Publishers are launching iPhone and iPad apps on a daily basis (unless you’re Bonnier, then it seems almost hourly). Many are coming from the usual suspects with deep pockets–Hearst, Conde Nast, Time Inc. etc.
However, one small enthusiast publisher was able to crack The Top 25 (for paid iPhone apps) in Apple’s App Store over the past week by partnering with a dedicated developer and then leveraging its brand and an aggressive social media strategy to drive interest.
Morgantown, West Virginia-based Filter Publications, publisher of 65,000-circ motocross title Racer X Illustrated, had created its own mobile content apps in-house through App Maker (which generated 35,00 downloads right off the bat), but saw a bigger opportunity for combining its marketing reach with a game developer’s technical expertise when president Bryan Stealey saw a computer game called Mad Skills Motocross.
"We’d been toying with the idea that a publisher and a developer would make a good team," says Stealey. "It’s such a challenge for independent developers to get attention in a store with hundreds of thousands of apps, and we don’t really know how to make apps. Mad Skills Motocross was available on computers but because it’s a slide-scrolling arcade-style game, we thought it would be perfect for the iPhone."
Filter reached out to the developer, Turborilla, which had advertised the game with Racer X, about offering it on the iPhone. "They had no budget and no way to get the word out–we did," says Stealey. "We have our own reach with magazines, Web sites and social networks."
Racer X has 215,000 Facebook fans and 15,000 Twitter followers and the publisher organized a "street team," giving a group of active posters and followers who were demonstrated fans of the brand a look behind the game development and encouraging them to spread the word. The game also made its way into the hands of pro racers and celebrities such as rapper-turned-racer Vanilla Ice and Sirius radio personality Jason Ellis, and includes a "share" function that links back to Twitter and the download page.
The game debuted January 10, selling for $1.99. It’s currently #1 in the racing category and has fluctuated between #19 and #25 the last few days (today it’s #25) in the Top 25 paid iPhone apps (it’s also #41 in top grossing iPhone apps). Apple gave Mad Skills Motocross a boost, featuring the app in the second position last week under "New and Noteworthy."
While some publishers have bumped heads with Apple when it comes to getting iPad apps approved (and being rejected with little feedback on why), Stealey says his experience with Apple has been good, with Apple pointing out that early versions of the app weren’t leveraging enough native functionality of the iPhone.
Turborilla owns the game and Filter acts as the marketing partner. While Stealey declined to share specifics, he says Filter receives a fee based on the revenue generated from app downloads. "The key is establishing a match with your brand," says Stealey. "We see this as significant revenue stream going forward."