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Sunday
Nov082009

Steve Jobs thinks different, 1997

During most of the production of Toy Story, Pixar’s CEO and owner Steve Jobs saw little reason to expect great things of the film or his money-draining company. Indeed, he tried, and failed, to sell to Microsoft.

After the film’s very successful release, however—Toy Story was the highest-grossing film of 1995—Jobs began thinking big. He renegotiated Pixar’s deal with the Walt DIsney Co. to make Pixar an equal partner in financing the films and collecting the profits. His audacious goal was to make Pixar as strong a brand in moviegoing as Disney’s. 

Over the previous six decades since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, others had tried to challenge Disney’s supremacy in feature animation. None had come close. 

A mere six decades of history was not the sort of thing to shake Jobs’s confidence. He laid out his vision in his letter to shareholders in the Pixar’s 1996 annual report (issued in mid-1997):  

We believe there are only two significant brands in the film industry—“Disney” and “Steven Spielberg”. We would like to establish “Pixar” as the third. Successful brands are a reflection of consumer trust, which is earned over time by consumers’ positive experiences with the brand’s products. For example, parents trust Disney-branded animated films to provide satisfying and appropriate family entertainment, based on Disney’s undisputed track record of making wonderful animated films. This trust benefits both parents and Disney: it makes the selection of family entertainment that much easier for parents, and it allows Disney to more easily and assuredly draw audiences to see their new films. Over time we want Pixar to grow into a brand that embodies the same level of trust as the Disney brand.

(The letter was available on the Pixar web site until Disney—thoroughly defeated by Pixar in feature animation—acquired the company in 2006.)