Digital Content and Marketing for the Born-Digital Generation

Alice PopeBy Alice Pope, Managing Editor, Writer’s Digest Books Market books

In one of the final sessions of the 2010 Digital Book World Conference, moderator Dan Weiss (Macmillan) opened the Digital Content and Marketing for the Born Digital Generation: What Juvie and Young Adult Publishers are Doing in the New Marketplace panel by saying that everyone under 25 is born technologically savvy. “They’re literally connected from birth,” he says. And publishers of books for young readers are well aware that they must be in tune with these young, tech-savvy consumers.

This was underscored by panelists Diane Naughton of HarperCollins Children’s Books, Justin Chanda of Simon & Schuster, and Suzanne Murphy of Scholastic as they highlighted some successful online marketing initiatives and demonstrated that they not only pay attention to young readers’ preferences, but also adapt their offerings accordingly.

Here are the highlights:

Diane Naughton, HarperCollins

“It’s all about connecting with your audience,” said Naughton, noting that the publishing landscape is changing and that’s especially true in children’s publishing. It’s important to HarperCollins that they know they’re engaging and connecting with readers in new ways and on new platforms, bringing the content directly to them the way they want to receive it, when they want to receive it.

They’re establishing a direct dialog with their readers, too, with a focus on teens. She noted that 85% of teens are engaged in some form of social networking, and they are early adopters and willing participants. HarperCollins is utilizing customized text messaging to market books to teens for titles like Lauren Conrad‘s novels, and the Vampire Diaries series.

HarperCollins has been particularly successful with their site, which “has attracted more than 10,000 members, who have submitted close to 11,000 novels, poems, essays, and short stories” since its debut in November 2009. “In terms of teens and content,” Naughton continued, “the publisher has to bring content to teens rather than having teens find it in the publisher’s space.”

Justin Chanda, Simon & Schuster

“When it comes to digital publishing, the line between publishing and marketing has become blurred,” explained Chanda. “We think of ourselves as publishers but that doesn’t necessarily make us book makers. We’re content providers. And teens are telling us what we want and how they want to receive it.”

At S&S, they launched Pulse It a little over a year ago and traffic has climbed 1,009% (that’s one thousand nine percent). Teens who join the site get to read free books, interact with authors, and post reviews on the message boards that can earn them points towards free books. They used to mail out ARCs to Pulse It members, but later chose to go completely electronic; in the first two weeks after this change, they had 5000 members—now they have 20,000 members and they grow by 200 a week.

Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown is their first picture book series with a major online presence, and parents are visiting with their kids to participate in it together. They’re launching a new program also by Scieszka called Spaceheadz, a middle grade series that’s self-contained, but full of references to additional content/stories that readers can find online on sites “created” by the characters in the books.

Suzanne Murphy, Scholastic

“Publishing and promotional efforts have to be integrated from the start of a project,” said Murphy. “Scholastic itself is such a strong brand for parents and kids. We’re very mission-driven at Scholastic and we’re all about reading.”

They continue to make it their mission to create readers for the future. She’s outlined their 2-year-old 39 Clues project, which includes books, collectible cards, games, and prizes. Authors like Linda Sue Park and other mid-grade rock stars are writing the books in the series. As other titles in the line are published, Scholastic reacts to what kids want and change their content accordingly.

“While you have to have an online marketing plan, you also have to have a real world, offline marketing plan,” she says. So they’ve utilized webcasts and Skype tours; they’ve done online and TV advertising on kids TV channels; and, as there are currently a lot of 8-12 year olds on Facebook, they have a presence there, too.

Alice Pope is the Managing Editor of Writer’s Digest Books’ Market books, including Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and she blogs regularly at Alice’s CWIM Blog.

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