How Scholastic Kept Its Relevance In A Digital World

This famous publishing house recognized books weren't enough to keep kids engaged and led the way by embracing new media.

I vividly remember the monthly excitement my childhood self exuded when the Scholastic flyer arrived in my school library. I'd pour through the pages, circling the new books I wanted to order. That was at a time before e-readers, iPads and the Internet—when books were the only medium through which parents and schools could teach literacy.

Scholastic, the iconic publishing company has nearly 100 years of history promoting literacy to kids, but the digitization of the world over the last 20 years created some new challenges. With more and more kids turning towards digital media for their entertainment, Scholastic recognized in order to remain relevant and fulfill the company’s mission, it would need to reach children where they were: on screens.

When Books Are More Than Books

Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media, says developing the brand across a variety of platforms (print and digital) allowed Scholastic to maintain its relevance as a company that promotes literacy education. "We recognize that sometimes kids want to read a print book, sometimes they want to watch a show, sometimes they want to use an iPad or a phone and play a game. And we want to be there with quality media that [promotes] reading and learning," says Forte. This 360-view approach distinguished Scholastic from other publishing companies who too narrowly focus on literacy in its traditional form.

Scholastic was the first to adapt a children’s book into a brand using television and other media to do so. "Now, everyone looks at books as a resource and as material for developing on other platforms but [20 years ago] no one was doing that," says Forte. In 1994, when Scholastic announced it was going to produce The Magic School Bus television series, it came under harsh criticism from educators and television experts who argued something educational couldn’t be done in a cartoon format. "We said, ‘Yes, it can and we’re going to show you how it can,'" says Forte. The show was hugely successful, and continues to be today. "My philosophy is when other people are zigging, we zag," says Forte.

In addition to the popular television series, The Magic School Bus expanded across other media, with each offering a unique and complementary experience. The Magic School Bus video game was released in 2011, allowing children to interact with the characters and participate in the experience. The Magic School Bus iPad app allows children to choose their own field trip and make decisions that will lead them on a different adventure. Expanding the brand across a variety of media has allowed Scholastic to remain relevant to kids while reinforcing the company’s goal of promoting literacy. Forte is clear to point out no one medium is better than the other; each simply provides a different way for kids to experience the company’s products.

In addition to these screen-based media offerings, Scholastic continues to produce books both in print and online through Storia, an e-reading platform that offers a digital reading experience tailored to kids’ needs with interactive activities that reinforce literacy skills.

"We regard ourselves as a company that helps children learn and love to read and we do that in a variety of ways; one of which is by publishing great books. We look at screen-based media as an extension of that relationship, not as a substitute," says Forte.

Bottom Line: Scholastic’s secret sauce is the development of a complementary media strategy across a variety of mediums, without losing focus on the company’s mission. "We have developed our brand so that it’s relative and meaningful to children when they want to read, when they want to watch and when they want to play," says Forte.

[Image: Flickr user Enokson]

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