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When will the tipping point come for printed books?

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MDF2683784.jpgMark Egan’s special report “Dumping print, NY publisher bets the ranch on apps” focuses on one man who believes the end has come for printed books.

Since 1980, Nicholas Callaway has made the finest of design-driven books, building a publishing house and his fortune on memorable children’s stories and on volumes known for the fidelity of their reproductions of great art. But the quality of paper, ink and binding mean nothing to him now.

For Callaway, it’s all about apps — small applications sold in Apple’s App Store where books are enhanced beyond the mere text of e-books. In this cutting-edge new medium, cooks can clap hands to turn pages of an interactive recipe, a book about Richard Nixon can include footage of him sweating during presidential debates, a Sesame Street character can read a story out loud and, should your child get bored, the app can turn the tale into a jigsaw puzzle or a computerized finger-painting set. 

As tablet sales soar in the coming years — experts are saying 82 million Americans will have one by 2015 — publishers face a tough decision. Margins are a lot higher on traditional hard cover printed books, even with the high cost of printing, shipping and dealing with returns. But as sales of e-books overtake print and consumers get used to books that feature more than just words, will it be possible to keep doing both?