Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quick Draws: iStoryTime's Picture Book Apps Come Hot Off the Presses

Toy Story 3 set box office records this weekend, which wasn't too surprising. But what did come as a surprise was that Buzz Lightyear and the crew were heading toward infinity and beyond with the release of Toy Story 3 apps for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch -- all on the film’s launch weekend.

The digital book publishing business is turning around books quickly enough to tie in with movie releases, which hasn't always been the case. Two other recent big-screen hits, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After, also launched picture book apps the same day the films hit theaters, allowing kids to walk out of the movie house and download the story for the drive home. Both were published by iStoryTime, which is part of FrogDogMedia.

“It was less than eight weeks from the finish of the movie to our book being published,” said iStoryTime founder Graham Farrar. “It used to be that you could not publish a book at the same time as the release because they were finishing just weeks before the films hit theaters.”

As we’ve learned from previous interviews with picture book app producers, the turnaround time to make a picture book app for iPad or iPhone is just a matter of weeks.

“Certainly someone could send us a fantastic Halloween app book today,” Graham said, “and it would be a non-issue to get that out by Halloween.”

iStoryTime has been on the scene for about a year and a half and has 35 books in their catalog – making them one of the largest picture book app publishers. They have worked with DreamWorks on the movie tie-ins, but they also publish little-known authors and illustrators, such as their popular Binky the Pink Elephant, written by Sonowa Jackson and illustrated by Jaclyn Mednicov, which has sold upwards of 10,000 copies.

“That's the beauty in books,” says Graham, a father of two young children, who used to tote bags of picture books out to restaurants but now totes their books in his iPhone. “If you look on the bookshelf in kids’ rooms, there’s plenty of room for Dr. Seuss and Binky the Pink Elephant and How to Train Your Dragon. And it’s constantly evolving as they get older.”

That matters a lot to picture book authors and illustrators trying to break into the market, so it’s great to hear a publisher like Graham leaving the door open to new talent.

iStoryTime accepts submissions from authors, but the story has to be illustrated – which is completely different from what traditional book publishers want. And while they are open to retellings of the classics or original stories, they are only interested in buying the rights for electronic distribution – meaning an author with iStoryTime could sell his or her digital book to a traditional publisher.

“The value is in the content these authors create,” said Graham, addressing skeptics who are still leery of digital books. “Michael Jackson’s Thriller was just as good on CD as vinyl.”


  1. That was great. I am so interested in where children's publishing is going after hearing Stephen Roxburgh from Namelos talk at 57th Street Books. It's all so exciting.

  2. Great post, Kate. You always have such interesting stories about the industry to share.

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