January 1, 2010 in Business

Easy on the ears

Recording distribution Web site tailored for tech-challenged
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The population growth among gray-haired, slightly tech-challenged grandparents is inspiring inventors and gadget makers to devise ways to help the over-60 crowd take advantage of technology.

Right in the middle of that generational outreach is VoiceTales.com, started and managed by Spokane stay-at-home mother Callie Bendickson.

Bendickson, who’s 37 and has three young children, had an idea a few years back to create a way for older people to make recordings for loved ones.

The company would help relatives record their voices and send the recordings along or make them easy to find online.

“The idea was keeping me up at night, so I decided to pursue it,” said Bendickson, who worked for Group Health for 10 years before quitting the workplace. “I wish I had had something like this years ago to record my own grandfather’s voice.”

Two years ago Bendickson found two company partners, Shawn Davis and Ryan Stemkoski. The two had started Zipline Interactive, a Spokane-based digital design company.

In exchange for managing the VoiceTales site, Stemkoski and Davis got 49 percent of the company. They also work with Bendickson on developing features and marketing.

About 100 people have signed up and tested the VoiceTales service.

Recordings can only be made through a phone call. Once the recording is done, the reader presses the pound button. The recording is uploaded to VoiceTales.com, where it can be heard.

Some users have recorded seasonal stories, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” then sent relatives an e-mail link or ordered a copy of a CD to be mailed.

Many users record favorite poems, sing a song or two, or tell a story from their childhoods.

Beyond the older demographic, Bendickson sees value for the service among members of the armed forces. They can record a message or tell a story, and relatives could hear the result whenever they chose, Bendickson said.

A member’s first VoiceTales recording is free. Each recording after that costs 50 cents a minute. CDs of recordings can be bought for $5.99, including shipping.

Bendickson said she hopes VoiceTales will turn profitable in a few years.

Tammy Reid, a Spokane resident and retired English professor at Whitworth University, recently used VoiceTales to send a recording of “The Night Before Christmas” to her 3-year-old grandson in Denver.

Reid is also working on recordings from Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” VoiceTales lets users stop recording, then log back into their account and continue the project later.

Once done, she’ll send a CD of the recording to her grandson. She’ll also send him a copy of the book, so he can read along while listening to her voice.

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