The Future of Book Publishing Comes with a Side of McDonald’s Fries

Next month, McD's will swap out Happy Meal toys for books focused on nutrition and healthy eating.

Mcdonald's to Swap Out Happy Meal Toys for Books

Mcdonald's to swap out Happy Meal toys for books about nutrition? (Illustration by Lauren Wade)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

After dominating the fast-food industry for nearly 60 years, McDonald's has its sights on the publishing industry. And the chain's plan isn't just to dabble in the book trade like some dilettante—they're looking to sell books in burger-like quantities.

Starting November 1, the infamously recession-resistant chain will show the beleaguered book biz how its done by distributing an estimated 20 million kids books in a mere two weeks. For comparison’s sake, all of 2012's top ten children’s fiction bestsellers didn't top 13 million, according to Publisher’s Weekly. And Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins occupied six of those 10 spots.

How is the burger-and-fries company going to outdo publishing’s entire year in just fourteen days? By swapping out Kids Meal toys for books.  Instead of some molded plastic Batman or Wizard of Oz toy, the fry-greased fingers of million of American kids will be smearing the pages of a number of self-published children’s book, books that all share a common theme: nutrition and healthy eating.

There’s The Goat Who Ate Everything, which follows the trials and tribulation of a goat who can’t keep his diet in check, and Deana’s Big Dream, the story of a teeny-tiny dinosaur who finally grows tall when she starts eating well.

Kids can read a book about a dodo too, Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando. Although employing an extinct bird to teach a generation of kids facing an obesity epidemic caused, in part, by the kinds of foods served at McDonald’s, about healthy eating might not be the best idea from a publicity stand point.

The good-nutrition focus of the publishing venture ties into the chain’s new, healthier approach to kid’s meal menus—or at least it does in theory. Following McDonald’s big announcement about its agreement with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which promised a healthful overhaul of Happy Meals and the value menu, news came out that the fine-print presented a warped view of what’s “healthy.”

“McDonald's may list soft drinks as (sic) offering on Happy Meal section of menu boards,” the agreement reads. Which suggests that kids will identify more strongly with the cartoon goat when it is still indeed eating everything, rather than when it gets its diet in check.

But books! And literacy! And kids reading! These are all good things, right? Even if McDonald’s can’t figure out how to really and truly address its nutrition issues—even when it’s promising to do just that—then at the very least this could be a boon to the book world, right?

Ubong Ituen, McDonald's USA’s vice president of marketing tells AdAge,"This is really the first step in a larger book strategy, and our intent is to continue over several years." Twitter has been quick with the snarky suggestions for future titles, all tagged #mcbooks. Lord of the Fries or 80,000 Calories Under the Sea, anyone?

Alternatively, as the lit blog Book Riot suggested after the movie tie-in edition of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying was released with lead actor James Franco on the cover, why not embrace the McDonald’s-as-bookstore model? Just as sure as Franco could sell quite a few copies of such classic literature, books like The Picture of Dorian Gray or A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the golden arches brand could help boost sales of contemporary titles that might have something of a marketability problem.

Maybe either Thomas Pynchon’s novel of post-9/11 paranoia, Bleeding Edge, or Jonathan Lethem’s multi-generational story of a true-red Communist family in Queens, Dissident Gardens, would be a good place to start?

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