At DBW’s Publishers Launch: Children’s Publishing Goes Digital, there was no shortage of words like discoverability or access, both necessities in helping new digital kids’ products find their audiences. But as a Bowker study presented by Bookigee founder Kristen McLean and Bowker executive Carl Kulo showed, ebook adoption among kids remains modest with ebooks being the preferred format of only 10% of teens. And with the influence of libraries and bookstores dropping with every annual survey, the challenge for publishers to have their digital products discovered becomes all the more difficult.
So what do children’s publishers need to reach and realize their core audience through the ether? Many platforms attempted to answer that question, from wildly popular storytelling quest site Poptropica to Scholastic’s accessible reading platform Storia, from nostalgic app from RRKidz to interactive preschool channel Magic Town. All platforms presented great environments for readers to discover and play and even Simon & Schuster’s Mara Anastas talked about how third party websites helped make series Dork Diaries a hit. But the competition among them for publisher partnerships was palpable, leading to Idea Logical founder Mike Shatzkin’s astute question of the day: are these platforms ideal collaborators or are they ultimately competition? Kate Wilson, Managing Director of Nosy Crow, tackled the question by comparing platforms to bookstores; publishers have always had to choose between retail channels, it’s just about finding options that will lead to “leaders of influence.” Karen Lotz, President and Publisher of Candlewick, said that the tenuous relationship between these third party sites and publishers pinpointed why Candlewick was following a strategy of “leading by not going first” and waiting to see where the marketplace goes.
Another theme of the day in regards to helping kids discover digital books was that publishers must redefine what exactly a “book” is. During a panel on publishers creating their own original intellectual property, Eric Huang, Director of New Business and IP Acquisitions for Penguin Children’s UK, argued that publishers have the same storytelling power as Hollywood studios– they just need to be able to see how a book fits into the greater world of a franchise concept. The idea that kids’ definition of a book is changing was backed by Bowker data revealing that most kids consider books just as important as other types of media (less so among boys) and Darien, CT librarian Gretchen Caserotti’s observation that parents’ definition of a “book” (often referring to novels) differs greatly from kids’ (which can include various genres and formats).
When it comes to potential new markets for children’s books, many looked to the educational market for new opportunities. Neal Goff’s presentation on the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) showed how standardized metadata in the educational sphere can help trade publishers make their materials more searchable among teachers, and school library platforms myON and Brain Hive also presented partnership opportunities to bring trade books into the classroom through different business models.
Another emerging market that seemed to always be in the background of conversation was the ‘new adult’ market, and while it does not exactly present new opportunities to children’s publishers to get their books out to kids, it does present a unique problem: what are publishers to do when a majority of the people reading their books (and are providing a voracious audience) are not, in fact, the target audience? With Bowker sharing that over 62% of YA readers are over 18 and even YA reading community Random Buzzers having an average user age of 21, one can’t help but wonder if the popular YA market is becoming something separate from children’s altogether.
Even with the challenges ahead, the conference was all around hopeful. The children’s book market remains stable, and while print is still driving sales, there are many innovative developments for digital products, especially with kids being such voracious media consumers. What those “media” are and what role publishers play in producing them remains to be seen.