Lucky me! I got the chance to interview fellow mompreneur and super savvy business woman, Jeannette McLeod, about her new company, Wizz-e.com. She’s figured out how to harness our children’s insatiable appetite for the internet to strengthen their reading skills – awesome!
Below Jeannette, a Londoner and busy mom of four, kindly answers ALL of my questions about Wizz-e.com!
I am fascinated by the concept of Wizz-e. Can you tell me how the idea got started?
I recognized in my own kids that the computer was far more attractive than sitting and reading a story book. They are such a tech savvy generation. I thought – ‘why not leverage the medium they love to get them reading more?’ Rather than converting existing picture books to PDF files and putting them on the internet I thought how the technology can bring reading and books to our newest generation in a way that makes reading fun? After all if it is fun, they may not even know they are learning!
You’ve chosen e-books rather than traditional “hard” books? How did you come to that decision?
It really was because if I asked my kids to read to me they would be itching to get up after 10 minutes- give them the opportunity they would be on the computer for hours!! So rather than children spending their time just playing games, I wanted to create something that would educate and help children to learn. My ultimate goal is to give these books to developing countries so that they can learn to read. Without an education starting with the basics of literacy real world-wide change cannot happen. There is obviously the environmental impact of paper books too.
I’m in the “my son already spends too much time on the computer” camp, and I know other parents who are too. What can Wizz-e ebooks provide that traditional books cannot?
Kids want to use the computer. They enjoy it. They are comfortable with it. So why not use the time that they already enjoy spending on the computer encouraging them to read rather than just playing games? Traditional books, (unless read aloud by you), cannot model fluency, cannot check the child has paid attention to the story, cannot help emerging readers by telling them a word they do not know. Reluctant or disengaged readers can be encouraged to start to enjoy books in a format that is less threatening. Learning to read is an involving process, I am a time pressured mom too who can leave her kids to read/listen to a book on the computer whilst doing homework with the other. It is not a substitute for a bedtime story or reading a book together. It is another choice for helping kids learn to read and develop a love of books using the technology they enjoy.
Your e-books also carry an environmental message, don’t they? Can you tell us a little about that?
Paper books consume far more of the world’s resources in their production than eBooks. Firstly, there is the paper production – trees required to make the paper, as well the paper making process, chemicals produced in making dyes for the inks. Transportation of the paper to the factories. Then the books have to be printed, stored and then shipped. All this uses energy. There is also the sad fact that books that do not sell are simply destroyed (more than 1 billion books in 2006) some are re-pulped (using energy) others end up in land fills. Our eBook business is completely electronic. Apart from the energy we consume using computers in their development we do not have a detrimental impact on the world’s resources.
Some key facts:
-The carbon footprint of a book (2006 figures): 8.85 lbs, in carbon dioxide terms
-The total carbon footprint of the book publishing industry (2006 figures): 12.4 million metric tons
-The biggest contributor to the industry’s footprint: using virgin paper – forest and forest harvest are responsible to 62.7% of the industry’s total carbon emissions.
-The book world (in the U.S.) uses up more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year.
Full report here http://www.ecolibris.net/book_industry_footprint.asp
On your site you have free e-books and e-books for sale. Is there a difference in quality between the two?
Absolutely not. We chose to have 2 free books so that customers can understand what eBooks are all about. Each of the books for sale allows customers to view the first few pages, including animation and audio files.
I’m thinking about getting a Kindle. Can I download e-books from your site for my son to read on it?
No. The kindle and other eReading devices only have black and white screens at the moment. We are working on producing versions of the books which will be compatible with the iphone/itouch and similar popular (‘Android’) devices as these do have color screens. Color e-readers, from all the rumors, are on their way!
Are you looking for children’s authors to feature on Wizz-e?
Yes, we are currently accepting submissions from children’s authors. The ‘author zone’ on the site gives lots of details about what we are looking for. We’d also love to hear the views of children’s authors.
I love that you’ve chosen to donate 10% of your profits to the non-profit Room to Read. Tell us more about what they do and why you chose them.
I was truly inspired by John Wood after reading his book ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World’. Room to Read is a charity that builds schools, libraries and computer labs in developing countries. They also sponsor education for girls. 76 million pre-school children throughout the world are not enrolled in school. Without access to even a basic education real world-wide change cannot happen. Room to Read is set to change this. If you haven’t visited their website or read the book I would urge you to do so.
How has the launch of Wizz-e impacted you as a mom? Were you ready to enter the world of the mompreneur?!
I think the kids have got used to me being attached to my laptop!!! But it does mean I am home rather than dashing out of the house early in the morning and not back until it is late. They appreciate that. And it comes in handy when there is a request for a fancy dress outfit with less than 24 hours notice!!!!
I think the biggest impact on me (apart from the spreading backside from sitting at my computer all day!!) is spending my time doing something I love and believe in passionately. If I have an impact on one child who is turned back on to reading and develops a love of books I will be happy. My ultimate goal is to have that same positive impact on millions of children, giving them a better chance to make a change in their lives.
And what do your kids think of your business?
I am lucky that our 4 kids think the business is really cool. I have involved the younger ones in the design of the website, choosing voice over artists, trialing the books etc. One of the kids has also done the voice over for one of our books for charity (yet to be released). He really enjoyed that.
Anything else you’d like to share?
My passion for starting the business is to get kids reading. There are over 750 million adults who cannot read or write. Let’s not let the next generation contribute to that figure. With teaching resources in schools stretched and more parents working and unable to spend time everyday reading with their kids something has to fill that gap. So by leveraging the technology that kids feel comfortable with and enjoy using they can read and have fun at the same time.
What an amazing concept and company! Thanks so much Jeannette for sharing your time and energy!