email Julie at Julie@storybayou.com.

Category: All About Apps, Guest Posts, Marketing Apps

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of Digital-Storytime.com, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.

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  1. Nigel Dixon says:

    Julie, what an interesting post I have just read on Digital media via Linkedin iPad-12 group. It brings it home some realistic expectations. We have just embarked on getting our childrens interactive story to the Tablet market, getting programmed as I type at considerable cost. I will pass this read to our team as we are learning as we go. Thanks again, I will download your app and test it on my 5 year old. Good luck any feedback to our sight would be appreciated. Nigel

  2. Great article. I have had the same experiences you have had with my app Math Heroes vs Dragons. I can sympathize with you on the cost of developing apps. I am a very experienced developer and only after being featured in New and Noteworthy did I recover the cost of development and marketing. What I mean by development cost, is the various 3D models I used for the graphics. All of the video, audio, and programming I did myself so I’m not even count that.

    I think it’s important that people who want to go into the educational app business understand that the ROI is almost never going to pay off. This is especially true of apps geared towards children under 13 because those apps lack the viral component. With no external links, in app purchases, and facebook status updates the only way to raise awareness for your app is through review sites (which are iffy at best) and pure brute force, costly marketing.
    That being said, my next app will be for ages 13 and up. Just something to think about for those considering developing an app.

    Thanks again for the great read.

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