Kid-sizing Adult Products by the Book

What do you do when you have novels from an adult series climbing their way up The New York Times best-seller lists? If you’re Tyndale House Publishers, you kid-size them.

“We always think over the course of doing business, ‘Could we do anything with this for any other lines?'” says Dan Balow, director of marketing for Tyndale, based in Carol Stream, Ill.

Marketers in an array of industries can look to the publishing world for examples and tips on modifying and marketing an adult product for kids. It didn’t take smart publishers long to develop three different volumes of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. Then there’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and so on.

“When something is successful in the adult market, it’s always worth our effort to at least take a look at it to see if it would be appropriate if modified as a children’s product,” says Kathy Bieber, director of kids’ marketing for Zondervan Publishing House, based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Widening the Net

Tyndale House realized a lot of young people were already reading the Left Behind Christian fiction series, which tells the story of people who are left behind after the rapture. Tyndale execs started thinking about creating a series for younger readers. Jerry Jenkins, who co-writes the series based on co-author Tim LaHaye’s Biblical outline, already had authored some children’s books and was receptive to the idea.

From a marketing standpoint, it was a relatively quick way to expand the brand. Because of the slimmer size, Jenkins and LaHaye could produce at least four kids’ books for every one adult novel. “Left Behind: The Kids’ Series,” aimed at kids 10 and up, features teen-age characters in a plot line that parallels the adult books.

At Zondervan, a Christian publishing division of HarperCollins, execs often look at the success of an adult product before deciding to kid-size it, but not always. Take the Women of Faith Series.

“There are a lot of adult titles, but we didn’t even stop to consider” how the Women of Faith books were selling, Bieber says. “We saw that there is a need in that market for moms to have something to use with their daughters.”

While the Young Women of Faith books have the same principles of many of the adult books, they are completely independent. The packaging and subject matter are suitable for a tween audience. Adult titles include Psalms and Proverb: for a Woman of Faith. The younger series features fiction books such as Here’s Lilly and the non-ficition Beauty Book.

“At no point have we ever promoted [the kids version] with the Women of Faith products” in retail stores, Bieber says.

Not Just Dumbing Down

Marketers who want to adapt an adult product for kids need to weigh its value, Balow advises. For the Young Women of Faith books, it made sense for Zondervan to produce products that dealt with tween concerns, like their looks and bodies.

“It’s really not just a matter of slapping a younger looking package on it,” Balow says. “What is the excitement that kids would get out of this? We chose to have the [Left Behind] juvenile series very much centered on school. They confront various things. It’s always a matter of finding things that are truly part of kids’ lives rather than dumbing down an adult book [or product].”

For years, Dover Publications, based in Mineola, N.Y., has been creating juvenile versions of classic literature, such as Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Dover works primarily with public domain material, looking for trends in society that could lead to increased sales of a particular book, says Paul Negri, SVP and editor in chief.

With The Adventures of Tom Sawyer musical about to hit Broadway, Dover is considering pumping up its stable of Tom Sawyer material.

“If the Broadway show becomes popular, [it will likely] make our material more popular,” he says. “Other merchandisers may decide to do T-shirts or Tom Sawyer-like hats or something surrounding an element of the story. We’re always taking advantage of what mass media is doing.”

While Mark Twain’s book already appeals to younger readers, Dover extends its line by offering an easy reader edition and other products, such as coloring books with a Tom Sawyer theme.

Sales for the kids’ Left Behind series have been brisk, but not as staggering as the adult books. To date, the kid’s series, introduced in 1998, has sold more than 6.6 million copies, with the first book The Vanishings selling more than 1 million copies. The adult series, which began in 1995, has sold more than 26 million.

Dollars & Sense

Like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, “Left Behind: The Kids’ Series” also has an adult following. With four to six juvenile books released a year compared with one a year for the adult line, grown-ups are picking up the kid stuff for a quick fix.

Beiber points out that kid-sizing can work in the reverse if you have a quality kids’ product. Zondervan’s parent company, HarperCollins, plans to release an adult version of C.S. Lewis’ popular Chronicles of Narnia.

Youth marketers building on adult products can piggyback marketing efforts with the adult line to save money. Last year, Tyndale House spent about $3.5 million on point-of-sales reports, advertising and other marketing efforts for both Left Behind series. Of that figure, only about $250,000 went specifically toward promoting the kids’ books.

Balow describes the return on investment as excellent – last year the kids’ series accounted for close to $10 million in sales, triple what was expected.

Left Behind promotions have included giving adult readers copies of the first kids’ book. With parents usually being the ones to buy the books “anything where the adult books appear, we cross promote,” says Balow.

Zondervan, which also publishes several kid and teen Bibles, looks to package and present the material in a way that will appeal to everyone.

“We walk a difficult line because we know the main purchaser of the products is the mom,” says Bieber. But she adds that you have to be careful not lose the kid appeal either.

(Tyndale House: Dan Balow, 630/668-8300,; Zondervan: Kathy Bieber, 616/698-6900; Dover Publications: Paul Negri, 516/294-7000.)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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