Nostalgia time: how many readers out there remember story albums? They were 45s or full size vinyl albums that had a story or collection of stories accompanied by a book. I spent hours reading along with story albums, dutifully turning the page at the bell as I was told. As I was getting nostalgic due to Rita Arens’ whistful post about story albums at BlogHer (which includes a link to a gallery of children’s albums on Dabbled — I owned at least half of these!) I came across this piece in the NYTimes about DisneyDigitalBooks.com.
This new service, launching today, provides an extensive catalog of eBooks coupled with a “Disney-level experience.”
“In the ‘look and listen’ section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud.”
The site is painted in the piece as something new and innovative, but to me it just looks like web-enhanced story albums.
Not that this is a bad thing. As I said, I spent hours with those books as a kid, and played/read them over and over. I’m sure they were a big part of the reason I was able to read before entering grade school.
Getting more kids reading is the aim. Publishers and parents worry that kids are reading less and everyone is looking for a way to reverse that trend. At a time when institutions like Reading Rainbow get the axe because of a shift in focus and philosophy on how best to get kids literate and reading, it’s interesting that Disney is returning to an old model, albeit with a modern spin.
Disney isn’t tying their digital books to any one device. In fact, the site probably wouldn’t work correctly on an eReader’s browser, so parents will have to stick to computers. Disney is apparently planning something for cell phones and “devices down the road.” I can see reading/learning with these books being a particularly good experience on a tablet.
Even though Disney doesn’t appear to be positioning/marketing it this way, I’m glad to see the return of story albums. As Arens says in her post, there’s just something about listening to a book read aloud: “As a kid, it was staring at the pictures and hearing more than one voice tell the story. [...] While physically being able to read words on a page is certainly important, listening can be more relaxing.” Kids will lose the physicality of a book with digital editions, but they’ll gain more interaction and engagement.
Instead of selling individual titles, Disney is packaging this as a service at the cost of $79.95/year for unlimited access to hundreds of electronic books. It’s not a bad price for what you get, but it also means that kids won’t even own a digital copy of the books they love. Perhaps that won’t matter to them — culturally, we’re leaving physical copies of music and video behind without much protest. Kids raised on a digital diet will probably come up with some other way to hold on the stories and memories they treasure.