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Children's publishers bullish

25 October 2010

The recent Children's Bookseller Conference in London focused on a part of the publishing industry in relatively good health. Children's book sales have suffered less than adult books as a result of the recession and they are only down 2% in the UK against an overall figure of 4%. To be fair, this is partly because the sales of the Stephenie Meyer titles (which are categorised as young adult) have bumped them up, but there is still a greater sense of confidence in the children's sector.

The discussion focused on digital matters and how to use the web and opportunities presented by new technology to market books to young people.

Adrian Hon, Founder and Chief Creative at Six to Start, the games company, said he thought there was a race to quality, and that it was about attracting a large audience through content and then upselling to them. Surprisingly, he added that, even though computers, games consoles and mobiles seem ubiquitous in children's lives, 66% of them still want to read books on paper. Publishers still have strength in marketing, production, brands and authors, and understand authors, so they need to focus on working out new business models to use all this.

Dr Su Cranmer from Future Lab said that children do learn through digital media and that they are used to reading information really quickly. These digital natives prefer graphics to text and there is a digital disconnect between them and their parents the 'digital immigrants'. She emphasised the fact that children process information in different ways and that they are used to being surrounded by digital media, with 82% of homes in the UK (and even more in the US) connected to the internet.

The next speaker, Dan Martin, the Director of Strategy at, developed this theme, suggesting that for today's nine year-old their first language was HTML. He said there are four key things to go for in terms of engaging young people online: websites and content, search and search engines, social networking and mobiles. He thought that things have changed radically and our attention is no longer bound by shapes defined for us by broadcasters - we have created new shapes to suit our needs. We now need to design for attention, not platforms.

Fionnula Duggan of Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing said that ebooks were the commercial engine of digitisation, but that they were in the foothills still and would be in flux for the next 3-4 years. The pace of change is tremendous but no-one is talking about print books disappearing.

Mike Richards, Head of Marketing and Publicity at Egmont, quoted Michael Morpurgo: 'When we talk about books what we really mean is stories.' He discussed turning strong properties such as Winnie the Pooh into digital products and said there was a golden rule, which was to be true to the original book and to enhance it, to understand what kids liked about it and, if possible, to engage with the author and illustrator.

Finally, Kate Wilson of new publisher Noisy Crow, talked about the huge advantages to UK and US children's book publishers of the English language, which gives 331m people to publish for with English as their first language, but a stunning 914m English speakers across the globe. Having looked at the current situation, she said she thought that the desire for stories will not change. Publishers would need to change the way they work to connect and communicate with customers.

The emphasis throughout the day was on content and the importance of stories and creativity, but the overall impression was of a sector of the publishing industry which is confidently striding ahead and going for digital opportunities. Children's authors represent the creative part of all this and they could well be at the centre of things in the future.