A "take-up of digital books" that is "huge and growing"
By day's end Tuesday, the audience for Digital Book World's daylong Launch Kids Conference will emerge into New York City's notably chilly evening breezes -- a -3C is as warm as it's to get today here -- fortified by the surveyed details of surely the most extensively studied publishing sector in history.
Programmed by Publishers Launch Enterprises and Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International, #LaunchKids -- as we'll be hashtagging it on Twitter -- is one of the several events that precede Wednesday and Thursday's Digital Book World Conference + Expo, itself. That one is #DBW15 in the tweeterie, and our Epilogger for it, at this writing, is moving past 1,500 tweets already.
All of this occurs under the auspices of David Nussbaum's F+W Media, of course, and the DBW confab, itself, is in its sixth year, programmed by Mike Shatzkin working with Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch.
Since the Tools of Change conferences were discontinued almost two years ago, DBW has stood as New York's key winter publishing industry conference -- the first such major event after The Bookseller's late-autumn FutureBook Conference and the largest such gathering ahead of London Book Fair's 13th April Publishing for Digital Minds Conference, with IDPF's Digital Book Conference the US-side anchor, May 27-28.
Certainly, the word from our Bookseller colleague Tom Tivnan has confirmed all the good news we've been hearing about the UK children's book market sales.
In 2014's Record year for children's, Tivnan reports that children's titles accounted for, essentially, a quarter of the print market in the UK:
For the first time since BookScan records began in 1998, nearly £1 in every £4 spent on print books (24%) was on a children’s title; the previous high in market share was 2013’s 21.7%.
In fact, London's industry saw children's sales, Tivnan reports, surpass adult fiction for the first time in 2014 -- Nielsen BookScan's Total Consumer Market puts the performance at a 9.1-percent jump over the previous year in children's, while adult fiction saw a 5.3-percent decline.
And, as Digital Book World's (DBW) Rich Bellis is reporting in eBooks Finding Their Place Among Young Readers latest indicators in the US suggest that digital publishing may be struggling less against a frosty reception at the kitchen table than originally lamented.
"Two recent studies of children’s and families’ reading habits," Bellis writes, "suggest that while young readers may not be flocking to ebooks in droves, they are figuring out where digital content fits into their reading lives."
From DBW research with PlayCollective going back to January 2013 comes hope for more digital adoption than some might have anticipated at this point. David Kleeman is with us at #LaunchKids on the topic at 9:25 a.m. ET / 2:25 p.m. GMT, and he writes for DBW:
We’ve found that while device popularity–e-readers, tablets, smartphones, computers–shifts from year to year, the overall take-up of digital books is huge and growing. 93% of kids 2–13 now e-read at least once a week.
Indeed, PlayCollective's Kara Liebeskind writes in a conference supplement on the subject:
Despite parents' personal inclinations toward print books, they do not believe that ebooks
are any more or less useful and valuable than print books. In fact, parents reported no
preference when asked which platform they felt was better for their children·s learning (27%
Not so fast, says Scholastic
Bellis notes some countervailing indicators from newly released study results from Scholastic. The company's Morgan Baden will be with us at #LaunchKids on a marketing panel led by Shatzkin's Logical Marketing Agency partner Peter McCarthy at 11:40 a.m. ET / 4:40 p.m. GMT.
As Bellis writes:
Stability isn’t the same thing as growth, and a separate study of kids’ reading habits, released by Scholastic yesterday, suggests ebooks aren’t catching among young readers.
Scholastic finds that even though the percentage of children ages 6–17 who have read an ebook has increased over the past four years, during which time ebooks have become more prevalent, the share that prefer print to ebooks has risen, from 43% in 2012 to 55% in 2014. And so has the percentage of kids who say they’ll always want to read print books even though ebooks are available (65% last year vs. 60% in 2012).
The Scholastic workup, a Kids & Family Reading Report generated in autumn 2014, focuses on the place and progress of reading in the younger set, and within the context of the family. A couple of key findings:
- Half of all children ages 6–17 (51%) are currently reading a book for fun and another one in five (20%) just finished one.
- Both parents of children ages 6–17 (71%) and kids (54%) rank strong reading skills as the most important skill a child should have. Yet while 86% of parents say reading books for fun is extremely or very important, only 46% of kids say the same.
- Three-quarters of parents with children ages 6–17 (75%) agree “I wish my child would read more books for fun,” and 71% agree “I wish my child would do more things that did not involve screen time.”
Still not worried about boys not keeping up?
It may strike some observers as strange that #LaunchKids, for all its fine focus in session headings on "changing media" and "children's tech" and "the rise of fandom," does not directly take on the issue of boys lagging girls in reading.
Scholastic's research does have something to say about that, and it's not good. Such as:
Although reading frequency among girls and children ages 6–8 is similar to 2010, reading frequency has dropped among boys and kids older than age 8.
While more than four in 10 children (44%) like reading more now that they are older, nearly three in 10 (29%)—especially boys—liked reading more when they were younger.
Girls are more likely than are boys to say reading books for fun is extremely or very important, although boys and girls are less likely to say this compared to years past.
We might think that with research routinely showing that adult readers and buyers of books are inevitably more female than male, the industry would want to look at these formative years more urgently for why the guys aren't taking to reading as well as the girls in years of reports. Is this a capitulation to the idea that electronic entertainment media will overtake boys' action-loving minds with Stepfordian inevitability? (The "boys won't read" meme.) Well, that of course is the point at which Simon Scarrow has opted to try to bridge boys' interests by creating a game around his Cato and Macro military-historical characters, as we covered here.
It's a good bet that the industry is not so happy to leave money on the table when these younger guys grow up as non-readers. But unless there's a surprise entry in the programme, it doesn't look as if #LaunchKids will be the place at which we take on this issue, which is ripe for a conference of its own.
'Merch' without a movie?
Many promising things are on tap at #LaunchKids, however.
And in line with Mike Shatzkin's recent assertion that #DBW15, itself, will have a strong emphasis on marketing issues, the enthusiasm with which Sourcebooks founder and publisher Dominique Raccah (pictured) is arriving at the New York Hilton Midtown is heartening.
Raccah speaks at the lunch roundtable at 12:25 p.m. ET / 5:25 p.m. GMT, and in a session on "Personalisation and the Story" at 4:15 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. GMT.
She tells me:
In an age of decreasing sales options for authors, I think we may be creating a whole new channel and new ways to monetise their stories. It's really exciting.
Raccah is the winner of the 2013 FutureBook Innovation Award as Most Inspiring Digital Publishing Person. And her excitement is about a line of picture books for children.
"Authors don't get a chance to really create a brand relationship with the customer," Raccah says. But in her "Put Me in the Story" series of personalised books, she tells me, she has found new ways of doing that.
Sourcebooks has 27 authors and brands now operating in the "Put Me In the Story" catalog, with more to come.
A recent addition: the author and illustrator Sandra Magsamen, (pictured) with a "Whoo Loves You?" series of books.
"There are a couple of things about how we create value for publishers and authors," she says, the first being price point. The books sell at prices between $24.99 and $32.99, with shipping and handling costs additional of $6.99. What's more, she says, there's good reason to feel cheered by online marketing: Sourcebooks has seen what she describes as "tens of millions of impressions" in the fourth quarter.
More importantly, though, Raccah points to the diversity of offerings her team is making available. Rather than a one-type-of-book-fits-all approach, the Sourcebooks catalog will "Put Me In" an array of formats -- "Find Me If You Can," "On the Night You Were Born," "More Bears." And the child-reader's name is characterised by the nature of the material. The Marvel Avengers offering is an example, and Raccah says that many more key partnerships are in the offing for the series.
Merchandising, however, is the way to new monetisation around these products, Raccah says.
"The non-personalised print or digital book," she says, "is what publishers and authors have been doing. We are creating this ability to monetise in new ways for authors by surrounding the central book with non-personalised gifts, personalised gifts, and, of course, the personalised editions in custom-printed books.
There's a question, of course, of how this approach can scale. Although Raccah hints at some very impressive deals soon to be announced, the "Put Me In the Story" specialized catalog, itself, remains relatively small. But the concept of brand extrapolation to logical "nearby" gifts and other product offerings is attractive and, if Raccah's instinct is correct, could have application beyond the personalisation category.
Digital penetration of the living room carpet.
More widely concerning, of course, is the question of digital among the dads and moms, and this is where Liebeskind's report -- He Reads, She Reads, eReads! Understanding the e-reading habits of children aged 2-13 -- necessarily focuses its preparatory work.
Of special interest in that marketing vein, some words about discoverability:
Parents use ebooks that their children previously enjoyed to help them choose the next one to purchase. For younger children, parents look for the same author but on a different topic or theme. For the oldest age group, by contrast, parents try to stay consistent with both author and topic. This is not parents· only influence, though. They also rely on a variety of other sources when making ebook selections, including developer reputation, whether their children already own the print edition, and, of course, price.
Also on the #LaunchKids programme: Nielsen's Jonathan Nowell; Children's Technology Review's Warren Buckleitner; Google Play Books' Chris Palma; Amplify's Justin Leites; Houghton's Taylor Foley; Wattpad's Ashleigh Gardner; HarperCollins' Susan Katz; Penguin Random House's Barbara Marcus; and Disney's Suzanne Murphy.
Live coverage of #LaunchKids begins at 8:45 a.m. ET / 1:45 p.m. GMT.
Image - Shutterstock: Kuzma