12 October 2009
By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
Children's books getting too expensive? Why not go to Sharing Books and get some PDFs instead? - Photo ©iStockphoto.com/wsphotos
Sharing Books is a company and website set up by a group of Canadians.
At Sharing Books (www.sharing-books.com) parents can select from 229 children's books, download the PDF copy and let their children read it. You can also make a donation to Sharing Books before leaving the website.
Sharing Books began when co-founders Pierre Lapointe and his wife Bonnie wanted to help a friend get her children's book published. The book by Andrea Azevedo – titled The Little Suitcase – was written as a eulogy for a young friend named Dylan Oser who died of a rare disease.
Pierre found that traditional publishing was not an option because it was expensive and the margins were too thin.
The next option was of course to publish to the Web.
The web model
“As I researched how to get the maximum visibility for Andrea’s book, I found out that there were a lot of children's book creators hoping to be published. Many books had been lovingly crafted but had been abandoned because publishers rejected them.
“The driving force of Sharing Books was actually to give book creators a place where they can be published. Our research showed that there were a large number of children's book writers who could not be published in the traditional sense.
“Paper publishing of children's books is expensive and not very profitable so traditional publishers are risk averse and can publish just a tiny fraction of the books offered to them. On the other hand web publishing has none of the high costs of paper publishing. So Sharing Books offers book creators a place where their books can be read and discovered.
“We also found that book creators (especially children's book creators) are altruistic and that they love to support a cause. It seemed natural that as all of us love reading, that we would support literacy,” says Pierre.
Pierre ... the content on Sharing Books is vetted and safe for children.
He then thought of the web business model where children's book creators could share their work and help charities at the same time.
That's how Sharing Books was founded.
Proceeds from donations for the PDF downloads are split three ways – 1/3 goes to the book creators, 1/3 to the company itself and 1/3 goes to an important cause.
In this case, the important cause is Room to Read (roomtoread.org) – an organisation which promotes literacy by building and equipping libraries (over 5,000 so far) as well as schools and computer labs in the developing world. The founder is John Wood, featured on Oprah, who trekked through Nepal with donkeys laden with books for school kids there.
Why has Sharing Books made literacy its cause?
“In my opinion, literacy is a problem until 100% of a nation’s people can read and write. Canada is a highly-educated nation but there are still people who can’t read or have difficulty reading. Obviously literacy levels vary greatly around the world.
“Our literacy expertise is limited. We are technology people. We simply believe that if we offer fun books people will be attracted to them and will want to read more. Currently we are researching how to use technology to help teachers use our books in their classrooms and possibly to have a web-delivered application that helps people learn how to read. We still have a lot of work to do in this area.
“I am an optimist so I don’t think literacy is a growing problem. I think the ever expanding reach of technology and the Internet helps literacy. A person who reads can make better decisions because they have access to more information. So literacy gives people more control over their life.
“Internet content delivered via a PC or a phone encourages literacy because it amplifies the power people have over their destiny. The immediate evidence of economic benefits makes literacy more desirable and encourages both teachers and learners.
“Because children's books often use a simpler English and use illustrations they are a valuable tool in teaching literacy or languages. Our role is to make useful content available to people better qualified than us to teach others how to read and write,” says Pierre.
So far, there have been 14,444 downloads from Sharing Books.
Sharing a passion
The books are by authors from Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India and other countries. Some writers even collaborated with illustrators from other parts of the world after meeting on Sharing Books.
Currently the books on Sharing Books are in English although the company hopes it will eventually have books in other languages and even bilingual books.
Most of the visitors are children and parents. Pierre assures parents that the content on Sharing Books is vetted and safe for children.
Visitors to the website can download as many books as they want. The book creators retain ownership of their copyright and Sharing Books only has a licence to publish the books on the Web.
He speaks passionately about trying to make a difference by helping Room to Read. Being a private company, Sharing Books does not disclose how much it has made so far nor how much has been contributed to Room to Read.
However, Pierre says, whatever the sum is, it is just not enough as more needs to be done.
Sharing Books is a team effort. While Pierre provides the input for the technology and corporate side of things, his wife Bonnie, who is also an entrepreneur, is great at networking.
Helping them are a mish-mesh of talented people – from a digital media professional, a graphic artist, a business finance specialist to a retired healthcare leader.
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