Disney Venture Aims for Young Online Readers

By Stephen Lowman

Is Winnie the Pooh still honey-sweet when read on a laptop? If a mouse click instead of hand turns the pages of Cinderella's story, is her transformation still magical?

Disney is betting on it. Disney has launched an online book subscription website -- Disney Digital Books -- with more than 500 books available that it hopes will cast a spell over kids and their parents.

For $8.95 a month, or $79.95 a year, young readers will have access to titles featuring classic characters such as Cinderella and Tinker Bell and present-day figures such as the Jonas Brothers and the dolls from Toy Story. One subscription allows for three children's accounts, and each account can be tailored to one of three different reading levels. More books are being added -- including exclusive digital books -- to the site every month.

Children's eyeballs are increasingly focused on computer screens, and Disney is eager to get them fixated on its content. To that end, the company is wooing parents by targeting moms and dad who write for family-centric blogs.

On Wednesday, a dozen bloggers, almost all women, were treated to a meal at Brasserie Beck in downtown D.C. There they listened to a presentation by Yves Saada, vice president of digital media for Disney publishing, and played around on the Disney Digital Books site. If these tech-savvy parents wanted to Twitter about their experience later they were given the name of the hashtag.

Disney is promoting the Web subscription to parents as a way to get their kids to read more in a safe Internet environment. Rich, colorful pictures fill the screen. You use a "magic pen" to turn the digital pages. If a child doesn't understand a word's pronunciation or definition, one double-click will help them.

There are even very limited social networking tools. For instance, parents can send messages to their kids congratulating them on finishing a book, and kids can build books by inserting pictures and filling in word blanks and then share them with a friend or sibling.

While direct advertising is not present, don't expect Disney to pass up tie-in opportunities to its movies. By the time Disney's latest variation of "A Christmas Carol" hits theaters next month (starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge) there will be a digital book version available to read on the site.

So will kids cuddle with a book on a laptop? As the Doorknob says in "Alice in Wonderland": "Nothing's impossible!"

By Steven E. Levingston |  October 15, 2009; 5:30 AM ET Steven Levingston
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Someone recently pointed out to me that when the telephone, or the automobile, for that matter, was first invented, it was shocking and different and therefore somewhat controversial, because often people don't like to change their habits. I believe that reading books on a computer screen, be it a PC or a mobile device like the Kindle or smartphones, will gain traction rapidly because it is just so convenient. Yes, it is less "cuddly" to read on a laptop, but you can snuggle up nearly anywhere while reading from a mobile device. If you want to read and you don't have your book, chances are you'll have your iPhone!

Mobile digital picture books for kids: www.picpocketbooks.com

Posted by: lmattke | October 16, 2009 10:20 AM

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