TOC Bologna Report: The Business of Digital Content for Kids

In Europe by Dennis Abrams

“The children’s book market is the best bellwether of where we’re going as an industry.”

By Dennis Abrams

BOLOGNA: On Sunday, March 18, 2012, more than 350 attendees gathered for the 2nd Annual TOC Bologna – an event leading the way for this week’s 49th Bologna Children’s Book Fair, taking place this week. An array of speakers and panel discussions looked at digital content for kids; where it is today, and where it might end up in the future. Among the highlights:

In the first keynote address, Russell Hampton, President of Disney Publishing Worldwide, discussed the challenge of digitizing the world’s largest publisher for children. He noted an increase in digital sales to children, illustrated by the fact that e-books made up 30% of first-week sales for Rick Riordan’s latest book, The Son of Neptune.

In the second keynote address, Dominique Raccah, publisher of Sourcebooks, proclaimed that the transformations we’re now seeing will define “the meaning of the book.” She listed the three challenges facing children’s digital books, including file size, illustration and animation, platforms and pricing. She also noted the need for children’s digital books that give children control over the narrative, that support 21st century skills, and that encourage exploration — ending with the famous Steve Jobs quote, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards towards the technology, not the other way around.”

Robot Media's Hermes Pique: "Apple does search like Google does tablets."

At the panel discussion, “The Opportunity in Digital: Putting Publishers at the Helm of Digital Books,” Omer Ginor of Touchoo observed that, “Readers basically have a blue ocean of content to choose from, so what they end up doing is buying one of the big brands. They buy what they know.” Kevin O’Connor, Director of Business Development/Content Acquisitions, NOOK Kids, Barnes & Noble), noted that timing is important. “What is the story to the book? Why would I want to market it now? Seasonality is a real driver – give the consumer a reason to buy it now. That’s what drives the sale.” Finally, Andrew Sharp, Groups Rights and Digital Director at Hachette Children’s UK, reminded listeners to maintain their integrity, remember why they got into publishing in the first place, and to keep in mind that digital is, after all, just another format.

Hermes Pique of Robot Media, brought down the house at his session, “The Discovery Problem:  Getting Your Book App Noticed in the App Store,” with his comment, “Apple does search like Google does tablets.” He also emphasized that while often an afterthought, icon design is perhaps the most essential element in getting an app noticed – it is, in effect, its book cover. His suggestions? Tell a story sans words, keep it simple, standard equals bad, and make it stand out.

Kobo's Tamblyn: "There are simply not enough [children's] titles available."

During panel discussion “Sales Trends in Kids’ Apps and eBooks” panelists agreed that the line between app and e-book has become so thin as to be almost nonexistent. Michael Tamblyn, Executive Vice President, Content, Sales and Merchandising at Kobo, Inc., observed that early experiments prove that the price tolerance of adult e-books can and will be carried over to children’s e-books as well, and argued that the biggest challenge of children’s digital e-books is a simple one: there are simply not enough titles available.

In the final keynote addresses, Junko Yokota, Director of the Center for Teaching through Children’s Books, made an eloquent case for publishers to encourage foreign language use by internationalizing with multiple language options and by rethinking the way in which foreign rights are handled. While Elizabeth Wood, director of digital publishing for Worldreader, emphasizing the simple fact that the biggest barrier to increasing literacy in the developing world is the lack of books, announced the testing of a new book app for feature phones, a breakthrough that would bring digital books into the hands of countless young people for the first time, and challenged publishers present to sign over the rights for one title each – a gift that would repay itself with the creation of an entire new generation of readers and book buyers.

The conference was perhaps best by Bookigee‘s Kristen McLean who observed, “the children’s book market is the best bellwether, the best Ouija board, of where we’re going as an industry.”

Look for continuing updates from the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair this week on Publishing Perspectives and on Twitter @pubperspectives.

DISCUSS: Who’s Publishing the Most Innovative Digital Kid’s Books?

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.