Coffee Table Book King Ditches Books for Apps

Nicholas Callaway, a major publisher of coffee table books, is “betting the ranch” on apps as the future of his publishing empire, and is ditching the books he on which he built his business. In a piece about the publishing industry that centers on changes wrought by the iPad (to a greater extent) and Amazon’s Kindle (to a lesser extent), Reuters chose Mr. Callaway’s perspective as the centerpiece of what it means when a publisher abandons printed books for iOS apps and ebooks.

Mr. Callaway has published coffee table books such as Madonna’s Sex (as well as her children’s books that began with The English Roses), David Kirk’s children’s Miss Spider series that began with Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and numerous coffee table books on art, photography, and many, many more.

The publisher, age 57, got his start in the publishing business in 1980, with three books on art. It was 15 years later, when watching Pixar’s Toy Story in 1995, that he was prescient enough to realize a sea change was coming for his industry.

Nicholas Callaway

Nicholas Callaway from an Apple profile on the publisher.

“I thought [that Toy Story was] a new form of storytelling, this is going to change the world,” he told Reuters. “We stopped thinking of books as the sole vehicle for our products and we thought more of core intellectual property that could be executed across many different media.”

Mr. Callaway began differentiating his business model from that of his competitors almost immediately, making his authors partners in all endeavors relating to their work, rather than talent that receives a royalty. In other words, his company and his authors jointly own all the intellectual IP relating to their works, and in the beginning in the 1990s, that meant toys, clothes, and other licensing opportunities.

He has now ditched all that in favor of apps, however, and he renamed his business Callaway Digital Arts — and when he works with a new project, he insists that it start with an iPhone/iPad app, rather than a printed book. Indeed, he no longer even publishes printed books, licensing out that aspect of a created work for other publishers to handle. He also sold his merchandizing company, and is focused on making creative apps for Apple’s iOS platform.

It began with Apple’s iPad, and the publisher was able to get into Apple to work with the company to have one of its works ready to go for the iPad’s launch in April of 2010.

“I went to my staff and said, ‘It’s time to burn the boats,’” he reportedly told employees, “We are going to transform ourselves … and we are going to have to find a whole new set of skills to become app developers.”

Mr. Callaway had a relationship with Apple CEO Steve Jobs due to a book about a Japanese designer, Eiko Ishioka, he had published, and he reached out to Mr. Jobs to ask about working with Apple to take an early beta of an iPhone app (Miss Spider) he was working on and turn it into an iPad app ready for launch day.

“[Steve Jobs] e-mailed me and he said, ‘I think this is great and I have been playing it for hours,’” Mr. Callaway said after he sent the Miss Spider beta to him. “Having watched this change coming for 20 years, I knew this was the moment. It was now or never.”

He added about the iPad, “This is revolutionary. This is the Looking Glass. This is Alice in Wonderland. We are at the beginning of an entirely new medium.”

So far, Callaway Digital Arts has published Martha Stewart Makes Cookies, The Monster at the End of This Book (for iPad), Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue, and several more.

The Reuters piece is seven pages long, and it has a lot of information about the publishing industry and related topics.