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Farshore: “Preschool publishing helps create future readers to enable our industry to thrive going forward” catches up with Zoe Masters, publisher – brands and licensing at Farshore to talk all things licensed preschool publishing, new launches and cross-category selling.

How was your preschool publishing business in 2023? What were some of your big successes?

2023 was a challenging year for the children’s book market including preschool. However, at HarperCollins two of our brands received a significant boost due to the public interest and celebration of the Coronation of King Charles III. Our Winnie-the-Pooh publishing saw substantial growth largely due to our Winnie-the-Pooh Meets The King picture book title, which was a big hit with both retailers and consumers. Our colleagues in HarperCollins Children’s Books also saw very positive uplift for Paddington in this historic coronation year.

One of our most celebrated highlights of 2023 was winning the Progressive Preschool Awards Best Publishing Range 2023 for PAW Patrol. We are incredibly proud of this award-winning HarperCollins collaboration between Farshore and Collins. Our books encourage both reading for pleasure, plus the opportunity for children to learn alongside their favourite pups.

Also in 2023, Farshore proudly remained the number one annuals publisher, and we have more new titles to come in 2024 including Barbie.

PPannual500x500What new launches do you have coming up in the sector for 2024?

We launched our gorgeous Barbie children’s book range this year, our aim to appeal to Barbie fans from pre-school through to primary age. Mattel’s research has shown that starting at age five, many girls begin to develop self-limiting beliefs and think they’re not as smart and capable as boys. Our publishing programme encourages girls to dream big, and supports Mattel’s ‘You Can Be Anything’ campaign. Our Barbie Pocket Library publishing in September is the perfect fun preschool format for the youngest Barbie fans. It will introduce readers to different careers including; vet, footballer, scientist and fashion designer to encourage role play and conversation.

How important is licensing in the preschool publishing sector?

The preschool publishing sector is the most important category in my opinion, as it helps create future readers to enable our industry to thrive going forward. Licensed titles have a hugely significant part to play in this. If a child engages with a brand or a character, then books become a continuation of their enjoyment and experience. Licensed books are great for pester power; children get to read the books they have chosen, and the parents get happy, engaged early readers who can start school and their reading journey with confidence. It’s a win, win.

What ingredients does a successful preschool book need, in your opinion?

A book needs to appeal to both the preschooler as well as the adult who will most likely be reading the book with them. The child will love sharing a book featuring their favourite character and see it as a treat. And the parent/adult appeal is often time away from the screen, a moment of togetherness providing opportunities to learn, laugh and discuss things that might crop up in the book such as different scenarios and feelings. Our editorial team work hard to ensure our books have all the right ingredients to provide a valuable reading experience for both child and adult.

Barbie500x500How healthy is the sector in general, in your opinion? What are some of the main challenges that publishers such as yourself face?

There are many challenges facing the industry, however I feel the cost-of-living crisis is the most concerning currently. Families with the youngest children are often the hardest hit, juggling work and childcare costs. However, we often find that publishing is a relatively robust category during times of economic strain.

Literacy is considered so vital that parents will often prioritise books for their children, and find ways to cut back elsewhere.

Research has shown that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income. This message is definitely contributing towards the prioritisation of books and reading in these challenging times.

WTP500x500How can retailers outside of the publishing space – for example, toy and nursery retailers – make the most of stocking preschool books to complement their offer? What are the main benefits to them?

Books are a relatively affordable option in the preschool space, making them the perfect add-on or in-store impulse purchase to complement other consumer products. Seasonal and gifting titles are perfect for till-points. Our research shows that a large proportion of books purchased each year are gifted. If books can be ranged alongside other preschool products it helps provide a one-stop shop for our often time-poor consumers. Waterstones have done this in reverse, adding gifts, wrapping paper and cards to their book business with great success.

What would you most like to achieve in the category by the end of 2024?

We have some gorgeous gifting formats coming in 2024 including advent calendars, jigsaw books and interactive titles perfect to engage and capture children’s imagination. The aim would to be to secure strong retail listings for these titles to ensure visibility for our consumers, so hopefully these will be added to some children’s Christmas wish-lists this year! And looking further ahead, we have a very exciting new preschool brand launching in 2025 – so watch this space…

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