A Story Before Bed

I’ve been a fan of Jackson Fish Market‘s work since before they existed. My first Radar post about them talked about founder Hillel Cooperman’s personal food site, Tasting Menu, which was and is amazingly detailed and hunger-inspiring. Jackson Fish has the same, or higher, quality of work — software craftsmanship that makes each of their sites immediately identifiable and distinct, graphically full and compelling.

I’m totally gaga, though, over their new site, A Story Before Bed. This might be one of those things that parents and grandparents will flip out with happiness about while everyone else scratches their heads, but as a new parent, finding it made me feel like a special delivery had arrived expressly for my daughter.

The idea of the site is to make it easy for people far from kids they love — grandparents in another city, parents on a business trip, soldiers in training or deployed — to read a story to a child. But you really have to watch the demo video to see what a jewel of a product they’ve made. The reader’s face and voice are appear, picture-in-picture style, above a full image of the book being read. As the reader goes from one page to the next, the book animates pages turning along with them. The child can go back a page or skip ahead, and the reader keeps up with them. You can try recording a reading for free, and pay only if you choose to save what you’ve recorded. (Note: they’re currently running a sale for new books, $4.99 each instead of the standard $6.99, through December 25th.)

As a business, the site is interesting to see. They’re making deals with publishers to have the full content of their books available on the site — not just the text but all of the pictures and layout. I wish that more publishers had signed up (the site just launched), and if you’re a children’s book publisher reading this, get over there! But nonetheless they have a good selection of books and I find it easy to see publishers getting excited about this as a venue. This is how publishing is going to make a real move to the web — not with DRM and lawyers but with beautiful new ideas for how to share stories.

For the future, in addition to getting more publishers turned on to this, I’d love to see them make it possible for me to send a prepaid credit to a family member so they can record a book more easily, and maybe make the registration steps easier (those CAPTCHAS are tough on some grandparents’ eyes). The experience of the site, though, is so amazing today that I’m happy to get on the phone and talk a relative through all the steps.

My daughter’s happy reaction at seeing relatives — or me, when I’m traveling — on iChat makes the webcam in my laptop worth the whole cost of the machine. We read her three books every night before bed, and the idea of one of those being by a “guest reader” from afar is wonderful. This is one of those ways of connecting people that I can’t help but be excited to see. Kudos to Jackson Fish.