I was surprised. late last year, when I discovered venerable publisher Scholastic selling video games during their annual book fair at my son's elementary school. Apparently, I wasn't the only one.
The U.S. publisher of Harry Potter books is under attack by a children's advocacy group for marketing toys, lip gloss and video games to children through their in-school book clubs.
Scholastic earned nearly $337 million last year from their book clubs, which the company estimates three-quarters of all U.S. elementary school teachers and 2.2 million children participate in each year.
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a protest Monday accusing Scholastic of exploiting its access to school by marketing non-books to kids. The group says that a third of the items Scholastic sells are either not-books or book packs that include non-books.
"The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is a privilege, not a right," said CCFC's director, Dr. Susan Linn. "Schools grant Scholastic unique commercial access to children because of its reputation as an educational publisher. But Scholastic is abusing that privilege by flooding classrooms across the country with ads for toys, trinkets, and electronic media with little or no educational value."
"It's bad enough that so many of the books sold in Scholastic book clubs are de-facto promotions for media properties like High School Musical and SpongeBob SquarePants," said Dr. Linn. "But there's no justification for marketing an M&M videogame or lip gloss in elementary schools. Teachers should not be enlisted as sales agents for commercialized merchandise that actually compete with books for children's attention and their families' limited resources."
This isn't the first time that the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood has taken on video game sales or advertising. The group was also behind the push to remove ads for GTA from buses and other forms of transportation, a drive to get the Wii version of Manhunt an adults only rating and once called LEGO Batman oppressive and destructive to children.
As usual, the Campaign folks are being alarmists. Only 14 percent of the items sold by Scholastic are not books and that includes things like pencils, erasers and notebooks. The other 19 percent were books bundled with other items, some meaningful, some not so much. However I do think that Scholastic needs to refocus both their book and non-book selections with an eye toward getting kids to read.