Last night a few of my blogging friends and I gathered for a presentation of Disney Publishing’s latest big product: Disney Digital Books.
Now, when you consider that Disney owns all of the rights to all of it’s books and that all of them have already been digitized for easy distribution to 85 different countries, it’s not hard to understand why creating a website to house all those digital books was nothing short of brilliant.
I mean, picture it, over 500 books laid out in all their artistic glory, for kids to enjoy at the click of a mouse? The books are organized by reading level, but can be searched by character or theme. Once the child is done reading a book he can place it on a shelf where it can be easily accessed again. And if your child has a friend or two who also uses the site, she can send them a canned email message with a link to that book.
But the site goes further than just presenting books that can be read, it turns reading into an interactive experience. For the little ones, the site reads the books out loud, highlighting words as they are spoken for early reading awareness. For older kids who are reading on their own, the software is equipped with a handy dictionary tool, which gives the definition of the word, but also pronounces it. And creatively minded kids can use the Story Builder function to decorate and narrate their own books. (Kids pick images from the selection offered and fill in the blanks in prepared text.)
It’s a neat product with huge potential. As an avid reader, mom to two other avid readers, it’s hard not to be excited at the thought of so many books being just a mouse click away, but my bloggy friends and I still left the presentation with a few concerns.
First: While I know that this might be an issue that doesn’t affect the country at large, a few of us found it frustrating that, knowing that Disney Publishing has digitized versions of their books in countless languages, the site only offers books in English. A Spanish component is slated to be added later in the year, but to access books in other languages parents will have to join the sites in those countries as the sites are rolled out. Your US membership won’t automatically grant you access to those foreign sites with their treasure trove of foreign language books.
Second. While $8.95/month ($79.95/year) doesn’t seem like much to be paying when you consider that you get access to over 500 books, month after month it does add up. And yes, I know, one children’s book might run me that if I bought it in a store, but once I buy that book I can take it anywhere with me – the car, a restaurant, or even a plane. And if I’m really hankering for a huge selection of books, I can always join my library for free.
Third. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the graphics and the incredible selection of materials, but I kept thinking of places this could be a fun way to distract my kids and realizing that I wouldn’t be able to use this product in any of them. It’s a web based product with no option to download any selected books. And there’s no mobile phone or Reader version yet. So no, you can’t take that beloved Princess book on a plane, in the car, or even into a restaurant, you have to read it on a computer that has web access and that’s that.
If you happen to be a family where both parents are self conscious about accents or language issues, then this is an awesome product. If you want to expand your child’s library and make reading a bit glitzier and cool, then this is an awesome product. But if you’re already a family who reads avidly and has hundreds of books at home, then you’re going to have to ask yourself if this is really worth $9/month to you. Me, I’m still not sold. But if they ever expand the foreign language selection I’ll be all over it! I’d pay much more for access to 500 books in french!