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The Challenge and the Opportunity

On Monday, publishers, agents, developers, and authors convened at the Children’s Publishing Goes Digital Conference in New York City to discuss the rapidly evolving world of digital publishing for children. The full day of panels and presentations was hosted by PublishersLaunch in partnership with the Digital Book World Conference & Expo.

Representatives from trade (Scholastic, Simon & Schuster), educational (Capstone, Footsteps 2 Brilliance), and multiplatform publishers (Sesame Workshop, Disney), and media companies (Alloy), and a few “new players” (Loud Crow, zukka, and others) spoke to a packed room. That the youth e-market presented both “a challenge and an opportunity” was the catchphrase of the day.

Citing everything from costs and licensing to creating quality products and discoverability, participants shared the questions they’ve been asking and decisions they’ve been making as they enter the market. While everyone acknowledged that publishing for children “begins and ends with good storytelling” some lamented the lack of “solid information” about young digital readers.

In stepped Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Bowker Publishing Services, and Jennifer Perry, Vice President of Worldwide Publishing at Sesame Workshop, to provide some statistics and research findings. Gallagher delivered the results of a Fall 2011 Bowker PubTrack survey, Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, on users, devices, influences, and trends, and Perry shared Sesame Workshop’s research on what works when designing educational digital products for young children. What the audience learned: most of the purchases of children’s books are implusive; children’s sphere of reading influence is primarily local (friends, family, school, and library); teen readers are adopting ebooks at slower rate than might be expected (8.9% ), and many young adult ebooks are being purchased by adult readers. When it comes to comes to young children, comprehension increases with layered lessons that are fast, flexible, fun, and visual.

At the end of the day, what was clear was that digital publishing for children is still in its infancy. While the audience was treated to peeks and insights into some exciting products and companies, educators, parents, and booksellers will be waiting to see what publishers and developers create for this generation of readers and learners.The field is indeed wide open, the new formats offer enormous potential, and the digital audience is growing. Let’s hope that along with the purely commercial products for children and teens (which are sure to continue to come in droves), there are high-quality, innovative multimedia products that inspire, educate, and inform.