Interview with Nils von Heijne (uTales)
uTales makes digital picture books for kids that are available online and on tablets.
I interviewed Nils von Heijne, uTales founder to find out more. This interview is the fifty ninth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Nils for the interview!
How would you describe uTales in under 50 words?
uTales is a new world of fun and educational ebooks for kids, driven by a worldwide community of authors, illustrators and teachers. Our community create digital picture books for kids to enjoy online or in our apps for iPad and iPhone.
What made you decide to start working on uTales?
I have had a love for picture books since I was little but what drove me to start uTales was the fact that picture books have not really been developed that much in the last 100 years. I saw benefits of digitizing content and offering subscriptions to give more kids access to great books at an early age, but also to lower the thresholds for talented storytellers and illustrators to share their books with the world.
Also, the strong current app trend in picture books risks moving the entire business away from “books” and more into games, which I fear is not a great development. There are so many values in picture books that easily get lost when you add too many “fireworks” to a digital book just because you can. I wanted uTales to both explore digital opportunities, while making sure the books are still books.
How did you come up with the name?
We wanted a name that focused on how our platform offers books that have been developed with you in mind. We want our books to benefit both parents and kids, but also allow you to create books as an author, teacher or someone with a story to tell and inspire kids with. Thus, we combined the “u” with “Tales” and our name was born.
How many ebooks are currently available on uTales?
Since our launch in November 2011 we have now grown to almost 200 published books in English, and soon we’ll be launching our second language, Swedish.
Tell us about your partnership with Pencils of Promise.
From the start, we knew that we wanted to connect uTales to social good to help kids in more ways. Pencils of Promise (PoP) is a fantastic non-profit (or “for-purpose” as they call themselves) that build preschools in developing countries, such as Laos and Guatemala. They are a perfect fit for us so we decided to let our creators (uTalers) have the choice to give part of their earnings to this great cause if they like. We are also creating certain books for which 100% of the earnings will go to PoP.
How long did it take to put together uTales?
I first had the idea in the summer of 2009, but I did not put together a team until the spring of 2010. We spent about a year building the platform and then a few months inviting beta users to start creating books.
Do you have any new features in the pipeline?
We sure do, but for now our main focus is actually to learn more about how kids interact and learn from ebooks as compared to printed books. We have started working with a few scientist to evaluate the positive and negative effects the digital format have on kids learning and development, and that will steer our future features.
Has uTales got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
We honestly did not know what to expect when launching uTales, but the reactions have been overwhelming. It seems people really enjoy the books and how the platform for creating books work. Naturally, nothing is ever perfect and we will have to continue to develop the platform and listen closely to what our readers think.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
We don’t like to look at other similar companies as competitors, but rather fellow-evangelists in the digital children’s book space. There are few players doing interesting things in this space at the moment – Apple, Amazon, Barnes&Nobles, PlayBooks (former TouchyBooks) to name a few – but we see most of them choosing somewhat different paths than we do, which is good since it makes the ebook business for kids more diverse and inspiring.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Being a startup, you must expect facing many hurdles but that is an important part of the journey. It simply teaches us so much. Right now the main hurdle is probably how little we and everyone else actually know about how ebooks will affect kids growing up today. What will growing up with ebooks and iPads teach new generations that we never got to learn, and how do we make sure uTales is adapted to be the very best for kids around the world. That’s a challenge we gladly take on everyday!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Many things. I’m excited about being a part of building the new world that is children’s e-reading but also about our amazing community of uTalers. Having people from all over the world join our cause and add their respective creativity and competence to it is simply amazing.
Can you convince the reader to start using uTales in under 50 words?
Give uTales a try by setting up a free account on uTales.com. The free trial will introduce you to our growing library of fun and educational ebooks for kids. We hope it will introduce your kid to great all kinds of storytelling, always accessible wherever you are.
Finished reading? Check out uTales!