Benetech creates technological products for people with disabilities (blindness, dyslexia, etc.). Through its Bookshare program, the largest digital library in the world, it distributes over 1 million books per year to qualified disabled readers under a copyright exception. Fruchterman, Benetech founder, said that this is an untapped market for publishers. In addition to those who qualify to acquire books under the copyright exception, there are a large number who do not qualify but who are still disabled and want books. He called those people “collateral damage in the fight against piracy” because publishers do not allow them to buy books at the same price as qualified persons can. Fruchterman noted that the publishing industry is one of the most socially responsible. The majority of books in Benetech’s Bookshare program were donated free (as XML files) by the publishers. Smaller publishers can send their content to Bookshare, which will create the XML files and return them to the publishers–the publisher does not have to scan the books. This eliminates duplication of effort and enhances the publisher’s revenues.
We have reinvented accessibility for books. Producing accessible formats is now as simple as pushing a button. People with disabilities want to buy these products. Fruchterman said that 15-20% of college students have a learning disability and may only discover it when they get to college. How can we help these people? They should be able to buy accessible books. Organizations like Bookshare are standing by to help publishers. Although this may not be the most interesting market, these people are potential customers. If we give disabled people an equal chance to access content, they are one step closer to removing a barrier. They want the dignity of being able to buy a book and be independent. We need to unlock the potential of books to this community and make them truly accessible for everyone.
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor