Magic Potion

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

TOP-NOTCH WEB SITE CONTENT IS LIKE HAVING JUST THE right necklace to go with an outfit. Terrific…if you can find it when you need it.

Scholastic.com is redesigning its site with an eye toward properly accessorizing the experience of kids, parents, teachers and other educators looking for information on its pages.

“My goal is to figure out how to deliver a superior experience online,” said e-Scholastic president Seth Radwell, who joined the publisher this spring after a tenure at Bookspan. “There’s tons of relevant content, commerce and tools, but it’s pretty hard to find on the site today.”

About a week before the media-frenzied launch of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Radwell took time out of his schedule to talk with Direct about the company’s online plans, including how the Web has revolutionized the traditional book-club and book-fair businesses.

Seth Radwell, president of e-Scholastic, joined the company in March after serving as president of the marketing and editorial group at book-club marketer Bookspan.

Before that, he was CEO and president of Doubleday Interactive and Booksonline.com. There he created “Black Expressions,” a club targeted to the African American community, as well as Mosaico and Circulo de Lectores, Spanish-language book clubs. Radwell also was vice president and general manager of the U.S. market for Bertelsmann Online. Prior to Bertelsmann, he served as senior vice president for content and product design at Prodigy Services Co., where he ran that company’s e-commerce business.

Scholastic.com gets more than 530 million page views annually, about 10 million a week. The Web site draws about 1.5 million unique visits per month from teachers and 1.6 million unique visits from kids and families. Recently, Radwell talked about the current state of e-commerce at Scholastic, a business that generates about $250 million in annual revenue for the company.

DIRECT: What are Scholastic.com’s most popular features? I would assume Harry Potter is off the charts.

RADWELL: Harry Potter is very big right now. A lot of kids are downloading the Harry Potter [countdown] clock and getting very excited. There’s been something like 20,000 unique visitors per day on that site lately. But we still get a lot of traffic in other areas kids love. Club ordering is still a big feature, as are the Flashlight Readers Club and Scholastic News Online. But obviously, nothing is going to beat Harry Potter this summer.

DIRECT: Are you finding adults are going to the Harry Potter areas as well as kids?

RADWELL: I think there’s a lot of crossover. We’ve been monitoring Google — when you search on Harry Potter, you get some of the movie sites, but we’re coming up second or third, so we’re getting a lot of generic traffic coming in over the transom as both kids and adults look for Harry Potter.

DIRECT: Scholastic has multiple audiences — kids, parents, teachers, librarians. What are the challenges to reaching such a diverse group online?

RADWELL: Scholastic.com has done a really good job in building e-commerce and enabling some of the core businesses like clubs and fairs to operate online. We did about $240 million last year. My goal is to figure out how to deliver a superior experience online. There’s tons of relevant content, commerce and tools, but it’s pretty hard to find on the site today. If you’re the parent of a 7-year-old in Newark, NJ, or you’re a librarian in Des Moines, IA, or a teacher, you’re not getting as much as you can.

DIRECT: What are some examples of the content for educators?

RADWELL: We have a classroom home-page builder, which allows a teacher to post homework and assignments on a home page so she can easily communicate with parents. Things like the Flashlight Readers program help kids get into books in a big way. Say you’re teaching fifth grade and you’re doing a lesson on hurricanes and weather patterns. We have a list of activity plans. But [the site] isn’t tailored enough to [a visitor’s needs]. We need to make it more robust for each of the individual constituents.

DIRECT: In the areas for parents and teachers, there are a lot less bells and whistles than in the areas for kids. Is that intentional?

RADWELL: I think the kid sites will always have games and fun, interactive tools, because you want to keep kids interested and coming back. That’s really important. For parents, it’s more about what can help my child now with a given issue or problem. For teachers, it’s more about a tool or utility, and getting them to what they need at that moment.

DIRECT: Do you see the site being primarily a relationship building or e-commerce tool?

RADWELL: The fundamental goal is to build a great relationship with parents, teachers, other educators and kids. Obviously, e-commerce is a big part of it, along with delivering other content and services. Quite a good portion of our club business is coming through the online channel. If you’re a parent and you have a 7-year-old who’s having trouble reading, you go to the site and you can get a great set of articles and book recommendations, and you can sign up for some newsletters or programs that will help you on an ongoing basis. Where we’re not doing a great business is in tying [everything] together, so each of our constituents has the most relevant combination of content and commerce for them. [We want to] deliver a tailored, seamless experience for each of those groups.

DIRECT: How has the Web changed the way Scholastic operates its school book-fair and book-club businesses?

RADWELL: What’s great about the Web is it makes it very easy for teachers to manage their [book-club activity]. In the old days, the teachers would hand out the kits to the kids, who would come into class with checks [and order forms]. The teachers would have to manually total up everything on a piece of paper. Now, there’s an online mechanism where the teacher can do an online tally, and look at their bonus points and figure out if they want to submit credits for books. It’s much easier and more interactive for the teachers — that’s why we’re seeing such a nice migration from the paper-based channel to the online channel, which we call Cool — Club Ordering Online. We’re also testing another component of that business, Parents Cool, which allows teachers to invite parents to browse the book club online.

DIRECT: Do you ever have channel conflict? How do you manage that?

RADWELL: I think you’ll find there’s always a degree of channel conflict, because there’s always some overlap. But [for the most part], the channels are managed independently. The club business in schools is a very distinct and separate business from retail, as is the direct-to-consumer business, which is managed through mailings, catalogs and other materials that go right to the home.

DIRECT: How are the home book clubs being promoted online?

RADWELL: We’re actually doing a lot of work to reinvigorate that business, which was acquired by Scholastic a few years ago from Grolier. Some of the products have been very successful, like Baby’s First Steps to Reading and the Disney book clubs. We’re in the process of building new Web properties for those clubs. Later this year, you’ll see new activity on those sites and new promotions.

DIRECT: Does e-mail factor into your marketing efforts?

RADWELL: We have hundreds of thousands of teachers’ registrations, and have an active e-mail program to educators at different levels — we’ll also be starting a newsletter program for different areas of interest. We have a smaller e-mail program with parents that we will be growing.

DIRECT: A year from now, how would you like to see the site evolve?

RADWELL: First of all, there will be much better search and guided navigation. The second key thing is that there will be much more personalization. You’ll be able as an individual consumer to create a ‘My Scholastic’ [which includes] the links that are most important to you as a third-grade teacher or a parent with two kids in school. Third, there will be much more contextualization, so that the content we promote will be much more relevant to [users]. Fourth, we’ll have more ways of reaching you — e-mail newsletters, simple syndication. If you’re off the site but we have something relevant to you, we’ll be able to push it to your [e-mail] inbox or your desktop. The result is that the experience will be much better for consumers.

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