“Children’s Publishing Goes Digital”: Key Takeaways From Digital Book World
[Above: a still from one of our children's apps, Discovery Kids Sharks.]
“Content” was the big word at Digital Book World’s annual conference this year. “I’m not an author, I’m a content provider”, said Nancy O’Connor as she took the stage during Barnes and Noble’s Nook Kids presentation. She was half-joking, but the message was clear: the definition of a “book” is much, much broader than it used to be. When it comes to children’s books, that landscape is looking different by the day. “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” was an all-day session designed to engage publishers, developers, researchers, and other “content providers” in conversation about what it will look like going forward. I spent the day there earlier this week getting the lowdown, and it is safe to say that publishing will see a lot of exciting activity in 2012. With this in mind, I wanted to share some highlights from the children’s publishing portion of Digital Book World and try my hand at some industry predictions for the year to come.
1. When we talk about “content”, we are talking about two things: quality and distribution.
One of the few points echoed with consistency across the whole of the conference was that what stands at the heart of any sales and marketing effort is strong content. A book’s quality is what will ultimately sell it and make people read it. Also, its “content” is about much more than just what fills its pages in print. Now, we can use vibrant illustrations and great characters to our full advantage and bring them to life in transmedia (multi-platform) storytelling formats. Video, web-based content, and interactive apps are all ways to continue the story “off the page” and truly bring it to life in a way that encourages young readers.
2. Children’s publishing formats are evolving, but children’s basic learning and development needs remain at the core of our own product development.
"Sesame Street is a 43-year research experiment," said Sesame Workshop’s Jennifer Perry in her presentation on how to teach pre-schoolers using digital technology. It is easy to look to Sesame Street and other trusted children’s brands like Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, and Disney for cues on creating digital content that remains true to the core of children’s education. Perry pointed to a number of “best practices” that research has showin improve reading comprehension for kids. Questions that publishers and developers should ask include, “Does the child understand the calls to action?” and “What features increase understanding?”
3. Apps are not a shiny new toy; they are a tool to be used wisely.
There are quite a few articles (see this great recap from Digital Book World) going around about the wane of interest in apps by publishers. There is only one major reason for this, and that is of course that apps are not guaranteed money-makers. It is difficult – and sometimes expensive – to build a good app and even hard to get it noticed, and publishers are learning that apps should be part of a broader marketing strategy rather than a standalone attempt to capture sales.
Ultimately, this is great news for consumers! It means that more than ever, developers need to make sure that their apps represent their very best content with the best functionality available.
4. Rather than being a “threat” to print books, the publishing industry needs to see digital as an incredible opportunity to create young readers through technology.
Now more than ever, publishers have the opportunity to reach kids through nontraditional formats and encourage them to start reading at an early age. Kids have always and will always love the newest technology, both because they want the newest and coolest toys and because their curious minds are fascinated by how technology works. It is our job as content providers to deliver them engaging and interactive digital books and apps that will make them excited about becoming readers. This is a reward that will extend back to print books and beyond.