US Children’s Publishing Embraces Digital Changes

In What's the Buzz by Helen Gregg

By Helen Gregg

On Tuesday, December 7, Publisher’s Weekly and Digital Book World hosted an online seminar (or webinar) called “Children’s Publishing in the Digital Age.” Moderated by PW’s Co-Editorial Director Jim Milliot, speakers included Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Book Group, Rick Richter, founder of Ruckus Media, and Kate Wilson, founder of UK-based Nosy Crow. Each speaker gave a short presentation on how their company was embracing technological changes in the publishing industry, followed by a short question-and-answer session based on questions typed in by listeners.

Milliot opened the discussion by acknowledging that children’s publishing still lags behind adult publishing in terms of digital advances, but is catching up quickly. All three of the speakers agreed digital publishing was, as Susan Katz put it, “the most exciting thing” to happen to the industry in years. Interestingly, each speaker proved that these digital innovations could be put to use in very different ways.

Katz said that at HarperColins Children’s, most of the digital improvements were happening in their marketing efforts. By launching an extensive new media marketing campaign, she aims to increase awareness and readership for her titles. With three different efforts marketed at parents, tweens, and teens, HarperCollins Children’s Book Group uses interactive websites, social media, branded games, and participatory author features to expand the reach of already-popular characters and series, and to use the draw of the big names to bring attention to new series and brands. She has seen significant success with these efforts, and said, “the change in the last year has been the most incredible change I have been a part of.”

Rick Richter’s company, Ruckus Media, has an entirely digital offering. Ruckus produces child-friendly apps based on existing books, adding interactive features to enhance the content. Although Ruckus offers no print content, Richter likes to think of his company as an “either/and” company, arguing there is a “beautiful synergy” between his apps and the physical copies of the book. Like HarperCollins, he engages in digital marketing, focusing on mothers. He also spoke about the challenges inherent to an app-only company, from intense marketplace competition to a consumer reluctance to spend much on an app, but he believes there is a place in the market for children’s e-book apps.

Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, produces both electronic and print products. The decision of which format to produce is based on the content — Ms. Wilson believes that certain stories should be told in print, and others as an app, and publishes accordingly. She spoke of a conference in Germany where one publisher talked of the need to retain the format of the book, a stance she denounced as “dangerous.” To produce these stories quickly and with lower costs in multiple formats, Nosy Crow outsources “everything but creative,” allowing their staff to focus on curation. Their first products will be available in January.

The webinar discussion was marked with some disagreement but an overall positive outlook on the future of children’s publishing. All three of the speakers saw digital publishing as expanding, not hindering, their work.

About the Author

Helen Gregg