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Reaching Tween Readers: Content Matters More than Format

All of a tween’s money is spent on themselves so there is a big opportunity for publishers to learn how to get it.

Larissa Faw will take part in the panel discussion, “Digital Marketing for YA: Reaching Readers Beyond the Bookstore” at Publishing Perspective’s conference, “YA: What’s Next?” on November 28 in New York City. Buy tickets here.

By Dennis Abrams

Larissa Faw is a journalist at EPM Communications, a leading publisher of newsletters, research studies and directories which focus on marketing, consumer, and retail trends. Her beat: children, publishing, and pop culture. She’s the author of several reports, including “Tween Sensibility, Spending, and Influence,” and “Teen Media Use,” with a background that allows her to look at publishing from both the pop culture and the business side.

Larissa Faw

While it bothers her that kids aren’t reading more, she’s quick to point out that “Eleven percent of tween girls say that their favorite thing to do in the whole wide world is to read. So it’s not like they’re not into it, it’s just that there’s an disconnect there between what the product is and the kid’s actually getting it.” Faw is also happy to note that it’s a fallacy to say that boys just aren’t reading anything at all. “They’re reading video game super clue manuals, and they’re reading how to get to the next level of things…they are reading. The question is how do you get them to read other things?”

The problem as Faw sees is that “you need to have something that’s everywhere — so that it’s on mobile, and trading and webisodes — it can’t just be something that’s just on the printed page. It’s not how they see things and it never has been. It just can’t be that publishers say ‘we have a book and it’s on the shelf and that’s end of it and that’s that.’ It has to be a brand.”

But it is a market well worth reaching out to. “Tweens have an average of $21.50 on them,” Faw says, “and they have no overhead. They don’t have to buy gas, food — anything. All of that is spent on themselves — so there is a big opportunity there for publishers, who have to learn how to get it.”

For Faw, Scholastic’s new “Infinity Ring” series is the model. “It’s not a book title, it’s not a series, it’s not a trading card game, but it has all those elements in it.”

To reach this audience, she’s discovered, it’s necessary to look well beyond the shelves of Barnes & Noble. “Look, who really sets out any more and says, “I’m going to a bookstore and getting a book. It all comes from the property, not the actual product. That’s the shift the industry has to make. Before the book was the driver, now it’s the property that’s the driver.”

DISCUSS: Just Two Weeks to Register for “YA: What’s Next?” in NYC, November 28

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  1. Lisa
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I think that it is a shame that adults keep telling kids that they “don’t set out to go to a bookstore to buy a book”, that boys are reading directions for video games and that books can’t just be on the printed page, “it’s not how they see things and it never has been.”

    As a middle school teacher and librarian I can truly say that if it is a good book, kids will read it no matter what the format. If it is not, they don’t want to waste their time. Do they like brands and electronic methods of experiencing story? Absolutely. But it isn’t the only way. Kids don’t limit themselves this way unless other people tell them they are behind the curve or outdated in their choices. Why would adults try to sell them this way? I think it is tied up in the word sell.

    I also see tween and middle school boys as being way more sophisticated in their reading and that many books aimed at boys actually portray boys in a negative light. Boys aren’t just slackers that enjoy bathroom humor, do poorly in school and have no respect for adults. Boys actually aspire to more and it would be great if there were more well written books that portray boys as bright, capable and goal oriented.

    It would be interesting to see what would happen to the reading habits of kids if adults actually got to know them as people and not just someone with $21.50 on them that publishers need to get. Just some thoughts from someone who knows and cares about real kids.

  2. Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    With millions of dollars of worthless plastic toys and video games being promoted and sold to tweens, there is absolutely no shame for publishers trying to figure out how to sell more books to tweens in any format.

  3. Posted November 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Lisa, YES. Kids are still reading many many millions of books—including The Infinity Ring (in paperback), which Larissa has cited as an example of the way forward, but I’m not so sure it’s the best example.

    Infinity Ring (a 2.0 iteration of the 39 Clues cross-platform property by Scholastic) is a book, a video game, a book, a video game, a book (x 7) with a website hub and (if successful) likely a movie down the pike, as with its predecessor, and some merchandizing (trading cards were a big draw for 39 Clues). It’s experimental in terms of its linear narrative and zigzag between book and game, but it’s conservative storytelling (formula fiction in the time travel/history genre—a page-turner) backed by a giant marketing budget.

    Will this particular cross-platform strategy work? Too soon to tell.

    I’m curious to see how many readers move from book to video game and back again (feels like a lot of friction to me) in the prescribed order and how many will consume either one or the other (not all game players read lots of books and not all readers like to play games), how many will participate actively in the website community and form a dedicated fan base, and which devices they will use to access the content (desk top, tablet, mobile, paper—a different mix for young readers than it is for adults).

    Meanwhile, I’d point to The Hunger Games as a hugely successful property, by the same publisher, that began firmly as a trilogy of books (print and digital) and then was traditionally adapted into a movie. That still works.

    No question, the best marketing strategy for any property is to put your content where your audience already is and can find it easily and to have as many points of entry as you can across platforms. Books (print AND digital—why either-or?) are still one of those places.

    Like Lisa, my sister Louise, a 6th grade reading teacher, is on the front lines of how and what and where tweens read. Her Readalicious! books for tweens is linked to my name, above.

  4. Lisa
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for the information about Readalicious! Your sister seems like an amazing woman with a real gift for linking children to great books. I am enjoying reading her blog and have been inspired to mix some things up in my corner of the world. Thank you–

  5. Posted November 26, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    how very true. Thanks for your blog, you hit the nail on its head. This is close to my heart!

    Best wishes,


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