May 30, 2014

So, about that “Reading Rainbow” Kickstarter…


Reading-RainbowLaVar Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign on Wednesday to revive “Reading Rainbow.” He hit his $1 million goal within a few hours, and reaching about $2 million at the time of writing.

As you probably already know, “Reading Rainbow” ran from 1983 to 2006 on PBS (and reruns aired until 2009). Burton’s plan for the 2.0 version is to post the show online, aimed at tablet users. He will also make special versions for classroom use, and offer some versions to “classrooms in need.”

In an article titled “You might want to reconsider that donation to ‘Reading Rainbow,’ Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post suggests that even if Burton intends to make it available to some classrooms, it’s now a for-profit company. Burton bought the rights to the show in order to launch his app, RRKidz. He also bought the Twitter handle within a few hours, as we wrote in 2012.

In a way, you have to respect how quickly Burton gets thing done. And how expensively! Renewing the show in 2009 would have cost “several hundred thousand dollars,” according to John Grant, the content director at WNED. The Kickstarter sum is much larger than that.

Burton writes, “Of course, when Reading Rainbow began in 1983, we were using television to bring books to kids, meeting them where they wanted to be… In 2014, TV is not that place anymore. Now, we’re trying to reach a new generation of digital natives… Our goal is to cultivate a love of reading in all children, not just those that have [access to the tablet app]. To reach kids everywhere, we need to be everywhere: we need to be on the web.”

Dewey says lower income households are more likely to access the internet from their phones, rather than desktop computers. She concludes:

All this adds up to a criticism that has been levied at high-profile Kickstarter campaigns before: Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners  and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.