An innovative digital bookmark designed to be used by schools to encourage reading and better reading habits, was named the "best new product" at this year's BookExpo America. Initial orders placed at the BEA and online are being shipped this week to customers.

The brightly colored Mark-My-Time bookmarks are made of durable polyethylene plastic, and each has a digital, programmable countdown timer with an alarm at the top. The digital timer also records cumulative times for multisession readings and reading logs.

The Mark-My-Time bookmark should appeal to students, parents and teachers. Students can use the timer to divide the time spent reading different subjects; the preset alarm will alert them when it's time to move on to the next subject. Parents relax while they wait for kids to finish piano lessons or karate classes by setting the alarm—and presumably sinking into a book until it's time to pick up the kids. Teachers can encourage students to read more by gauging time spent reading rather than the number of books or pages.

"What's remarkable is just how quickly this product came into existence," said Joe Farinella, co-owner of Mark-My-Time LLC. "My wife, Maureen, came up with the idea and mentioned it to me. I created a mock-up that day and had a meeting with patent people within a week. Once we got the patent paperwork filed, we got a prototype created within four weeks. We got an initial shipment of 80 bookmarks just three days before BEA."

The accelerated turnaround time on developing the new sideline owed much to the Farinellas' previous careers. Maureen had a strong book and software retail background. Before she started raising the couple's two daughters, she had worked her way up from clerk to the youngest district manager of a Barnes & Noble Software Etc. Joe was an executive v-p at the security software company Network Ice before it was purchased by its biggest competitor three years ago. "The startup costs were kept low because of my longtime contacts within the industry," Joe told PW.

The couple is very involved with their children's education and volunteer weekly at their daughters' schools. Their close ties to the school's reading programs and initiatives prompted the creation of the digital bookmark. "We couldn't believe no one else had come up with the idea," said Joe. "It's very unobtrusive, and it's something that kids will see and use every day."

The Farinellas knew about the new product showcase at the BEA but didn't realize that there was a contest for the best new product. "The response to our winning was incredible," said Joe. "We won the award on Sunday afternoon and that drew a lot of people to our booth right up until the show shut down later that day. It's very difficult for a single-product company to do business with large companies like Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and large booksellers, but the award at the show gave us an invitation to talk to a number of those people. We even spoke to people about licensing this bookmark."

Mark-My-Time's initial shipment of 7,000 pieces is arriving this week from the manufacturer in China. "We've been very excited and encouraged by our initial orders," said Joe.

The digital bookmarks ($8.95 retail) measure 2"×9¼" and come in three neon-bright colors: blue, green and orange. Orders are taken by the 12-copy casepack (four in each of the three colors). Orders can be placed at or by e-mail; phone: (480) 786-4481; fax: (480) 503-8100; or snail mail: P.O. Box 9325, Chandler Heights, Ariz. 85227.

Even before anyone's received the product, the couple is getting suggestions for enhanced features for future releases. "This will not be just a one-shot product," Joe told PW. "We're going to find out what the market wants to see and keep refining our product."