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Children’s Books Go Multimedia, Multinational, Multi…Everything

By Peggy Intrator

How far can a digital book go before it stops being a book? Does that matter? Can books be created and developed by game developers as well as traditional publishers? Are new formats hurting or helping reading?  How many of the old publishing rules still apply? What are the new rules?

Storybird, a book platform that puts artists directly in touch with consumers

Lorraine Shanley, organizer of the day long Children’s Publishing Goes Digital event at Digital Book World on January 23 in New York City summed up the day by saying, that children’s publishing is multiplatform, multimedia, multinational, multi…everything.

There is consensus that even though lines are blurring across media, many of the familiar publishing truths apply in both print and digital.  First and foremost you have to start with great content. Jane O’Connor, author of the hugely successful Fancy Nancy books, presented a digital edition of one of her titles and joked that she was now going to call herself a “content-provider.” Bookstores, libraries and people in your inner circle continue to be vitally important in terms of discovery and recommendations; the current downside for bookstores is that often the customer than goes elsewhere to buy the title. Working with big brands makes marketing easier as they have instant appeal to the child, the customer (often the parent) and the retailer. Pricing, consumer value perceptions, and reaching consumers remains the publishing business challenge. And, as ever, there is a need for more books for boys; with the added incentive that “a device is a good way to trick a boy into reading.”

Some of the stats and facts that were presented during the day:

  • It can cost $50,000 to create an app for multiple operating systems.
  • Of the 35% of Sesame Street customers who connect by a medium other than TV, 85% of those said that digital brought them back to the brand.
  • E-book sales rose 350% at Disney in the past year. In the first week of sales of a recent title launched in both print and digital, 30% of sales were digital; 20% of total sales were digital. 50% of their app downloads are in the US, 25% in China. They employ more than 1,000 English teachers in their Disney schools in China, doubling yearly.
  • Dr. Seuss apps from Oceanhouse Media have sold over 1 million copies.
  • zuuka, an e-book developer and retailer, said that 90% of their users opt in for push messages.
  • Only 14% of reading teens surveyed by Bowker read digitally. They embrace social media technology, but they are less interested in productivity tools. Part of it may be that they are frustrated on re-use restrictions.
  • The supplementary school market is about $2.2 billion and 40% of that is digital.

The futurist, Ira Mayer of EPM Communications, raised the most provocative point of the day. In speaking about teens, he stressed that kids no longer collect the way previous generations did – instead they download, stream, swap, and mix. They expect their content when and where they want it, and at no more than the cost of the delivery system. So, what will be the book world’s equivalent of Pandora or Spotify?

Personalization is always a potentially lucrative market in children’s books and digital is no different. The most original new business was Storybird, presented by Mark Ury. His company has created a platform that enables you to look at artists’ portfolios from around the world and then use them to create your own stories, putting artists directly in touch with consumers. His customers are families, teachers and tween girls, and the site has passed the one million-member mark. Storybird’s business model makes use of a variety of income-generating paths including helping schools with fundraising, subscription, ecommerce for the artwork, and print on demand

A smattering of easy-to-adapt points were delivered by some of the major players. Jennifer A. Perry of Sesame Workshop gave a detailed presentation of what their research has revealed are the best ways to reach and teach preschoolers with digital books (for example, keep the live icons away from the bottom of the screen where kids often rest their hands), and mentioned the Workshop’s ongoing study in the area that they willingly share with others. The Nook presenters emphasized the importance of audio for all interactive e-books and apps, as well as the heightened importance of the book’s cover as an indicator of what’s inside and therefore a hook for consumers. The marketer Lori Culwell of Get Creative Inc suggests that the most effective ad campaign is a facebook ad daily for every title.

We heard from traditional publishers, new players, educational publishers, and big brand names; from those publishing for preschoolers to those catering to young adults; from digital retailers, social media marketers, and analysts studying the industry. Everyone agreed that content, not technology, is still what drives success – and that a book for kids, no matter the platform, must support reading.

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