Monday, February 9, 2009

Put the Book Back in Scholastic Book Clubs

For many of us who have kids (or who were kids in the last 30 years), Scholastic's book clubs played an important role in childhood by providing the opportunity to purchase low-cost, high-quality literature in schools. We remember the excitement of thumbing through the monthly flyers to make our selections and the thrill when our orders arrived.

But something has changed. Scholastic's book clubs have become a Trojan horse for marketing toys, trinkets, and electronic media-many of which promote popular brands (and often promote the worst gender stereotypes). A review of Scholastic's elementary and middle school book clubs by The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood found that one-third of the items for sale are either not books or are books packaged with other items such as jewelry and toys.

Some non-book items for sale were the M&M's Kart Racing Wii videogame; a remote control car; the American Idol event planner; ("Track this season of American Idol"); the Princess Room Alarm ("A princess needs her privacy!"); a wireless controller for the PS2 gaming system; a make-your-own flip flops kit ("hang out at the pool in style"); and the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game.

An additional 19% of the items were books that were marketed with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry. For example, the book Get Rich Quick is sold with a dollar-shaped money clip ("to hold all your new cash!"); the Friends 4 Ever Style Pack consists of a book and two lip gloss rings; and Hannah Montana: Seeing Green comes with a guitar pick bracelet.

The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is not a right. It's a privilege - and an extremely profitable one at that. Last year, Scholastic's book clubs generated $336.7 million in revenue.It's bad enough that so many of the books sold by Scholastic are de-facto promotions for media properties like High School Musical and SpongeBob. But there's no justification for marketing an M&M videogame or lip gloss in elementary schools. Teachers should not be enlisted as sales agents for products that have little or no educational value and compete with books for children's attention and families' limited resources. If Scholastic wants to maintain their unique commercial access to young students, they need to do better. And I'd argue that no corporation (Scholastic included) should be allowed use schools to market to children!!!

In the past, Scholastic listened to protest. When 5,000 parents and family professionals wrote them to demand that they stop promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools, they discontinued their Bratz line. So please click here to let Scholastic know it's time to return to selling books - and only books - through their in-school book clubs.

And you can find tons more info on marketing to kids at The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood,


Dr. Jay SW said...

Not surprising--I've often been struck when shopping for books for my nieces (fulfilling my role as the lame English professor uncle who gives educational gifts) that the majority of kids' books available in the big chain stores are, ultimately, glorified advertisements for toys and/or TV show or movie tie-ins....

AD Miller said...

What a shame it is that Scholastics has turned into such a sham. I used to love getting those catalogs in school, taking them home to my parents, an choosing what I could order. There used to be some great books in those catalogs. Even though we may not have had a lot of money, my mother had a philosophy of never refusing a request to buy me (or my brother) a book. Perhaps that's why I'm also now a lame English professor. Or does the Film professor part make me less lame somehow? said...

I, too, loved receiving those Scholastic catalogs, and it's really disappointing to hear that they've ventured down this road. Although, I'm not surprised. I remember even during the last years that I received Scholastic catalogs in the early 1990s, there were already more book-product packages and less literature than in years past. And it seems to be getting much worse? Video games??? I don't have a problem with video games (I love video games, actually), but they shouldn't be should in school in a book catalog!