Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Defending Scholastic: Part Two

Whenever some non-profit group decides to go after a greedy, capitalistic enterprise (you know, the kind that provide people with real jobs and salaries) I like to look a little deeper at their criticism. Now, I don't know the people at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, but I believe they're trying to act in the best interests of children. (Of course, the mother who won't let her child ride his bike around the block because of the latest headline-grabbing missing toddler claims the same thing, but that's neither here nor there.) CCFC, in their press release, makes a fairly big deal out of the fact that 14% of items in Scholastic's brochures are not books. An additional 19% are books that are sold with "toys, gadgets, and jewelry."

Luckily, we don't have to take their word for it. The good folks at CCFC provide a link so we can analyze the data for ourselves (something the many newspapers who ran the story didn't bother to do). The link is here.

I selected a month at random (June 2008) to see just how horrible these non-book items and add-ons were. In the Arrow brochure, CCFC has listed 12 items that are "non-books." Of those twelve items, one is an autograph book, one is a diary, one is a "treasure box" that includes note pads, one is a book of MAD LIBS (and who in their right mind could possibly object to MAD LIBS?), and one is letter stencils. Now, I guess that technically these aren't "books," but they're not exactly glass shards and paint chips either. Really, I'd say five of the items are completely unrelated to words/language/writing/reading. So instead of 14% being "non-book" items, we're looking at closer to 6%, which means that 94% of Scholastic products in this brochure are related to reading/writing/letters/words/that sorta thing.

So the following quote from their press release is just, for a lack of a better word, stupid: “I have a hard time finding real literature among the toys and commercialized junk." Sister, you ain't looking very hard.

But what about those add-ons? Don't they send the message that books aren't good enough? That no kid would buy a book if it wasn't for the glitzy, plastic garbage that came with it?

Well, no. First, publishers already attempt to sell books (real ones, the kind CCFC wants Scholastic to sell more of)by using promotional tools that highlight things other than what is written in a book's pages. How many of us have purchased a book because it had a flashy cover? How many have bought a book only because it was written by a certain author? (I especially love when the author's name is twice the size of the title.) Why do publishers bother with blurbs from famous writers or other "celebrities?" Publishers will stop at nothing to sell a book because that's how they make money. I fail to see how Scholastic throwing in a pen is any worse than what publishers already do to entice potential readers to buy.

But let's look at the actual products, because once again, it isn't as bad as CCFC makes it seem. Here are some of the items added to books in the same issue of Arrow:

  • A CSI-type book that comes with stuff to conduct an investigation (makes sense)
  • beads with a book about making charm bracelets (be kinda hard without 'em),
  • truth or dare cards with a book about embarrassing stories (I'm guessing the cards have words on them that, you know, you'd have to read)
  • maps, journal pages, book light (oh, the horror!), stickers
  • test tubes, flasks, and a dropper with a Super Secret Formula Lab book.
I could go on, but what would be the point? Yes, there is some junk (bracelets with a Hannah Montana book pack), but most the stuff is completely harmless and some of it is actually educational. And besides, if a kid is buying a "Winning Season Pack" (Sports books) just so he can get the "basketball game pen," then I think we've got bigger issues to worry about here.


DebraLSchubert said...

I'm not a teacher, but I have nothing but the fondest memories of the Scholastic book sales in the libraries of my schools. I remember bringing home the brochures and being so excited when picking out which books I could purchase. Is there any other company that gets kids that excited about reading? Oh, and don't even get me started on sleepovers and Mad Libs! No childhood would be complete without them.

Given the amount of "real" problems in this world, I find it hard to fathom why the folks at CCFC can't find a more useful way to spend their energy.

Anita said...

OK, I am totally volunteering at the next book fair. And for the record, I used to buy books just because they had posters at the back, and now I'm a writer! Hey, maybe I'll put posters at the back of my book.

Monica said...

Thanks for all of that information, PMM. I think i'm way better informed than i was before. (please read that sincerely, i have difficulty sounding sincere,even when i am. doubly difficult in print)
That's all really good information. I think i'm totally on your side now.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Monica--point well taken. It has been rectified.

Monica said...

you're a pal. a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

Big Plain V said...

Viva le Scholastico!

(Of course they just rejected my book two weeks ago)

Regardless -- companies have every right to do what they need to do to stay in business. Especially publishing companies. Especially now. (Cuz I want my books to turn into money at some point in the future)

And yes, my kids have forced me to buy some of that extra junk from the Weekly Reader, but guess what? They read the book that came with it?

So who's losing what here?

Tyler Reed said...

Hey Paul, I just saw this post. It was great -- couldn't have said it better myself!!

And Debra, I totally loved your quote: "Is there any other company that gets kids that excited about reading?" Wow.

--Tyler Reed