Digital Engagement Is Key, Say Children’s and Young Adult Publishers

It wasn’t long ago that publishers thought of digital media primarily as a marketing tool for the books they were already publishing.

No longer. Digital is at the center of several new initiatives in young adult and children’s publishing.

“Ebooks are definitely different,” said Cindy Loh, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books, speaking at the Launch Kids conference at Digital Book World 2014 in New York today, “the way you experience them, the way you create them, the way you market them.” According to Loh, that new reality drove the launch last month of the digital imprint Bloomsbury Spark.

In addition to aggressively pushing translation rights to develop global markets on a local basis, Spark will also market its line of titles together to develop its brand profile. That means “asking authors to be a voice for the imprint,” said Loh, so that the imprint can serve as a virtual community for readers.

The key measure of success, though, is whether voracious young adult readers are coming back for more. Audience engagement is at least as critical to publishers’ success as are individual sales.

Dominque Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, agrees. The Naperville, Ill.-based publisher’s “Put Me In The Story” program met with tremendous success since launching in November 2012, enjoying a 100% increase on its revenue goal last year.

But Raccah said the more significant statistic is the 85% of customers surveyed who intend to come back. “That’s when I knew we had a business,” she said.

Raccah attributes that to a fully integrated digital ecosystem. Some 40% of significant user interactions with “Put Me In the Story” products are app-based, and key app titles are driving conversion of print.

Measuring engagement can be tricky. Daniel Ehrenhaft, editorial director of Soho Teen, pointed out that few reliable metrics exist for translating digital interactions into sales of print and ebooks.

For the time being, though, the young adult and children’s publishers speaking at Digital Book World seemed comfortable taking the long view. Sourcebooks is at least as focused on cultivating and maintaining the audience for its platforms as it is on selling the products available there—what Raccah refers to as “significant engagement.”

That will be Bloomsbury Spark’s challenge, too. In the new paradigm, authors will need to deliver more than just a successful debut or launch title. According to Loh, young adult and children’s publishers must now consider how to leverage authors’ collective “global marketing power” online, where young readers tend to go first and stay longer.

Related: Kids and E-Reading Trends 2012-2013


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