Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Markets need Morals: Case Study 1, 'Young Writers' by Forward Press

'Markets need Morals', says Gordon Brown. I agree.

Last week our daughter came home with a letter (addressed directly to her, c/o the school) and a certificate telling her she'd won a poetry competition, and that her poem had been specially selected to be published in a special book. £13 to you the proud parents for a softback A5 book with the poem in, and bulk offers if you want to place orders for Christmas for the in-laws.

We were thrilled, and very proud. But something didn't seem quite right. We didn't recall, at the time she entered this competition, there being anything about buying a book.

The following day, we discover that lots of other people in her class have 'won'. It turned out to be every single one of them. This has happened before: another school known to us whose children entered the 'Young Writers' competition, and all 'won'. The book, when it arrived, was a huge disappointment in terms of the quality of the product, and the poems didn't seem to have been 'selected' on merit at all.

There are various things about this I'm not happy with:

- The misleading letter from Young Writers, claiming my daughters poem had been specially selected, when it wasn't.

- The letter addressed directly to our child, basically using the school to distribute a piece of marketing. Any communication through the school should be subject to the schools vetting, but it puts schools in a difficult place if the letters are addressed directly to the children.

- Taking something our child has done and selling it back to us is a particularly grubby bit of marketing. I thought marketing via children was illegal, and if it isn't, it should be. It's particularly cynical to play on parents and childrens feelings of pride - 'our child is in print!' just to make money. Some things are too precious to be traded in.

- The disappointment of the children, when they realise that they haven't 'won', and that everyone seems to have got the same prize.

It looks pretty lucrative: one selection of 'winners' is here - if each person on that list represents a print run of A5 booklets at £13+ a throw, then they must be doing quite well out of it. I tried and failed to find a place on the site which previews the books. No previews or reviews on Amazon either, where they come in at £19.99 a throw.

Forward Press, who have been publishing poetry from the general public for years, and they seem to be quite well thought of by the poetry-writing public. I hope this is an aberration. However, this thread on mumsnet suggests they've been doing it for a while, this thread mentions a similar tactic back in 2005, and this thread raises some important data protection issues concerning information about children held by the school.

What do people think?

1 comment:

  1. It is very concerning to me that the school gave the company a list of their students' names, presumably attached to poems. In this case at least the recipients of the list actually published something. But I can't help wondering whether someone far less desirable would get given that list if he or she pretended to be running a poetry competition. So there are certainly data protection and child protection issues here, as well as the advertising standards one.