Everyone is waiting for a touch-screen tablet computer, by Apple or whomever, to save the print industry. But Disney’s publishing arm appears to have gotten tired of waiting, and decided to strike out on their own with a hardware-independent strategy. They’ve started Disney Digital Books, a subscription-based online site for reading (at launch) any of over 500 books from the Disney Publishing library. In case you didn’t know, Disney Publishing Worldwide is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books – they have a lot of content to offer.
Pretty much everything is done with Flash, which is why it has the look at feel of an old CD Rom. That’s not meant as a knock; the layout and controls are pretty intuitive, and are obviously intended to convey the true feel of actually reading books. When you’re in a story, you use the cursor to grab the corners of pages and draw them over to turn them. Everything is laid out to look like you’re accessing a real book.
Even better for the younger readers, the starter books are actually read to you, with professional voice actors. As the reader recites, each word is highlighted, making the experience as educational as it is entertaining. For the books aimed at older readers, there’s no reading, but users can double click on any word in any story for a proper pronunciation, and dictionary look-up. There are even quick-quizzes to gauge a reader’s comprehension, and earn points for virtual awards.
The whole system is geared towards encouraging reading, which is wonderful. It’s also geared towards family participation. Parents/guardians can be emailed each time a story is finished so they can send back words of praise. There’s also a “Mad-libs” style area where kids can craft their own stories by selecting words from filtered lists, and selecting graphics and placing them on backgrounds as desired. And since multiple children can have logins on one account, it’s nicely set up for a family situation – only one subscription (at $9/mo, or $80/yr) is required for up to four users.
Whether or not this catches on as the de facto means for publishers to bring their wares online, at least Disney has made a choice and gone after it with gusto. Disney Digital Books is a very functional and fun way for kids to get into reading online.
Take a look at the following video to get a feel for the system.