Love for reading is a virtue, and to promote it, let’s talk about how to make an ebook reader app. Mind Studios has among our projects a mobile app for a niche book publisher, and we’d like to share some insights we’ve obtained while developing an ebook store and reader app.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Millennials and Gen Z read more than their parents and grandparents used to: on average, about 80% of respondents aged 18 to 49 in the US have read at least one book in 2021.
And today’s technology made the portability of book magic easier than it ever was: these days, it’s possible to carry a whole library in your pocket, i.e. in a smartphone, tablet, or eReader.
Young people are busy and they crave more reading on the go; therefore, the market for reading apps is flourishing. Let’s talk about what this market has to offer and how to build an ebook reader app. In the end, we’ll calculate a rough estimate of the cost to make an eReader app like Kindle.
Main types of ebook reader apps
There are two types of ebook reading apps, and although they’re bundled together in all the “best eReader apps” articles and reviews targeted at users, from the perspective of developers and app owners they focus on completely different things. Here they are:
- Actual ebook reading apps
- Apps for online ebook stores and publishers
When you contact a mobile app development company or research how to make an ebook reader app, you’ll find that the first stage is always business analysis. Before you decide on the features to include in your app, you first need to determine your app’s focus.
Development-wise, the focus is where the biggest difference between the two types of reading apps lies.
Developing an ebook reading app
A traditional ereader app is, in a nutshell, a simple app that allows you to read documents in digital formats like PDF, EPUB, and FB2. For example, Moon+ and Cool Reader. Creating an ebook app like these will be miles different from building the second type of reading app, despite their having several similar features.
If you wish to create your own ebook app that’s just that — a reader app, with no ebook store attached — your focus will need to be on the functionality. Is there a feature or a set of features users would like to have in a reading app that no one has implemented yet? Or maybe there’s an issue with the user experience that all major e-readers have that you can offer a solution to?
If you decide to outsource your app development, a professional project manager can help you conduct a thorough business analysis and discover the answers to the most important questions:
- What is lacking in most existing ebook reading apps?
- Can you offer these things?
- Who are your biggest competitors on the market?
- What should your unique value proposition be?
- Should you start by creating an ebook app for iPhone or Android?
You can put all the most vital information in a Lean Canvas, a tool for entrepreneurs to organize information and build a workable business plan. From there, you can build your own ereader app with higher chances of success.
Developing an online ebook store app
The second type of ebook reader apps — and the one we’ll be focusing on — is an app for an ebook store or a publisher.
Everyone knows these apps even better than the first type: Amazon has its own Kindle reading app for iOS and Android, as does Barnes & Noble (the B&N Nook app) and basically every major bookseller whose products include digital copies of books. Apple and Google have their own ebook stores as well.
When deciding how to make a mobile app like Kindle, if you’re a publisher or a book store owner who wants to sell their books in a digital format via their own app, your Lean Canvas will look different from that of a simple ereader app, since you’ll have a different focus.
Products like Amazon Kindle are first and foremost bookstores, and the focus of developing a Kindle-like app is less on the reading functionality and more on the store content.
At Mind Studios, we have experience developing and supporting a mobile app for a niche book publisher. The app was solely focused on books written by Black authors and featuring Black protagonists. Based on our experience developing this app, we can offer you the pros of having your own reading app as a publisher and bookseller (and some things to watch out for).
Benefits of ebook app development
Reading app development is neither cheap nor very fast, so you’ll need to be prepared to invest a notable amount of funds and time before you can reap the benefits. On the other hand, in the long run, the revenue might very well outweigh the spending.
Very few authors live off their book royalties alone, meaning that a reading app for a single author is rarely a sensible idea money-wise (unless you’re Stephen King and release bestsellers like you breathe air). For the sake of this article, we’ll be talking about the benefits for a publisher to be selling ebooks in a proprietary app instead of (or in addition to) big marketplaces.
Niche targeting and marketing
Browsing books on Amazon is often a hassle for users, and it is even more of a hassle for small publishers to stand out with their books on a platform with millions of competitors. If you’re a niche publisher and release a certain type of books, you have chances to reach a bigger audience with a smaller app.
You’ll need to spend some time and effort marketing your app to the interested public, of course. However, with proper target audience research, a separate app might bring you more readers than any Kindle ad campaign for your books.
Besides, at a later stage of your app’s life, you’ll have a community of readers who will help you spread the word about your app. This is one of the biggest perks of building your own ereader.
Saving on fees
Third-party services like Amazon take fees for publishing books and selling them in their online or brick-and-mortar stores. Some of these fees are really high, especially if you consider them in the long run: it can go up to 60% from the book price (and you might need to use more than one service).
At the same time, with mammoths like Amazon Kindle, it’s hard to get properly noticed without a considerable budget for professional marketing. Hence, you might spend a fortune and get very few returns financially and fame-wise. By developing your own app, you won’t need to pay fees to the metaphorical middleman.
Although there are caveats there as well: both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store take a fee from any in-app purchases or paid downloads. This includes selling books via the app. Apple takes 30% and Google Play Store takes 15% as of January 2022 (used to be 30% as well).
It’s possible to get around this issue by developing an ebook store and reader for the web as well as a mobile app, and making purchases possible via web interface only. The library will then sync with the mobile app and users will be able to read their books on portable devices as well.
Besides, the 30% app store fee might still be less than the fee paid to an online retailer or aggregator.
Direct interaction with your audience
Having an app of your own means that you can tweak it to satisfy your users better. You’ll be in direct communication with your audience, and you’ll have the power over the developers and the store itself to respond to any complaints.
Direct communication, when done correctly, will increase customer loyalty to your brand. Users will stay with your business longer and will recommend your app — and the books you sell, consequently — to their friends.
Possibility to affect user engagement
When you decide to go into your own reading app development, you’ll get access to the admin panel. This means the opportunity to not only add and remove books but the option to hold events, offer custom loyalty programs, and making user experience more engaging. These are all things you hardly have with a third-party service like Amazon Kindle.
Your app is an ecosystem. It takes work and investment, but if you’re able and willing to put in the effort, it can be a highly rewarding endeavor not only financially but in terms of your popularity.
How to make a reading app for a book publisher/seller
In this section, we’d like to go over the processes you’ll most likely encounter if you decide to enlist ebook app development services from an outsourcing company like Mind Studios.
Choose your niche
Unless yours is an established publishing house with an existing audience, it’s sensible to begin within a single niche when you decide to make an ebook app.
With LiT, our niche was books by Black authors with Black protagonists. It’s a fairly wide niche, as it includes a multitude of genres, from romance to mystery, action and adventure, detectives, etc. But at the same time, it’s limited and focused.
Your niche can be whatever you want it to be. It can be defined by a genre, theme, or setting, the ethnicity of authors or characters, age, gender, or anything else you come up with. The key is to find a niche with the potential for a community of readers.
Find out who your readers are
To run a successful marketing campaign, you need to know your target audience. It’s not as straightforward as it may seem! For example, not only teens read teen literature; not only Black people love to read stories with Black protagonists. One doesn’t need to be part of a certain culture to be interested in it. You’ll need to conduct thorough research to find the target audience for your mobile app.
However, your users will likely have common traits besides the books they read:
- How much do they read, say, monthly?
- How often do they read from an app?
- Are digital books their preferred reading format?
- How much money are they willing to spend on reading the books you sell?
- What other apps, especially reading apps, do they use?
These are just a few questions from the top of this author’s head; a thorough analysis with a professional project manager will reveal more.
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to create a user persona — a generalized user to whom you will offer your app. Without a proper user persona, your app development and marketing efforts will be spread too thin in order to cover too wide an audience, decreasing your chances to reach a solid chunk of users who will convert from prospects to loyal customers.
Select a monetization model
There are two traditional ways to monetize an app for an online bookstore: 1) take a percentage from the books you sell, or 2) offer a subscription. Most current apps, including Kindle, use a combination of these systems. Kindle has traditional book sales alongside Kindle Unlimited, a monthly subscription that allows unlimited reading (hence the name) albeit from a specific list of books and magazines. Granted, the list is quite impressive and covers all genres.
The tricky issue with subscriptions in book selling apps, though, is to properly distribute the earnings. If you’re not selling your own books (or at least not only your own books), you’ll need to pay a royalty to the authors, which can be set based on a variety of factors in the case of a subscription: number of book downloads, number of pages read, etc. Consider this when you decide on the monetization model.
Online bookstore apps can also make use of ads, although this business model is more popular in regular non-store reading apps.
Build an MVP
To get the best and richest feedback for your app development, as well as to save on said development costs, it’s usually recommended to launch a somewhat abridged version of your app. A minimum viable product (MVP) is one such version.
With core functionality in place, and with a certain number of books in your store, you’ll be able to better understand your audience and tweak any elements of the app to increase loyalty.
Besides, an MVP means you’ll be able to start earning off the app earlier, which will help you cover the future development stages.
Test everything to perfection
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of testing in any kind of apps but in Kindle clone app development — an app with a store selling products — it’s even more vital.
People buy books to keep, and having bugs or issues with user experience will surely disrupt this experience, making them abandon your store and even return the books. This can harm your reputation greatly.
Additionally, with competitors like Kindle, there’s always an app for your users to go. This is why you need to dedicate ample time to testing each of your ebook app features to ensure the experience is smooth.
Custom ebook app features to include
The list of features required in an ebook app for iPhone or Android so it stands a fighting chance in today’s market looks something like this:
This one’s a given if we’re talking about a Kindle-like reading app. If you’ve got an online store of any kind, it needs product listings. The important thing with listings is to make their design as user-friendly as possible, with engaging descriptions and easy-to-find purchase buttons.
Search, categories, and filters
It’s essential to allow users to effortlessly navigate the store to find what they need, be it a specific book or author. But more than that, it’s vital to create an organized system of tags by which your readers will be able to find new books to read within your niche. These tags will, of course, depend on the niche. They can be genres, sub-genres, book ratings, story settings, etc.
The user library is another feature to pay close attention to when developing your ebook reader app. As with a store, your app needs some kind of organization system for books a user has bought, downloaded, and read. For example, Amazon’s Kindle allows users to sort content into the following categories:
- Books, book samples, and magazines
- Downloaded to the device vs bought but stored on the server
- Read vs unread
In this author’s opinion, it would be nice if Kindle had an option to navigate a library by genre, the same as in the store. Avid readers will surely appreciate that, so you might consider this feature for your ebook reader app.
To save on internet traffic and make reading possible even when there’s no connection, allow users to download books to their devices. However, do take precautions against downloading books as plain text — this will lead to piracy and your loss of income.
Ebook reader functionality
An ebook reader will also need a set of features for actually reading books. These features are shared with the first type of ebook reading apps we mentioned at the beginning:
- Book navigation via table of contents, search by word, progress bar
- Highlights and notes
- Dictionary and/or translation
- Font adjustment: size, color, typeface
- Page adjustments: color, brightness, texture (Some apps offer collections of textures for the background, like old paper or stained pages, which can be nice for setting the mood.)
- Low blue light settings and a night theme for eyesight protection
- Sync progress between devices (in case users read from multiple devices, like a smartphone when commuting and a tablet or eReader when at home)
Adding a unique feature to the reading functionality isn’t a bad idea in general, but with a store app, the focus usually lies on the store functionality and content.
A number of ebook store apps with reading functionality also allow users to upload their own files to read. This is a very beneficial feature, as it eliminates the need for non-store reading apps, freeing device storage space and making users interact more with your app. Google Play Books, for example, allows users to upload PDF files, though nowadays, the variety of formats available is much wider, so the more of them your app supports, the better.
While reading is entertainment enough for avid readers, adding gamified elements to your app will increase engagement and make users come back. One of the popular ways to make an engaging ebook app is by offering rewards for reading more. Rewards can be badges that users can share on social media, weekly/monthly/yearly statistics, or a leaderboard and discounts for a certain number of top users.
Social sharing and in-app community features
After reading a book, most readers would like to share their thoughts with friends or like-minded individuals, and you can make this easier for them by integrating a connection with popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as with social networks focused on the reading community, like Goodreads.
Kindle integrates with Goodreads since both are owned by Amazon, and users’ reviews, book ratings, notes, and highlights are automatically copied to their Goodreads accounts. If you have a similar community in your niche, consider integrating it into your app as well.
In-app community features include comments and rating users might want to leave on books they’ve read.
As we’re talking about how to create an ebook app like Kindle, i.e. an online bookstore, the obvious feature you’ll need is the possibility for users to pay for books and/or subscriptions. You’ll need to integrate a payment gateway to provide a secure method of online payment and a high level of protection for customers’ financial data, which will likely be stored in customer profiles.
There’s also an option to not store data and ask users to provide their data each time — Book Depository, an online retailer of physical books, does this — but it will most certainly turn off a number of users or at least lower their purchase rate since it’s a hassle.
Extra feature: Audiobooks
Audiobooks have gained tremendous popularity, especially among working adults and students who want to “read” (i.e. listen to) books as they walk to the office/school, ride public transport, or drive. Among big names in the industry, the companies that incorporated this feature into the main ereader apps are Kobo Books, B&N Nook, Apple Books, and Google Play Books. Amazon, however, has a separate Audible app for audiobooks.
If you have the opportunity to order professional narration of books in your store, this might be your winning feature since not many reading apps, especially niche ones, have audiobooks in their libraries.
However, if that’s somewhat beyond your budget for the moment, a somewhat similar feature (that’s sometimes even preferred by users) is text-to-speech conversion. Modern text-to-speech engines can provide a decent level of narration. Some users even choose text-to-speech over professional human narration since it avoids the subjective interpretation conferred by a reader's enunciation and tone. Besides, with text-to-speech, you can offer your readers a selection of voices.
Ebook mobile app tech stack
The tech stack to build your own ereader will look something like the following:
|Android app||Kotlin, Java|
|Backend||Ruby on Rails, Elixir|
|Caching / CDN||Cloudflare, OVH CDN|
|Push notifications||Firebase SDK, APNs|
|Payment functionality||Stripe, PayPal|
|Audiobook processing||AWS Lambda|
|Livestreaming||Amazon Live Streaming AWS|
Ebook app design best practices
Going into Kindle clone app development, you need to pay careful attention to UI and UX design — just like the Kindle developers did.
While it has some shortcomings users sometimes complain about, the Kindle app is one of the best when it comes to ebook store design so it’s a sensible solution to take a page out of its book when it comes to UX.
Ample white space with bright accents
Elements in an app aimed at selling stuff should be easy to spot so that users make purchases faster — the longer the user searches for the buy button the higher the chances they reconsider. That’s why it’s recommended to have ample space around important elements like Library and Store sections, the cart, and a shortcut to a fuller menu. White space will make the element more noticeable.
The Kindle app’s interface is mostly while and the buttons have enough space between them, with the Buy button the only bright spot on the screen besides the book cover.
Easy access to the library
It’s custom for reading apps to have Library and Last book icons on the main panel, right next to the Store and Home icons. Furthermore, many popular ebook stores with reading functionality — for example, Kindle and Glose — have Your Library section shortcut right at the center of a launching screen, promoting more interaction with the app and higher user-friendliness. After all, users buy books to read them, so sticking a store at them is counter-intuitive.
At the same time, the store features follow right after with sections offering books based on readers’ tastes and preferences.
Easily to spot notifications
To entice users to buy more books, create notifications when a new book comes out that might interest them:
- A new book with a similar setting
- A new book by the author they’ve already bought
- A book with a similar plot
- A book in the same genre
Notifications of this kind should be implemented both as push notifications and inside the app in a noticeable way. Looking back at the Kindle app as an example: the chime icon is present on the main screen and the number of notifications is highlighted in red, which helps it stand out.
Short and intuitive payment process
It’s not a secret that people are prone to spontaneous purchases. Oftentimes, the only thing stopping a person from buying another product is a long and cumbersome payment process.
To avoid this, consider implementing one-tap payments. In this case, you’ll need to either keep the users’ card details in the app or implement quick payments with Google and Apple Pay services.
These payment options will make the payment process faster and easier, not giving users time to reconsider.
Do keep in mind though the fee app stores take! The reason Kindle app won’t allow users to make purchases directly from the app is that they’re trying to avoid the fees. Kindle books can be bought with a single tap on the Amazon website though so consider also building a web version of your ebook store.
How much does it cost to make an ebook app?
To estimate the cost to make an ebook reader mobile app, let’s first pull together a virtual team of developers. You’ll need:
- 1 project manager
- 1 UI/UX designer
- 1–2 developers for each platform (iOS, Android)
- 1 backend developer
- 1–2 QA specialists
Here’s a rundown of processes that affect the ebook app development cost (per platform):
|Stage||Time required||Cost, USD|
|Discovery / Idea validation||80-100 h||3600-4500|
|Competitor research||24-40 h||1440-1800|
|Prototyping and UI/UX design||160-200 h||7200-9000|
|Developing an MVP|
|User profile||24–40 h||1080–1800|
|Store listings||16–24 h||720–1080|
|Search, categories, filters||24–40 h||1080–1800|
|User library||16–20 h||720–900|
|Ebook reader functionality||100–160 h||4500–7200|
|Admin panel (for uploading content, monitoring performance, managing payments)||80–100 h||3600–4500|
|Payment functionality||32–48 h||1440–2160|
|Social sharing||16–24 h||720–1080|
|Project management||120–200 h||5400–9000|
Based on this list of specialists, the list of features above, and our experience with the LiT Ebook Reader App, an app development company will need a minimum of 6 months to release an MVP (minimum viable product) for an online ebook store app. The cost of such an MVP will start at about $55,000 for one platform and will increase with the difficulty and number of features. The cost will also depend on the location of the company you decide to outsource to. Mobile developers in the US, for example, are the most expensive to hire.
Challenges of ebook application development
You don’t want the books in your app to be downloaded as unprotected files and distributed outside your app. Fortunately, today’s technology offers developers tools to make pirating books a challenge that not everyone will tackle!
Besides legal protection, which isn’t your app developers’ field of expertise, the best way to protect the books in your app is to encrypt them. That’s what Amazon and other publishers of digital content do.
Using the latest algorithms like AES encryption, you can make it so that downloaded books can only be read with a decryption key contained in your app. Hence, these books will be useless for reselling in other places and can’t be read in apps other than yours.
When publishing ebooks by multiple authors, you need to consider a system to track multiple factors regarding book selling:
- How many times the books was bought
- Whether the book was ever returned and for what reason
In the case of a subscription model for monetization, you might also need to track other metrics:
- How many users read the book to the end
- If users dropped the book than at what point
- What are the book ratings and comments from readers
This and some other data will be necessary for proper royalty distribution among authors, and implementing such metric tracking and analysis will be your key instrument in dealing with authors.
This data will also be of help to you for content curation: you’ll know which books and authors are popular on your platform.
In addition to keeping the books safe from pirates, there’s another part of your app where you’ll need to invest in top-level security and that is the users’ payment information.
One of the rules of selling products online is, as we’ve mentioned above, to make the payment process as simple as possible so that users make more spontaneous purchases. When a user needs to enter their card data every time they make a purchase, chances are that they’ll think it through and reconsider. Hence, you might need to keep the payment data in the user profile for faster check-out.
If you’re willing to pay the app stores’ fees on in-app purchases, you won’t need to keep such sensitive data in the app. However, if you, like Amazon Kindle, wish to use payments via a web version to avoid app store fees, you’ll need to invest in making users’ financial data protected.
You’ll need top-grade encryption for users’ card data if you want your service to be trusted.
Mind Studios experience
One of the projects Mind Studios had several years back was an app for a niche publishing house selling romance books by Black authors featuring Black protagonists. LiT was a unique project that covered the need for representation that was at the time lacking heavily.
We’ve created a full interface and rich functionality for Lit: at the MVP stage, the app had a store, user library, extensive list of ebook app features, in-app purchases, and more. At later stages of development, we’ve also added several gamification features to increase engagement, created a special in-app currency, and implemented functionality to listen to audiobooks.
All in all, the LiT app was a full-fledged ereader app similar to Kindle but for a niche market.
Ebook app development: Conclusion
Reading apps attached to online ebook stores will continue to grow in market niches, being a convenient way for readers to find new reads in a particular niche and for indie authors and small publishing houses to earn revenue. While it’s challenging and requires a considerable investment of both time and money to launch an eReader startup, the possibility for profits is also not small.
At Mind Studios, we offer not only development but also consulting services. If you have any questions about Kindle app development or how to make an ebook app for Android or iOS, we’ll gladly offer our experience. Hit us up via our contact form for a consultation and a quote.