Friday, July 27, 2007

Webkinz World: Trend-spotting in the Under-8 Crowd

The following post is by Susan Ruszala who is a freelance marketing consultant to publishing technology companies and was formerly responsible for international marketing activities for VISTA (now Publishing Technology Plc). She is an avid reader. You can contact Susan at sruszala@gmail.com.

Children often have as much to teach as to learn.

My 6-year old son has recently become enamored by Webkinz, stuffed animals that come with a password which opens the door to a virtual world where you can house, feed, dress, accessorize and amuse your pet (complete with playdates through online chatting) to your heart’s content. The site rewards usage through the accumulation of Kinzcash, virtual money earned through clever games (pseudo educational), online “jobs” and kids gambling in the form of bingo and slots. All of which allows your child to buy even more virtual items for their pet (or pets—link your rooms together for more fun!), including “rare” items in the Curio Shop, sale items or items which require a coupon. Cleverly scary, huh?

If you haven’t checked out Webkinz yet, and if your job involves even a tinge of digital-ness (for example, you have a computer), I advise you to logon today. Here are a few quick observations:

  1. In Webkinz World, kids go online to the Reading Room to access virtual books with their pets and their friends—and I don’t see any complaints about format, metadata, reading devices or preference for printed matter. Kids don’t care how the content got there (and as adults they won’t either), and they are equally comfy curled up in their bed or a virtual couch.
  2. Why aren’t there Webkinz books in stores today? Point #1 taken, there is still a market for printed Webkinz books which would extend the brand to bookstores and feed this current hot trend. I could see “Choose your Own Adventure” succeeding—combining static with dynamic content, which is what kids today are doing all the time with no trouble at all.
  3. We know that the assault of content that exists today is just a dribble compared with what is to come. Ensuring that books stand out of the pack of potential media choices means being creative with how content is packaged, marketed and sold. Working with traditional publishing companies, I’d say it’s about 1 for 1 on those who are embracing new media tactics and those who insist that “it won’t work for our titles.” What do you all think?

I don’t know what Webkinz plans to do with their captive audience—or what I will have to pay to keep my son’s outdoor play yard (1000 Kinzcash) after the one-year trial—but I’ll probably do it. And though I don’t like the hyper-consumerism promoted by the site or the hysterics to be “in or out,” I have this vague awareness that the deftness he’s picking up clicking and buying and chatting and multi-tasking—well, that’s something I could learn from him.

1 comment:

stephanie said...

My six year old daughter is also completely obsessed with Webkinz. I am hoping that they come out with children's chapter books about Webkinz to encourage her reading skills. She reads when she is online on webkinz but I would love for her to read books too!!! If your son is looking for a friend online he can add my daughter, she is sixchick. My husband and I have webkinz too and our own usernames, mainly so we can buy stuff for our sixchick.
-webkinz crazed family