North of the border, publishers have been testing enhanced e-books, apps, new styles, and creative marketing ideas, and they’ve been reaping some sweet rewards.

Comparing Apps to Enhanced E-Books

Montreal publisher The Secret Mountain has built much of its business on taking an old-fashioned idea – storybooks with accompanying music –and updating it with the latest technology. The company has already made three of its titles available as apps. Its newest venture will be the release of six enhanced e-books in English and five in French.

The books go a long way past the “turn the page when you hear the bell” books of the past, in sophisticated collaborations among writers, musicians, singers, and artists built around cultural themes and narratives. For example, Sunday in Kyoto, one of the enhanced e-books due to be released this week, is the story of old Cajun musician who lives in Kyoto with his Japanese wife, and the musical friends who visit them. The songs were written by one of Quebec’s most renowned songwriters, Gilles Vigneault, and the book was illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch.

Publisher Roland Stringer says the format has been popular in Europe, especially France, for years. “Our first market was in Québec in French, and we’ve done very well, having some titles that have sold for over 40,000 – [which is] not bad for a province with a population of approximately 7 million. And we have merchandisers in many bookstores, including bigger chains like Renaud-Bray.” While the idea has been slower to take off in English-speaking Canada and the U.S., Stringer says sales have been growing over the past two years with help from distributor IPG, especially in the library market.

Stringer says the new e-books will differ from apps, which only included one story with one song, but had animation and karaoke features. The enhanced e-books will include two songs but don’t yet have any animation. Stringer noted that there is also an important marketing difference. “We've come to the conclusion that parents are very comfortable going to the iBookstore – [or] Amazon, Barnes, or Kobo – to buy for children. However, they have a very hard time finding anything except games on the app store. It’s just the way the app store is set up. So, we believe that the e-books will allow us to market in a better way.”

A Win for HarperCollins Canada

HarperCollins Canada recently won a top award from the Canadian Marketing Association for its “augmented reality” campaign for Kenneth Oppel’s 2011 This Dark Endeavour.

To promote the YA book, HarperCollins created an augmented reality mobile app that worked in conjunction with a lifesize banner of an antique bookcase in Indigo Books and Music stores. When shoppers held their smartphones up to a hidden marker on one of the books, a 3-D trailer for the book played. Posters with other markers telling people how to download the app were placed throughout the stores. They also produced bookmarks that directed people to a Web site, so even those without a smartphone could see the trailer.

The CMA recognized the campaign with a silver award in the retail promotion, consumer products category. (No gold award was given; the 3M corporation won a bronze.)

Measureable results are part of the judging criteria. HarperCollins marketing director Cory Beatty explained that while results such as Web site traffic were considered, “the biggest one for us was that the book had been on sale for five weeks when we launched the [September] campaign, and then in the five weeks after the campaign launch, sales rose 46%.” To see a video about the campaign, click here.

A Fresh Look for a Classic

Halifax-based Nimbus Publishing has released a 25th anniversary edition of a Canadian classic, Sheree Fitch’s Toes in My Nose, with new illustrations from artist Sydney Smith.

The book was Fitch’s first, but since its publication in 1987, she has published 25 books and has won most of the major literary awards for children’s literature in Canada. Her nonsense-style poetry has earned comparisons with Dr. Seuss.

Nimbus publisher Terrilee Bulger says that while the original illustrations were fine in their time, Nimbus wanted “to refresh it for the next generation of children.” Toes in My Noes is the only anniversary edition of Fitch’s work, but Smith has also done new illustrations for Mabel Murple and There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen.

Fitch toured writers’ festivals in western Canada and did an extensive school tour on the East Coast, which Bulger says has led to “excellent” sales, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas. Fitch and Smith also toured Bhutan this past fall, offering - workshops for other writers and illustrators.

In Brief:

First Book Canada, a literacy organization that has distributed more than a million free books to Canadian children in need, launched a new program this fall. In addition to accepting book donations from publishers, the First Book Canada Marketplace will now help educators in high-needs communities to buy books from some of the country’s best-loved authors at prices 50% to 90% below retail prices.... Kids Can Press has been enjoying a festive marketing success with Scaredy Squirrel gingerbread house kits. Communications strategist Michaela Cornell says Kids Cansent out kits to booksellers, media, bloggers, and fans, encouraging them to build a house for Scaredy and share their photos. She says the response has exceeded all expectations. Among the most prominent participants: Canada’s best-known women’s magazine, Chatelaine, built a gingerbread dream home, and TV design stars the Property Brothers built a fairytale house. “All in all, we estimate that participants’ postings have helped us potentially reach over 200,000 people through Facebook and Twitter, Cornell said. “And we got a lot of requests for info on where to buy the Scaredy Squirrel gingerbread kit, too.”