Scholastic: Work Digitally, Think Globally

(back) Scholastic's Elliott Rebhun, Jenny Frost, Tracy van Straaten, Hugh Roome, and Rachel Coun; (front) M.S. in Publishing students Chloe Goodhart, Julia Gatti, Mallory Conder, and Jessica Lei
(back) Scholastic’s Elliott Rebhun, Jenny Frost, Tracy van Straaten, Hugh Roome, and Rachel Coun; (front) M.S. in Publishing students Chloe Goodhart, blogger Julia Gatti, Mallory Conder, and Jessica Lei

How would you like to walk past Harry Potter art and merchandising paraphernalia every morning on your way to work? Or pass through halls filled with well-known and beloved children’s books? Or pat a large, stuffed Clifford the Big Red Dog in the hallway? Does being surrounded by posters which all carry the same motto, “Read Every Day, Lead a Better Life,” sound inspiring to you? If so, you’ll want to pursue a career at Scholastic.

A group of NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students were lucky enough to spend two hours at Scholastic’s New York headquarters in SoHo last week. Hugh Roome, President of Consumer and Professional Publishing (and a professor in the graduate program as well as a member of the Board of Advisors), kicked off the luncheon meeting by giving us an overview of Scholastic. The company’s mission, in Roome’s words, is “to help kids get into books through teachers, parents, and a focus on world literacy.”

Roome impressed upon us the large scale of children’s book publishing with a few statistics: there are over 2.5 billion children in the world, about 3.5 million schools worldwide, and 12 billion dollars spent each year in children’s books. He reminded us that as populations grow and the global emphasis on education—and specifically on learning English—increases, “Your futures are going to be globally oriented.”

President of Consumer and Professional Publishing Hugh Roome with M.S. in Publishing students Wenbo Pei, Jessica Lei, and Shiuan Ding
Hugh Roome, President of Consumer and Professional Publishing, with M.S. in Publishing students Wenbo Pei, Jessica Lei, and Shiuan Ding

He explained how Scholastic takes an international look at children’s literacy by providing inexpensive content through books, magazines, school events and digital offerings. Over 20 million families still participate in the Scholastic Book Clubs, and the Scholastic Book Fairs are the largest in the industry – the company has over 160 thousand of these fairs worldwide a year. Scholastic also has a strong magazine publication business with over 30 million readers.

Elliott Rebhun, Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic magazines and Publisher of The New York Times Upfront, then spoke to us, explaining that there are currently 23 classroom magazines with audiences that range from Pre-K readers (My Big World with Clifford) to high school readers (Upfront). Scholastic does intensive research to make sure that their magazines are curriculum-appropriate but still exciting and appealing to students, especially that the cover images are intriguing to the kids.

Scholastic forges ahead in digital with initiatives like the “Read More Daily” online reading program and with the development of Storia, their e-reading application.

Jenny Frost, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and ePublishing Strategy, Book Clubs and eCommerce, talked to us about this exciting app, describing Storia as a “mission critical platform.” The device-agnostic app is free and can be downloaded by teachers, parents and students to give them access to enriched ebooks from Scholastic (and other publisher’s) lists.

“People in this industry were afraid at first that digital was going to eat the print business, and so approached it very cautiously,” Frost explained. “But now publishers realize that print is not going away and that digital is an important part of the business…and that you can’t have one without another. Scholastic realized that early on and has dedicated great resources to digital.”

Over the years, Scholastic has also focused intently on its storied franchises, including The Hunger Games. Scholastic executives who work closely together walked us through the excitement and insanity surrounding the series, from the launch of the first book through the upcoming opening of the Lionsgate movie, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (based on the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy).

Rachel Coun, Executive Director of Trade Marketing at Scholastic, reminded us that the first key to the promotion and sales of a great book is the book itself. “It all starts with great content and a great product,” she told us and then talked about how “the second most important thing is the cover!” In this case, when she wanted to drum up buzz around the first book in the series, six months prior to its release, she sent advance copies of The Hunger Games out to reviewers, teen bloggers, and other industry insiders with a draft of the mockingjay cover that would turn out to become iconic. The response was universally a “we love this book” and also “we love the cover”. The mockingjay icon would go on to play a large part in all of the Hunger Games marketing across platforms, from covers to movie posters to the Facebook pages (which Coun reminded us to go on and “like”).

One of Scholastic's iconic Book Fair trucks
One of Scholastic’s iconic Book Fair trucks

Throughout the entire promotion process, Coun’s marketing department worked in tandem with publicity to get media buzz around the new series. That’s where Tracy van Straaten, Vice President of Publicity and Education/Library Marketing, came in. She talked to us about taking The Hunger Games with her to 2008’s Book Expo America in Los Angeles and, as she said, “harassing everyone I knew” and daring them to “read the first chapter on their flight home.” Success in publicity, according to van Straaten, “comes down to having great relationships where people trust that if you tell them that ‘this is an important book’, you won’t be misleading them.”

Now that all three books in the series are published, you may think that marketing and publicity are done, but Coun and van Stratten explained that the constant challenge is to continue to keep titles in front of new readers. Using Harry Potter as an example, they reminded us that already there is a whole new generation of 8- and 9-year-olds who haven’t read the series.

When Coun asked who in the group had read The Hunger Games, everyone in the room but two of us raised our hands. She pointed to the two and said: “Exactly–there are always more readers out there who haven’t yet read your book, which is why you keep marketing…our goal is to get you two to read the series.”

Before leaving Scholastic, we were fortunate enough to receive some great Hunger Games swag like free copies of Catching Fire and bookmarks with the mockingjay on them. But more importantly, we walked away with the knowledge that Scholastic is an exciting place to work for those passionate about children’s books and literacy. The publisher continues to respond to changing technology and meet its goals by doing exactly what Hugh Roome suggested to us at the end of our visit: “My strongest career recommendation today to you is: be digital and be global.”

by Julia Gatti

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