Children’s ebooks and digital marketing: An Interview with Joanna Karaplis of Annick Press

Joanna Karaplis of Annick PressIn the third installment of our marketing series, we interviewed Joanna Karaplis, Digital Development & Online Marketing Manager at Annick Press, on the future of children’s digital publishing and how she handles marketing for books that have more to offer than the conventional text.

Carmen Tam: Your job title at Annick is Digital Development & Online Marketing Manager. That’s quite the mouthful. What are your responsibilities in this role?

Joanna Karaplis: On the digital development side, I’m responsible for developing and growing our ebook publishing program—deciding which titles to convert; supervising the conversion process, which is currently outsourced, with plans to bring it in-house; overseeing ebook proofing, editing, and adapting; preparing metadata; distributing our ebooks to our retail partners; and working on price promotions and other marketing initiatives that are directly related to ebooks. I’m also responsible for expanding our partnerships: seeking out companies that are doing interesting things with ebooks, evaluating contracts, and so on.

As for the online marketing side, that involves promoting both our ebooks and print books online: organizing blog tours, placing banner ads and other advertising, creating catalogues with CataList, pitching our books for review—including uploading e-galleys to NetGalley—maintaining and growing a presence on relevant social media sites, blogging, supporting our authors’ online initiatives, and helping to publicize their offline events and activities.

Let’s put it this way: I’m never bored.

“Adults are the best kind of “interactive media” for kids!”

CT: Annick has been quick to adapt to the rise of the digital book market by making available much of your list in ebook form. How has your ebook strategy evolved over the past few years?

JK: Like the ebook market itself, our growth has been exponential. We started out quite cautiously, converting three titles. The first two titles we created, The Bite of the Mango and Chanda’s Secrets, started to sell steadily in ebook format, just as they’d done in print. After that, we jumped in and digitized as many of our text-heavy backlist titles as possible—since those were the easiest to convert—and then moved on to more complex, heavily illustrated titles. So far, our strategy is to concentrate on frontlist and on backlist with strong print sales.

CT: Has Annick included any enhanced or interactive elements in your children’s ebooks? Do you think these features enhance the reading and learning experience for children?

JK: So far, only our picture ebooks produced with Open Road Integrated Media include read-aloud and sound effects. I do think they enhance the story: it becomes more immersive. The read-aloud feature highlights each word as it’s read, and also allows the child to touch any word to hear it spoken—I think that has the potential to be an amazing early literacy tool. However, we’re not interested in adding lots of gimmicks to our children’s ebooks: they’re books, not games. And I think that the best way to enhance the reading and learning experience for kids is for adults to read the book together with them. Adults are the best kind of “interactive media” for kids!

CT: What is your strategy for marketing ebooks to teachers and librarians?

JK: We’ve always marketed our print books to teachers and librarians, and those marketing efforts affect ebook sales as well. Our primary strategy is quality content: creating outstanding books that will be recognized with review attention and awards. Once teachers and librarians find out about our titles, the next step is to let them know that they can also get them in ebook format. We advertise this on our website, on the back covers and copyright pages of the print books, through advertising with ebook retailers that specialize in the institutional market, through webinars with Booklist and School Library Journal, in our catalogues, and in person at librarian conferences and other trade shows and exhibitions. In all of these venues, we also let teachers and librarians know about the free resources available on our website, which include Book Talks for interactive white boards, video book trailers, and lesson plans.

CT: Annick has a presence on many social media platforms. How have you leveraged social media to connect and engage with your target market and how do you measure success with your social media campaigns?

JK: Twitter has been a great way to build relationships with reviewers and avid readers; we’ve been able to connect with people across North America in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. NetGalley has also allowed us to find a wide range of reviewers who are interested in our titles and write about them on their blogs, in online newspapers, on retail sites such as Amazon, and on social media sites like Goodreads.

We measure success in a variety of ways: engagement such as people entering our contests and replying to our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog; increases in fans and followers; online mentions of our titles; increased web traffic to our website and blog; and increased sales—for example, when we do ebook price promotions, we measure whether or not we sold more ebooks at the promotional price.

CT: Speaking of NetGalley, what steps have you taken to ensure reviewers take notice of your ebooks on NetGalley?

JK: For us, it’s been a good way to reach parents, teachers, and librarians across North America and sometimes around the world! Some librarians don’t review the titles they request, but they send me a note to say that they enjoyed the book and will be adding it to their collection.

The reviewers can search for books and publishers, but publishers can’t search for reviewers, although you can send a review widget to reviewers you already have contact information for. So in order to reach relevant reviewers, I focus on making sure Annick’s titles are available and properly classified, and advertising that our titles are on NetGalley whenever possible: in banner ads, via social media, in blog posts, and in person at shows and conferences. I occasionally use some of NetGalley’s advertising services, too, such as special e-newsletter opportunities.

CT: What upcoming Annick ebook projects are you really excited about?

JK: There are two that I’m really excited about, both of which should be out this summer: The Man with the Violin and War Brothers. The Man with the Violin is a picture book about the day that famous violinist Joshua Bell played an impromptu solo concert at a Washington, D.C., subway station… and was mostly ignored. The most interested passers-by were children, so our story is told from the perspective of a young boy who is enchanted with the violin music, even as his harried mother tries to hurry him along. I’m excited about the ebook version because we’ll be incorporating the actual piece that Joshua Bell performed in the subway… what better way for readers to experience what those commuters were hearing?

War Brothers is quite a different tale: it’s a graphic novel adaptation of Sharon McKay’s novel of the same name, about a young boy in Uganda who is kidnapped from his boarding school and forced to join a rebel army. This is a sobering look at life as a child soldier, and the graphic novel format is a powerful medium for transporting the reader into the world of the story. We’re doing this one in fixed-layout format for tablets, and the samples I’ve seen are stunning.

“In my opinion, the main marketable feature of a children’s picture book—print or ebook—is the story.”

CT: What sort of challenges have you faced in marketing the War Brothers graphic novel? How different is it to market a graphic novel ebook?

JK: We’ve had great success with marketing War Brothers so far: its visual nature translates very nicely to ads, and its subject matter is compelling. Since it’s a graphic novel, we’ve had to seek out different reviewers in addition to our regular ones; for example, comics enthusiasts, comic shop staff, etc. The ebook is not yet on sale, but the marketing will be the same as for the print version, with the addition of reaching out to our ebook retail partners to feature it.

CT: Aside from the audio features for Annick’s backlist picture ebooks, are there any other enhanced or interactive features that Annick will be incorporating into future ebooks?

JK: In my opinion, the main marketable feature of a children’s picture book—print or ebook—is the story. Extras are nice, but they’re just that: extras. One thing I like about reading a story to a child is the ability to make it different every time: I add my own commentary, point to different parts of the illustration and ask questions, and invite the child to anticipate what comes next or imagine a different ending. The very act of reading together is interactive! If the child is more interested in touching part of the illustration to see it move or transform, I think it becomes more about playing with the device and less about reading.

I’m interested in seeing how the line blurs between books and games as more children read ebooks on tablets and other devices, and whether animation and interactive features add to or distract from the story. Right now, we want to focus on the narrative as much as possible, but if certain features become standard and even expected in the future, we may end up with ebooks that barely resemble the print books. Or perhaps we’ll end up with three versions: print edition, verbatim ebook edition, and interactive ebook loosely based on the print version.

CT: Ebooks are often sold for less compared to their print counterparts, how has Annick approached ebook pricing?

JK: All of our ebooks are cheaper than their print counterparts, but only marginally so. When we price them a lot cheaper for promotions, we do sell more, but obviously we make less per book. We’re looking for the same thing all publishers want: the price at which we maximize sales without losing revenue.

CT: What children’s ebook sales patterns have you noticed among genres or age groups?

JK: So far, our main takeaway has been that for now, ebook sales mirror print sales. This is probably because of discoverability: with all the content out there, the main hurdle is helping readers find out about your titles. When a book does well in print, people are more likely to hear about it and to search for an ebook version. So, for example, The Paper Bag Princess is our best-performing picture ebook, and many of our bestselling YA titles are also doing well in ebook format.

 “…for the market to develop, children’s publishers need to be producing ebooks even when they don’t yet represent a major revenue stream.”

CT: With study after study showing rapid growth in the children’s ebook category, what do you think the future children’s ebook market will look like? Will this be a major revenue stream for many children’s publishers?

JK: It’s difficult to make predictions when things are changing so quickly. Right now, I think it’s confusing for consumers: is the content they want available as an app, or an ebook? Where do they buy it? What if they’re not looking for a specific title but want to browse by subject—can they find “children’s ebooks about horses” relatively easily?

I predict that the easier it becomes to find, purchase, and read children’s ebooks, the more parents will invest in them. For schools and libraries, ebooks will also need to be affordable, easy to integrate into their regular collections, and easy to educate patrons about. As the market becomes established, ebook sales should increase accordingly. But for the market to develop, children’s publishers need to be producing ebooks even when they don’t yet represent a major revenue stream. This is valuable time to experiment and develop infrastructure.

Thanks to Joanna for participating in this interview and sharing her knowledge and experience with us. Check back for more digital publishing and ebook marketing-related content from eBOUND soon!