• by Siobhan Maclean
  • 04th Nov 2018

What do I get for my money?

I have been publishing social work literature and learning resources since 1999. I set up a publishing company that was based on the values and ethics of social work, because I didn’t like the way that the big corporate publishers operated – nor the prices they charged. During the years since I started I have always tried to keep social work values and ethics at the forefront of my work. So, for example, we will only have our material printed by ethical printers (who don’t use imposed zero hours contracts, who use sustainable paper sources etc); we don’t provide tutors with free copies of our material and then charge students a fortune – we are much more likely to provide free books to students and social work not for profit organisations; we pay authors a proper rate. Indeed, many authors choose to extend these values and ethics – so for example, all of the profits from the sale of “Social Work in 42 Objects and More” by Mark Doel go to TARA a charity in India working with street children. TARA receive a monthly payment relating to all sales.

All of the profit from our publications goes back into investing in new resources for our profession. A couple of years ago I started to explore developing a smartphone app for social work students and practitioners. Of course, I am most well known for my work on theory and critical reflection and so the app was designed around this. In researching the world of app development, I began to realise why there are so few apps in social work. It is so expensive to develop an app! However, I was able to secure a relationship with a new app development company who were in tune with our ethical standpoint. Two young graduates working hard to develop their own company. In the last two years I have worked with them to develop the app. It has cost £20,000 to develop on three separate platforms (iPad, android, iPhone – in that order). Deciding how to price the app was tricky. I spoke to lots of social workers and students about this. The app does lots of different things and people wanted to use it in different ways. I suppose that there is no perfect way to price the app and there is certainly nothing that everyone will be happy with. On reflection I wonder whether what the app does and the pricing structure is clear enough, so please let me take the time to explain:

For an initial download of £3.99 you get access to the whole app. You can use the nine sections as follow:

  1. Envelope activity - you can develop your own envelopes for CPD purposes

  2. Theory of the week / theory library (this is currently different on the different platforms) - you get access to information about a different highlighted theory each week

  3. Theory or model? - There is a film which explains the difference between a theory, a model, a method and an approach (something that most people I work with struggle with)

  4. Critical reflection – this section has a number of parts to it but in there is information on how to improve reflective writing, reflective supervision, models of reflection and more

  5. Making theory fun – this is full of ideas for practice educators to break down the theory “fear factor”

  6. What? why? how? - this introduces my thoughts about this important framework in practice

  7. Questions and answers – here users can send me questions (they often do). I reply. If I think the answer will be of interest to others it is posted on the app

  8. Lightbulb moments – people can send their lightbulb moments which are then posted for other users to see

  9. Further reading and reviews – provides a bookshop

All of the above is provided for the initial download fee of £3.99. There are a number of videos, which are hosted on YouTube, but can only be viewed by people who have downloaded the app.

Then there is an ongoing subscription service available. People do not have to do this, and they can unsubscribe at any time. This is £4.99 per quarter (around £1 per month). For this additional fee you can ask the app to suggest theories that link specifically to the envelopes you complete. We have also started to develop access to a full theory library (at present this is only available on the iPhone / iPad version – we are working on it for android). People who subscribe get access to the full theory library not just the theory of the week.

To download the app costs £3.99. Of that the platform takes almost half (so around £2 goes to google or apple). Around £2 comes to me (about two months after the purchase is made) of course on that I pay tax (which I certainly don’t begrudge because that pays the wages of public servants). To subscribe costs £4.99 a quarter (again I get about half of that). I am not expecting the app to ever go into profit. I saw it as something that would be useful for the profession and wanted to invest the profit from my books into it. The accounts relating to all of this are available if anyone is interested enough!

I can’t afford to invest any more in the app, so changes / updates need to be funded by the income from the app. I genuinely think the current pricing structure is fair. It will just about bring in enough income to keep the app updated. I am starting to work with a number of incredible people who all have lived experience of social work and the child protection system. I want to support them in developing their writing and that is where the profit from my resources needs to go now. So, I need to continue to charge for the app. The download fee is about as much as a cup of coffee in Starbucks, which few people question the value of (don’t forget most of those coffee companies pay little or no tax!)

I hope that taking the time to read this will help you to be clear about “what do I get for my money?”

I have had many comments in person and by email from people using the app who find it incredibly helpful. That’s why I developed it and I am glad that it is helping people to keep theory on the professional agenda. It is so very important.