Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pa.-based kids' lit website aims to give back

Once upon a time, there was a bookstore. One day, the bookstore went away and reopened online with a new name and a mission to combat childhood illiteracy.

The rest of the story of year-old e-tailer is still being written but its founders hope the ending will be happy -- and successful.

"We're beginning, we're growing, we have a lot of great ideas," co-founder David Lenett of the venture, a successor of the Discovery Bookshop, a popular Philadelphia children's bookstore that closed in the 1990s and became an online storefront that evolved into the more interactive MonkeyReader site.

The site aims to provide online guidance and ideas on book selections by age and subject, similar to the kind of assistance customers would get in a brick-and-mortar shop. Teachers and reading specialists answer emails from parents and a section of the site offers book suggestions to kids featuring the site's monkey mascot.

MonkeyReader, which has its orders filled and shipped by wholesale book distributor Baker & Taylor, pledges competitive prices on its merchandise. Books and DVDs for grown-ups can also be ordered on the site, though the company's focus is on children's literature.

Lenett and his partners in the privately held company recently announced an agreement with a Los Angeles literacy group to provide 5 percent of profits for one year to the organization for promoting its literacy programs.

"Socially responsible commerce is an important aspect of our business model," Lenett said. "Illiteracy is such a serious problem and for us, it also makes good business sense to have a literate population."

After-School All-Stars Los Angeles serves 11,000 students at 25 inner-city schools. L.A. Lakers superstar and Philadelphia-area native Kobe Bryant serves as goodwill ambassador of the Los Angeles group, one of 12 cities nationwide with the program.

"It was a total synergy to what we're aiming for in regard to philanthropy and social responsibility," program spokeswoman Shannon Mayock said. "It ties right into our initiatives, so we're very excited."

The partnership started in June, and the company is just getting off the ground, so Lenett didn't estimate how much could be raised.

"There are a lot of reasons why it's better to buy from an independent bookseller," Karin Isgur Bergsagel, president of the Independent Online Booksellers Association, a trade group. "It's a relationship thing ... like shopping in your neighborhood grocery store."

The overhead for independent online booksellers is low -- they don't have to pay commissions or fees like sellers operating out of virtual storefronts on sites like Amazon -- and many socially conscious sellers donate far greater than 5 percent of profits, she said.

For example, since 2005 has donated at least 10 percent -- some years upward of 30 to 40 percent -- of annual profits to literacy causes, chief executive officer Brendan Sherar said.

He said the company's nonprofit arm, called BiblioWorks, has helped pay to build eight libraries in South America.

Lenett said he and his partners at MonkeyReader realize that 5 percent of profits may not amount to big bucks at this point but the fledgling website is just getting started.

"We're not looking at this as a race. We know it will take some time to get to where we want to get to," "We think once we become a more visible destination in the marketplace, if we're fortunate enough, we can make a real difference."
After-School All-Stars:

from: Lancaster Online

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