updated 11:35 pm EDT, Mon April 4, 2011
Design-driven visionary sees iPad as the future
In a lengthy profile, coffee-table book publisher Nicholas Callaway detailed a newfound passion for apps over books, proclaiming them the successor to traditional books and making a full-fledged switch. A viewing of Pixar's original Toy Story and the encouragement of Steve Jobs gave Callaway the "eureka" moments that convinced him that apps are a new form of story-telling and caused him to reinvent his already-successful company.
Callaway told Reuters that he has "bet the whole ranch" on his change from traditional to e-publishing. From the perspective of publishers, the invention of iOS and particularly the iPad has opened up a new "gold rush" of possibilities for connecting with audiences at dramatically lower cost than ever before. Callaway believed that the "Dickensian" costs associated with paper publishing -- printing, storing, distributing and inventorying actual books -- devours 25-40 percent of the wholesale cost, and the retailer also gets a substantive share that sometimes makes Apple's 30 percent royalty seem low, he said.
Callaway and partner David Kirk had already found mass appeal with the latter's children's series Miss Spider's Tea Party, which then led not just to sequel books but entire lines of highly stylish, intricately-designed toys and accessories that eventually went global.
In mid-2009, with the buzz about Apple developing a product that would bridge the gap between computers and smartphones, Callaway contacted Apple CEO Steve Jobs directly to ask for help in becoming an app developer. Jobs was familiar with Callaway's art book publishing efforts and encouraged Callaway to explore adapting their previous successes to the new medium. Callaway sent Jobs an alpha build of the app version of "Miss Spider" on an iPod touch and was allowed to come to Cupertino to help develop the app for what would soon be known as the iPad.
Since then, Callaway has had huge success with his "books as apps" approach, in addition to straightforward e-book publishing. The Monster at the End of This Book, a Sesame Street title, has done extremely well and remains at the top of App Store charts. It augments the original beloved book by having Grover read the story to the user as well as having interactive elements that encourage children to swipe the "book" to turn the "pages." He has also done app-books featuring Martha Stewart and Rachel Allen. The latter's cookbook turns pages when the reader claps, allowing chefs with messy hands to follow along with the narration from Allen.
In a good example of how the publishing world has changed, Callaway says that authors and app makers are now brought together early on to create interactive apps or e-books first, with paper editions contingent on the success of the project in the digital world.