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Wellington start-up inspires kids' love of reading

Published: 2:55PM Monday February 06, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Wellington start-up 8interactive is using modern technology to inspire in children the age-old love of reading.

The start-up creates educational digital books for the iPhone and iPad, including animation and optional soundtracks that read the text aloud and play accompanying music.

Managing director Glenn Andert says customers download its free Read Me Stories app to their iPhone or iPad to sample about five ebooks.

They can then purchase bundles of books for about US$2 (NZ$2.40).

The start-up has so far created 100 ebooks that can be purchased through the app, which has been downloaded about 1.5 million times.

"We're the top reading app for kids in the education category on the iPad in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australasia and Singapore."

Most ebook applications are just that, an application containing one ebook, Andert says, but 8interactive's app is designed to give kids a new book each day.

"With ours you spend a couple of dollars and you get a week's worth of material at least."

The company's 15 staff, spread around the globe, computer animate the books as well as "act" the voices and write and record the music.

Andert says the company writes its own books and also partners with content owners to bring their books into the digital realm. "We now have people from around the world contacting us and asking us to include their content in our app."

8interactive is currently developing a guided series of educational ebooks so that children learn the right words in the right order at the right time, he says.

"It will take a child from learning basic vocabulary to really simple books up to where they're reading a 15 page book with four sentences per page and fairly significant vocabulary.

"We're taking existing material that's been proven in schools ... and making it work in the consumer space. We're making it stunningly gorgeous to look at and giving it an awesome soundtrack, so that it's fun and interactive."

Andert, a software entrepreneur from California, sailed to New Zealand on his yacht in 2005 and tried a few different start-up ventures before finding success with the ebook app.

The company has received angel investment from local investors, including from Nick Lewis, a partner at Wellington investment bank Woodward Partners. The company is working on a version of the app for phones and tablet computers running on Google's Android software.

Children have a lot of different media competing for their attention, and parents can find it difficult to set aside time to read with their kids, he says.

"It's really about developing the habit of spending time with books.

Unlike a TV or a game, the 15 minutes Joey spends with our app each day gives him some value.

"Parents also use these as a way to get Joey to shut up for ten minutes. If you have the iPad or iPhone in your mummy bag and you've got a 15-minute commute to the store, Joey can mess with this on the drive there. It's an audio experience too so it's easy for a parent to hear what's going on and participate."