When the iPad first launched in 2010, Apple installed Touchpress’s first app, “The Elements,” on the promo tablets it sent to journalists. They included it as an example of excellence, of the iPad’s power. The app, priced at $13.99, has been downloaded more than a million times. It was was the app that Touchpress co-founder Theodore Gray built his company on.
Now “The Elements,” along with 20 other apps, are all up for sale, and buyers are lining up.
The London-based company creates what Forbes called “living coffee table books.” Each app is an in-depth look at a subject: the Liszt Sonata, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the history of invention or the Pyramids. Many of the apps’ interfaces involve a macroscopic view that allows users to zoom in on individual elements and explore them, whether they’re buildings in a complex or lines of poetry. The Elements, the company’s overall best selling app, affords the user a 3D view of every atom in the periodic table and what the element looks like to the naked eye. Also included are an element’s uses, stories of its discovery and pictures of everyday objects that include them.
Touchpress focuses on an audience of families over schools, according to Louise Rice, an executive producer at the company. Some schools have purchased the apps, she said, but the company of 25 people is not equipped to market to them. “[Working with schools] is a whole different ballgame. We’re looking for partners who have experience in the education marketplace. We’re hoping they’ll repackage our apps and update them for schools.”
Profitability of the apps is a mixed bag, both among the apps for sale and the ones still in the fold. Almost all Touchpress’s apps cost more than ten dollars. “People are willing to pay for tools or games but not for quality content,” she said. “At least, not in the numbers that we would need to develop content like we do.”
“Getting people to pay for apps is hard,” Rice added. “Our content is premium, and the price is nothing compared to a book, but people believe apps should be free or 79 cents. They’re paying for books and ebooks, but they haven’t made the connection to apps as content.”
What’s left? Touchpress plans to focus on creating music apps. On October 30th, it released an eponymous app for the Apple TV aimed at people learning piano and other classical instruments. It lets users follow the notes of a score as they watch a professional orchestra perform it. Of its existing music apps, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is the best seller.
“The Apple audience and the audience for classical music coincide nicely,” said Rice.
Touchpress is knowingly forgoing its breadth in favor of putting all its eggs in one basket. Rice said of the shift, “We’re a small company, and it’s a great deal to cover. We’re not downsizing, so we have to concentrate our resources. When we started, there were almost no apps for the iPad. Now there are three million. To get noticed, you’ve got to focus.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Theodore Gray as the CEO of Touchpress.