Travel App Author Lee Foster Answers Questions about his San Francisco Travel & Photo Guide App

California, San Francisco Alamo Square

(Update Note: My app content in “‘SF Travel & Photo Guide” has now also been released as an ebook with the same title name, first on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2qS9QtG. See more details in an Announcement on my website at http://bit.ly/2qXg8Zf.)

Lee Foster recently released a new travel destination guide app SF Travel & Photo Guide.

The app is available for $3.99 from the Apple and Google app stores. The quickest way to see it is with a Search for the exact title “SF Travel & Photo Guide.” That’s SF rather than San Francisco.

Links from the publisher to the app stores can be circuitous. The links are Apple (the Apple iTunes App Store) and Google (the Google Play Android App Store). The app has been announced on my website. The app works on smart phones and tablet devices, but not on laptops or desktops.

An announcement about the new travel app can be seen on Lee’s website.ary on the viability of the travel app genre. The decline was something of a mystery to me. The two talented founders of Sutro seemed to want to move on to other ventures, such as quadcopter manufacture in China, and did not wish to continue working together. That’s all I know. They had divided responsibilities for all the custom software behind their app engine, so it was not easy for someone to buy them out. The custom software needed to be updated with each new iOS system release. It appears they did not want to cooperate further on this matter. Any buyer would have required their long-term ongoing assistance with their custom software.

So, is this new organization different?

Yes, the organization is called Thisisremote.com. The person behind it is Katie Williams. She is an independent publishing entrepreneur, but appears to have the backing and blessing of her earlier employer, Guidebook.com. She left Guidebook.com in September 2016 to focus on travel and travel apps. Guidebook.com has developed a software useful for travel destination apps. Their commercial software app assists colleges, organizations, and conferences who want a “guide” to their entities. The company does not depend on travel apps to survive.

These folks have secure dated voucher tickets, no wait in line and some discounts, for Bus Tours, Boat Tours, Alcatraz, Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums, Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

How did you learn about Guidebook.com and Thisisremote.com?

I have been watching for some entity to emerge that would replace Sutro.

I heard about Guidebook.com and sent them a query in 2016. Katie Williams contacted me in January 2017. We met, and I immediately concluded that this could be a good opportunity. I worked full-time on my SF app during February and March 2017. It was an intense and creative time. I entirely re-thought my earlier Sutro app, came up with a new and more ideal outline, and then developed all the content and chose the photos from my photo library.

So, this is different content from what was in your Sutro San Francisco app?

Yes. I totally re-thought the concept and came up with a new structure, made the write-ups more robust, and saw a more unified and enduring pattern in my presentation. Also, the travel scene in San Francisco changed a lot from 2009 to 2017.

What is your financial deal with Thisisremote?

My financial deal is roughly the same as it was with Sutro. I have no up-front cash costs for the software. They also have no up-front cash costs for my content, which is my responsibility to develop. Revenue starts when we get sales. Thirty percent of the retail price goes to the seller, which is mainly Apple, but Google and Amazon are important new markets. The remaining revenue is split 50-50 between myself and Thisisremote. Do the math on a $3.99 app sale and Apple gets $1.20, leaving $2.79, so I earn $1.39 per download.

My deal with Thisisremote is non-exclusive for content, except for use of my content in my own app. I only want one San Francisco app. I can license my content in any and all other manners.

Thisisremote can also license my content and we split that income 50-50.

What their deal will be with future authors and how many travel authors they take on is beyond my control. They need to sell some of my $3.99 apps as proof of concept. However, I suspect the same contract pattern will prevail in the future.

Six months from now I’ll be in a better position to tell folks how well this has worked out for all parties. I’d like to see a resurgence of the travel destination app genre.

How does an author work with Thisisremote?

Like Sutro, they have a CMS (content management system) in which the author sets up a structure and then puts in the writing content and the photos. Their software is exceptional, highly intuitive. The parent company that developed the software, Guidebook.com, needed to create software that multiple layman clients could use.

Thisisremote has a form on their website for author contact. Whether they will choose to work with a given author on a particular subject is not my decision. They have very limited staff and are in start-up mode at this time. The author currently has total responsibility to organize and present all writing and photos, including the publicity graphics for the app stores.map-lf-sf-app-350

Could this focus on apps be overblown? Authors have printed books, ebooks, and website presentations. Why do authors or travel consumers need apps? 

I do all those genres that you mention. I have my content ready as printed books, ebooks, and in some cases what I call “website books.” My printed books tend to be print-on-demand and sell for $14.95. My ebooks tend to be $3.99. And my “website book” chapters are given away free, but surrounded by Google Adsense Ads. I earn money every day from my website books as chapters/articles. All this can be seen at www.fostertravel.com, especially under Norcal in the black bar, as an example.

We need to give the consumer travel content in whatever way the consumer desires. I also work in some “traditional” media, meaning today that I sell writing/photo content to some magazines. Newspaper travel sections now barely survive and offer very limited compensation to authors.

App technology has some special advantages. Apps work especially well on small devices, such as iPhones. One study concludes that 84% of all travel information flows through these mobile devices. Apps can make excellent use of Google maps, giving the traveler a contextual awareness of travel subjects around them.

Apps can also be downloaded onto the phone/device and are not dependent on connectivity, which is not always ubiquitous, especially when traveling. If a traveler depends on website information while traveling, and experiences a lapse in connectivity, the traveler is at a total loss. Download an app such as mine and you have a self-contained product. My app will be enhanced by connectivity, but not defined by it. For example, my app has clickable website urls for further information on each entry.

Is there actually a reasonable dollar market for sales of travel destination apps?

Yes, there is, and that is another exciting aspect of apps. Apps are an entirely different economic ecosystem, not competing with ebooks, print books, and websites. Consumers buy a lot of apps. Games are the most popular category, but travel is a small slice of a big pie. It is estimated that the Apple App Store does about $40 billion in sales each year.

What is new is that the Google Play Android Store now appears to be surpassing Apple, and one report puts it at about $42 billion in sales this year. Amazon is now active in the app ballgame, selling the Android version of apps. Every author who sells print books and ebooks knows how important Amazon can be, perhaps selling now 60% of all print books in the U.S. and probably 80% of all ebooks. Estimates vary, but Amazon is major. So Amazon in apps could become important in the future.

The overall app marketplace is healthy. Prices need to remain fairly low, however, to get sales, compared to books.

California: San Francisco. People relaxing in Alamo Square with view of Victorians and modern downtown
California: San Francisco. People relaxing in Alamo Square with view of Victorians and modern downtown

Do you have plans beyond the app for your San Francisco travel content?

Yes, I do. Every author should be thinking of the multiple ways that content can be provided. What does the consumer want, and how does the consumer want it? I may use similar San Francisco content in an ebook, a print-on-demand printed book, and a website presentation.

My San Francisco app content might also be of interest to my partner in China, Fiberead. They have translated two of my travel books and have a record of positive sales each month of the books as ebooks since we began. For the ebook version of my Northern California Travel: The Best Options that has meant sales each month for two years. They will soon come out with that book as a printed book in Chinese.

All my San Francisco travel app content could be licensed by hotels in San Francisco for their hotel information systems, giving their customers an information edge, which might be one more reason to book with a given hotel. I could make occasional guest appearances during wine time to alert hotel guests to San Francisco travel experiences. At the basis of all travel journalism is the wish of the travel writer to assist real people to have better travel experiences.

Companies such as Twitter, Google, and Airbnb could license the app content as part of their human resources commitment to keep their employees happy. I would like to see the app available to them with coupons or some other mechanism. Thise details have not yet been worked out.

They could buy coupons as part of their human resources commitment to keep their employees happy. My app is only $3.99 and coupons could be bought in quantity for a discount. Or my content could be e-licensed and put in their corporate human resources info system. In the future I will publish an ebook version and a website version, and those forms might be easier to work with.

Similarly, conventions coming to San Francisco could license the app content and provide it in some way to their attendees, making an event in San Francisco more enjoyable to consider attending.

I sometimes give talks on travel and on publishing, so I could make appearances before employees and conventioneers to provide an entertaining perspective on exploring San Francisco. Aside from my travel books, I have a book on self-publishing. All this is apparent on my Amazon Author Central Page.

Do you feel that the consumer market has changed for travel content products?

Yes, it has. And a travel app fits right in. In San Francisco and around the country there is a growing community of 30-year-olds who haven’t yet looked up from their computers. They have needed to focus to set up their careers. Now they are settled and ready to explore. They want travel guidance and direction. Their time is precious. They want to carry their information around on their phone, preferably in an app. Fortunately, I’ve been able to visit and evaluate each of the 100 great travel experiences in the area that I recommend for San Francisco. This emerging market of young professionals will seek out reliable guidance.entry-lf-sf-app-350

Another major development since the first wave of Sutro travel destination apps in 2009 is that everyone who travels is now a photographer. Everyone has a phone device that is also a photo creation tool. Almost everyone wants to make some photos, both of the objective travel scene and a selfie of themselves in the travel subject. So my app has, for every subject, a Your Best Shot set of tips on how to get the best objective image and the most engaging selfie in that venue.

In 2009, besides my three Sutro travel apps, I also published with Countryman Press/Norton two books, The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco and The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC. Those books are still selling. They were written mainly for the “serious” photographer. What is new is that now every traveler is also a photographer. An app focused on both travel and photography can help them.

The End

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.
See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

Aside from the app, I publish books/ebooks about San Francisco and Northern California. One is titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.