To Melinda Thompson, the question needed an answer: How can you teach a child to read if they don’t have books? Her solution?
“I can bring them,” says the Cary, NC, publisher of Budding Reader, an ebook micro press, who wants to give as many books away for free as she can. It’s an unlikely value proposition for most K–12 publishers, but Thompson believes that every child should have the tools to learn to read, in any language and in any country.
To that end, Thompson has partnered with start-up Unglue.it to raise $50,000 in the hopes she could open the source code for one of her titles, Cat And Rat. The goal is to allow educators to use the artwork and basic framework of the book, yet adapt the story to any language they’d like.
Having launched her company in December, Thompson already gives one ebook away for each one she sells. Titles include Hop! and Wit and Kit, two of just four she offers through Amazon.com at a price of $9.99. Books come in sets of 10, all telling the same story with each volume building on the next. The first starts mostly with pictures and just a few words, with the amount of text increasing with each subsequent volume.
While Thompson believes a perfect world is where print and ebooks co-exist together, she knows how valuable digital books are, particularly in parts of the world where getting a physical copy of an early reader—and one written in the local language—can be extremely difficult. Digital information can often travel more easily, where a book can literally be delivered through the air—and into the hands of eager children, hungry to learn.
“There are places where there’s cell phone coverage where there would be problems of logistics in shipping a load of textbooks or any kind of books,” says Eric Hellman, Unglue.it’s founder. “But the thin platform technology has penetrated rural areas. And there are some amazing possibilities of getting books into schools where it could be less expensive to provide ebooks and ereaders than [print] books.”
To date, Budding Reader’s proposal on Unglue.it has attracted 18 pledges for $217. But with funding open until September 1, Thompson hopes she can reach her goal, and she’s started thinking of the next step for her fledgling publishing house.
“If I could expand, I would go to birth because pre-literacy skills begin at birth,” she says. “I would love to have everything parents need to create a reader. But that’s going to take a period of time to get there.”