Interview with the publisher Weeble: free educational children's books

Education  · 

Interview with the publisher Weeble: free educational children's books

By Dolores Sanmartín Bastida

When we were young, many of us liked those books and albums filled with pictures about dinosaurs, insects, rockets and space travel... about the world of all the different colors and with examples of historic discoveries. They were books that often helped us to understand many different topics while also having fun, much more than with the traditional text books at school. Now children have it easier with this new publisher because, without even leaving the house, they can enjoy and learn with new educational books that are entertaining and simple, as well as being immediately available and accessible.

The publisher Editorial Weeble was established to offer informative and educational electronic books to children: works that teach them in an enjoyable way on computer or tablet screens and—mainly—with no cost at all for parents because downloads are free. At Boolino, we wanted to find out more about this excellent initiative, so we got in contact with them.

Fernando G. Rodríguez, one of the founding partners, kindly spoke with us.

- Good morning, Fernando. Thank you very much for responding to Boolino's questions. To begin, can you please tell us the aim of this project: When did it start and why? What were the reasons and intentions that made you found the publisher Weeble?

- Hello, good morning. Thank you very much for your interest in our project.

The project began in April 2012 when we realized that the books our son brought home to read were very poor. Some of them were the same as the books we read when we were young and consider how much everything has changed over the years!

When our son was going through the stage of asking us about everything, “and why does this happen”, we liked to give him answers in a friendly and accessible way. We even made him some printed books about countries and flags. This is when we thought that if children have to read, they should learn something at the same time. While also being simple and pleasant and with lots of illustrations. At home, we have chalkboards and we like to explain topics using pictures.

That's how it all started. One day I decided to write a story, “My first voyage through the solar system”, using my son as the protagonist. Since I liked it, I uploaded it to the Internet and told our friends and acquaintances, and they all really liked it too. We published the book at the iBookStore and a lot of people downloaded it. After receiving good reviews, we were inspired to keep writing other books.

They asked me if I had more stories and then other authors with just as much enthusiasm came along... and that's how we got to where we are today.

This is the aim of the project, to redesign the way children learn, offering this process in a more dynamic and entertaining way.


- Do you think that Weeble fills a gap that existed in the Spanish publishing market?

We think that there are not many publications that focus on teaching like we do. We take any topic that can be learnt in a text book at school and we talk about it as if it were a story, adding dialogs and lots of illustrations.

Who wouldn't prefer to read Columbus' conversations with his crew on the way to America, or with the kings of Castile, more than a few paragraphs in a text book? Apart from being more entertaining, children also retain the knowledge better.

- Could you briefly explain the main characteristics of the publisher? Why are you exclusively betting on electronic books for children as opposed to printed books?

This is another one of our characteristics. Our target audience is a generation that was born in the digital age and doesn't understand anything else. Paper will only be an accessory in their lives, but computers, and particularly tablets and mobiles, form part of whatever they do, and this will always be the case. That's why we have a fully digital focus.

Also, this way we can reach a wider audience at a more economical cost. Our philosophy is to make our books available to as many children as possible.

- Which readers in particular do you target? Is the website for parents and educators to use on behalf of children or can the children easily download the books from the catalog themselves?

We are aimed at children and young people between 6 and 15 years old, although I think that there are many books for all ages. That's what a lot of parents have told us.

It's true that the content is mostly downloaded by parents and educators on our website and at the Apple and Google stores.

In any case, remember that children probably use our website better than most parents. So we don't think that they would have any problems downloading books if they wanted to.

- You define yourself as an educational book publisher, although in your catalog there are also some fiction books: What made you opt for informative texts? Have you ever considered broadening the fiction book database in the future?

Yes, it's true. There are really only four fiction books. The idea is to publish educational books, which is our hallmark, although we have published a few fiction books to complete our catalog.

- How is your catalog classified? Do you have any special categories such as age, literary genres, themes?

We have categories by theme, for example, discoveries, biographies, history, etc. And we have also just launched a category to search for books on our website by age. The project is alive and progressing every day.

- Another characteristic of the catalog is that it's solely made up of original works: Is this a question of copyright or a commitment to promote new books and authors?

I would say that this has happened by chance. All the people who have gradually joined the project want to make their contribution and normally they do so with original works. In any case, I should tell you that in the next few days we're going to publish an adaptation of Lazarillo de Tormes and we're also preparing another of Platero and I.

So we may also continue publishing adaptations of classic writers, both from Spain and abroad.

- What are your criteria when selecting books? The importance of illustrations is notable: Do you think that they're essential to attract children to reading not only fiction but also informative books? As they're digital, do you think that the beauty and color of the images and drawings are perceived in the same way as with traditional printed books?

It's true that we have to select well and sometimes we reject proposals.

Essentially, the text should have an educational basis, from the perspective of academic learning, but it should also be simple and dynamic. As a general rule, we look for books that have less than 3,000 words.

At the same time, we think that illustrations are fundamental these days. More and more we are immersed in the era of visual content. The children of today have been born into this world and that's how to attract them, with images, videos, interactive content. If you do it any other way, you quickly lose their attention.

In terms of their perception, we don't think that the illustrations are perceived in the same way as with printed books, especially if they're large format books. But it isn't better or worse, just different.

In digital, they should be different. Basically, they should be more simple and with less backgrounds. If not, you run the risk of overloading the screen, which makes reading more difficult.

- How do the book downloads work? Do you use a special format or application?

The books can be downloaded in various ways: on our web in pdf format; through the iBookStore by Apple and Google Play; and most of the books can also be read without having to download them using the free application Issuu.

The situation in the publishing market, which has also been affected by the crisis, is very complicated. For this reason, the fact that your electronic catalog is free is even more valuable and worthy of recognition. But, what are your sources of finance? Do you have a public grant, private sponsorship, individual donations...? Did you study the model of another cultural product when making this decision?

Well, for the moment we're small, but we are growing. We have 23 titles and 36 books including translations. Although costs are low, they still exist.

Currently, we're self-financed and while we have incorporated a donation button, we haven't received many, which is a shame.

In the next few months, we're going to publish interactive books where the user and story can jointly interact and the experience for children will be even more stimulating. This line of books will be published through a small annual subscription, which we think could nourish the development of more free books.

And responding to your question, for the moment we don't have a sponsor but we're open to this possibility.

What are the professions and sectors that make up Weeble?

At Weeble we're non-professional collaborators. We have very different profiles, from philologists, engineers, educators, translators, illustrators, computer technicians.... Many profiles connected in a network with a common project.

- If your economic situation improves, have you thought about publishing printed books to sell in your catalog, or introducing republications or adaptations of published books?

As I mentioned, for now we don't have time for printed books. We're delving into the digital world with these interactive books as our next product launch.

And yes, with respect to adaptations, there are the books I mentioned Lazarillo de Tormes, Platero and I, and we're thinking about adapting a Shakespeare play. Let's see...


- And as a final curiosity... could you tell as the reason behind the translation into Finnish of two books in your catalog? Is there some “secret” personal motivation for such an original detail that you would like to confess to Boolino?

Hahahahaha, good question because it is strange, isn't it? Well, it's a little bit of a secret but I'm sure your readers won't say anything.... My son loves Finland, don't ask me why, so publishing them was a gift for him.

Apart from this, the Finnish education system is considered the best in the world and even though Finland only has 5 million inhabitants, its reading rates are the highest in the world.

So with the excuse of my son and the Finnish love of books, we decided to contact a translator in Helsinki. It was a total adventure.

- Well, thank you very much for attending us. We hope that your success continues with such a lovely and altruistic project. Congratulations on the 100,000 downloaded books that you achieved in January!

Thank you very much for taking an interest in our project. Those 100,000 books are going to look small this year because our objective is to reach 300,000.

Greetings to the team and all Boolino's readers.

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Keywords in this post: children's books, ebooks, didactic games

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