Disney + Pixar + Marvel + Apple + iTablet

September 29, 2009

Back in August 2008, I posted October: The iPod Touchbook, in which I stated that Disney would be a factor in eBooks and in Apple’s tablet plans.

The pieces are now fitting together, with The New York Times announcing this morning: Disney Tries to Pull the Storybook Ritual Onto the Web.

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”

Bold emphasis added by me.

And this:

“The company feels that devices don’t offer a Disney-level experience for kids and families, and I agree with them,” Ms. Epps said.

Bold emphasis added by me.

Those are the words of a Forrester analyst, but they’re on-target.

Should children be expected to become interested in low-resolution grayscale imagery in a non-interactive and single-purpose eBook device such as a Sony Reader or a Kindle? What advantages would they offer over print? None for a child. And there’s no way flat ePub can compete with a videogame, a TV, the Internet, or even a full-color printed paper book.

How serious is Disney?

A huge marketing effort will set about drilling the site into the public consciousness. Three million promotional postcards will be distributed at screenings of Disney films, and a social media and advertising component is intended to reach 14 million mothers. In the works are demonstrations at Apple’s retail stores.

Boldface red emphasis by me.

The Disney site even offers a CoverFlow interface:


And make no mistake, even though no one outside of children’s publishing pays much attention to Disney as a publisher, they’re huge:

Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, with over 250 million children’s books and over 400 million children’s magazines sold each year. DPW’s business units include Global Children’s Magazines, Disney Family Fun Group, Disney English, and Disney Global Book Group. Disney Global Books and Global Magazines encompass a tremendous worldwide licensing structure; Disney Book Group consists of vertically integrated publishing imprints in the U.S. which include Disney Editions, Disney-Hyperion, Disney-Jump at the Sun and Disney Press. In addition, Disney Libri, DPW’s Italian vertical operation, publishes books for children of all ages. DPW’s Disney FamilyFun Group publishes Disney FamilyFun and Disney en Familia. Headquartered in White Plains, NY, Disney Publishing Worldwide publishes books and magazines in 85 languages in 75 countries.

Now add Marvel to that!

Disney Digital Books had a webcast at 1PM ESDT today and I attended. Some screensnaps and salient points.

An introductory pre-roll video had some interesting hardware:



Click = big

Russell Hampton, President, Disney Publishing Worldwide, illustrating and making the point that time once devoted to reading has been usurped by video game play.

Click = big

Jeanne Mosure, Senior Vice President, Group Publisher, Disney Publishing Worldwide, speaking about the digital books.

Click = big

Click = big

Disney emphasized that the site will be continually updated, especially with tie-ins to current movies and TV programs. This makes their site a library that constantly grows.

Click = big


Yves Saada, Vice President, Digital Media, Disney Publishing Worldwide, discussing testing and pricing.

Click = big

“Purchase at Retail” is a key factor: There will be gift cards. They’ve timed this to coincide with the year-end gift-giving season. Will these gift cards be sold at Apple Stores too? I expect so!

Mention was made of the Kindle. They’re already on that, with some books geared to teens. But the monochrome screen is not appealing to the age group they’re targeting with this site. As other hardware platforms appear, they plan to be on them. It was stated somewhat oddly that they’d never be “exclusive to one platform.” It was emphasized this was browser-based. Of course, that’s now. In a year or two, I’d expect downloads from them.

What I found interesting was the amount of testing that went into the books. A suggestion from parents was that kids should be able to “play” with the books. Also of interest is that the entire site was developed in-house with “proprietary” technology. I can’t help wondering how related this might be to the goals — and technology — of Apple’s new iTunes LP.

What I find to be harbinger of the future is this aspect:


Kids take trivia quizzes about the book they’ve read and earn points.

I see that as the future of textbooks and schooling. Reading material will offering progressive testing. A student will read a chapter and take a quiz. If that quiz is failed, the chapter must be re-read and the test taken again (perhaps even a variation on the first test!). This has vast potential impact, especially with those who choose to do home-schooling. Is the future of the classroom basically come in, read, and be tested? The dynamic electronic book envisioned by Neal Stephenson in The Diamond Age — and earlier by Alan Kay with the Dynabook — comes closer to being real.

Where does Marvel come in? It addresses a group Disney was missing: boys.

“This helps give Disney more important exposure to the young male demographic that they have sort of lost some ground with in recent years,” said David Joyce at Miller Tabak & Co.

Disney has long been a blockbuster brand with girls, thanks to characters such as Hannah Montana, Cinderella and Snow White, but has struggled to achieve the same kind of success with boys.

There are already comic books by others for sale in the App Store. Expect Marvel to shake that up in the future.

I’ve already read carping on the Net that this is a cynical Disney ploy to indoctrinate kids with their brand names. Well, look, it’s Disney Publishing. It makes no sense to me to gripe about that. Hold parents responsible for what goes into the heads of their children — and those parents had better be prepared to cave in to their kids’ demands for the latest Disney giveaway at McDonald’s despite their efforts. Disney is a safe brand for children, not a small thing in this world.


What I love about this is that Disney is emphasizing these are digital books — not eBooks. They’ve positioned themselves for the future, not settling for the inferior offerings of today.

A questioner asked what number of subscribers they would consider a success. Disney’s not thinking that way. This is a long-term investment for them. I’d like to see the calculations that went into this. On one side, Disney’s subscriber projections, a curve upward; on the other side, the price of portable full-color wireless tablets, with a curve downward. Remember: the iPhone debuted with a US$600 price tag. You can now buy a near-iPhone, the iPod Touch, for one-third of that price.

Unfortunately, my question about demonstrations taking place at Apple Stores didn’t get through due to time constraints. It will be interesting to see how these are done. The larger Apple Stores I’ve been to all have a section reserved for the use of children.

So there’s Disney + Pixar + Marvel with a massive stockpile of content and Apple + iTablet with the hardware and iTunes gateway. This combination is going to change the world and move us into the age of the smart digital book.