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Sourcebooks ebook app puts children in starring roles

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Sourcebooks, the nation’s largest woman-owned independent book publisher based in Naperville, is launching an app and an e-book series aimed at transforming the iPad’s use for tweens, teens and young children.

The “Put Me In The Story” app, which launched Tuesday and was months in the making by in-house design and development teams, is the company’s 11th in the iTunes app store. The app is free to download.

It is intended to change the iPad’s image as a metallic and somewhat cold device to one of a bedtime-reading friend.

“Put Me in the Story” lets a parent do in real-time what some companies have long done in print: To personalize the book by inserting a child’s name throughout the text, and downloading the child’s photo and sizing it to fit within the book’s frame.

“We’re aiming to enhance the bedtime reading experience,” said Dominique Raccah, Sourcebook’s founder, CEO and publisher.

“The first thing the child sees is his or her name and photo on the dedication page,” she said. “This creates an instant connection for the child, and gets him excited about reading.”

Though equipped with sounds and the iPad’s interactive tools, the app doesn’t use animated features that would over-stimulate kids, since it’s designed to create a special moment between parent and child, Raccah said.

The first book with the app, classic bedtime favorite “The Night Night Book” by Marianne Richmond, will be available for free download. The next books are expected to cost $4.99 each.

Two other books to be released with the app are Richmond’s “If I Could Keep You Little” and the debut work of Olympic figure-skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi, “Dream Big Little Pig.”

A new book will be launched each month.

The second digital product from Sourcebooks, “The Shakesperience,” features enhanced ebooks of Shakespeare’s plays on Apple’s iBookstore.

The ebooks give teens and tweens a built-in “Cliff Notes” on steroids, with highlighted words one click away from their definitions and context; audio and video clips of famous actors playing the roles; image galleries with photos, production notes, set renderings and costume designs, and “A Voice Coach’s Perspective on Speaking Shakespeare” by Andrew Wade, former voice coach to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“In Othello, we’ve embedded 1,400 words or terms in blue text so when you touch the text with your fingertip, you immediately know what that word means,” Raccah said of the ebooks that launched Oct. 2. “We have rethought the experience of learning to read Shakespeare all the way through. We’ve made it easier to experience the subject no matter what kind of learner a student is.”

The glossary is contextual.

For example, the word “coin” links to an explanation of its worth at the time and its value compared with modern currency.

In demos, one student said he would go back to the play again and again because he couldn’t get through all of the interactive features in one try, Raccah said.

That’s a far cry from most kids’ efforts to get away from the tough slog of going through a Shakespeare play purely on paper, she said.

For example, students may enlarge photos, listen to Orson Welles’ readings of Shakespeare’s plays, watch John Kani’s starring role in a landmark 1987 South African production of Othello and get behind the scenes with rarely heard recordings of Edwin Booth and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Each of the books in the initial rollout – Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet — costs $9.99. Sourcebooks also publishes 12 Shakespeare books that come with audio CDs but have no on-line components.

Keeping up with the latest technology is vital, especially in producing textbooks and educational books, and in connecting authors and readers in new ways, experts say.

The issues are particularly acute as the relationship between publishers and technology companies that create their own content — such as Apple and Amazon.com — remain touchy. The technology companies’ model encourages retailers and independent authors to sell books at deep discounts, and lets writers easily publish their own books, said Kenneth J. Thurber, author of “Big Wave Surfing: Extreme Technology Development, Management, Marketing and Investing.”

Traditional publishers are left to scramble to remain competitive and profitable, as are authors who don’t move quickly to find new sales outlets, he said.

“The entire (book) distribution chain has changed substantially,” Thurber said.

At the same time, book readers are increasingly turning to tablets as their medium. A Pew Internet Research poll found that the percentage of book readers who read e-books jumped to 21 percent in January from 16 percent just three months earlier, in September, 2011.



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