On January 13th, I attended the Kids Launch pre-conference at the Digital Book World conference in New York. Presenters included a range of industry experts, from content producers (also known as publishers), to brand managers, to researchers, to authors, to industry analysts, and the collective focus was on describing and analyzing how the publishing industry is shifting from a model of print books, which refer to text printed on paper, encased between bindings, toward book-related “content.” Such “content” might be similar to what is traditionally found in books, but is now presented in new ways in digital formats, via websites or mobile devices.
While cultural content for the youngest readers has been slow to move towards digital formats compared to YA or adult books, according to Jonathan Nowell and Jo Henry from Nielsen Book, the use of digital formats for young readers is starting to accelerate now.
One of the success stories of the intermingling of technology and books has already happened in young adult books (whether they are read in print or digital formats), as teens are able to go beyond the book and participate socially with authors and with each other via publishers’ websites, blogs, fan sites, and social media platforms. While it is legal to create online participatory sites for users over age 13, the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), restricts participation for those younger.
However, it was interesting to learn from two conference presenters about how sites for younger children have successfully become COPPA compliant: KidzVuz, co-founded by Rebecca Levey, and Biblionasium, started by Marjan Ghara.
Kidzvuz complies with COPPA by requiring parental approval for children to participate. In the realm of reading, the site provides ways for younger children to interact with books, authors, and each other. Designed for children aged 7-12, the site allows children to “make videos, share with friends, earn badges, create your hive, join fan clubs.” In addition to reviewing books, on KidzVuz, children can review all sorts of cultural production for young people including “tech, toys and games, movies and TV, books and magazines, food, sports, pets, travel, obsessions, and contests” and earn stars and badges for their work–which is interesting, as digital “books” bridge multiple media formats, blurring the line between several of these categories.
In return for their reviews, participants earn cool badges (and the more they review, the cooler the badge). Compared to Biblionasium, KidzVuz has a very commercial look, reminiscent of Nickelodeon’s site, and branding is a focus of the site: “KidzVuz provides a unique and targeted opportunity for brands to reach kids through direct peer to peer relationships.” A “partner with us” button on the site offers links to information about “partnership, advertising and sponsorship opportunities.”
Biblionasium, started by Marjan Ghara, is a social site for kids ages six to 13 that is strictly about books. This site is COPPA compliant by requiring parents or teachers to be account holders, and collects data on what students read, and then provides feedback to parents and teachers. Biblionasium has a more overtly educational focus. The site says it is “dedicated not only to encouraging your child to read, but also to making him or her a better reader.” Biblionasium uses the Lexile framework for assessment of reading levels.
While both sites strive to get younger children to participate socially in reading, there is a delicate balance between commercialism and altruism at play, particularly as participatory sites about reading set their sights on those under the age of 13. As youth services librarians, this is something to be cognizant of as we recommend participatory sites to young people and the adults who interact with them–from parents, to guardians, to educators.
Our guest blogger today is Marianne Martens. Dr. Martens is Assistant Professor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science and a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee. You can read more about her work at mariannemartens.org and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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