Promoting Literacy in the Digital Age
While many of us take for granted the ability to read, literacy is still a significant issue in the United States. A 2003 federal survey from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the first of its kind since 1992, found that 32 million adults in the United States would struggle to read anything more challenging than a children's picture book.
For those with businesses based on books and reading, it seems like a natural fit for book publishers to take up the literacy cause. For children's publisher Scholastic Inc., the cause was so important that the company has launched a global literacy campaign as part of its 90th anniversary celebration.
"I want to make sure that every child growing up today, and every parent and teacher is made aware of the critical importance of literacy in the digital world of the 21st century," says Richard Robinson, president, chairman and CEO, Scholastic Inc. "Critical thinking, the ability to analyze massive amounts of information, to evaluate sources—these high-order thinking skills are what will define those who are successful now in the years ahead. … Making sure that every child has an opportunity to have a life enriched by great books is our challenge, our focus and our mission."
"Our campaign is designed to engage a wide audience of adults in the effort to support children's reading so they will have the skills to understand and navigate the vast amounts of information and text that they encounter in their 21st-century world," says Kyle Good, vice president, corporate communications and media relations.
Officially launched in October with the campaign slogan, "Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life," Scholastic's Global Literacy Campaign is multifaceted, featuring a variety of tools and components, although its foundation, according to Good, is The Reading Bill of Rights, "a declaration of why literacy is more important in today's world than ever before."
The Reading Bill of Rights, which can be accessed from the home page of the campaign's website at Scholastic.com/readeveryday, was delivered by Robinson in a speech to 500 members of the children's book industry at this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair in March. He also delivered a call-to-action to his fellow children's book publishers to join Scholastic in its campaign for global literacy.
Scholastic continues to reach out to other publishers to join the cause. "Because Scholastic is a major distributor of children's books from [many] publishers through our Book Clubs and Book Fairs, we are working with those businesses to spread the word about The Reading Bill of Rights and the call-to-action," says Good. "We will be working with [other] publishers to get the word out about the site, and invite more participation by their authors and customers."
Additionally, several authors from other publishing houses, such as best-selling HarperCollins author Judi Picoult and Little Brown and Co.'s Malcolm Gladwell, have contributed their "Bookprints"—the list of five books that influenced who they are today—to the campaign. Bookprints, contributed to by more than 130 famous people including authors, sports figures, entertainment icons and others (Bill Gates, Tony Hawk, Eva Mendes and President George H.W. Bush, to name a few), is part of a new social networking site Scholastic has launched called You Are What You Read (youarewhatyouread.com). The site, which is fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter, and includes two versions—one for adults, and one for children ages 12 and under—allows visitors to add their own Bookprints, find other like-minded readers, and learn about and discuss books.
"Scholastic's Global Literacy Campaign … and our new social networking site … are just two examples of what the publishing industry can do to get people talking about the importance of books and supporting children's reading," says Robinson.
Other features of the campaign include the following:
➜ Reading Action Steps (such as "I will pass on the great books I enjoy," and "I will give books as gifts to children in my life"), available through all Scholastic channels worldwide and online at the campaign's site, for parents, teachers, librarians, corporations, nonprofits and others to support children's reading.
➜ More than 120 organizations and individuals so far have joined the campaign as "Literacy Champions." Additionally, thousands of individuals have pledged to help encourage a child in their life to read every day at the campaign website.
➜ Celebrity public service announcements (PSAs)—recorded by celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Whoopi Goldberg and NFL star Justin Tuck, and available for download at the campaign website—encourage children, teachers and parents to come together to improve global literacy.
➜ A live webcast for classrooms, held Oct. 27, featured recording artist Taylor Swift talking about the importance of reading in her life, as well as a live performance by the recording artist.
➜ Exclusive posters created by a dozen children's illustrators, including David Shannon, Mark Teague and Barbara McClintock, feature their interpretations of what it means to read every day. The originals of these posters will be offered for sale, with proceeds benefiting Reading Is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read, two nonprofit organizations that promote reading for children.
➜ To celebrate Scholastic's 90th anniversary on Oct. 22, Scholastic employees worldwide distributed The Reading Bill of Rights at famous landmarks around the globe. In New York City, home of Scholastic's headquarters, Scholastic employees rang the closing bell at NASDAQ, and the top of the Empire State Building was lit in red to recognize the publisher's anniversary and the literacy campaign.
Spreading the Word
With so many components of its global literacy campaign now in place, Scholastic is busy spreading the word about it in a variety of ways, mixing both traditional and new-media marketing methods. "Every division of the company is actively spreading the word about the campaign, The Reading Bill of Rights and the You Are What You Read website, including promoting the campaign throughout the company website to our millions of … users," says Good. "In addition, our Literacy Champion partners are sharing the campaign with their audiences. We are distributing materials at conventions, book festivals and other public gatherings throughout the year, and we are purchasing advertising on Facebook for the You Are What You Read social networking site."
Scholastic also is utilizing social networking to market the campaign via its corporate blog, "On Our Minds@Scholastic" (onourmindsatscholastic.blogspot.com), its various Facebook fan pages (its Books Club fan page alone has more than 100,000 fans) and Twitter. "We tweet daily about what's happening in the campaign," says Good. Additionally, the campaign's slogan appears on every e-mail sent from a Scholastic corporate account.
With a campaign goal to "get more children to read every day," according to Good, Scholastic will be monitoring the campaign's success. "We are measuring awareness of the messages pre- and post-campaign as well as behavioral changes in reading habits," she says. "We will also measure our success by the number of adults and children who join the You Are What You Read website and share their love of books in this social networking setting."
Promoting Literacy—and Selling Books—in the Digital Age
With so many forms of entertainment vying for children's attention today—television, video games, social networking, texting, apps—it may seem an increasingly difficult task for books to compete. However, that assumption may not be entirely accurate.
"Scholastic has studied the affects of technology on kids' reading habits and behaviors, and what we found is that some of the biggest users of technology are also some of the most frequent readers," says Robinson, referring to the "2010 Kids and Family Reading Report," a national survey of the views of children (ages six to 17) and their parents on a range of topics regarding reading in the 21st century, that Scholastic released this fall. "[The study] found that one-third of kids ages nine to 17 said they would read more books for fun if they had access to e-books. This included both the most- and the least-frequent readers. What this tells us is that we should meet kids where they are," he adds. "Technology is here to stay, so let's make sure technology is a tool for reading more and reading better."
So, then, are e-books the "answer" when it comes to children and books? Robinson believes that cultivating a love of reading still starts with a great story. "We make it our goal to find great books with compelling stories and characters that are relevant for today's kids, regardless of whether we deliver them in print or digitally," he says.
As an example, he points to the success of Scholastic's "The 39 Clues," a series that includes print books (8.5 million copies of the series are in print), an online world where kids become part of the stories, and collectible cards, which Robinson says "broke new ground" in the children's book market. "As we expand reading options and engage our young readers, we will continue to promote the excitement of reading so reading can compete with and be complemented with games and videos, and whatever new digital attraction appears in their world," he says.
Another consideration when producing e-books for children is that the current e-reading devices generally are not optimal for these types of books, which often rely heavily on graphics and illustrations. Robinson believes that the appropriate technologies are key to engaging young readers. "The needs of children on electronic devices are quite different from the functionality that the current dedicated e-readers provide. We know from listening to our young customers what they want: color, a real voice (not a simulated voice), and some animation and reading supports," he says, noting that Scholastic is preparing to launch its own e-reader software application this school year that "will give children a tailor-made e-book experience designed just for them."
"Those kids who may be more inclined to technology than to printed books are likely to find that the printed word takes on new interest on the right device, loaded with the right e-reading software," he adds.
"The key to our longevity is that we listen to our customers—teachers, librarians, parents and kids," Robinson continues. "We know kids, and we know how to create and deliver to them the books they want to read. We give kids opportunities through our Book Clubs and Book Fairs to choose the books they want to read—and that is key to raising a reader." BB