At this year’s Booksellers Children’s Conference, there was one issue on everyone’s minds. How – in a time of unparalleled uncertainty and disruption – can publishers reach children and teen audiences? The answer, unsurprisingly, was digitally.
This is not a new realisation. In fact, an awareness of the importance of digital communication with teen audiences has been a part of marketing campaigns for over 20 years. However, in a time when UK sales of YA fiction are down and teenagers are increasingly reliant on social media for information, communication, and connection, it is an urgent one.
One speaker, Simon & Schuster’s UK Marketing and Publicity Director Sarah Macmillan, discussed just this: how to run a global digital marketing campaign directed towards teenagers. Her 360 degree approach, as she called it, to global marketing – where high quality and targeted content is released over multiple social media sites simultaneously – was fascinating not only because it provided unparalleled insight into large scale marketing strategies of some of S&S’s biggest brands, such as Dork Diaries and their newly launched Dragon Mountain, but also because she discussed the importance, in the case of one of their biggest teen brands, Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter’s franchise, of fans and fan communities in marketing.
Teen ‘fandom’ has been rising in prominence (and respectability!) over the last 20 years, with popular YA franchises such as Twilight and The Hunger Games popularising and legitimising niche fan communities for a wider teen audience. Today, these communities are no less active, with digital teen fan sites and networks becoming a hub for creative, artistic, and passionate communal sharing and discussion.
In recent years, publishing houses have begun to recognise the power of these communities, with many setting up their own platforms and networks. The most popular is HarperCollins’ Epic Reads, which has garnered over 2.1 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Epic Reads provides teens with all things YA: Quizzes, Listicles, Reading Lists, Author Interviews and more. It is a central platform for sharing and communicating with other fans. However, they are certainly not alone. Penguin, Scholastic, and many more also have dedicated teen platforms. Riveted, launched in 2016 by Simon & Schuster, therefore comes as the latest in a long line. Riveted is just one element of S&S’s varied and wide-reaching marketing strategy, but it is an important one, creating for themselves a centralised community to market and communicate.
However, it is arguable that more can be done. What publishers have so far failed to harness – although this is beginning to change as can be seen in the new deal between Wattpad and Penguin – is the power of the independent fandom or community. Fan fiction and dedicated fan sites still remain on the peripheries of ‘acceptable’ fandom and insofar, have been all but ignored by mainstream publishers. I hope in the future publishers can continue to respect, engage and encourage the passion of their teen fans, and most importantly, learn to engage with and utilise this passion even further.