39 Clues: Tidings of Good Cheer for a Former Scholastic Book Club Addict

scholastic.jpgA recent New York Times article announced a new and exciting venture by Scholastic, Inc, the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and related products to home and school.

Starting in September of 2008, Scholastic will publish “39 Clues”, a cross-media experience centered around ten books released over the course of 24 months. Scholastic is pulling some of the top childrens authors published under the brand, including Rick Riordan, Gordan Korman, Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson.

According to the article in the Times, the plot of “39 Clues” will revolve around Amy and Dan Cahill, two adolescent members of the world’s most powerful clan, as they compete against other branches of their family to collect 39 clues that lead to ultimate power.

Tracy van Straaten, Scholastic’s VP of Publicity for the Children’s Book Publishing division, notes that Scholastic’s Lab for Informal Learning is collaborating on the project with “a company that has ARG experience, as well as game designers” in creating this project. This collaboration may include work with GMD Studios, the company that has worked on such games as Art of the Heist and Who is Benjamin Stove, and are currently presenting their project, Eldritch Errors. The experience will extend beyond the books through a website including character blogs, puzzles and mini-games, as well as maps and treasure hunts. Each book will come with six collectible cards that will provide further clues.

Although the project is still months away, both Kotaku and Ian Bogost at Watercooler Games have expressed skepticism regarding the project due to Scholastic’s decision to retain all rights to the intellectual property. Scholastic responded to the criticism, noting that the decision to retain all rights stems from the project’s development through the Scholastic Lab for Informal Learning.

39 Clues has the potential to introduce a younger generation to the world of alternate reality gaming, and Scholastic has the resources to pull it off, especially if the company leverages the resources available through the Scholastic Book Club, their distribution channel in schools worldwide. The bar for transmedia novels has been set rather high by New York Times bestseller Cathy’s Book.


  1. Ian Bogost

    Actually, my skepticism had to do with the forced, manufactured nature of the product, which seems to focus on productization over expression.

    I expressed simple shock at the fact that Scholastic reported annoyance at Rowling’s retention of rights to her work. This latter matter is what Scholastic responded to, chalking it up to the NY Times reporter’s skewed version of the interview that produced the article.

  2. Steve Wax

    GMD was the WEB company for Audi’s Art of the Heist. The agency was McKinney and Campfire was McKinney’s production company and creative partner.

  3. Steve Wax

    One further note: your January 7, 2006 wrap up of 2005 (http://www.argn.com/archive/0003592005_in_review_alternate_reality_gaming.php) says:

    “…Press coverage and awards for Alternate Reality Gaming: In many ways, 2005 was the year the world started talking about ARGs. There were many things that captured the attention of journalists, including the success of 4orty2wo Entertainment’s I Love Bees in 2004, the multimedia blitz for Campfire’s Art of the Heist…”

  4. Jonathan Waite

    Erg… sorry about the misappropriation for AotH — that’s my oversight. It’s fixed in the article now.

    ETA: Because Michael was talking about GMD Studios, it’s accurate for him to say that they were part of the production team behind the game, without mentioning any of the other production partners. If he were talking about Art of the Heist and didn’t mention the other partners (your company, Campfire Media, included) then that might be an issue. As it stands, I have altered the original text of the article slightly to make it clear that we are focused on talking about GMD Studios’ involvement in this project.

  5. Jonathan Waite

    Also, thanks for the heads-up in our error in the 2005 Year in Review — I have gone back and changed the text to reflect the partnership between GMD and Campfire Media.