In this age when children are inundated with technology, we have the tough job of keeping them challenged and stimulated," writes Shari Kaufman, publisher of innovativeKIDS, in an introductory note to her company's fall catalogue. It appears that she and her colleagues are meeting the challenge of this tricky task: the company's sales are up more than 100% over last year, according to president Michael Levins. In his words, "In a very difficult publishing market it is very rewarding to realize that with each successive list, more and more stores are willing to take most of if not our entire list of books."
Launched in fall 1999 and distributed to the trade in the U.S. and Canada by Chronicle Books, the Norwalk, Conn.-based iKIDS publishes interactive books with a variety of components, including puzzles, board games, pop-out play shapes and dials that turn. "Our books need to be more than words on paper--they need to spark young minds and hands to work together," Kaufman said. "Each of our books provides a multisensory experience that allows kids to do the thinking."
Leading the list in sales is the Soft Shapes series, which now boasts an in-print figure of three million copies. Seasons and On and Off are the latest additions to this line of foam concept books with pop-out pieces. And due next spring, with first printings of 125,000 copies each, are Get Ready to Sail and The Lily Pad Race, the first Build & Float titles, a series within Soft Shapes that encourages youngsters to use pop-out foam pieces to assemble a floatable object to play with.
The publisher recently sponsored its first author tour to introduce another new line, Now I'm Reading!, which debuted in July with Animal Antics, Level One: Short-Vowel Sounds and Amazing Animals, Level Two: Long-Vowel Sounds. Author Nora Gaydos made TV appearances, did radio interviews and visited Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Davis-Kidd stores in four cities to promote these volumes, which collect 10 miniature storybooks and stickers for beginning readers, plus a parent's guide, in CD case-like packages. "These books have really taken off," said Kaufman, who reported combined sales of around 140,000 copies for the pair. The company is offering retailers an event kit that ties into the line, and next spring, with the release of the next two Now I'm Reading! installments, it will also have buttons and a teacher's guide available.
Emphasizing that "all our books have strong educational components," Levins noted that iKIDS is looking to distribute its list more widely into the educational market. "In tandem with Chronicle, we are making a big effort to reach the teacher market through stores that carry product geared to that market as well as through mailings," he explained, adding that the company will be promoting its titles at upcoming educator and school supplier conventions. "Our books have been extremely successful in classrooms as supplemental learning products," Kaufman commented. "Many teachers have contacted us through our Web site to request information about our books and ask where they can buy them. For books that are appropriate for this market, we have provided teacher guides and may eventually do prepacks especially for schools." She also noted that beginning in the spring, iKIDS' catalogues will include a section spotlighting "teacher picks."
The company is taking a step in another new direction this fall with its introduction of colorful, eye-catching bookracks developed in conjunction with Discovery Stores. Currently placed in all of the chain's 160 outlets, according to iKIDS associate publisher Cynthia Hughes, "The racks display 18 different titles, representing a good variety of our backlist and frontlist books aimed at a spectrum of age levels."
Peter Perez, book buyer for Discovery Stores, said that the initial reaction to the bookracks has been very positive. "The individual stores are very excited about them, since we have had success with innovativeKIDS' product in the past," he said. "The books are very appealing visually and I think the stores realize this all the more now that they can display them together and offer a larger assortment. We're off to a good start."
Though the bulk of the publisher's sales are through mass-market and trade outlets, Levins also cited healthy sales through such special markets as gift and museum stores, book clubs and book fairs. He believes that the company's publishing program, with its emphasis on offering an integrated learning experience rather than simply offering books with items tacked on, has created a distinctive niche. In his words, "We feel we have broken a barrier and that people recognize that our program is different from what is commonly perceived as novelty publishing."
Among the novel formats in evidence on iKIDS' current and upcoming lists are the first two Flip & Slide books, just released, which feature a slide mechanism that enables a second story to appear "like magic" after children have read the first tale. Back to press after selling out of its 30,000-copy first printing this month is the inaugural Code Master title, Secret Agent!, a book and spy kit in a safe-like package that kids can't unlock until they discover the code. Already registering combined sales of 90,000 copies are two October releases launching the Pop-Up Pals series, storybooks from which plush characters emerge, holding a miniature book that contains answers to questions posed in the larger book. And spring will bring the first in the Puppet Playhouse series, a self-contained theater including stage, 15 plays to act out, a finger-puppet glove and 36 puppets to Velcro onto it. It seems there is ample evidence to prove that this publisher continues to live up to its name.