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Website of the Week: Deck of Secrets on the iPhone


I should preface this column with an admission that I don’t own an iPhone. Nor have I ever held one. However, it is my fervent hope that, if I work hard enough and stay focused, I might one day join the tribe.

Back in 2006 we ran a story on Michelle Matthews, founder of the Deck Of Secrets publishing empire that began with a 52-card deck Melbourne bar guide in 2003 and now includes 22 guides to life’s pleasures in locations across Australia and around the world.

Deck of Secrets is a successful print business, largely insulated from the carnage other print media sectors are experiencing in this digital age.

A few months back, Matthews teamed up with software developer Shaun Ervive to turn the Deck of Secrets guides into iPhone applications.

There aren’t many products better suited to being reinvented as an application in your pocket than Matthews’ DRINK, EAT and PLAY decks. You’re out and about, as a tourist or in your home town, and you’re looking for a well-curated selection of restaurants, bars or places to stay. A few taps on your iPhone and you’re in the know, with the added benefit of the selection being tailored to your GPS location.

dos_melbourne_iphone1_tall2“The iPhone app versions are, if anything, longer than the physical deck of card secrets, because we’re not limited by space,” says Matthews. “We’ve updated the London bar guide and we’re about to update and add content to the other apps as well.”

Matthews likes iTunes as a sales channel, because the majority of her potential customers are already familiar with Apple’s iTunes store. “They have a relationship with it, and iTunes has their credit card details,” she says. “We can release these apps and if people want them, all they need to do is… elect to buy them, which means entering their password. And then Apple pays me. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone. I don’t have to chase up the money. It’s a seamless process from the iPhone to iTunes to payment and reports.”

Currently, eight of the 22 physical guides are available as iPhone applications, with another – FIND Melbourne (culture) – scheduled for iTunes store approval in a couple of days and PLAY Ibiza (resorts) expected to go live in a few weeks.

According to Matthews, app sales have been strong, particularly for the Melbourne and Sydney guides. Things were certainly helped along when Deck of Secrets was featured at the top of recent Apple television commercial for the iPhone. The guides have been downloaded more than 10,000 times. This figure includes downloads of the free preview version of DRINK Melbourne, though Matthews says the free app doesn’t seem to have led to any corresponding sales improvement since it was released.

I ask Matthews whether she can see the iPhone (and smart phone) applications, and not the deck of cards, becoming her primary business at some stage in the future.

“It’s certainly possible,” she says after some thought. “It’s hard to imagine that everyone will have an iPhone. I’m not sure that it will happen particularly soon. And I’m not should we would kill off the physical decks off altogether. The two businesses can grow together and I’ll learn from each of them.”

The internet has produced a culture – a generation – that that expects many things to be free. Rupert Murdoch is wrestling this beast at the moment, and he’s not alone.

For Matthews, whose business is admittedly much further from the precipice than newspapers, it’s a question of perspective.

“I’m quite open to paying for an iPhone app,” she says. “I think the most I’ve paid for an app is $23, but I’ve bought others for $10 or $12. We’re talking about such small payments. Nearly every app I’ve bought has been less than the price of a cocktail. You don’t usually question that when you go into a bar.”

Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine.