A lot of negatives were said about mommy bloggers this summer after BlogHer 's swag frenzy and it bubbles up from time to time when people accuse bloggers of being in the pocket of certain companies, but this week was a different story. This week - somewhat inadvertently - mommy bloggers were given a chance to shine.Several bloggers were invited to a cocktail party/product launch by Disney Digital Books this week. I love Disney, I trust Disney and my kids really like the digitized books we own, so I went to the meeting with high expectations. It turns out the product is interesting and I'd like to learn more, but there were some gaps pointed out by the mommy bloggers and that was met with some resistance and it eventually turned into a drumming...on Disney...from the mommy bloggers. I don't know if Disney saw it coming.
Quickly: Disney has just launched an online library encouraging kids to read, where the books can either be read by the child or be read aloud by the computer. The program is mostly aimed at ages five and up, but younger kids can use and enjoy it too. Not to mention, they hope to add young adult titles the library of already 500 books and a learn to read option too. Of course, none of this is free, but Disney expects the cost of $9 a month or $80 a year is not prohibitive. To that I say ha! We were told that the cost would not prevent anyone (within the general middle class, I presume) from subscribing because the monthly cost is roughly the same as two paperback books.
My kids own a ton of books, but most of their reading material comes from the library, which is free. Disney is working on an institutional version of their library, allowing schools and libraries to participate, arguing it's much cheaper for libraries to subscribe than to buy the 500 books in the Disney program. Yet my children walk out of the library each week with roughly 30 books between them that they pour over all week at home. I like giving libraries and schools access to the Disney program, but I cannot see it replacing take home, paper books at the library. A library may subscribe to the program, but there will still be a significant demand for paper books for the next five or so years. One day when we all own readers and get our reading materials digitally, that may change, but for now take home books remain king around here.
The biggest issue where debate flared was the lack of multi-linguality. The books are in English - now American English and soon to be in Queen's English - followed by some Spanish by the end of the year, then possibly Mandarin. Ideally I'd like to see a book - take Winnie the Pooh - with the option to have it in various languages. I know producing multi-lingual books isn't simple - it takes times and money to get it all worked out - but if Disney can do it for movies at the same price, they can do it for books. Clover went through a princess phase and she wanted to see the Disney movies over and over again. After her initial viewing in English, whenever she wanted to watch the movie again, it was shown in French. She was in a French class, so watching Cinderella in French wasn't as cruel as it may sound. (Maybe the French class was the cruel part.) Our Disney DVDs had the option to watch the movie in English, Spanish or French, why can't the books offer the same option? Having a multi-lingual option would be what gets me to fork over $9 month because we don't have access to that many French or Spanish books. Actually, our library has a ton of Spanish books, but they don't have the options that Disney Digital provides (proper pronunciation and definitions, for example), making their program superior to standard library books.
The mommy bloggers stressed that Silicon Valley is not the only pocket of the country trying to raise bi-lingual children and that books with other language options would bring people to their product. Honestly, I don't feel like we were much listened to. It's business and trying to appeal to a relatively small group of bi-lingual families is not a clear revenue stream. There are other countries interested in the program, but for teaching their children English, making it harder for, say, the U.S. to piggy back on say the program designed for France.
Competitors were not mentioned at all during the formal talk, but Leapfrog was singled out afterward by the publishing president, who said it takes $100 to get Leapfrog's Tag loaded with a few books and there's a maximum of five books that can stay on the Tag at once, which is true and a definite downside of the Tag. Leapfrog, however, has one tremendous advantage: It's truly portable. Disney requires wi-fi and a computer - there is no reader or iPhone app - while Tag and other Leapfrog products can be tossed into a backpack and used in the car or in an airplane, the places where an educational option for occupying kids is most needed and appreciated.
Like I said, I love Disney. I think the product could definitely work for some households, for instance where the parents may want to instill better literacy in children, but not feel confident enough to read to their children aloud. Also, the programs aids with "patient support," as we were told, which is very true. I know there are certain books my kids love put it pains me to read over and over again. I've been known to page skip too, but the Disney product is calm, time after time, after time.
The goal of encouraging reading is worthy of applause, especially across all demographics, fewer kids are reading, but as was pointed out to us the other night, this is also a business. I hope to have my kids test out the program in the next month and I'm really eager to see more of how it works and how the program evolves over time, but for now, I need more convincing.