September 25, 2009

In recent months, the AP Stylebook has made headlines for adding Twitter and other techy terms to its list of entries, increasing its print sales and redesigning its Web site. Now, in an attempt to reach and accommodate new audiences, it’s adding something else to the mix: an AP Stylebook iPhone app, which launches today.

The iPhone app is a stylebook on the go, a hybrid of the online and print versions that some believe will be especially appealing to new users, as well as journalists and others who don’t have an online subscription or who would rather not keep the printed version with them at all times.

“We see that journalists are mobile people,” said Colleen Newvine, head of market research for the AP and product manager for the Stylebook. “They never know when they’re going to have to be out chasing a story, and maybe lugging their hard-copy stylebook with them isn’t their favorite thing to do.”

The app features all of the more than 3,000 A to Z Stylebook entries. Similar to the AP Stylebook Web site, users can create their own customized listings if the AP does not have a particular style on something.

There is also a “favorites” feature to mark commonly used entries, as well as a “notes” feature for users who want to append a note to an AP style listing.

The app costs $28.99 — $10 more than the print version of the Stylebook (just $4 more if you factor in the $6 shipping fee), and $4 more than the online subscription. Given that newsrooms and journalists are being slammed by pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs, there’s reason to wonder if they’ll pay for such an expensive app.

The pricing is comparable, Newvine said, to other reference apps such as the American Heritage Dictionary, which costs $29.99, and the Oxford English Dictionary, which costs $19.99. She noted that the AP plans to give those who buy the iPhone app in 2009 a two-for-one deal that would let them get the 2010 iPhone app for free.

“We’ve talked a lot about what the appropriate price should be,” Newvine said, recognizing that “28.99 is high compared to the many free or 99-cent apps that are out there.” 

In the future, the app will likely be more interactive and better integrated with the AP Stylebook’s Web site, said Jeffrey Litvack, general manager for mobile and emerging products at the AP and one of the developers of the application.

Though it’s too early to tell what the more advanced interactive features will be, Litvack said they could involve giving app users greater access to the current Stylebook Online features — an audio pronunciation guide, regularly e-mailed style updates and more.

The need for a Stylebook app, which took about four months to develop, was prompted in part by the success of the (free) AP mobile news app, which has over 2 million registered users, and by requests from Twitterers.

Newvine, who runs the AP Stylebook’s Twitter account, said she fielded regular requests from Twitterers like @KenCarpenter, who recently Tweeted: “iPhone apps that somebody needs to invent: AP Stylebook; Orlando library home delivery requests; Five Guys ordering; NHL hockey live video.”

David Minthorn, manager for news administration at the AP and a Stylebook editor, got to test out the app before it launched. He said that after testing it he requested to share one of the company iPhones  so that he can have easy access to the mobile version of his go-to style guide.

“I’m constantly referring to the book online, and I want to get a hold of this app because it’s so quick,” said Minthorn, who responds to the “Ask the Editor” questions on “It’s faster than paging through the book or bringing up my online version. The portability issue is a very big plus.”

Newvine said she hopes people who buy the app will offer feedback about what they like, don’t like and want to see more of in the app. Given how vocal Twitterers have become regarding AP Stylebook changes and updates, Newvine said she expects she’ll be responding to plenty of tweets about the new iPhone app.   

Litvack will also respond to users, who can e-mail to share feedback on the new app, or for technical support. He said that every day the mobile team gets hundreds of inquiries from AP mobile news app users who want to share their ideas, criticism and questions about the app. He expects these inquiries will only grow once people start buying the Stylebook app.

“One of the most amazing things about mobile in particular is the feedback we get, which we rely on to help shape our product development,” Litvack said. “The Stylebook app will only become more feature-rich as we move forward based on what users want.”

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