Marketing Books to Boys, Part 3

17 Mar

This is the third in a series entitled, “Marketing Books to Boys.” Men represent approximately 50% of the potential fiction reading market but about 20% of the actual fiction reading market, according to some polls. We’ll be exploring some of the things publishers can do to reach boys.

My original plan for Part 3 was to move on to non-technological ways to market books to boys, but in looking for book trailers to include on this site, I did notice something that I wanted to comment on first.

In Part 1, I talked about my visit to and how the publisher channels I visited were as girl oriented as was children’s book publishing in general.  However, I recently stumbled onto the Puffin Books channel and found that the opposite was true there.  The lead video was for the Young Samurai series and almost every video in the sidebar was about boy books.  Many of the videos were just of talking heads, and I question the effectiveness of that, but there is no doubt that Puffin Books was using their Youtube channel to market to boys, at least the times that I visited there.  So, I wanted to give credit where credit was due and acknowledge that at least Puffin Books was taking demographics into consideration in making their Youtube marketing decisions.

Moving on – Publishers need to make an effort to reach boys in elementary and middle school.  I am reminded of something that West Publishing, a major publisher of law related books and journals did in the 1980’s.  As you may imagine, attorneys do a great deal of research and that research was primarily done with books.  However, it didn’t take long for it to become obvious to everyone that doing computer research would ultimately be more efficient and less expensive than continuing to conduct research using books.  Even though lawyers and legal libraries had a great deal invested in printed books the electronic writing was on the wall and anyone with a modicum of foresight knew where legal research was heading.  Books are still used, but electronic research is dominant.

The major legal publishers realized that with the availability of electronic research, competitors could move into their industry without the huge capital investment that would otherwise be required.  (This seems familiar, no?)  West did the only thing that made sense and they are still in business today as a result.  What did they do?  They made the electronic research available for free.  Yes, free. Not for everyone mind you, but for law students.  They did several other things to protect their position in the industry, but it’s their focus on law students that interests me.

Why did they give law students free access to their electronic research resources?  They wanted them to become familiar and comfortable with their product before they had an opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with someone else’s product.  They had an inroad with law schools that potential competitors did not have so they took advantage of it.  They planted a seed and hoped it would grow.

I think publishers of children’s books could do a better job of planting the seeds of reading in elementary and middle school boys.  Elementary and middle school children have reading requirements.  They are going to be exposed to a certain number of books whether they want to or not.  Shouldn’t the publishing industry be directing attention there?  Here is an opportunity to reach boys who must read, and to find out from them what it is they like to read.  For instance, publishers could donate a certain number of books to a representative number of classes in various geographic locations in exchange for some feedback as to what the boys enjoyed.  Obviously, while they’re doing it they should be getting the same feedback from the girls, but this kind of information may give them valuable insight into what they need to publish in order to attract this neglected and underrepresented demographic.

While it’s important that publishers make a better effort to market books to boys, they also need to make a better effort to publish a sufficient number of books that boys like.  There’s no point in luring them to the table if there’s nothing on the menu they want.   My challenge to the publishing industry to is to take notice of this ignored demographic and make efforts to market to them and to publish books that will lead boys to seek out more books on their own.  Find out where the boys are and meet them there.  Find out what they like and cater to them.   Having a boy main character in a book that could just as easily be about a girl is not enough. Step up your game on Youtube and start working towards a way to license books to the portable gaming platforms.  Be innovative.  I’m sure there are lots of other ways to reach boys we haven’t even discussed.  You may never be able to make girls read more than they are already reading, but the boys demographic is ripe for the picking and they need you.

What else can the publishing industry do to encourage reading in elementary and middle school boys?

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Written by Carl

  1. Kirsten Lesko

    March 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

    “Having a boy main character in a book that could just as easily be about a girl is not enough.” I wholeheartedly agree and love your viewpoint here.

    What did Harry Potter do for the boys? It seemed like that franchise breathed a lot of life into into that market and could therefore be culled for future strategies but I don’t have anything quantifiable.