This ad will be closed automatically in X seconds.

Macmillan Children’s Books: “We are looking positively to the future”

Fiona Macmillan, publisher of preschool, brands and Kingfisher at Macmillan Children’s Books on being nimble and entrepreneurial, The Gruffalo at 25 and working with literacy charity partners to make books available to disadvantaged children and families.

How was your preschool publishing business in 2023?

The overall preschool books sector in 2023 was slightly down according to the Nielsen data, but our Preschool and Early Learning sales were up 17% at Macmillan Children’s Books, making us the third most successful preschool publisher in the UK. We have been a strong presence in the market for preschool publishing for a long time, and we publish books that parents and carers have come to trust.

Our Campbell Books imprint, which is our specialist imprint for babies and toddlers had a particularly good year and grew to be the seventh bestselling list across the book market as reported by Nielsen. With its banner line, Books you can play with; Toys you can read, these sales came from recognised series brands such as our Busy Books and Big Steps – which parents and carers know offer good value for money and a highly engaged book experience.

FionaMacmillan500x500What were some of your big successes?

We pride ourselves on being nimble and entrepreneurial, and this was evident when we moved swiftly with the cultural zeitgeist last year to create a bestselling preschool Coronation series – produced in just three months. We hit number one in the Nielsen Preschool book charts with our picture book King Charles III: Colourful Coronation, illustrated by Marion Billet.

Tales from Acorn Wood by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is unquestionably a trusted and strong selling book brand for preschoolers and their families This lift-the-flap board book series, written and illustrated by the creators of The Gruffalo is unchallenged in the preschool market. This says so much for the creative talent and the power of recognition that Julia and Axel’s books have with families, not only in the UK, but around the world.

Dormouse Has a Cold published in September and was the number one bestseller in the Nielsen Preschool charts for three weeks, spending 13 weeks in the top five. It was also a constant presence in the Amazon Top 100, ranking number two at its peak.

It was the second Christmas for Squirrel’s Snowman in the market and it had an incredible second year and ended the year as the third bestselling Christmas preschool title overall.

We have carefully nurtured the Tales from Acorn Wood literary brand for over 24 years. When new titles joined the series in 2021, this gave us the boost we needed to make this a series that every family knows and loves – and it has exceptional sales and growth on its own terms as a literary brand, without the support of licensing products alongside. This goes to show that it is possible to build a ground-breaking successful book brand on its own, but you need to keep the faith.

Big Steps: No More Nappies was again a number one Amazon bestseller for potty training in 2023 and the success of this title, which was published in 2018, shows how well we support parents and carers with their children’s first milestones, offering practical help through this soft learning.

Rod Campbell is possibly best known for his classic story Dear Zoo, which is a multi-million copy bestseller, but in 2023 we celebrated his classic farmyard title, Oh Dear!, as it marked its 40th anniversary. Doubling the sales year on year, it shows how an anniversary is always an opportunity to remind consumers of classic and beloved books.

Gruffalo25500x500What new launches do you have coming up in the sector for 2024?

We are celebrating The Gruffalo’s 25th anniversary throughout 2024 – and will be celebrating The Gruffalo’s Child’s 20th anniversary as we move into autumn and the festive gifting season. The Gruffalo is so well-loved around the world – there are now 107 languages and dialects and both storybooks together have sold over 18.2 million copies – bringing millions of readers to the books and character brand. Even more wonderful is that across the book brand as a whole, so, including all the character publishing with activity books, interactive board books etc, sales are now over 38 millions copies around the world. Every child and family loves this story of the clever mouse who outwits the monster in the Deep Dark Wood. We are also proud to say that we are working with a number of charities throughout the year to reach families who are in need of books and where we and The Gruffalo can help children start their reading journeys.

For younger readers, we launching a new range of board books by preschool creator and author, Camilla Reid. We are the exclusive publisher for her new preschool books and she brings expertise and creativity to board books with innovative novelties and soft flap experiences. Illustrated by Nila Aye (Who’s Cute?) and Jill Howarth (Five Little Ducks), her books are an essential step on a child’s journey to becoming a reader, to understanding what a book is and how a book works. Recently, the early years charity Kindred2 polled 1,000 primary school staff about children starting school. The survey found that 28% of children starting school were using books incorrectly, swiping or tapping as though they were using a tablet.

Camilla Reid’s books are aimed squarely at the child reader – focusing on their humour, their interests and what delights them. Camilla understands the power of combining story-telling with novelty and interactivity for the very youngest children and her books encourage them to join in, learn the rhythms of conversation, practise their listening, building dexterity and memory skills. This is ‘reading’. It’s ALL reading.

SylvanianFamilies500x500How important is licensing in the preschool publishing sector?

We know that licensing is key to preschool publishing as favourite characters draw the youngest of readers to the books but it is true that brands can take time to build. At Macmillan Children’s Books, we are very selective about what we acquire – we are always looking for quality, strong characters and a rich fictional world that will translate well into books and be a satisfying reading experience.

We have been delighted with the success of licensed brands Moomin and Sylvanian Families. Our Moomin publishing is developed directly from Tove Jansson’s rich Moomin universe and her wealth of funny, interesting characters and stories. Our innovative 2023 Moomin Mail novelty book uses letters sent between the characters to tell the story – it is both engaging and true to its roots. We increased our market share and grew our sales 23% – and were proud to be awarded a special little silver Moomin at Brand Licensing Europe by Rights and Brands for publishing the best Moomin book of the Year.

When we acquired the rights to publish Sylvanian Families, we became the first publisher to create official books for this brand outside of Japan in over thirty years. We launched in October and have already sold over 100k books worldwide across seven languages. Our first title, The World of Sylvanian Families was launched with fans alongside Freya the Chocolate Rabbit with an in-person appearance at Hatchards Bookshop at St Pancras. Working with Epoch UK, we were able to target our audiences together to extend our reach and promote the book’s appeal more widely.

As mentioned earlier, Tales from Acorn Wood is an exception in the market as it stands alone as a literary preschool book series that has grown into a brand in its own right.

Dormouse500x500What ingredients does a successful preschool book/magazine need, in your opinion?

Preschool books need to be engaging for both the parent/carer and child – for the youngest readers, this is led by strong engaging novelty and design, and the joy of discovery and soft learning, and as, children get older, this is more likely to be led by the story and characters that can be returned to again and again.

Sharing books together is a key ingredient for a child’s success and familiar characters and brands play a really important role in everyone joining in – and within licensing will mean that the character can move beyond the pages of the book and into a child’s world. This is both an exciting and satisfying way for children to experience a brand. For us, an example of this might be visiting a Gruffalo trail at the Forestry Commission sites in the UK.

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

The challenges keep on coming. And it is certainly true to say that it is the long-established and familiar trusted series and brands that continue to cut through and sell.

In a practical sense, shipping logistics are a big issue faced by everyone who publishes into this area and something that we can’t do anything about and which we hope will improve. The cost of living continues to be a challenge for so many families, but we continue to see that adults continue to spend and invest in the children in their lives – where they can.

However, following the pandemic, there is a great deal of concern – and thankfully, now focus – on our Early Years children, many of whom are starting school without the vocabulary they need to start formal learning. The National Literacy Trust tells us that there were over 200,000 children who were disadvantaged in this way starting school in 2022, and things did not improve in 2023. Other studies show that children who grow up reading books for fun, have better life outcomes than those who don’t. Booktrust’s Family Survey, published last year, tells us that although 93% of families know it’s important to read with their child, only 42% of children share a bedtime story.

Macmillan Children’s Books does everything we can to support and make books available to disadvantaged children and families by working closely with our literacy charity partners. Our publishing, such as our Big Steps series, also supports families and carers with themes such as socialisation, well-being, learning and development to help them introduce their young children to these themes before they start school. Our books have information and guidance pointers for the purchasing adults to see a list of learning benefits that will show them why this is the right book for their child.

DearZoo500x500How 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?

Cross-merchandising remains a great opportunity for retailers and publishers, and we would welcome more of this. As books and brands move into all areas of a child’s experience, it makes sense that showcasing products together in a space makes for a strong offering. For example, we have had a great partner in JoJo Maman Bébé with The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child recently, where the product was supported by strong point of sale and window space dedicated to the brand – all the stakeholders benefited from this fantastic activation.

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

We are always looking for new and exciting properties that come into the market that fit with our list at Macmillan Children’s Books. And we will continue to build and launch our own home-grown properties that reach as many children as possible with books that appeal to all and reflect all children and their experience of the world. As a leading publisher in the preschool space and, despite the various challenges in the market today and that families are facing, we are looking positively to the future. There will always be children and families that need fun, inspiring and comforting characters and stories to share and enjoy together.

Poetic is now planning a wide range of babywear, accessories, maternity wear, family apparel, footwear and luggage for the brand, inspired by the colourful and positive imagery associated with Sesame Street throughout its many decades....
Initial Boat Rocker properties that Firefly will be representing in the US include Orphan Black, Orphan Black: Echoes, Beacon 23, Big Comfy Couch, Danger Mouse, Rainbow and Count Duckula....
New RHS licensee, Willsow will highlight its range of RHS Plantable Seed Paper Calendars and Plantable Christmas Crackers, while established partner Moorcroft will present its newest range of RHS art pottery....
The collaboration sees Hasbro adopting Fabacus' technology, Xelacore, to enhance its data management capabilities worldwide, initiating with a phased regional rollout across Europe, the Middle East and Africa....
With season three now streaming on Netflix, the Regency era of Bridgerton has been inspiring a number of licensees across some key categories....
Jazwares has revealed a significant milestone in the company’s European growth strategy by opening its latest wholly owned office in Bilbao, Spain, to service the Iberian market in 2025....
Get the latest news sent to your inbox
Subscribe to our daily newsletter

The list doesn't exist! Make sure you have imported the list on the 'Manage List Forms' page.