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And while that profit isn't breaking the bank, it's certainly respectable. The Silent History has been downloaded over 30,000 times at the $1.99 price since its launch in October of 2012. Even with purchases of the complete $7.99 bundle, this doesn't amount to a robust payday split between three principals, though according to Horowitz, it's "enough to keep us going and start planning the next [novel]."
Both Ying Horowitz & Quinn's and Madefire's advertising budgets: $0. "We're taking a grassroots approach to building a community of people interested and we hope passionate about what we're doing," says Madefire's Wolstenholme. They are taking the start-up route of word-of-mouth, spreading the message via blogs and satisfied readers. Both have benefited from featured placements in the iTunes storefront, and both were named in Apple's "Best of 2012" list. That doesn't mean either have been able to sit back and coast. There's a significant degree of outreach involved in both companies, if only to educate new readers as to why anyone would bother re-inventing the wheel of storytelling.
In 2011, Madefire set up its first booth at San Diego Comic-Con to present motion books to the biggest congregation of comics fans in the world. In-person demonstrations have become a powerful mode of outreach for the company, which has set up shop at Apple stores in addition to making appearances at both the 2011 and 2012 Comic-Con.
According to Dave Gibbons, co-creator of the legendary comic Watchmen and creator of the new Madefire series Treatment, they saw a huge spike in interest between those first and second years. "People were a little confused [in 2011]," he says. "There were just three of us and a few posters on the wall. It was a little bit of an uphill struggle then." They brought out the big guns the following year, presenting a wall of iPads and several titles, many of which were on their second or third issues. "You see people light up and mouth the word, 'wow,'" Gibbons says of their second visit. "That human interaction has been the most inspiring thing so far."
Eli Horowitz recently took The Silent History to the streets as well. He led a walking tour of New York's Lower East Side while all participants followed along with the app opened. Planned as an alternative to a traditional book reading, the event was designed to take users to some of the field report sites, including a stop at the bathrooms in the Allen Mall and a tasting event at the New York branch of Mission Chinese Food. The field reports are to be unlocked only on location, as they often use onsite details to enhance the report — seemingly random vodka and yogurt containers found outside the Allen Street Mall bathrooms figure into that site's field report.
Although the tour charmed its 20 or so attendees, walking users through parts of the story led to a demystifying aspect that Horowitz did not appreciate — for a novel with a mystery at its core, that's understandably problematic. "The experience seems to be more powerful when you get to discover the 'evidence' for yourself, rather than having it pointed out to you."
But the risks of reticence are great; everyone with a stake in digital storytelling seems to agree that outreach and education of the public are crucial factors in its future.
"It's not a Field of Dreams, 'if you build it they will come' kind of thing," says Sam Humphries, former manager of content and development at MySpace Comics and current writer at Marvel. Los Angeles-based Humphries is passionate about the fact that PR and outreach for digital content needs to be not just expanded but completely innovated. "It requires fundamental changes in the way this content is marketed."
Then there's the ongoing issue of money: Monetizing digital content is an enormous challenge and there's no consistent model for how it's to be done. Economically, Madefire follows the start-up model: It provides free content while building its infrastructure through venture capital. In the future, it plans to unroll a price on specific books as well as licensing some familiar properties, but the primaries were vague about specifics.
It's those specifics that keep most business owners up at night. Their technology still speaks louder than their current roster of stories. Though these are good works, they're not the masterpieces of the form that this new medium may need to take root. Madefire is planning on offering a channel through the app for publishing original work not originating from its stable of creators. It's possible that Madefire is simply setting the stage for the real revolution.
Digital publisher Charles Melcher of New York-based Melcher Media sees a transitional marketplace, one that is inefficient to meet the growth of digital, as the primary challenge. "You have a print book that costs $25 with no features, no rich content, no added media," he says, "and a download with all that included [is] $5."
Melcher, along with a team of top-shelf developers, founded Push Pop Press, which produced Al Gore's interactive e-book Our Choice, an investigation into the causes of climate change and its possible solutions. The e-book is indeed the superior experience, offering multiple layers of video and added content tucked into the linear story as well as fully interactive visuals and graphs. But as he points out, it's more expensive to develop the richer content, and unfortunately $5 is still pretty pricey in the app sphere: "People expect that content to be free because there's so much high-quality stuff out there that was developed to make the hardware that delivers it stick in the marketplace."