Consumer Products

Publishers add value to kids books with DVD-inspired extras

The idea of offering extra footage or making-of mini-features has long since proven it's worth in DVD circles, often prompting consumers to shell out twice for the same title. And book publishers are looking to translate the strategy onto the page by packing their summer releases with bonus features such as activities, interviews, trivia and interactive CDs.
August 1, 2005

The idea of offering extra footage or making-of mini-features has long since proven it’s worth in DVD circles, often prompting consumers to shell out twice for the same title. And book publishers are looking to translate the strategy onto the page by packing their summer releases with bonus features such as activities, interviews, trivia and interactive CDs.

‘Almost every week, the major chains ask us to look at our prices again and try to bring things in lower and do more for the consumer,’ says Doug Whiteman, president of the Penguin Young Readers Group. He adds that packing a book with extras, though it may lower margins a bit, is almost always a better option than slashing prices from a sales and marketing standpoint.

Besides responding to pressure from the retailers, publishers are hoping extra features will bring kids back to buying paperbacks again. ‘It used to be that paperbacks drove the industry for novels, but we’ve seen a total shift,’ says David Levithan, editorial director and executive editor at Scholastic. In fact, according to the Association of American Publishers, the children’s and young adult hardcover category posted a 34.8% year-on-year sales increase in May, while paperbacks had only gone up a paltry 2.4%. Levithan says must-reads like the Harry Potter series have gotten kids into the habit of buying hardcovers because they don’t want to wait for the paperback to keep up with the saga.

To make their paperback releases more appealing, Scholastic has launched an ‘After Words’ program featuring books with bonus sections of 16 or 32 pages that retail for the same price. Thirteen titles were released in time to coincide with summer reading lists, and Scholastic plans to add about a dozen in the fall, and then another dozen next year. The focus is on literary titles (particularly those from authors with an established fan base) and books that have sold extremely well in hardcover, and the extras themselves go well beyond teaser chapters and author interviews. For example, Blue Balliet’s story of two kids involved in an international art scandal, Chasing Vermeer, will feature an activity that teaches kids how to create a secret code, as well as a listing of real Vermeers around the country and a how-to-draw section written by the book’s illustrator, Brett Helquist.

HarperCollins also got into the extras game with four titles this summer, and six more are slated to debut in the fall, including Georgia Byng’s latest, Molly Moon Stops the World. Paperback list manager Sonja West says the key to adding extras that kids will grok to lies in sticking to humor and shying away from anything too academic. For example, Molly Moon features a letter from Petoola that reads as if the pug herself typed it up (dogs aren’t so handy with a keyboard apparently). ‘They’re things that really stem from the book – what the characters do, what the author is interested in,’ says West, adding that extra content also offers publishers a way to interest kids in other titles from the author’s portfolio.

But the buck doesn’t stop with paperbacks. Last year, Penguin began including read-aloud audio recordings by the authors of select first printings, which Whiteman says can help create extra buzz, make titles stand out on shelves, and – if the author is really high-profile – increase distribution. Adding a CD component does up the cost, but Whiteman says Penguin is careful never to increase the selling price by more than a dollar because that’s when customers lose interest.

Penguin’s most successful ‘extras’ title so far was September’s Science Verse, which came with a CD reading of the story by author Jon Scieszka, with lots of humorous asides. Whiteman credits the disk with propelling the title onto the bestseller lists and moving more than 100,000 copies. Penguin is currently in negotiations to have Paul McCartney record a reading of his kids book High in the Clouds, which could trigger a rerelease at the end of ’06. ‘Since we didn’t have time to do it with the first printing this fall, our aim is to refresh the title and present it again to our retail accounts, which should earn it better placement in stores and keep sales high,’ Whiteman says.

Scholastic, meanwhile, is experimenting with adding extra pages, elaborate covers and CD-ROMs as a way to prolong the shelf life of top-selling hardcover titles. This fall, Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks, will start a second tour as a special edition with a holographic cover and 62 pages of new supplementary content.

The publisher is also planning to release a special Captain Underpants edition to bridge a gap between new titles this year. The eight-and-a-half anniversary edition of the series’ first book (The Adventures of Captain Underpants), jacketed with a holographic lenticular cover featuring a dancing image of the makeshift superhero, will hit shelves in the fall with a CD containing info about author Dav Pilkey and his work, a music video, 10 original songs, a video game and a printable poster – all for just US$9.99.

Editor’s note: The electronic version of this article has been edited from the original print version in order to correct or clarify some information that it contained.

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