Book Biz: Carmen Sandiego is An App, Amazon Builds a Bookstore, Ordering Scholastic Books at School


Today, Scholastic Publishing may be best known for bringing the stories of Harry Potter into our homes. Even though the J. K. Rowling series had been successful in the UK, there was certainly no guarantee that a book of witches and warlocks attending an English boarding school would capture the imagination of young American readers.

But to those of us who attended elementary schools in America as the first wave of baby-boomers to disrupt the social order, Scholastic wasn’t a major player in the best sellers industry.

Scholastic found titles that would appeal to kids and created a number of ways to make them available to us.

Most memorable for me was the flimsy 8 page newsprint catalog our teacher passed out every three or four 1st scholastic weeks. At roughly ten titles per advertised page, and not counting the order form page, that meant we could review some sixty to seventy new books to select the ones that promised the most adventures, the most laughs, the most information, or the sagas of how other kids our age dealt with bad situations in their lives, like not making the baseball team or sobbing as the cute boy next door waved good-bye when his family moved away. This was strong stuff!

In 1920, Maurice”Robbie” Robinson distributed his first sell sheets for kid’s books. It was called the Western Pennsylvania Scholastic. Just six years later Robinson offered the first book published by his company, Saplings, a collection of stories written by young people.

If ever someone was born for their career, it was Robbie. He worked tirelessly with school teachers, principals and librarians to distribute his catalogs, believing that the books he sold were wanted, perhaps needed, by children across the country, especially in cities where they were available nowhere else. He was a one man show, selecting the books, writing then printing their descriptions in the catalog, distributing his catalogs, fulfilling the orders and then doing it all over again. He is quoted as saying, “I cannot recall a day where I did not look forward to tackling the work that was waiting for me in my office,” and I’m pretty sure he was serious.

Once the Scholastic name was well known and trusted he began to hold Book Fairs at schools, libraries, churches and firehalls, another effective way to sell books to children.

In my elementary school, the teachers passed out the sell sheets, and we returned the order forms with our money a few days later to the teacher. When the books arrived there was not only the fun of flipping through your new books, but the event of passing out the books effectively burned a boring hour of classroom time.

Book Club - sizedA publisher friend sent me a book to quote the other day. He wanted to reprint a Scholastic title from 1961. I flipped through the book, and on the last page found this familiar information about starting a Scholastic Book Club at your school, church, scout troop, whatever. They only requirement to order was that at least 15 books were ordered together…each costing either 25¢ or35¢ including those in full color.

I may have been a slightly dorky kid because I loved books about how things worked and random facts. What’s the deepest part of the ocean, the coldest spot on the earth, how do they breath in a submarine?

And growing up near Detroit I had an early fascination with cars and the automobile industry. I ordered a copy of Don Stanford’s The Red Car from Scholastic and it was a glorious book. I still remember it. The car was a red MG, not even made in Detroit. The story is about Hap Adams, a 16 year old boy who finds a way to own his dream car, repairs it and then learns to race it. What could possibly be cooler to a 12 year old boy?The red car

I recently thought it would be fun to find an old copy of The Red Car on the internet so I checked The cheapest copy was $54.00 for the 1954 Scholastic edition. I really believe it was a great book…for 35 ¢.

But Amazon has reader’s comments about the book and I am apparently not the only person who bought the book from Scholastic, not the only one who recalls details of the story 50 years later, and not the only one who can mark its influence on his life.

Books do that to people.

I’m betting a lot of you remember a book or two from Scholastic that had a story you remember.

Ebook Sales Slow for Publishers

Major publishers have seen ebook sales decline to the point that some have discontinued reporting their sales figures in their financial statements, including their sales either under the broader heading of Digital Revenue, which includes audio books among other things, or Trade.

Reversing eBook Sales Declines

Pointing out that only Amazon has seen increases in ebook sales, the author calls for more innovation…be like Amazon. Good luck!

Serial Killer’s Novel Yanked by Amazon

An ebook entitled A MAD World Order by Paul Bernardo, jailed for the the murders of two Ontario teenagers in the early 1990s, has been withdrawn for sale on the Amazon web-site

PBS’ Book View Now

Our local PBS station is trumpeting the creation of regional book fair coverage in America. These fairs are 20150812_140246_248047_bea-banner960generally a lot of fun to attend…and it’s very heartening to witness how intensely and emotionally the visitors value books and reading.

Why Is Ed Tech Growing So Fast?

Ed Tech remains a controversial, even dubious adjunct to actual teaching. Acknowledging that, the market continues to expand, perhaps because there seems to be an assumption that digital everything is better than analog anything. Leading Ed Tech company McMillan Education is partnering with Blinklearning to pursue promising technologies.

LetterpressRediscovering Letterpress

A Brooklyn designer discovers letterpress printing, appreciates the feel of the printed piece, hikes to North Carolina, opens her print shop and becomes one of the Ladies of Letterpress.

Book Nerd Problems

Epic Reads has a YouTube channel for its Book Nerd Problems videos.

Amazon Goes Brick & Mortar

After rewriting the rules for book retailing Amazon has opened a bookstore in Seattle to discover exactly what they killed decades ago.

Binge Reading

Most of us know people who will use a service like Netflix to watch episode after episode of the same television show. Apparently something similar can occur with books.

Buy a Read, Get a Ride

In a country where people read just two books per year, L&PM Editores, Brazil’s largest trade paper publisher, bound RFID chips in certain titles (The Great Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, etc.). The chips can be used for ten subway trips and can be recharged. Even cooler, the covers are designed to look like subway maps.

carmen sandiegoCarmen Sandiego Is Back

HMH has released an app for iOs and Android that revives the story and play of the Carmen Sandiego brand, originally released 30 years ago for PCs.

International Publisher Scores Domestically

Open Letter Books, a publisher of international literature, discovered a title at Frankfurt that put them on the map locally.

Free Short Storiesphoto-short-edition-vending-machine

Grenoble, France, has installed eight kiosks in their downtown area that dispense free printed short stories in one, three, and five minute lengths. The content is supplied by an app called Short Edition with 140,000 users who share their writing.

Final Thought

The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency — the belief that the here and now is all there is.”
Allan Bloom


About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.