Cathy’s Book Not Just for Paper Anymore

By Neal 

Remember about three and a half years ago, when Cathy’s Book generated a brief flurry of controversy because its embedded product placements spurred kneejerk protests from anti-commercialists? Since then, the paperback edition has been revised to turn the mentions of Cover Girl products back into generic makeup references, and the book has spawned two sequels… which reminded me that during all that hoopla, we never really got a feel for what the book was about. (Which is a bit surprising in retrospect, as it turns out to have been near-perfectly pitched, in an indirect way, at Team Edward members.)

cathysbook-app.pngWell, now Running Press has converted the first third of Cathy’s Book into a 99-cent iPhone app, where the marginal drawings have been converted to pop-up links, short animated films are used for certain key scenes, and readers can touch the phone numbers and make the calls right away. (An iPod Touch version simulates the phone calls, but can still reach out to relevant websites if there’s a WiFi connection.)

“As a publishing company, we still believe in reading,” Peter Costanzo, the director of online marketing at the Perseus Books Group, told us as he demonstrated the app at a coffee shop recently, “but we’re still trying to reach kids in a way we think they want to be entertained…They’re experiencing the story in a way they never could with this,” he said, tapping a copy of Cathy’s Book lying on the table.

The idea is that this digital version of “what technically is a backlist title” will, along with two planned sequels covering the rest of the Cathy’s Book storyline, spur interest in the full series, which so far includes Cathy’s Key and Cathy’s Ring: a $2.97 multimedia experience aimed at convincing young readers to buy two trade paperbacks list-priced at $9.95 (though discounted at online bookstores). Overall, Costanzo admits, there’s an interesting question to be settled over time: “Are we promoting this as an app or as a book?”

To which we’d raise two of our own. If it’s an app, the challenge then becomes: Apart from compelling content, how do you convert app users to book readers? And if it’s a book: How do you make money on app projects priced at 1/3 the cost of a trade paperback which aren’t simply converting text to a digital format but involve no small degree of intensive labor, beyond hoping users will move on to “real” books afterwards? If you’ve got ideas, we’d love to hear them…