Children's Publisher of the Year

Introduction

With families confined to home for so long, children’s books felt more important than ever in 2020. These nine publishers, a combination of new and old, large and small, all rose magnificently to the myriad operational challenges of Covid. They entertained and educated children when they needed it most—and in doing so achieved some outstanding commercial results.

Winner

Wonderbly

Wonderbly has been a frontrunner among the new breed of publishers driven by tech and innovation, and it had by far its best year yet in 2020, selling more than a million books across the globe, while notching up its all-time best results in the home market.

With its personalised publishing striking a chord in the year of Covid, Wonderbly really spread its wings. The Lost My Name series with which the business began remains evergreen, but there were six fresh personalised titles and series including I Love You This Much, which was ideal for families unable to meet in person. Other new books targeted the Christmas and Mother's and Father's Day markets, while a move into educational publishing was perfectly timed.

Judges were impressed by Wonderbly’s intermediary- free model, which was a boon during the lockdowns and brilliant for maximising profitability. Keeping writing, illustrations and technology work in-house gives it complete ownership of content, and through its Wonderbly Productions arm, it is even able to handle the transformation of its books into TV properties.

Direct sales bring the company much closer to its customers than other publishers can get, and the purely digital model insulated it from many of 2020’s disruptions in the supply chain. It has been a superbly scalable model for international markets too, where Wonderbly gets the large majority of its income. It has now translated into nearly 50 languages, and sold into more than 200 countries.

“Wonderbly has got the wow factor,” the judges said. “It’s innovation has hit home and it’s gone from start-up to major established brand in next to no time. Customers have always been at its core, and it’s been completely in tune with what customers have needed in the Covid crisis.”

The Shortlist

  • Macmillan Children's Books
    Pan Macmillan’s children’s arm continued to ride the enduring popularity of Julia Donaldson, scoring 169 places in the Bookseller’s weekly charts in all. Pre-school and non-fiction were particularly strong, and the audio, exports, coeditions and rights departments had their best ever year.
  • Usborne
    Last year’s winner rolled relentlessly on with double-digit sales growth in 2020. No fewer than 43 titles from its massive catalogue sold more than 100,000 copies, and it published some 300 new books too. Its independence and flexibility helped it adapt very nimbly to Covid disruption.
  • Wonderbly
    Personalised specialist Wonderbly had its best year yet, thanks in large part to a new title that resonated with families during lockdowns, I Love You This Much. It branched into educational publishing and TV licensing while growing its evergreen brands and publishing nearly 50 translations.
  • Sweet Cherry
    Leicester-based Sweet Cherry is a rising star of children’s publishing. Its strengths are in licensing branded content that fuses entertainment and education, and international sales thrived in 2020. The growing popularity of Angie Lake shows it can build its own authors too.
  • Simon & Schuster Children's Books
    Simon & Schuster is back on this shortlist after five years away, having lifted fiction names like Ben Miller and Michelle Harrison from the midlist to the top tier. It also had its best ever year in the backlist. “An impressive outfit,” said one agent.
  • Scholastic
    Shortlisted here for the ninth time in ten years, Scholastic is a model of consistency in children’s publishing. It had three of 2020’s leading children’s authors in Julia Donaldson, Dav Pilkey and Liz Pichon, and a YA debut hit with Kathryn Foxfield’s Good Girls Die First.
  • Nosy Crow
    Nosy Crow, the 2017 and 2019 winner in this category, as well as the 2020 Independent Publisher of the Year Nibbie recipient, has doubled in size in the past three years alone. Its growth in international markets — from which three-quarters of its sales now come — was remarkable.
  • Hachette Children's Group
    Hachette had arguably the most anticipated kids’ book of the year in J K Rowling's The Ickabog, plus bestsellers from Onjali Q Raúf, Giles Andreae and Mathew Syed. Backlist, e-book and audio download sales all grew by double digits year on year.
  • HarperCollins Children's Books
    HC responded creatively to the pandemic, making Rob Biddulph's #DrawWithRob and #AudioElevenses with David Williams fixtures of locked-down days. Walliams topped the children's chart 35 times, while Dr Seuss and Mog stood out in its powerful backlist.