Sunday, June 17, 2007

Publishers test e-books for young readers

"There is a whole group of young people now with attitude and sharpness that comes from a Bart Simpson approach to life. The Mickey Mouse Club is not in business. Mickey Mouse was wonderful but Bart Simpson rules today."
Walter Isaacson

Publishers test e-books for young readers
Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

Teachers and librarians can access Scholastic's BookFlex Web site at
AP Photo Courtesy of Scholastic

NEW YORK - Two leading children's publishers, Scholastic Inc. and Disney, will soon discover whether the laptop compares to the lap in the hearts of young readers.
Scholastic is officially launching BookFlix, an educational Web site pairing short films based on popular picture books along with nonfiction e-books that allow early readers to follow the text online.

For example, click on the bar that reads "People and Places" and you'll find a pair of offerings on Abraham Lincoln: An animated film of a storybook, Jean Fritz's "Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln"; and the animated image of a nonfiction work, Will Mara's "Abraham Lincoln," with children able to turn pages, backward or forward, by clicking on an arrow on the lower right- or left-hand side.

Other books include such favorites as Jules Feiffer's "Bark, George," placed alongside Alyse Sweeney's "Pets at the Vet," and Syd Hoff's "Danny and the Dinosaur," featured with Susan H. Gray's "Dinosaur Tracks."

The Disney Publishing Group plans a similar project later this year, making favorites such as "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella" available online. While Scholastic, for now, is sticking to the school and library market, Disney will offer books to general consumers, charging a fee, still to be determined, for downloads.

"We saw a void in the marketplace and decided to act upon it," said Jon Yaged, U.S. publisher of the Disney Book Group.

E-books for early readers come as e-sales overall have been rising quickly, even if they remain a fraction of a $35 billion dollar industry. The market for trade releases nearly doubled from 2005 to 2006, from $11 million to $20 million, and already totals $8 million in the first quarter of 2007, according to the International Digital Publishing Forum, a trade and standards association.

IDBF executive director Nick Bogaty said he had no statistics for the educational and library market but believed the numbers were at least triple those for commercial releases.

"It's starting to become real," Bogaty said of growth in the digital market. "Publishers are starting to take this seriously."

Unlike a few years ago, e-books have users in high places, including Penguin Group (USA) CEO David Shanks and Borders Group Inc. CEO George Jones.

Yaged remains in transition. "I still prefer to read traditional books. ... But if our program was available right now, I would be reading it to my child," he said.

Children's titles have been a weak part of the e-book market. Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins are among those saying they have no plans for digital texts designed for young people, while a Penguin spokeswoman said e-picture books are "part of the long-term plan," but not "the immediate future." The problem has always been a proper reading device; a laptop screen, a familiar sight for more and more children, could be the solution.

"We will look very carefully to see how this rolls out," said Suzanne Murphy, Scholastic's vice president of marketing for trade books, when asked if the publisher would make e-picture books available for general release. "We have to ... look at parents today and what they're most comfortable with; and they're more and more comfortable with technology. I'd be hard-pressed to say there won't be a time when bedtime reading is with an electronic device."

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