A New Transmedia Initiative For Kids

Last September, Rick Richter, the former president of Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) Children’s, launched Ruckus Media Group, a kids’ book app publisher. A year later, he’s teaming up with a traditional publisher again: Ruckus is partnering with Scholastic, the world’s largest children’s book publisher, to create a new imprint, Scholastic Ruckus.

Scholastic Ruckus will publish “top children’s authors across all platforms, including print, e-books and enhanced e-books, with Ruckus Media publishing interactive story apps” of those books. “More than a dozen” projects are in development, with the first releases planned for 2012. Ruckus was not yet able to tell me what the first titles will be, but the release notes, “In addition to intellectual property from titles in the Ruckus library and new projects developed for both digital and print, Ruckus Media is aggressively acquiring rights to out-of-print backlist titles to publish in print or in e-book formats to be distributed by Scholastic under the Ruckus imprint.” Up to now, Ruckus has published 15 children’s book apps, like “The Velveteen Rabbit: Told by Meryl Streep,” and recently signed a licensing agreement with Hasbro to develop apps for the Tonka Chuck and Friends, My Little Pony and Transformers brands.

The partnership is being touted as a “transmedia imprint.” The word “transmedia,” which is thrown around a lot these days, simply means storytelling across a variety of platforms. That’s not to say that the actual process of transmedia publishing is simple–it requires adapting existing properties or creating new ones for many different platforms. The content is linked, but not identical–beyond just publishing a book in both print and digital form. One good definition comes from Fourth Story Media, the transmedia publishing company launched by former Scholastic president Lisa Holton in 2008: “We tell stories that unfold across books, the web, mobile phones, and other forms of media. We invite kids to participate in the stories they read.”

Many traditional book publishers are working on transmedia initiatives as well. Scholastic’s most notable so far has been The 39 Clues, a 10-book series with a major website game component and puzzle cards available at retail. (Lisa Holton oversaw the development of The 39 Clues before founding Fourth Story.) Random House bought digital media agency Smashing Ideas earlier this year as part of its initiative to develop original digital content, “particularly in the children’s, educational, lifestyle, and reference areas.” And, of course, there is the interactive Harry Potter e-book site Pottermore.com, which officially launches next month.