Source talks to Usborne Publishing, Redan, Andersen Press and Macmillan Children’s Books to find out how the traditional publishing sector has adapted during the pandemic.
Like all of us, for the licensed publishing sector, ‘agile’ has been the watchword of the past few months. The sector adapted swiftly, with many companies upping their digital game, as well as engaging with consumers with clever initiatives to help keep children occupied.
Paul Black, PR and brand director at Andersen Press, comments: “We’ve seen a big boost in sales for Elmer, Little Princess: I Don’t Want to Wash My Hands (for all the reasons you’d imagine) and Not Now, Bernard – all either have heritage behind them, or a COVID-related campaign we’ve been able to muster,” he says. “For Elmer we released a couple of free activity packs for families to use at home – which have gone down a storm.”
Andersen Press launched its first merchandising range based on Not Now, Bernard in June with TruffleShuffle, which Paul says “over-performed”, while its Elmer Day activity online was such a success that it could be something the company takes forward post-pandemic for future celebrations. Its new Elmer range with Matalan, which was delayed slightly, is now due to be released later in July.
Usborne Publishing says that activity and educational books have sold strongly during lockdown, while, in terms of its licensed lines, the ‘That’s not my…’ titles have kept up a good performance as many are ranged in the supermarkets.
Christian Herisson, UK commercial and sales director at Usborne Publishing, says: “We have continued to receive decisions for That’s not my… apparel for collections launching this autumn, and SS21 in the retail market.
“I think it will take some time for the retail environment to get anywhere near to where it was pre-lockdown. Physical bookstores/toy stores have procedures in place to minimise the risk for their staff and customers, and hopefully this will increase consumers’ confidence to shop as before. Online has been the winner during lockdown as sales have increased considerably, so the task for physical retail is to pull back those sales lost. As warehouses are not operating at full capacity yet, due to social distancing, supply chain issues still need to be overcome.”
Julie Jones, md of Redan Publishing, tells us that due to reductions in supply at retail, the company adjusted the frequency of three of its magazine titles – although these will be reinstated as things start to pick up. After what she describes as an “extremely volatile” period with sales being hard to predict from one day to the next (due to the sporadic nature of people’s shopping habits during lockdown, having less time to browse and some magazine aisles being restricted), Julie says Redan is pleased with its most recent sales and is starting to see a lift across all of its titles to where they were pre-lockdown.
Redan also hasn’t stopped looking for new properties during the period, as Julie explains: “It has actually been a very busy time and we have continued our conversations with many licensors and agents. We have recently signed licence agreements for Gigantosaurus and are trialling Oddbods in both our Fun To Learn Friends and Fun To Learn Favourites titles.”
Redan also launched Fun to Learn Bing on July 15.
As retail opens up, Stephanie Barton, publisher brands at Macmillan Books, says there will be a challenge around discoverability this autumn in an overcrowded market, while the company will be looking at how to best build smaller brands for the immediate future.
She says there was certainly a boost for different areas of the book market during lockdown: “We saw new focus and uplift for activity, sticker and colouring books across all our major brands from The Gruffalo to The Moomins for a time of mindfulness at home and our novelty books for younger children remained popular.” The Snail and the Whale and Dear Zoo have also continued to notch up sales.
In terms of conversations going forward, Stephanie concludes by saying this: “How can we best listen and respond to what children and families need; that is our top focus and underpins our approach to creating new content and acquiring brands and licences.”
“A real positive to come from this period of lockdown is how it’s galvanised our entire digital offering,” says Redan’s Julie. “We have implemented an online shop and rolled out a new subscription programme, grown our contact database tenfold through hosting more online competitions on our website, launched our online newsletter, created and made available a vast array of free downloadable content and have greatly increased our social media engagement.”
Macmillan’s Stephanie says that the company has watched everyone take to social media during this time. “We have supported families, teachers and librarians to read and perform stories to their audiences online,” she says. “Early on, the creators of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, created new images for relating to this time of the coronavirus, and these were joyfully received by families and then called for by NHS Trusts – so we made these into downloadable posters for everyone to use.
“Working in collaboration with Julia Donaldson, we launched a weekly online broadcast on The Gruffalo Facebook with a new story performed each week. There have been over 1.32 million views so far. And we were over the moon when Michelle Obama read The Gruffalo as one of her favourite stories during lockdown.”
Usborne Publishing’s Christian adds: “Seeing which books have worked best under these conditions has sparked interesting conversations and has made us reflect on the kind of publishing and promotion we might consider for the future.”