Scholastic appeared twice on the Weekly Watch twice last week with their innovative digital products: Publishing Perspectives touched on their use of interactive white boards to teach English to Chinese and other international students. On the same day, Digital Book World featured a press release from Scholastic on their new Book Fair app. While the former is intriguing and shows the breadth of uses for digital educational products (as well as Scholastic’s focus of the fourth educational publishing market mentioned in this blog’s introductory post, English language learning materials), it is the latter that deserves our main attention and that offers a glimpse into the digital future of not just educational publishing, but of the entire industry.
Scholastic remained the 10th largest publisher in 2013 and leads the market in both selling and distributing children’s books. Publishers Weekly notes a shift in Scholastic’s business model after fiscal year 2011, when the company demonstrated a more concentrated focus on educational publishing by creating a Classroom and Supplemental Materials Publishing division, one previously within their Educational Technology and Services division. President of Scholastic International Shane Armstrong noted this shift in a recent discussion of the company’s educational publishing presence in China: “Scholastic isn’t just a publisher any more—we’re moving into educational solutions.”
Scholastic is not only using technology to create new roles for itself in the publishing industry, but adding value to its already established role in children’s publishing. Scholastic’s book fairs are a staple in schools across the nation. They currently have more than 40 book fairs scheduled in each of the 50 states and D.C.; North Caroline alone has 1,050. This past week, Scholastic released their new book fair app, an incredible example of what all publishers need to be doing with technology. Their app shows the future of digital reading and all that it can offer. Scholastic offers the following promotional video of the app with their press release:
Soon, we should all be able to scan titles in our local bookstores (assuming, hopefully, they will still exist) and link to podcasts, videos, peer reviews and other related information. This is the value publishers can add in the digital world: seamless access to a variety of contextual media and other content related to their books and products. Publishing has always been a content delivery system, and in the new digital age, publishers must deliver new forms of content that highlight the context of their products.
By offering students direct access to peer reviews of the books they read, Scholastic’s app encourages to engage in a digital, social reading of their books, a kind of reading that will be applicable to their generation. Growing up with Facebook and Twitter, the current and future students will be accustomed to posting their comments online with others, virtually discussing their thoughts and opinions through a computer screen. By reaching children through a medium in which they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, teachers can make reading relevant and approachable to students. Also, by teaching children to seek peer reviews of their books online, Scholastic’s app is teaching them early how to filter through all the noise they will encounter online. We learn to identify credible sources in scholarly contexts, but the future generations will need to learn to identify credible sources online to deal with the influx of information available to them.
Scholastic’s Book Fair app also has obvious implications on how students and parents discover children’s books. In my E-Publishing course, we discussed discoverability this week and did group research on how readers find what to read. The majority of people my group surveyed found their reading material online, and publishers should take note of how seamless and rich Scholastic is making this process for children and their parents.
Also to note is Scholastic’s Storia and eReading app. Scholastic had a tent at the National Book Fair this past September that featured e-read-alouds with their Storia eReading app. When I stopped by the tent, a small group of children were gathered on blankets and bean bags chairs in front of a large screen that was “reading” a story to them. Each page of the book appeared on screen at a time, the text in large font with pictures over certain words, while audio read the story aloud. As the audio read each word, the word was highlighted on screen so students could follow along. This is an important feature of the program that Beth Bacon at Digital Book World discussed last week.
At first, the children at the National Book Fair e-read-aloud seemed disengaged with the screen. Several were distracted by festival goers and others were talking to those around them, but as I looked closer, I noticed that many were fixated on the screen and following the story closely. They were engaged, as if they were watching a movie, but they were actually learning fundamental reading skills. In fact, Scholastic’s digital story-time can increase the effectiveness of reading instruction. In her post on the benefits of digital reading for children, Beth Bacon notes “The research demonstrates that as words light up in time with the spoken voice of a recorded announcer, children look at the text for a longer amount of time than when they listen to a caregiver reading aloud.”
As the leading children’s publisher, Scholastic has great influence over how children find what to read and how they will read in the future. Scholastic recognizes the great potential technology can bring to reading and they’ve dedicated their business efforts to be more involved in the educational content, products and services that surround reading.