Having been involved with the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) for a few years, we’ve been privy to the many ways it has evolved. Over the past two years in particular, we’ve observed that more speakers and participants are exploring digital as a way to reconnect with readers and remain relevant. Indeed, this is an important concern. A 2016 study showed that children aged 5-16 spent an average of 6 hours per day looking at their screens, and this number has increased exponentially in the last 10 years alone. Print publishers want in on that action! They’ve been around for much longer, but clearly are waking up to the fact that digital is here to stay, hence requiring the formulation new strategies and processes to be where their audience wants them to be. However, navigating the rapidly evolving world of digital demands from us an equal commitment to agility and dynamism, which is more organic to some of us than others. To make reading cool again, we need to first understand the rules of the digital game, and AFCC 2017 gave us interesting ideas to consider.

1. Cross-pollinate

Amy Ng, Mayor of Pikaland (how lovely is that!) stole the words out of our mouths. How do we make children’s content better and more relevant? By collaborating with other people from different fields who are great at what they do. Not only does this help you re-examine your work through a different lens, it is a great way to tap into other networks, build your audience, and stand out in the crowd. This cross-pollination is further enabled by digital, if you realise. It’s easier now than ever before to check out what other people are doing, browse through their work and pursue collaborations. Popshot Magazine is a great example of the kind of synergy (yes, that word again) that results in an excellent product. So instead of staying in your own circles or echo chambers, venture out and work with people who are different from you. Creativity is everywhere, if you choose to see it. (Psst, have you heard about Storytellers’ Kitchen?)

2. Respond to discoveries

Your journey with digital will undoubtedly result in myriad detours that you couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Take it from Don Bosco of Super Cool Books – he started off defining himself as a writer, but as he put more of his work online, he was co-opted into other roles – parenting expert, maker, digital whiz, incubator. He maintains that it was his ability to respond to these unexpected discoveries with a spirit of curiosity and openness that allowed him to achieve what he set out to do – meet more people and put his work out there. If his story teaches us anything, it is that the world of social media and digital allows you to talk to your audience, but also allows your audience to talk to you. Listen to the social conversation and take a chance on the unexpected – the detour might take you exactly where you need to go.

3. Don’t look to redefine things

Indonesian software company AmazingEdu believes that digital for digital’s sake is a waste of time and resources, and Tusitala couldn’t agree more. AmazingEdu Reader adds interactivity to textbooks to enhance the learning experience without distracting from reading. Some examples we saw included understanding angles using a digital protractor, or a simple voice narration for young readers. Andre Candra noted that one of the biggest barriers to adoption of digital textbooks is that both teachers and users are intimidated by the jump. Instead of looking to “redefine” a book, he suggests that digital should be seen as an enhancement. It should be seamless with the offline learning experience, but add value – learning by doing – where a print book cannot. He also believes that digital allows authors to enhance their imagination, letting them explore what they might add to their content to make it more engaging or educational.

At the end of the day, both print and digital publishers have the same end goal in mind – to make reading cool again, to connect good authors with readers, to raise another generation of prolific readers and imaginers and dreamers. So if you’re an author, experiment with digital, explore the possibilities before turning it away – you might just stumble upon the winning formula.