By Eugene Gerden
‘Good Illustrators and Graphic Designers’The Clever Media Group, one of Russia’s leading publishers of children literature, is focusing in 2020 on its operations in China, Japan, and Vietnam, having initiated an entry into the North American markets in 2018.
The company has signed an agreement with the Tokyo-based Tuttle-Mori Agency to sell rights to Clever books in Japan. In China, it has begun releasing a series of books as a joint venture with Chinese publishing firms. And Vietnam is the third market the company is targeting in Asia this year.
In an interview with Publishing Perspectives, Clever’s founding CEO Alexander Alperovich says, “Last year we significantly increased the share of sales of rights for our books in the Asian market, by four times” over the previous year. “We were able to fit our content into existing trends in these markets and begin cooperation with good illustrators and graphic designers.
“The demand for Russian children’s publications in the Asian market is steadily growing,” Alperovich says. “Last year we signed an agreement with the Tuttle-Mori Agency, one of the oldest literary agencies in Japan. Only recently has the agency begun working with Russian publishers, and Clever is the first Russian children’s book publisher the agency has represented.”
In China, Alperovich says, at least 10 of Clever’s series of books have been produced in cooperative agreements with houses there, which have state support to develop such content for the Chinese readership. The program includes not only publication but also exhibitions, author visits, and rights and licensing support.
Alperovich declines to say how lucrative the sales of licenses for its titles in Asian markets have been to date, but says the region now accounts for some 37 percent of the company’s revenues from rights sales and cooperative publishing agreements.
This year, Alperovich says he sees growth ahead both in Asian and Europe. He bases his outlook, he says, on the fact that at Frankfurter Buchmesse in October, Clever sales staffers held more than 50 meetings with international publishers.
North American and European Presence
In the United States, Alperovich says, Clever has begun working with American authors and illustrators, creating titles for simultaneous publication both in the States and in Russia. Rights are then offered for sale in Asian and other markets.
In its second year of US sales, Publishing Perspectives has seen retail listings of Clever books including Harry the Hedgehog Loves Strawberries with author Andrea Reitmeyer, scheduled for an August 11 release this year, and an English translation of a Russian book, Guess What We’re Eating by Julia Alekseeva and Ekaterina Guscha. The latter title is produced with a padded cover and rounded corners for preschoolers.
“We have our own marketing team in the US,” Alperovich says, “as well as an editorial office. In addition to editorial activities, we continue to conduct active sales in both the US and Canada, and we plan to expand cooperation with European countries where complex formats are currently in demand. These are books with pull-out elements, puzzles, and so on.
“In Europe last year, we put a lot of focus on development in the Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish markets. We’d already expanded our cooperative work in several EU states that have similar publishing programs to ours—Ukraine, Estonia, Serbia, Moldova, and Bulgaria. We’ve also successfully worked with partners in Finland, Germany, Denmark, France, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.”
According to the Russian media research source Kartoteka.ru, the revenue of Clever Media Group in 2017 amounted to 699.5 million rubles (US$11.3 million). A company forecast indicates that adjusted revenues for 2018, when announced, may show as much as a 40-percent increase over 2017.
Children’s literature remains one of the fastest growing segments in the Russian market. According to a recent report from Rospechat, the government agency on mass media, said the children’s sector accounted for almost 27 percent of the overall book market, excluding digital formats and public-agency sales. Children’s books reportedly will be valued at as much as 18 billion rubles in 2019 (US$291.6 million).