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A favorite of librarians, parents, and elementary school teachers, Web site Lookybook closed on Friday, unable to keep pages turning because of the economy.
“We were fraught with the perfect storm of issues,” says cofounder Craig Frazier, also the author and illustrator of the “Stanley” series (Chronicle) of picture books for children. “While we had seed money to get started, it became difficult in this environment to get money. It would take an angel coming out of the woodwork to step up and reverse Lookybook’s closure.”
If clicks were cash, however, the site, which opened its virtual doors in November 2007, may have flourished. It was attracting 55,000 users a month before shuttering, along with 14,000 subscribers, who used the site to peruse the roughly 550 children’s books, some of them decades old; share their favorites; store them on a virtual book shelf; and, of course, buy them from publishers.
“This grew from my own frustration of my own books falling off the retail shelf and getting harder to find,” says Frazier. “But when we created a Lookybook, it could also be embedded on a site or blog. The creative community felt this was a whole new frontier to extend the life of their book.”
Frazier cofounded the site with Craig Virden, former president of Random House Children’s Books, illustrator Ron Chan, and Robert Locke, CEO of RFID-firm Vue Technology. All believed strongly in the idea that a digital children’s book shop could help spark readership—and sales—of children’s stories that sometimes lose their way, or never hit the best seller’s list. Instead of having copies languish in warehouses, publishers could grant permission to Lookybook to digitize the pages of stories to generate new interest—and, ideally, sales—of the books.
“That’s part of the reason we didn’t make the books too big, too perfect, or with zoomable type,” Frazier says. “Because it was really about the sale of the book.”
Nevertheless, Frazier says he heard from teachers who were using the digital copies in classrooms, often placing laptops under projectors or putting them up on a whiteboard to read the stories to children—without actually buying the copy. While that may not have been something publishers wanted to know, it mirrors many experiences in resource-strapped K–12 schools when teachers are often forced to borrow books from libraries, and even other parents, to fill thinning classroom shelves.
“The impact of this going away is very sad,” he says. “Especially for schools where this filled a need.”
Still, to Frazier, and to many in the children’s publishing world, nothing digital can ever replace the experience of sitting with a child, listening to the crack of a spine as a book opens, feeling the weight of crisp pages, and watching as little fingers dance across rich illustrations and type.
Yet Frazier sees the potential for a site like Lookybook dovetailing to preserve physical books in this digital age. As print of demand systems improve, readers may peruse more stories online, read through a copy of a beloved children’s book or a newfound favorite, and click to buy that one copy. Publishers wouldn’t face books molding in warehouses, and authors and readers would never again hear those heartbreaking words, “out of print.”
“We may be going away,” says Frazier. “But I don’t think this idea will be going away by any means. The genie is out of the bottle.”