Streaming Ebooks: A New Distribution Model for Schools
Part Two in the series of articles on new e-book distribution methods for schools. See “Ebooks Are Actually Not Books” for Part One.
One ebook, one device, for one child. It makes sense if you’re a parent looking to provide reading material for your son or daughter. It makes sense if you’re a publisher using the traditional book sales model for your digital book list. But this model is not always practical for K-12 schools and their libraries because it doesn’t solve a couple of significant problems.
Problem 1: School platform woes
First, let’s look at what the “one ebook, one device” model means in terms of the multiple-platform hardware situation in today’s K-12 schools. Often, the same student needs to access the same book on several of platforms. If a third grader is doing a report on sharks, for example, she may need to refer to her reference book on a PC at the school library, on a tablet in her classroom, and on a Mac at home.
Using the single ebook/single device model, the school would have to pay for and track three different ebooks, even though all three contain the same content all three are being read by the same student for the same project.
Problem 2: School budget realities
The second reason the “one ebook, one device” model is not ideal has to do with budgets. Schools want to be able to offer a range of books to their students. When it comes to nonfiction, they’d like to provide access to many different books on all kinds of topics, so their students can follow their interests in any direction.
For fiction and poetry, teachers often need multiple copies of the same title so the whole class can participate in a reading assignment together. Schools are looking to build ebook libraries that are both deep and broad.
Reaching this goal is much more cost prohibitive with the “one ebook, one device” model than with a subscription model. I attended the 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, and spoke with school librarians. I repeatedly heard them pine for new, affordable ways to access a range of digital books. “I wish the publishers would listen to our needs,” said one high school librarian from New York.
Solution: A streaming model for schools
Some new digital publishing companies have begun to listen. One such company is StarWalk Kids Media, founded by author Seymour Simon and former Sesame Street Creative Director Liz Nealon. Through their research—they frequently visit schools and attend education conferences—Simon and Nealon recognized this unmet need in the K-12 education sector.
They were looking for a way to use digital media to bring life to backlist children’s books. The two conceived of a business that offers ebook content to schools via the internet for a yearly subscription price. After talking to librarians and teachers, “it was clear to us that a multiple, simultaneous streaming model was the way to go,” says Nealon.
StarWalk defines “simultaneous streaming” as unlimited, anytime access to their entire booklist via any device, streamed via the internet to as many users as are covered within the subscription parameters. Subscriptions are usually based on a school site or district.
From backlist to digital library
Currently, StarWalk Kids offers more than 150 titles via simultaneous streaming, many are Simon’s own backlist books, and 60% are nonfiction. 250 additional titles are in production. “It’s exciting to see this new world unfolding in front of us,” says Nealon.
The company is building most of its list from authors and illustrators whose books were published several years ago by mainstream publishers. These books may have had their copyrights returned to the authors or be tied to contracts that don’t cover digital rights. Digitizing these previously print-only backlist books is a way to acquire titles rapidly, though they are also acquiring original content. Nealon says her goal is to grow the StarWalk Kids list “at least 1,000 titles.”
Many StarWalk Kids titles have been enhanced during their transition to digital format. Simon’s Einstein Anderson book series, for example, was originally published in the mid-1980’s. The series has now been updated to reflect scientific advancements and augmented with audio and interactivity.
A subscription to StarWalk Kids Media provides a school or district with access to the StarWalk list and the use of the proprietary StarWalk reader software, which runs on a range of platforms including Windows, MacOS, and many tablets.
“Our reader software does things that are significant for schools,” says Simon. These features include voice-overs, note taking, and analytics that report the number of times a title’s been read.
One foot in both ponds
Though the company is focused on selling subscriptions, some StarWalk titles are available as individual downloads through traditional distributors. “This is the very beginning of ebooks,” says Nealon, “Not every librarian is prepared for streaming.”
And as an author, Seymour Simon hasn’t given up working with what he calls his “legacy publishers.” A respected specialist in children’s nonfiction and science, Simon has written hundreds of books in his long career and continues to keep one foot in the traditional publishing pond.
He continues to write books that are edited and published for houses including HarperCollins. “I have a good and respectful relationship with several publishers,” he says. Even when his books carry another publishers’ imprint, he says he’s constantly “trying to make sure they’re available in digital as well.”
This is Part Two in the series of articles on new e-book distribution methods for schools. See “Ebooks Are Actually Not Books” for Part One.
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