September 4, 2013

Amazon: your kids are next


The book: not featured in Amazon’s ad campaign

As the new season of X-Factor launched last Saturday, and Britain’s families gathered around their television sets, they were greeted with something new. It wasn’t the return of Sharon Osborne, or the slightly altered format (more ‘intimate’, they say) but the presence of an advertisement signalling a big move from everyone’s favourite tax-dodging, employee-exploiting online retailer, Amazon.

Amazon chose an ad break during the show, which went out to 10.4 million viewers, to unveil their new advertisement, featuring and aimed at British children. ‘When I’m reading a book it’s like I’m on another planet, I’m oblivious to everything else.’ says one child while another describes the joy of imagining, ‘I just become part of the book, I don’t do it on purpose, I just do it naturally.’ Sam Missingham of The Bookseller was full of praise for the advertisement, writing:

 The cleverness is that Amazon has gone back to basics and asked why children read. With a message not confused by devices, gadgets or formats.

Fair enough, if this was an advertisement that was simply meant to celebrate reading, and catch millions of young people with their eyes peeled to the TV screen.

But, let’s be clear. It isn’t right to paint the advert as a purely innocent celebration of reading. Because every one of these children is reading a Kindle. And the ad didn’t run on that night and at that time by accident: Amazon clearly wanted to catch children and parents together, just as school is about to begin again, and as Missingham notes, to send a clear message that Amazon is now ‘taking the children’s market seriously.’

Oh to have heard the whines of ‘Muuuuum can we get one of those?! Please, please can we get one of those plastic crappy things which we’ll have discarded in six months?’

In a follow-up blog, Philip Jones ponders why Amazon is moving into the Children’s market, when Neilsen reported last week that:

sales of children’s e-books and apps are not showing strong growth in the UK, and not expected to show much growth in the near future. Worth just under £20m in 2012, Nielsen expects that they will generate sales of just £27.4m by the end of 2014.

Jones posits, and he’s most certainly correct, that Amazon’s thinking behind the adverts is to try out a new market because it is disappointed in the current rate of growth in ebooks:

[Amazon] wants parents to buy devices for their children (or perhaps hand them over to this next generation of reader, so they in turn can buy tablets); and it wants to sell them e-books. A cynic might say that it wants young readers and young adults to drive e-book sales because older readers are no longer doing that.

Kids should read. We should celebrate their reading and their discovery of stories that set their imaginations alight. But pretending to champion reading while subtly manipulating an easily influenced age-group just so you can bump up your e-book profits isn’t worthy of praise, but concern that this is the beginning of an aggressive campaign by Amazon.

Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.