New E-Book Platform Storia: Reinventing Reading for Kids Means Redelivering, Reimagining Content
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By Dennis Abrams
Deborah Forte, President of Scholastic Media
Deborah Forte is President of Scholastic Media, and Executive Vice President of Scholastic Inc. She is highly regarded as an expert in children’s media, and is an award-winning creator and producer of children’s movies, television programming, websites and interactive games, amongst others the “Golden Compass” and the “Goosebumps” series, planned for big-screen adaption in 2012. Deborah Forte is responsible for managing Scholastic’s media businesses and serves as the group’s lead creative and business executive. She formed Scholastic Entertainment in 1997 with the goal of creating high quality children’s media that could reinforce literacy. She created the only full-scale production company in the children’s publishing industry that successfully develops, produces and markets children’s movies, television programming, and interactive programming.
“Children’s publishing innovates more quickly because it has to”, says Deborah Forte, President of Scholastic Media and Executive Vice President of Scholastic Inc. It is in children’s publishing, she believes, that the future of digital publishing can first be seen. “Because children are reading for enjoyment and for learning, it’s all in the delivery of the content,” she explains. “It’s in their DNA to look at a screen to find out something and to expect to see the things they love and to be able to communicate with each other and it’s much more their language to be screen-centric.” But it’s not only their use of digital technology that puts children at the forefront of the digital revolution; it’s the way they purchase the material, as well as their ability to learn new applications as quickly as they’re developed. “That audience is buying and using content on screen fairly robustly”, she adds. “And with the introduction of the iPad, even very young children are able to use new apps in a way that speaks to the need for children’s book publishers to innovate.”
To wit: following 18 months of development – and its initial revelation at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair – Scholastic has begun beta tests for Storia, its proprietary digital platform for selling and distributing its own trade titles as well as e-editions of other children’s houses. The beta version became available on 8 March for teachers and families who buy through the Scholastic Book Clubs and other Scholastic sales channels. It features 1,300 titles, the vast majority published by Scholastic, and makes such classic picture series as “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Ready, Freddy!” available in digital format for the first time. Forte says she expects Storia to have more than 2,000 books available when it launches for the general public in the fall.
Scholastic is promoting Storia to both teachers and parents, and has designed the app to appeal to two different age groups: Books are grouped in a 3 to 7-year-old range and 8 to 14, with customers able to download the free app at scholastic.com (and on iTunes later this month) and choose titles to place on their own personalized “book shelf.” Five free books, including two multimedia selections, are included with the download. Prices for books range from $1.95 to $20. The design of the books will be retained and make it simple for readers to turn the digital pages. As an added tool, parents will be able to track which books their kids are reading, how long they read them, and which new words have been learned.
It’s a major step forward for the company, which has been criticized for being slow to go digital. E-books currently account for 5 per cent of sales for Scholastic children’s books, a fraction of the percentage many publishers report for adult books. Forte argues that the initial investment costs of a Kindle or Nook e-book reading device, even as the price for some models drops below $100, is a reason why few kids currently own them, adding that the typical e-reader is not designed for young people. “To date, the adoption of e-books for children has been slower than for adults, but we know that over time, more children and families will want to have access to quality children’s e-books,” Forte says. “By creating Storia, an e-reading system for children that works across multiple platforms, Scholastic can offer thousands of e-books for kids of all ages on whatever device they already own and continue to encourage kids to learn and love to read.”
Of course, the need to innovate means more than just launching new technologies. It refers to the whole way of viewing digital publishing. “We have a unique perspective – of course everyone thinks that – but from my perspective there’s all this attention being paid to what publishers refer to as ‘disruptive publisher’ – book apps, games, etc. – and selling them as a form of electronic book. It’s interesting to me because of where I’ve lived for the last couple of decades. My job has been to translate books into media, and keeping others’ vision intact, but working to recreate it as a satisfying and stimulating media experience.” The key, Forte says, is, indeed, a matter of translation. Instead of simply porting a physical book and making it digital (not unlike the process of turning a hardcover into a paperback), what is essential is reinventing what the experience can be using digital.
“Business models are going to change, as is the way that content is packaged, but I can’t tell you how. What’s not going to change is the necessity for real good stories.”
From Forte’s perspective, children’s publishing in all forms is transforming before our eyes, making this one of the most exciting times in publishing ever: “Publishers are so fortunate to have so many opportunities to redeliver content. It’s a time of great and fabulous challenges – challenges in strategy and business.”
Meet the Scholastic Team
Scholastic is hosting Publishing Perspectives’ Children’s Publishing Conference on 31 May in New York City, running from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Scholastic Headquarters, 557 Broadway, New York, NY. The title of the conference is: “What makes a children’s book great?” Scholastic’s CEO Richard Robinson will be amongst the speakers.
Join in the conversation on the Frankfurt Academy Blog.
Children’s Publishing Conference
What makes a children’s book great? How and what will children be reading in 2020? Children’s and young adult publishing remains one of the industry’s most profitable growth areas. But what lies ahead for this unique segment? Organised by Publishing Perspectives and sponsored by Scholastic Inc., the half-day conference “What Makes a Children’s Book Great?” on May 31, 2012, will offer informed insight into the present and future of this fast-evolving area of publishing. The event will bring together leaders in the field of children’s publishing in the run-up to BookExpo America to discuss some of the most compelling and timely issues for print and digital publishing.