Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clifford The Big Red Dog Can Bite Me: 2,000,000,000 Reasons To Hate Scholastic Books

One of the best thing about homeschooling, I have been known to remark, is that I don't have to contend with the Scholastic book racket.

Once upon a time I did love Scholastic books. When I was in elementary school it was always exciting when the flyers would came out. It was exciting to buy new books. I remember that if you bought a certain number of books you got a free book! That was fun. Less fun: when the richer kids in class would flaunt their new books in the faces of the "poor" kids, or -- as was the case for me -- in  the faces of the kids whose mothers worked for the public library and would just bring home whatever book they wanted since most of the titles were already in the collection.

But I've kind of soured on the Scholastic Corporation (NASDAQ: SCHL) since becoming a parent.

This is not to say that I don't own books printed by Scholastic. A lot of our language arts curriculum is Scholastic material. They do a great job of producing dynamic, educational workbooks that require very little prep work on the part of the teacher or parent.

What I resent is Scholastic marketing books (and toys and stickers and pens and stationary) directly to children via pamphlets and book fairs. In exchange for access to students/customers, their teachers and schools earn free Scholastic books for their classrooms or school library.

If you think that sounds generous, you obviously  haven't read Scholastics' fiscal report for 2010, which includes the gem that "Scholastic expects total revenue from continuing operations in fiscal 2011 of approximately $1.9 to $2.0 billion." They credit a great deal of this profit to their systems of proprietary school-based book clubs and other school-based "distribution channels." 

I'm not anti-capitalist or socialist (well, no more than any Canadian who has availed themselves of our AMAZING publicly funded healthcare system), but I think it is dreadful that this for-profit company is allowed to waltz into publicly funded schools and -- in exchange for a paltry number of books -- make billions of dollars.

We should not (in my opinion) ban book fairs and direct-marketing techniques or fundraising events. Instead I'd prefer to see the system opened up to tender. Let all the publishers of children's books step up and bid. And which ever one offers the sweetest deal gets to shill their wares in the schools we support with our tax dollars.

"Hey, Scholastic, 2 BILLION DOLLARS of revenue means that you can afford to give out more than a few 39 Steps books, or dated Magic School Bus paperbacks."