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How two dads turned the iPhone into a platform for children's books [Corrected]

September 3, 2009 |  6:00 am

Corrected Sept. 30, 2009: This post has been updated to include programmer Marin Balde as one of iStoryTime's four co-founders. Balde, who coded the company's original software platform, has since left the group.

Like most parents who find themselves juggling fussy tots and multiple chores and errands, Woody Sears and Graham Farrar have surrendered their mobile phones to distract their toddlers. It wasn't just the buttons and beeps on those devices that attracted their kids -- it was also the music and video clips that turned the phones into instant toys.

"But we always felt guilty about doing that," said Sears, a 31-year-old father of two who lives in Westchester, Calif.

So Sears and Farrar teamed up with two friends -- Peter Kyriacou and Marin Balde -- to come up with iStoryTime, a platform for creating children's books for the iPhone that can entertain their kids during shopping trips, airplane hops or long car rides to grandmother's house for a holiday weekend.

Drawing from $10,000 in combined savings, the partners took four months, working in their spare time, to start their business from scratch in January to launching their first app in April -- a 99-cent book called "Binky the Pink Elephant." Click on the video below for a narrated sample of the book.

Readers can choose either an adult or child narrator, whose voices were professionally recorded for each book. So far, "Binky" has sold more than 2,000 copies and ranks in the top 30 books sold on Apple's iTunes app store.

The self-funded startup, FrogDogMedia, now has six titles. Four are in the top 100 book apps. And with another 40 books waiting in the wings, the Santa Barbara publisher is on track to add a title a week, Sears said.

The revenue is split among authors, artists and FrogDogMedia, which plows its share back into building new features for its iStoryTime platform, such as highlighting text as the narrator reads it to help kids make the connection. Now that the core software is built, publishing a book costs an incremental $1,000 to $1,500 per title. Much of that expense goes to pay the recording studio for the time used to capture the voice-overs.

"It’s a great platform for developers," Sears said. "Apple takes care of the transactions so we can focus on the books. Content is king again."

But the best part about iStoryTime? "Our kids love the books," Sears said. "It's really exciting when we can show them the books. That's the best reward."

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.