A UK Independent Publisher at DBW: Nosy Crow’s Tom Bonnick

In Guest Contributors by Tom Bonnick

IPG’s 2016 Fellow heads into the woods of the American publishing industry.
Illustration from Nosy Crow's apps catalog

Illustration from Nosy Crow’s apps catalog

Nosy Crow’s Business Development Manager and Commissioning Editor Tom Bonnick will represent the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) under its fellowship program at #DBW16,  March 7 to 9 in New York City. We’re pleased that we’ll have several pieces from Bonnick during his trip. And as he starts out, Bonnick introduces some details of Nosy Crow’s position in the business to us, with experimentation on his mind.—Porter Anderson

By Tom Bonnick | @TomBonnick

‘Willingness To Try, To Make Mistakes’
As the IPG’s representative to Digital Book World 2016, I’m particularly interested in the role of independent publishers in the transformation and innovation of our industry.

Tom Bonnick

Tom Bonnick

I was struck by Hachette UK group CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson’s recent comments in The Bookseller, in which he said, “It is considerably easier for big publishers to invest and experiment in a wide variety of media.”

It’s certainly hard to disagree with this statement on the face of it. Most smaller independents could never compete with Hachette’s combination of financial and human resources, corporate clout, and wide range of titles across practically every genre—along with a deep backlist. But when I look for innovation and experimentation in publishing, it’s within the independent publisher community that I find some of the best examples.

Whether it’s with experimental and new forms of storytelling, such as Nosy Crow’s own fairytale apps, for instance, experimental methods of content delivery, like Visual Edition’s new Editions at Play platform, or different commercial models, such as Unbound, a crowdfunded publisher with a 50-50 net profit share for authors, independent publishers are leading the way in reimagining how publishers can create content and operate as businesses.

“Every new book is an innovation: a product that’s never been in the market before, with all of the risk and uncertainty that this necessarily entails.”

Big publishers may have greater resources to pour into experimentation in the wide variety of media to which Hely Hutchinson refers, but innovation requires more than just deep pockets. It needs time, expertise, space, and, perhaps most importantly, willingness to try, to make mistakes, to divert from the usual ways of doing business, to adopt different selling models, and to produce something that doesn’t look like a normal book.

This is where independents really have an advantage. Creating a publishing company specifically with the intention of fulfilling these ambitions makes the process a lot easier. Nosy Crow was founded in 2010, at the advent of the iPad. For the first time, there was an opportunity to create children’s digital reading experiences for a mass market, and we were in a position to be able to build a publishing company with the right set of skills to take advantage of this opportunity. Our award-winning, in-house app development team members come from a video-games background, and their expertise means that we’re able to create truly interactive digital stories.

And while it’s tempting to think of experimentation only in terms of new digital platforms or formats, the reality is that innovation is embedded in our industry in far more fundamental ways.

“Print and digital in children’s publishing; a relationship which is refreshingly unencumbered by the panic which gripped so much of the adult trade for years.”

Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow’s Managing Director (and my boss) remarked to me, in a discussion about this article, that every new book is an innovation: a product that’s never been in the market before, with all of the risk and uncertainty that this necessarily entails. In this respect, independent publishers have a number of further advantages. It’s often easier to take a risk on a debut author or an unusual book as an independent, not only when there’s no corporate infrastructure through which any new acquisition must pass, but also because the associated costs behind each book are most likely smaller.

The ImaginaryIndependent children’s publishing in particular has, to my mind, been at the forefront of this innovation within the print market over the past couple of years::

  • Creating imaginative new print formats and genres (areas like two-color illustrated fiction and full-color illustrated non-fiction),
  • Lavishing beautiful cover treatments and production techniques on books (witness the rise of the die cut, the foiled finish, and the sprayed edge), and
  • Celebrating the benefits of the physical book.

From Bloomsbury’s beautiful The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and illustrator Emily Gravett—the book is the winner of a prestigious British Book Design and Production Award—to Nosy Crow’s There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins (author and illustrator), and the entire Wide-Eyed Editions list from QuartoKnows, independent children’s publishers are pushing the boundaries of what a print book can look like, feel like, and be. It’s no surprise, then, that 2015 saw the children’s print book market grow for a second consecutive year in the UK, building on 2014’s 10-percent increase in total consumer market sales with a further 5-percent growth in value last year.

-There's a Bear on My Chair-6478-3I have written before about the relationship between print and digital in children’s publishing; a relationship which is refreshingly unencumbered by the panic which gripped so much of the adult trade for years, and which instead produces books that demonstrate the inherent and unique qualities of both formats. We are particularly proud of our efforts to bundle print and digital together, primarily in the form of our Stories Aloud program, which offers a free, online audiobook edition of each of our picture books, accessed through a QR code printed on the inside cover.

And so I’m especially looking forward to the Launch Kids day of the Digital Book World conference, as well as to hearing what speakers (independents and corporates alike!)—such as the brilliant Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks; Marcus Leaver of The Quarto Group; Susan Katz of HarperCollins; Mary Ann Naples formerly of Rodale and moving now to Disney Book Group; and author-journalist Virginia Heffernan have to share throughout the rest of the week about where our industry is headed, where the next innovations will come from, and what the future of publishing might look like.

Whatever it is, I’m sure that independents will play a big part.

The UK’s IPG is in its 54th year, with more than 600 members, and this week is engaged in its own annual conference in Oxfordshire. More from that event is in our interview with Toby Faber.

About the Author

Tom Bonnick


Tom Bonnick is Nosy Crow’s Business Development Manager and Commissioning Editor. He works on all of the company’s digital publishing, including its programme of apps and Stories Aloud project, and he also commissions fiction for the Nosy Crow list. In 2015, he was named one of The Bookseller's Rising Stars as well as IPG's Young Independent Publisher of the Year. Tom represents the IndependentPublishers Guild at the 2016 Digital Book World conference and expo under its Fellowship Program. The IPG is now in its 54th year of supporting independent publishing, with over 600 members.