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Kids publishers pack value into pioneering e-book programs

AS the children's book industry looks for new growth opportunities in the digital media realm, it's recently cribbed a page from the dynamic world of online kid communities to bring stories to life. Two major kids publishing houses, Disney and Scholastic, are launching digital book programs that marry cartoons, audio, games and old-fashioned reading in one immersive experience.
September 1, 2007

AS the children’s book industry looks for new growth opportunities in the digital media realm, it’s recently cribbed a page from the dynamic world of online kid communities to bring stories to life. Two major kids publishing houses, Disney and Scholastic, are launching digital book programs that marry cartoons, audio, games and old-fashioned reading in one immersive experience.

Scholastic’s new BookFlix initiative, which launched in June and targets kids three to eight pairs animated videos of classic storybook tales (produced by its Weston Woods subsidiary) with nonfiction titles from the in-house back catalogue that touch on similar subjects. So Click, Clack, Moo, a quirky story about cows that type, has been teamed up with Let’s Visit a Dairy Farm; and Maurice Sendak’s crazy classic Where the Wild Things Are hooks up with learning-focused book Where Land Meets Sea.

The content packages’ video components have a built-in subtitle option for kids who want to read along with the on-screen action. And similarly, the non-fiction virtual book comes with a kid-voiced track that reads along, as well as highlighting and defining challenging words. There’s also a ‘puzzler’ section with edu-games based on the text that is designed to reinforce vocabulary and reading comprehension. And kids can click on a link to learn more about the author and navigate onto a page filled with kid-friendly external links to relevant content.

‘We’ve tried to go beyond what a standard e-book typically offers to really support the process for struggling readers,’ says Duncan Young, GM of BookFlix at Scholastic. He adds that the technology creates a level playing field for reluctant readers, as well as ESL students.

BookFlix encompasses 80 English titles and 20 Spanish ones so far, and it’s sold exclusively to schools and public libraries. A twist, Young adds, is that the cost of subscription includes remote access for kids and families who belong to the facility, so they can use BookFlix from anywhere through an internet connection.

Young says Scholastic will be looking to add more titles over time, and the program has the potential to migrate into material for older grades down the road. He also expects that as more popular trade titles play into the BookFlix format, the program may branch out of the educational sector into the consumer market, though that’s not on the books as a strategy right now.

Going after a mass target from the get-go, Disney Publishing Group is planning to roll out its own line of digital books later this year. Purported to be similar to Scholastic’s dynamic model, the program will include packages based on classic Disney stories like Cinderella and The Jungle Book, made available to the consumer market to buy as downloads.

As to whether these pioneering initiatives mark the start of a new category in kids publishing, Young says BookFlix can be sold on a stand-alone basis, but adds that there will always be room for both print and virtual products at Scholastic. ‘We don’t make it an either/or situation, because the two mediums are most effective when they come together to create the best possible experience for students.’

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