DBW: Children's market awaits 'game-changer'

DBW: Children's market awaits 'game-changer'

The children’s and YA sessions at Digital Book World and the Publishers Launch children’s digital day provided some of the best sessions of DBW 2013.

Bowker’s business intelligence manager Carl Kulo and Bookigee c.e.o. Kristen McLean presented data from three samples—autumn 2011, and spring and autumn 2012—of a survey of US households buying books for children from birth to six years old; seven to 12 years old; and teens (1,000 consumers were surveyed per segment).

Children’s remains far more stable than other markets, with incremental rather than exponential change. The most potent influencer for discovery used to be browsing the bricks-and-mortar stores, but now highly local influencers—teachers, parents, friends—have come to the fore, and are far more powerful than TV, mass marketing, etc.   
Teen e-book adoption is reportedly rising, but a disconnect exists between what teens report and what they buy. Girls are reading more e-books than boys, but many prefer the experience of print. Perhaps the most interesting stats confirmed publishers’ instincts about YA books: 16% are bought by teens; 35% by ages 18-29; 27% by ages 30-44; 11% by ages 45-54.

In the wrap-up panel of the children’s conference came a noticeably pregnant pause when Random House Children’s president and publisher Barbara Marcus was asked if she was optimistic about the future. The answer was a Pascalian wager: “Why not? We all feel poised, waiting for something to happen in the education market. The game will then be changed.” It is “unclear” whether digital and print will split 50/50 in children’s, as has already happened for lots of new adult frontlist fiction. The children’s business is “much more complex” Marcus noted publishers are “more comfortable” with this newest level of complexity because before digital “we already lived in the toy/TV/book world”.

The panel made two recommendations for those in need of inspiration. Content from Swedish app maker Toca Boca is “the most engaging and interesting thing I’m seeing that’s currently available”, Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson enthused.   

As for gamification, Wilson asked two more essential questions: “How far are we making the stuff ourselves, or are we midwives to others’ creativity? What do we have to supply in order to have the right to stand between the reader and the author?”

Lyle Underkoffler, Disney digital media v.p., cautioned that “if a game isn’t part of the story, the story doesn’t benefit from the game. Our approach is akin to filmmaking: we start with storyboards instead of a script.”