Disney Publishing Worldwide president Russell Hampton presents the new Disney Digital Books initiative.

Late last month, Disney Publishing Worldwide unveiled the launch of Disney Digital Books, and further details were announced during Disney’s presentation to the media on October 8. An online library of more than 500 classic and contemporary titles, Disney Digital Books was designed around three key components: an Interactive Reader, Look and Listen, and a Story Builder, which lets kids create their own books. Because Disney owns its own content, it has access to 25 franchises and plans to add 20 new titles each month to its subscription-based service. A monthly fee of $8.95 ($79.95 annual) gives access to the online library for one parent and three children.

Numbers aside, the company acknowledges the trends that prompted the development of Disney Digital Books in the first place. “Kids are reading less, and technology gives them more choices on how to spend their time,” said Russell Hampton, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, at the presentation. “But instead of viewing these changes as a threat, we see them as an opportunity.”

During the demonstration, Hampton pointed to such capabilities as a Magic Pen at the top corner of each page, which kids click on to turn the page; the Trivia Challenge portion of the Interactive Reader, which enables kids to earn points for reader comprehension; and audio in the Look and Listen component, a learning tool for early readers.

A screenshot of an online Toy Story title.

To appeal to more advanced readers, the Story Builder feature has templates that let kids add visuals and modify text to create their own books. “We looked at different reading patterns and offer children activities that correspond to them,” explained Yves Saada, v-p of digital media at Disney. “The Story Builder gives a social dimension to reading by allowing kids to share their books with their friends.”

Disney Digital Books are also being touted for their educational benefits. Educational consultant Gail Lovely of Friendswood, Tex., was on hand to explain the Disney online system’s role in helping cultivate a lifelong love of reading “Research shows us that the more students read at home, the more they succeed,” she said, calling the online service “really motivating.” Children like choice, Lovely said; “they can pick out their own books and how they will read them.”

Lovely also lauded the dictionary feature that is part of the program’s Read Aloud component. “It relieves kids of the burden of decoding a word,” she added.

When questioned why Disney Digital Books are available on a PC platform versus a reading device, Hampton said the desire was to make the product as widely available as possible. “Kids’ books are as much about the art as they are about the text,” he added, noting that existing readers tend to be small and difficult for younger children to use.

As to whether Disney Digital Books might affect the company’s core publishing line, that remains to be seen. “We don’t see it as cannibalizing our print product,” Hampton said. “We don’t want to take away the lap experience, but rather add to children’s reading time.”