Bookstream Brings Digital Textbooks to More Students

As digital textbooks gain popularity around the country, there are still parts of the U.S. and other industrialized nations that do not currently benefit from the obvious advantages of e-reading in academic arenas, which is odd considering that even the textbook publishers are in support of electronic educational content as a cost saving measure. But with the introduction of Bookstream, schools now have a much more cost-effective and efficient tool at the ready to introduce ebooks, especially for the under-served special education students.

“Bookstream started about three years ago,” says Ben Johnston, president of Don Johnston Company and son of the original founder, in an interview today with, “because it was mind boggling to me that when I was in school the first day always meant passing out textbooks. You spent the whole day wrapping them up in grocery bags to protect the covers. Then the publishers would even start sending book covers to protect them. Twenty-five years later the same thing is still happening. Now, the students go home and use their computers and smartphones, but we still use the same kinds of textbooks. But for students who have learning disabilities, or a visual impairment, they’re really struggling to read the content. The words are too small or they can’t read the words on the page, yet that’s how things still are in schools.”

Bookstream allows teachers to upload ePub or Daisy files that are provided from the existing textbook provider, often within the cost of the school’s textbooks, then make those books available to the class on the school computers. At home, the students can not only log in to read their assigned content, but the teacher can also see which students logged in and read how many pages. This way, although different publishers may have provided the different textbooks across the curriculum, all of the material can be available in one cloud-based library for the students to use.

At the same time, a desktop computer that has logged on to the Bookstream website to access content can allow students who need the assistance to hear the material read to them, just as a handheld device owned by the student can use the text-to-speech capability for the student at home. The opportunities for students with varying degrees of special education accessibility needs, as well as other factors like immigrant populations and ESL learners, are more available to all students.

“The IT people and the curriculum people worked together in the schools where we’ve tested this. We’ve primarily focused on the special education population, but it has a lot of merit and use for other demographics like ESL. Some schools are trying a more-economical ‘BYOD,’ or ‘bring your own device’ system. If the students already own devices, why can’t they use them for school? If they read Bookstream content on the school computers, they can access those same materials at home on their personal devices,” continues Johnston.

As there is no software to install on school computers with Bookstream accounts, the time it takes for a teacher to create an account and begin uploading material takes about thirty minutes, an unheard of time span in the world of educational accountability for technology use. While the price tag—around $1800 for a one-time registration for an entire school, with a lesser annual membership fee after that—may leave some people wondering how schools can afford to integrate Bookstream learning, it is important to know that some major computer learning modules from software publishers can easily run in the six figures per school. As Bookstream allows individual schools and classrooms to determine what best fits the needs of the population they serve, the digitizing of content might be able to happen more quickly than the schools even hoped.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.

  • Atadvocate

    Bookstream seems like a great service for schools to take advantage of the new cloud-computing.  It also serves more digitally minded students who want flexibility in the time/place they study or read school required assignments on preferred devices. It may also take the pressure off of IT folks and space on school networks. If schools can deliver and manage access to students’ curriculum, will more students with disabilities get access to general curriculum?  This is now required for those with LD and print disabilities to receive “copyright” books under the IDEA law.