Monday, February 9, 2009

From the New York Times: Scholastic Accused of Misusing Book Clubs

"Scholastic Inc., the children’s publisher of favorites like the Harry Potter, Goosebumps and Clifford series, may be best known for its books, but a consumer watchdog group accuses the company of using its classroom book clubs to push video games, jewelry kits and toy cars.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group based in Boston, said that it had reviewed monthly fliers distributed by Scholastic last year and found that one-third of the items sold in these brochures were either not books or books packaged with other items."
...

"In response to the campaign’s recent complaints, Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, said she stood by every product in the book club fliers. Many of the items identified by the campaign, she said, were books sold with small items like stickers to help engage children who 'may not be traditional readers.'

She added that the proportion of video game and other toy sales was overshadowed by book sales.

But Ms. Linn said that selling books with stickers, posters or other trinkets sent the wrong message to children about reading.

'The message that children get when books are marketed with other items is that a book in and of itself isn’t enough,' Ms. Linn said. 'And what it does is encourage children to choose books based not on the content but on what they get with it.'”


Read the full article here.

I remember the Scholastic Book Club with quite a bit of fondness. It was always an exciting day when the fliers were passed out at school. Finding a stack of books on your desk after recess a few weeks later was akin to Christmas. I remember we often had the option to get posters, and occasionally there would be trinkets (I seem to recall getting friendship bracelets, which were all the rage at the time) or toys related to a book, but most of the offerings were books.

From the two images provided with the article, it looks as though there are quite a few more non-book items offered than there were when I was in school. My mother and I both loved the program, but times have certainly changed since I was part of the Scholastic Book Club's target audience in the 1990's.

What do you think? Is Scholastic abusing the privilege of marketing to schoolchildren? Or are they reaching out to reluctant readers? Does this kind of marketing really promote literacy or does it just reinforce the "I want that!" mentality? I'd love to have parents weigh in on this, especially if your child's school participates in the book club.

19 comments:

  1. I remember the Scholastic Book Club too! I had so much fun with it in grade school. I was rarely able to get anything (tight household budget), but when my mom was able to buy me books, I devoured them!

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  2. OH my gosh, those were the happiest days to get a Scholastic flier!

    I got non-bookish stuff back in the day. One thing to remember is that at least the teachers get points they can use for more books for their classrooms! :)

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  3. orbitaldiamonds, I remember lots of conversations with my mom about which books I should get. I always wanted so many of them, but money was tight. I think that helped me appreciate the books I got even more, though.

    Amy, you make a good observation about the points. My third grade teacher used the points to buy books for all of the kids in our class for holidays. We got free Scholastic books for Christmas, Valentine's Day and the end of school. I didn't like that teacher very much, but I always appreciated how much thought she put into the books she chose for us.

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  4. I have the same complaint about the Scholastic flyers. I don't mind if there are extras that are educational, like the math game my son got last year, but some of the offerings seem like a poor fit.

    For example, usually when my son comes home with the scholastic fliers there are two separate booklets. One is the traditional flier with books (although some books come with trinkets like key rings or tiny action figures). The other is a flier filled entirely with games for the wii, playstation and x-box, along with dvds, and maybe some books on cd. The majority of the content is not book related.

    My son knows not to even ask for anything in the second flier - it goes straight in the trash. He also knows that we don't buy anything in the first flyer just for the toys. I'm the mom, I know what kind of books he likes, and it's pretty easy to tell when he only wants something because it has a trinket with it.

    That being said, he has gotten lucky a couple of times where the books that he truly enjoys have been offered with a free toy.

    I think enticing non-reading kids to read by offering trinkets is ok as long as it doesn't get out of hand. I think the second flyer is way out of hand.

    As a side note I have noticed that there are fewer listings offering of toys this year, so maybe the advocacy group has had some impact.

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  5. My mom never let me order from the Scholastic Book Club when I was a kid. I was always envious when the other kids got their orders in, and my desk was empty. :( Then, my mom finally caved in and let me order a book! I was so excited...until the package came and the book they gave me was completely different! They were out of the book I had ordered (something about ballerinas) and instead of refunding me, they gave me another book that also had to do with ballet, but it had a completely different POV. My order was some pink girly ballet-is-beautiful-yay! book, the one they sent me was called "Baseball Ballerina" and was about some girl who hated girly things being forced to do ballet.

    TOTALLY LAME.

    But I never wanted to order from the book club after that, so I think my mom was relieved, even though she was initially pissed because the book they sent cost less than the one I ordered.

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  6. I think there's a little of both going on. You should read Lisa's post. She wrote about the same thing.

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  7. I LOVE Scholastic's book club. I still get excited when I see my boys coming home with an order form :). The forms we receive may have a few "non book" related items, but overall the majority is still books! And I agree with Amy--teachers get points to buy books from the classroom! What a wonderful reward program.

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  8. I hadn't really thought about it until reading this post - buy yeah, there's a lot of "fluff" in the fliers now. Still, we just look right past that and dive into the book sets or cheap books or books we hadn't thought of before. We love Scholastic and remain happy customers.

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  9. I always loved the book club when I was a kid, and would spend hours picking exactly the right books to order. Kiddo gets them now, and I'll admit that I'm a bit disappointed. Rather than "good" books, most of them are based on tv shows or movies or toys (Lego books?!) and the writing is just *meh*. But of course, those are the books that get his attention right away, and they are the ones he always wants to order.

    I'd love to see a return to more traditional kids books, but I'm not holding my breath.

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  10. There is a ton on non-book stuff in these book club flyers. My daughter brings these flyers home all the time. I don't have a problem with it because you have the option not to buy anything. I've bought a science experiment kit and stuff like that for her, but she goes to the library and has tons of books in her room that she hasn't even read yet, so obtaining books is not a problem for her.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  11. I loved these when I was a kid. I know that sometimes they used to have monthly packs and you'd get 12 months of a few themed books and then maybe stickers or little toys. I mostly just signed up for those to get new books each month. I'm sorry to hear that there is so much other stuff going into the ads. I know the book fairs have gone downhill as well in the same way with kids buying overpriced junk instead of the books.

    I understand it if they are offering cheap toys to entice kids to read, but a whole second flier of electronic toys that Alyce describes is unacceptable. Kids already want toys, the aim is to get them to read.

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  12. Re: Alyce's comment. The flyers my daughter brings home have never contained a separate flyer with only toys. Those I'd have a problem with. She gets the regular ones with books and some non-book items thrown in.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  13. We had the Scholastic book club too. But I'm too old to have been offered anything other than books. At least I don't remember anything but books in the 60s. I loved the club.

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  14. I loved the fliers when I was a kid too. I wasn't always able to get the books, but was very excited and thrilled when I could get one! I'm looking forward to my boys being old enough to participate!

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  15. I'm too old to remember Scholastic book club when I was a kid. I seriously don't remember getting them. My son loves to peruse the flyers when he gets them and pick out what books he wants. I do think that there are too many non book related things such as the video games and trinkets. Although, I don't mind the science experiments and electronic kits that come with books. One year, I was in charge of ordering the Scholastic books for my son's teacher as a volunteer. I realized that there are many flyers that are available and that the teacher can pick and choose what is sent home. I do like that the teachers can earn and pass on the reward points to buy books for the students or to add books to their classroom libraries.

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  16. Found your post via BermudaOnion's blog and had to stop by...

    My son is in preschool and gets the Scholastic flyers. I don't think they are filled with too many other items to the exclusion of books (he gets the Firefly and SeeSaw flyers so I can only speak for those not ones for older children). And most the non-book items are reading or book related. We ordered an alphabet bingo game to help with word sounds. And the video games were Leapster games from Scholastic that have a prereading focus. I'm all for anything that gets kids excited about books and reading -- even it takes an "unconventional" method like a game or a video game. I like reviewing the flyers with my son and letting him pick out one or two books -- he gets so excited. And the prices can be really good too -- you can get some excellent deals. And you earn points for your children's classroom so they can get more books. So, from a parent who is currently using Scholastic flyers, I think although the flyers definitely seem to have some non-book items, they seem to be carefully chosen and still have a learning focus. And I would say it seems to be 80% books and maybe 20% non-book items if I'm remembering accurately.

    Interesting post. Thanks!

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  17. It comes down to the parents. If you don't like certain items, say no. I've made it a rule that it's books only from Scholastic at our house. I also get to veto any books I don't think are appropriate. We do compromise: if she wants Barbie and Tinkerbell, she can have either but not both. I think we all come out happy.

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  18. I think the criticisms are valid. I don't order from them because if I tell the kids to pick something out they always go for the toys. Then I have to say no and they end up disappointed with getting a book. That is totally wrong!! So now the flyers just go in the trash.

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  19. There are a lot of toys etc. that come in those flyers, and I just say no. I know they had posters when I was a kid (1970's) but don't think there were as many trinkets as today. Actually the flyers don't bother me too much since I see what they buy before they get the money. What I hate are the book fairs. The flyers don't give a complete listing of available books, so its not like you can just pick out what you want and send the money--and the kids do like to shop. I give mine a budget and put a note on the envelope (which also has a library and classroom donation in it) BOOKS ONLY, NO TRINKETS TOYS ETC.

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