Scholastic Books Under Fire for Marketing Toys in School
Carole Bengle Gilbert
February 11, 2009
With a marketing rationalization that rivals Ty Corporation's denial that its Sasha and Malia dolls (since renamed) represented the Obama children, Scholastic Books today told the Washington Post that the toys it sells to school children through its preferential in-school sales programs are designed to promote interest in books. One third of the items for sale in Scholastic Books flyers consist of toys including expensive video games, DDR mats, jewelry, make-up, art supplies, plush animals, keychains, electronic gadgets and other products far beyond the realm of reading. Many of these items are free-standing while some are packaged with books.
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, a nonprofit group that has effectively challenged marketing to children in contexts ranging from Webkinz' introduction of outside advertising in its virtual world for children to Hasbro's plans to sell Pussycat burlesque dolls to 6 year olds is encouraging parents to insist that Scholastic "put the book back in book club."
cholastic is the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books. Scholastic has been selling to children in school through its book clubs since 1948, a lucrative arrangement that earned the company $337 million last year, according to the Post.
Scholastic executive Judy Newman claimed in an interview with the Post that "To the extent we put in a few carefully selected non-book items, it's to keep up the interest [in reading]."
ampaign for a Commerical Free Childhood previously prevailed over Scholastic Books when Scholastic agreed to stop selling Bratz dolls and merchandise at school book fairs and through its book clubs. The Bratz dolls have come under fire for their sexualized appearance. More than 5000 emails to Scholastic through the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood persuaded Scholastic to drop Bratz. Scholastic initially had responded to the Bratz controversy by claiming that Bratz helped them reach reluctant readers, apparently a stock response pulled out whenever its product sales are criticized.
A review of a February flyer for Scholastic Books' Arrow Club, intended for grades 4-6, shows the following 24 items for sale among a total of 98 catalog entries ( somewhat less than the typical 1/3 cited by Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood but decidedly more than the "few" acknowledged by Newman):
Test Tube Science Crystal Growing Kit ($7)
High School Musical Set (book and necklace, $8)
Electronic Text Messager Pen Set (2 pens, $20)
Paint Your Own Dueling Dragons Kit ($7)
Beast Quest Vipero Set (book and pendant $5)
Play the Electric Guitar (book and interactive CD $11)
Ultimate Band Nintendo DS game ($30)
Fashion Model (book and CD ROM, $8)
NBA 2K9 PC DVD ($15)
Farm Vet (CD ROM ($15)
World War II (book and DVD, $20)
The Night Sky (book and huge poster, $7)
Quiz Me: Presidents (game cards, $4)
Glow in the Dark Brain Slime Science Kit ($6)
Pokemon (guide and pullout poster, $6)
How to Draw Bakugan (instruction book and pencils, $5)
Captain Underpants (fun pack, book and talking pen, $8)
Happy Bunny pack (poster, book and cell phone charm, $6)
Vet Emergencies 24/7 (book and pet ID card, $5)
Animal Ark Valentine Set (2 books and lip gloss, $7)
Friends til the End Puppy Stationery Box ($13)
The Dog Hollywood Spaniel Pack (book and dog figurine, $3)
The Dog Top Secret Locking Journal ($8)
As a parent of three kids, two in elementary school and one in high school, I have decided to support the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood's request that Scholastic Books stop marketing non-book merchandise to children in school. My own children were avid readers long before they were introduced to Scholastic. Scholastic does not encourage them to read, it encourages them to come home from school with flyers and ask me to order make-up, stationery, and toys.
I do remember a time when Scholastic did encourage reading, back when I was in elementary school. Back then, Scholastic sold "real books," not spin-offs of television shows and movies created specifically for marketing purposes. How is turning reading into a marketing scheme going to encourage children to choose to read worthwhile literature? Based on my experience, it's not. Scholastic needs to not only gets rid of toys but also get rid of books that are primarily advertisements for television shows. Either that or American parents need to revolt and overthrow the 60 year reigning queen of in-school book sales.