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HarperCollins Tries to Create, Cash in on, Generation of Teenage Novelists


HarperCollins has just officially launched its new Web site—an "interactive writing platform for teens." The online site has one simple aim: to get teenagers writing content, and get it published in a social-networky way.

Though the service "soft launched" in November, today is the official unveiling. Setting out what InkPop is for in a press release, HarperCollins notes it's the first such system "for teens backed by a major U.S. publisher." It's designed to attract teenagers and get them writing material, connect them up to a reading audience and possibly even to unearth some future novelist stars since there're going to be publishing professionals involved.

It all sounds pretty wonderful—and a fabulous weapon in the battle against the perceived death of good writing at the hands of the World Wide Web. But of course, it's also all about money. HC notes that InkPop is going to be the "anchor" of an ongoing teen strategy, "enabling the company to have a continuous dialogue directly with its audience." That's quite definitely true: From the HarperCollins side of the Web site, its business planners will be able to get an extremely accurate tap on the sort of writing teenagers like, and what they might prefer to see published—because that's what they'll be writing about. It's almost a business planning tool for the publishers, who must be well aware that book-loving teenagers will turn in to book-loving adults pretty soon, and HC will know exactly the kinds of books they'll like.

HarperCollin's own Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollin's Childrens Books, admits this by noting, "Teens are a key consumer group with significant financial impact. Teen fiction is one of the most robust and fastest-growing categories in publishing today."

To make all this work, HC is borrowing one of the most powerful technology memes in today's Web—Social Networking—and making this the heart of InkPop, where teen authors can share their creations, seek an audience, criticism, advice and so on inside an environment peopled by like-minded writers. There's also an editorial board, HC's main input, who'll review the site's five top selections each month. The board is comprised of international HC editors and authors, which means their feedback and reviews will be seen as valuable to the site's users. And the board is also spotting for the occasional idea that just might make it into print, in the hopes it'll be a best-seller, of course.

But is there also another angle to this, tied to the slightly suspicious timing of this launch for InkPop? We've heard that many publishers are in talks with Apple about the iPad—including HarperCollins. And we've also heard that the iPad is going to be a family-friendly easy-share device, with a possible educational slant too. In other words, it might be a perfect vehicle to go with HC's online teenage writing system—because teens love gadgets too.