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Disney Does Digital Books

The electronic-book business is starting to pick up some speed -- although it remains too soon to say it won't crash into a bridge abutment.

This year has already seen e-book advances from Amazon, which shipped its Kindle 2 and Kindle DX* readers, and Barnes & Noble, which delivered a new store and software. Sony will soon ship updated versions of its own reader hardware, including a wireless-enabled Daily Edition. Smaller, lesser-known firms such as Irex, Plastic Logic and Astak are also bringing their own devices to the market.


Today, the Walt Disney Co. opened a Disney Digital Books site that provides access to multimedia-enriched, electronic versions of "over 500" Disney books. Some are free; most require an $8.95/month or $79.95/year subscription. They include the tie-ins to recent Disney and Pixar movies ("Cars," "Wall-E," "Up," etc.) and titles featuring more traditional characters ("Winnie the Pooh," "Cinderella" and so on) that you might expect. For slightly older readers, the site also offers books based on "High School Musical," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "That's So Raven."

The free books I sampled showed up onscreen as sparklier versions of their paper selves: The "Magic-Pen" cursor you use to navigate around the screen is a fountain-pen icon that leaves a trail of sparkles. You can click on words to hear them spoken aloud or, if you click on a dictionary button at the top left corner, to see a definition of them. Books for younger children have a "Look and Listen" interface that's supposed to help them follow along as a grown-up reads the book to them. (Parents can set up separate accounts for their kids after registering on the site.)

If you've got a current or almost-current version of Adobe's Flash plug-in, the site shouldn't require any software -- but that same reliance on the Flash plug-in can make the experience a tad sluggish. The site also has its share of bugs: When I closed out of one browser without logging out, it wouldn't let me log in on another browser.

Those glitches, along with an irksome, multiple-step registration process, contributed to CrunchGear's cranky review of Disney's effort.

I am not currently in this site's target demographic, so at this point I have to turn things over to those of you who are: Try out Disney Digital Books and tell me what you think in the comments -- can you see yourself taking along a laptop to read your kid a bedtime story?

* Astute readers may recall Amazon's press release about the Kindle DX's launch said that "this summer," The Post and the New York Times would offer out-of-town readers discounted DXes if they signed up for Kindle delivery. Well, fall's here and there's been no word out of either publisher, nor have I gotten any indication of when that might change.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 29, 2009; 1:36 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , E-books  
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I've signed up my son on this site. It provides another option to playing games or watching video on the computer. I like the trivia (reading comprehension) and I like the cool features that make it a different experience than the normal snuggle time. Not a replacement for other books, but a very nice supplement.

Posted by: rcfriedberg | September 30, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, I am OVERJOYED that Rob (who is great) actually showed a recognition of Astak! Thank you, Rob. Now, if only I could get you to fervently PLEASE do a review. A faster, lighter, more full-featured $199 eBook Reader is very much in demand. Go to:

Astak has already started discussions with Disney and has been to see them in Burbank.

Posted by: EZReader1 | October 2, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

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