Nuts, Bolts and ‘The Persistence of Print’ at Digital Book World

On the pre-conference day of Digital Book World, the children’s-market focus was on gains and print loyalty, while workshops explored the digital development of sales and audience.
Image: From Dominique Raccah's Launch Kids 2016 presentation
Image: From Dominique Raccah’s Launch Kids 2016 presentation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Persistence of Physical Books’

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]hysical Book World is not the name of the conference. But as Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah gave her opening address at the pre-conference Launch Kids program at Digital Book World, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the “print resurgence” folks had infiltrated the hall.

Raccah’s greatest success in recent years has been her company’s fast-growing Put Me in the Story series of personalized children’s books. And while the company is capable of personalizing digital formats as well as physical, it’s the physical books that have been most popular.

Raccah spent much of her time in her talk, titled Through the Looking Glass: The Past, Present, and Future of Children’s Publishing, emphasizing the fact that in the United States, teens “the people you would have thought would be the most digitally focused,” as she puts it, “actually turn out to be highly attached to physical books.”

From Dominique Raccah's Lauch Kids 2016 presentation
From Dominique Raccah’s Lauch Kids 2016 presentation

She referenced Nielsen’s Kristen McLean who has many times described how for teens, for example, “reading is social,” as Raccah puts it. “Everything for teens is social, and physical books are actually a social statement” in that demographic, “they are a point of view, a way of expressing themselves.

“So where do we end up here? Today, kids are playing Minecraft and watching YouTube and using apps” and engaging in myriad other digital activities, “but what they’re not doing is abandoning traditional forms of entertainment.”

“The surprise of our transformation as an industry,” Raccah said, “the persistence of physical books. That is a very different transformation than that experienced by your peers in newspapers, in music, in magazines.

Beyond the children’s market, per se, however, Raccah’s main message was that “We need to concentrate on more ways to create connections between readers and content.” And in her experience, personalized content is a major potential key. She said that she has identified as many as eight areas of possible growth marketing involving personalization.

“Customizing each book for the experience,” she said, is where the potential lies. “We are the Number 1 site for personalized books in the US.

“And I’m possessed with this question of how much bigger this industry could be.”

At Launch Kids 2016. Image: Porter Anderson
At Launch Kids 2016. Image: Porter Anderson
‘Drinking From a Firehose’ of Content

Raccah was followed with very supportive commentary from David Kleeman, Senior Vice President for Global Trends at the research consultancy Dubit, with a report called “The Children’s Global Media Landscape.”

From David Kleeman's Digital Book World Launch Kids presentation
From David Kleeman’s Digital Book World Launch Kids presentation

“I swear that I didn’t talk to Dominique before this,” he joked, but clearly what he had come to say has similar implications to her commentary.

“We do a quarterly tracking service looking at 1,000 families in the United States, 1,000 families in the UK, and at least one other country in each quarter. Turkey, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia, and right now we’re in Germany and Australia.”

What Kleeman and his colleagues see, he said, “makes us think that we’re about to see a slowdown in technology change in households with children.”

From David Kleeman's Digital Book World Launch Kids presentation
From David Kleeman’s Digital Book World Launch Kids presentation

He told the audience, “Tablets have a slower acquisition rate, less frequent replacement than smartphones,” and that this means that the industry can take its breath, he said, and learn to deliver better to the devices in place, the tablets.

Citing an average two to 15 hours of usage per week, Kleeman said, “Kids are immersed in a content tsunami right now, drinking from a firehose,” and he directly echoed what Raccah had said: “Kids prefer print”–by some 70 percent–to ebooks. Kids love to share,” which is “a lot harder to do in digital.”

So overwhelming is the available content, Kleeman says, that his survey results show some 60 percent of children reporting trouble finding the content they want.

And yet there are cautions here. While the Kleeman report seems to be replete with children expressing their fondness for reading, the main response about books in three age groups under the optimistic heading “Kids Like to Read” (see the graphic here) was this one: “I love books but only when I have time.”

Maybe at a children’s books conference, one might expect the “I love books” part to be played up. But the “but only when I have time” clause is a serious and increasingly challenging one and Kleeman’s upbeat presentation didn’t do much to drill down on what publishers might need to do to address that available-time factor.

There’s more: Read the full story at Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Ander­son

Originally published at


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