Friday, February 20, 2009


The New York Times recently ran an article, What Convergence? TV's Hesitant March to the NET, about how we aren't going to see the Internet on television screens any time soon. This boils my blood. Ok, I'm probably one of the few who is chomping at the bit to get the Internet on the fabulous flat screen TV we have in our family room. Since we purchased and installed the TV sometime last year I have been dismayed over the fact that although the TV is great with high definition (HD) content, anything produced prior to HD is blurry and low quality at best. Albeit it's large and we can see the TV from a great distance, but three fourths of all content is not HD, so the quality is mediocre. Ok so I'm getting used to this fact. The public has been sold on how great the TV's are, but we also have to purchase other media devices, all which don't work together. And according to the New York Times article, spokespeople from SONY and Sharp basically think people don't care to get the Internet on their televisions. I'm pretty sure that people would like to be able to multi-task, and search the Internet to gain a multitude of media at the same time as watching the broadcast programming.

The TV manufacturers don't want to deal with all the problems that come with the concept. According to the New York Times article, mainly viruses. These companies have made money from the multiple devices that we have in our homes. If we have one large screen at home that does it all, that will begin to cut out the need for multiple devices like stereos, movie download devices, DVD players, etc all which will cut down profit. But, that seems like short term thinking. With media the opportunity for innovation and profit is wide open. So what's the problem? According to Convergence Culture, Where Old and New Media Collide, by MIT Professor, Henry Jenkins, "Delivery technologies become obsolete and get replaced; media, on the other hand, evolve. Recorded sound is the medium. CDs, MP3 files and 8-track cassettes are delivery technologies."

Media is a cultural production and a business. Every type of media whether we see it on a hand-held device, a PC or on a large screen television will continue to evolve. As Jenkins explains, "The perpetual tangle of cords that stands between me and my "home entertainment" center reflects the degree of incompatibility and dysfunction that exist between the media technologies...The old idea of convergence was that all devices would converge into one central device that did everything for you (a la the universal remote). What we are now seeing is the hardware diverging while the content converges."

Media content is growing and can be found everywhere. In window displays, digital billboards on the Turnpike, digital displays in elevators, at the grocery store and in train stations. We are watching a redefining of culture that is shifting all around, us every day. We are inside and outside of it, whether we are producing or consuming it. Media never stops converging, regardless of the devices available to incorporate the media we want to produce and consume. While the device manufacturers and technology companies try to sort it all out, consumers will continue to seek and use the media they want and work-around the devices. Anyway, a few months ago we were at a friend's house who had a device that allowed Internet browsing on a flat screen TV. I was very disappointed to realize that the text was so tiny it was impossible to read unless you were a foot away from the screen. Images were great, text not so great. I generally sit about 9 to 14 feet away from the TV. Oh well. I'm fine with my large computer screen.

Monday, February 09, 2009


For many of us, Scholastic's book clubs played an important role in our childhood by providing the opportunity to purchase low-cost, high-quality literature in schools. We remember the excitement of thumbing through the monthly flyers to make our selections and the thrill when our orders arrived.

But something has changed. Scholastic's book clubs have become a Trojan horse for marketing toys, trinkets, and electronic media-many of which promote popular brands. A review by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) of Scholastic's elementary and middle school book clubs found that one-third of the items for sale are either not books or are books packaged with other items such as jewelry and toys.

CCFC reviewed every item in Scholastic's 2008 monthly Lucky (for grades 2-3) and Arrow (grades 4-6) book club flyers. Of the items advertised, 14% were not books, including the M&M's Kart Racing Wii videogame; a remote control car; the American Idol event planner; ("Track this season of American Idol"); the Princess Room Alarm ("A princess needs her privacy!"); a wireless controller for the PS2 gaming system; a make-your-own flip flops kit ("hang out at the pool in style"); and the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game. An additional 19% of the items were books that were marketed with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry. For example, the book Get Rich Quick is sold with a dollar-shaped money clip ("to hold all your new cash!"); the Friends 4 Ever Style Pack consists of a book and two lip gloss rings; and Hannah Montana: Seeing Green comes with a guitar pick bracelet.

The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is not a right. It's a privilege - and an extremely profitable one at that. Last year, Scholastic's book clubs generated $336.7 million in revenue.

It's bad enough that so many of the books sold by Scholastic are de-facto promotions for media properties like High School Musical and SpongeBob. 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 products that have little or no educational value and compete with books for children's attention and families' limited resources. If Scholastic wants to maintain their unique commercial access to young students, they need to do better.

In the past Scholastic listened to the concerns of parents. When 5,000 wrote to them demanding that they stop promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools, they discontinued their Bratz line. It's time to consider the danger of Scholastic's marketing and promotion practices in schools and voice your concerns.

Visit the CCFC website to let Scholastic know it's time to return to selling books - and only books - through their in-school book clubs.