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.

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Campaign for what now?

You know, for the most part, I hate advertisement. They appear in my monitor online at work and at home. I can't read a magazine anymore because it's hard to find the articles admist the advertisements. I especially love the thing Wired does where the ad looks like an article but in tiny letters at the top of the page it'll say "Special Advertising Section." I see billboards everywhere. I watch the occasional show on the telly and then scramble for the remote because the ads are three times louder than the show. I can't listen to the friggin' radio anymore because, while they proudly proclaim a half hour of uninterrupted music, they don't tell you about the 45 minutes of commercials that come before and after that half hour.

I have a 15 - 20 minute drive to work. There are days where I don't hear a single song on the radio on my way in.

I'd love for my kids to have a commercial free childhood. I also think that's about as likely to happen as it is to rain money and candy.

So yeah, Scholastic is packaging other stuff with books. Been to a bookstore recently? Hell, check out the bargain stuff over in the front of a B&N. There's all kinds of stuff bundled with books, and those books aren't even for kids.

In this economy, Scholastic is doing what any business would do to stay healthy- diversifying. I've looked at my son's flyer and noticed that, for the most part, the non-book items are tied to books or learning. Sure, there's a few things here and there which are janky crap and those are more an exception than the rule.

Besides, if the CCFC is going to start a campaign against Scholastic for their "commercialization" they are picking the wrong battles to fight. I think it'd be better to ask why so many accident lawyers advertise on the Cartoon Network. Why can't my kid use a learning website without finding out that he's been selected to win an iPhone? There are so many ripe places to work on, and Scholastic isn't even low hanging fruit.

And one more thing, I watch a lot of cartoons with my kids. There's Chowder, Flapjack, Camp Lazlo, and more. I rarely see any toys based off these things. When I was growing up, almost all cartoons were half hour toy advertisments. (Says the man with a desk full of Transformers.) I gotta say that, at least in the realm of cartoons, the commercialism is far less now than it was 20 years ago.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

Advertorials

Not commenting on your main comment, but on this:

"I especially love the thing Wired does where the ad looks like an article but in tiny letters at the top of the page it'll say "Special Advertising Section.""

I don't doubt it--and I've seen similar. The interesting thing here is that some magazines and newspapers used to have an explicit ethical code that said that advertising essays could not use layouts and typefaces that strongly resembled the surrounding magazine/newspaper pages.

But those were the old days, although I'd bet some magazines still have such codes. (So, I believe, do some newspapers, and you may note that it's relatively rare to find advertorials in newspapers that use the newspaper's typeface or text layout.)

I'm sure some do

I seem to recall a few newspapers where they're willing to let that ethical code slide if the ad is a full page affair. I think the New York Times has done this on occasion, but it was because it was a full page ad. I guess if you're willing to put up that kinda cash, then they'll dance to your tune.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

Disappointing, if the layout and typography actually match

I don't read NYT, but that would be disappointing. The rule should be that you have to use either distinctly different typography or distinctly different layout, so that it's easy to distinguish the advertorial from actual editorial, even apart from "Advertising," which should appear in larger type than the copy itself.

But hey, I've been disappointed before.

There are alternatives

There's no reason that schools have to choose Scholastic for Bookclubs; most do because their products are extremely affordable (and extremely flimsy!) and they have a broad inventory.

Almost any childrens book publisher or distributor would be happy to do consignment sales to schools, ask them about it.

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