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Scholastic misusing its book clubs?

This Quillblogger has fond memories of opening Scholastic’s book flyers every month in elementary school, browsing their selection, and paying two weeks’ allowance for the thrill of choosing books without outside interference, and having them delivered directly to his desk. He also remembers skipping past the movie tie-ins, which always took up one of the flyers’ four pages, and later, being surprised by the increasing presence of actual VHS titles.

Sadly, it would appear Scholastic has continued in that direction, to the point where an American watchdog group states that a third of the products on its list are non-book related.

On the surface, this makes good business sense: after all, stickers and posters have higher profit margins, and movie tie-ins sell more copies than conventional books. But Scholastic is in the publishing business, and while such items sell more units in the short term, they don’t breed lifelong readers, the type who might continue purchasing books for themselves and their children once they move past fifth grade. Since Scholastic is unchallenged in the school-based direct sales market, it should be using its power to promote actual books.

  • angel guerra

    I don’t know that this argument works anymore. Large firms such as Scholastic and Harper Collins (with their move –as reported by the Quill blog– into author video products) are really media companies and schools don’t just teach with books and tapes but with video and film. There’s no proof that films and videos inhibit reading. In fact my experience is that they help each other.

  • Mark Matchen

    I agree that films and videos can in some cases enhance reading. That’s not exactly the problem. Many of the items in the catalogues are just plain junk. Hannah Montana lip gloss. Spy decoder rings. Cheap MP3 players. None of this enhances reading. And I’d argue that all the books that are tie-ins to really lousy TV and movies do work against reading. They are like candy cigarettes for children, and we know where they lead.

    Another question is, why do we give Scholastic privileged access to our schools and children? It’s not to support their profit model. It’s simply for the literacy benefit. If their business model is such that they can’t deliver a benefit without the toxins, then the program has outlived its usefulness. I’ll bet someone else will come along to fill the void.

  • Paul

    “There’s no proof that films and videos inhibit reading. In fact my experience is that they help each other.”

    They may not inhibit reading, but they certainly displace it. Sitting in front of a TV tends to be what people do instead of reading – whether in school or at home – because it’s easier than teaching, and easier than learning to read. Which is part of the explanation for declining literacy.

  • Taylor

    Anybody who grew up with CanCon TV shows in the 80s knows that reading and visual media often go hand-in-hand. One doesn’t inhibit the other. I just finished a M.A. in cinema studies (a discipline dependent on viewing and reading) and credit my early visual media choices with all of my academic discipline.

  • Ruth

    As an actual parent of actual kids why bring home the Scholastic flyers I can tell you that I have learned to dread their appearance because the kids aren’t asking for books or videos, they are asking for computer games and stickers and fluffy pens and other crap. I’d love for something to break through my son’s total lack of caring about books but Scholastic certainly isn’t stepping up to the plate.

    As for me, I still have and love many of the Scholastic books I bought as a kid. I’m studying for PhD comps and re-read that old, faded copy of Jane Eyre that I bought years ago. If I saw Jane Eyre in any of today’s Scholastic flyers I think I would fall down dead from shock. Nothing so non-trendy as a classic novel will ever be printed in those pages again as far as I can tell.

    Scholastic is abusing its access to schools and that’s all there is to it.

  • Xenia

    Reading and viewing movies do not go together because of the soporific nature of the latter which is a monotonous and erroneous depiction of reality, and the former which forces one to think. Whether the pace is fast with a lot of noise (and it usually is) or slow melodrama that serves up pap, it’s not mind expanding nor boggling so it doesn’t induce thinking. It’s just junk served up with usually a travel log and feel good gobbledygook. It is especially dangerous in schools (even school-board approved movies) because the information is inaccurate and disingenuous, but no one has time to analysis the crap because it’s coming too fast at the viewer and the watchers are asleep by the end of the class. It’s a time-out for teacher and students. They might as well play hearts for all they get out of it. Most of the kids become impatient after fifteen minutes of the tripe. You can see them wriggling in their seats. As for CanCon TV shows, they were crap. You can’t put borders around creativity. And cinema studies are not an academic discipline, since films are not art.

  • Jennifer Jilks

    As a retired teacher – I found it appalling the marketing that they did. On the other hand, they were inexpensive books that allowed kids to buy a few books for a few dollars. The company makes much of their money in the crap, which was quite exciting for the students. Ruth is right.
    It was a good lesson in how to say NO, for parents. As a single mom I had to do this. Do we balance the pros with the cons? I don’t know. We do need to rethink what principals allow in schools. You would be surprised at the marketing that goes on by profit-oriented businesses, and the time teachers spend handing out flyers in cheap advertising promotions.

  • Taylor

    Oh Xenia,

    I think you missed my point. Either that, or you should see more films. All I’m saying is that it’s naive to think that one form of media renders the other obsolete. For example, just because I listen to the news on television, it doesn’t mean that I also don’t read it in the paper or on various blogs. I do agree that new forms of media (especially the internet – if you still want to call it “new media”) have changed the way people approach literature. I suggest you check out a website like the NFB’s Forgotten War site to see just how mainly visual medias can link with text. I can appreciate that you might not think cinema studies is an academic discipline, but all I’m saying is that literature, and specifically entry-points into literature, come in different ways.

  • Ruth

    What do the last two comments have to do with Scholastic?

  • Joni

    Months later and getting back to the original question, I have had to approach the elementary school principal at my daughter’s school about certain items being sold at scholastic bookfairs. When a child is purchasing a computer game at a book fair instead of a book, you can definitely see that Scholastic is in it for the money grab, rather than promoting reading and literacy. Elementary school children need to speak, spell, compose, and read in their first language to be considered fluent. Books and magazines, also known as print media are what children need to learn these particular skills.

    My daughter is an avid reader and library patron. She also enjoys the odd movie as a comparison to a book she had read. It broadens her outlook on media, yet, it can never replace print media.

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