Digital Book World’s Launch Kids: Looking Forward and Back

Digital Book World’s Launch Kids: Looking Forward and BackFebruary is a great time to talk about children’s books, in the aftermath of Toy Fair, Digital Kids, the MidWinter ALA and its accompanying Newbery, Caldecott and other awards, presented in January. While publishing for the adult market has its rewards and sense of community, children’s publishing has an infectious enthusiasm and sense of mission that is made manifest at ALA.

For four of its last five years, the Launch Kids conference has taken place in January—once on the actual day of ALA’s “Book Media Awards,” as they are collectively called. As 2016 marks the fifth year of the Launch Kids conference (now held on March 7th), we thought we would take the opportunity to look back—and forward—at changes in children’s books and media.

As many have noted, the digital world that we might have anticipated when we started these conferences in 2012 has not evolved much, at least for children’s books.

That’s not to say that children’s books haven’t been affected by the enormous changes of the last few years, from smartphone ubiquity to brand building through Instagram and Pinterest. Rather, the effect has come in different ways than expected. No, children don’t read that many ebooks, and no, online storytelling is not the only way teens read and write (though hats off to Wattpad for their continued success). Subscriptions to downloadable ebook sites like Magic Town and MeeGenius didn’t take off in quite the way their founders had hoped, and interactive education has come a long way, but as Amplify found out, not as far as futurists had predicted.

But there have been changes, and many of them positive:

• Children’s book sales have continued to go up in most categories, especially in nonfiction, which was up 12 percent in 2015 (though it’s still only 25 percent of fiction sales). Thank the Common Core for much of that, although it may be there are some adults who would simply prefer to read a shorter, simpler version of, say, Unbroken.
• Meanwhile, classic books by authors like Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies each year, both as hardcover and board books.
• Contemporary authors, in the meantime, have gone online to find and interact directly with their readers in a variety of creative ways, on every social media platform that comes along. Ironically, their marketing prowess has taught publishers how to up their game.
• School and public libraries are teaming up to support each other in their communities, and some vendors are working to improve that synergy. And, as a variety of studies (including one by the American Academy of Pediatrics) have shown how important reading is to a child’s future success, parents are more and more invested in getting books in front of their children.
• Licensed books continue to proliferate, but some, like Sesame and Lego Education, are focused on teaching kids new skills.
• What do we see for the future? In a crowded marketplace, there may not be room for an infinite number of middle grade series or Minecraft tie-ins. But speaking of the latter, Minecraft has moved into the classroom, spurred by educators recognizing how useful it is for fostering kids’ creativity and spatial skills. And National Geographic, long a staple of classrooms, now has the opportunity—and funding—to increase its educational outreach, thanks to its pairing up with 21st Century Fox.

In the consumer space, there are new players coming along, from HMH’s Curious World to Bonnier’s recently launched Little Bee Books, Hachette’s new Jimmy Patterson line, and the UK publisher of personalized books, And of course, there are trends, like books by YouTube authors, book-and-products, and of course coloring books, including Secret Garden, Nosy Crow’s Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes series, and naturally, Disney titles galore.

Some speculate that coloring will lead to other types of self-expression and stress reduction, from cooking to handicrafts. But whatever the next trend is, it looks as though—for now at least—it’s going to come in a print format.

At Digital Book World 2016, Lorraine Shanley will be moderating a panel called “Finding the Talent Today to Build the Great Publishers of Tomorrow.”

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