The Bookseller Children’s Conference on 25th September will explore many aspects of children’s publishing, including the prevalence and adoption of digital material in the young readers’ industry.
Ahead of the conference, The Bookseller spoke to leading industry figures about how they see digital fitting into the children’s publishing space.
Reading digitally: 'There is an expectation'
The general consensus across the industry is that only a small percentage of young children read ebooks.
Tom Bonnick, digital manager at Nosy Crow, said any growth in ebook sales for children is in “very tiny numbers”, while Katherine Agar, commissioning editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, said parents are still buying physical books for children because they want to limit their use of devices.
When it comes to older children, more teenagers are reported to be reading ebooks but digital sales percentages still lag those amongst adults.
Sarah Odedina, managing director of Hot Key Books, said she sees “really strong sales in teen ebooks, and in some cases ebooks outsell print books, especially top-end teen in fantasy.”
But Walker Books’ Sean Moss said, “The amount of [teenagers] who read mostly digital is significantly lower than adults. We’ve seen that teenagers often start reading a series in e-format but once they become dedicated fans, they want to have a physical copy of the book too.”
Some publishers, however, said they still think it’s vital to publish in e-form as well as in print.
As Miles Stevens-Hoare, managing director of Curious Fox, said: “Sales might not be huge but there is an expectation.”
Little, Brown’s Agar also pointed out that ebooks aren’t the only way teenagers access digital content.
“You only have to look at the subscription base of sites such as Wattpad or Movellas to see that.”
Bonnick said he is ambivalent about whether digital reading for children will take off in a big way any time soon.
He said: "A tipping point feels inevitable in some way but there's nothing in the market to suggest it will happen yet. There is evidence to suggest that parents are happy to read digitally themselves but don't want their kids to, and I think that's still the case."
He also pointed out the devices available aren't quite suitable for the ways children read books, as children don't read large numbers of ebooks in the same way as adults. "There's just not the right infrastructure in place," he said.
Apps: 'A lot of faith'
Apart from Nosy Crow, which has a dedicated apps business, children’s publishers in general are producing relatively few apps at present.
Little, Brown’s Agar said developing an app can be a “tricky business” because of the cost involved.
Moss at Walker said that an app can be an “expensive marketing medium. We’ve seen a number of successful picture book apps being developed,” he said. “But they are expensive to make, which means you automatically have very high download targets in a very competitive marketplace -- especially when you consider the number of free gaming apps.”
Bonnick agreed that apps are expensive to make and said you need "a lot of faith" they will succeed in the market.
He pointed out that Nosy Crow has several advantages when it comes to apps production, which mainly come from the fact that the company is an independent publisher.
"We're not beholden to the same corporate decision-making process as some publishers," he said, "and we make our apps in-house, unlike most publishers who use external companies," he said.
"That brings huge cost advantages but also [advantages] in terms of practicalities. We own all the IP, including the technical IP, so we have built up a big library of technical material which we can use to make the next app."
Marketing and publicity: 'Engage with your content'
One of the main advantages for publishers in the digital age is being able to reach out to readers online; children's publishers are no exception.
When Stevens-Hoare established Curious Fox last year, he said, setting up Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts were all things “we had to do, to play in the trade world. Similarly, connecting with bloggers and hooking into the online community was vital.”
Sanne Vliegenthart, digital coordinator at Hot Key Books, said the key thing is getting younger audiences to share content online.
“If you can get them to engage with your content, that is the ultimate goal,” she said. “Give them a place to talk about books, a place where they can share their favourite things and chat with like-minded kids. This doesn’t even have to be a separate platform, it can be something that already exists, such as Twitter or YouTube.”
At Walker, Moss uses consumer insights to tailor digital marketing strategies to specific demographics.
“We’ve done a major piece of consumer research insight this year into Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, ahead of the 15th anniversary in 2015,” he said, “and we know that boys are online a lot but don’t use social media as much. They’re more likely to visit brand Web sites. So we will reflect that in our marketing.”
Nosy Crow publishes books for children aged 12 and under -- so they’re not hugely active online -- but Bonnick said there are still opportunities to reach out to parents.
“If you’re publishing something like Minecraft,” he said, “you’re talking to kids. But we’re always communicating to adults. There are lots of marketing channels – we can use our blog and Twitter, and we have really active email newsletters.”
Moving forward: 'New opportunities'
Emerging digital trends to look out for are mobile content, according to Bonnick, and ebook subscriptions, according to Moss.
Bonnick said: “Mobile is increasingly important and I think book publishers haven’t properly capitalised on that yet.
"I’m interested in commercial models that work appropriately and safely for children.”
Moss said it will be interesting to see if ebook subscription models take off this year.
He added that he’s also intrigued by Snapchat.
“That could provide new opportunities for sending out marketing messages and content that’s deleted so soon after creating – exciting teasers, for instance.”
Bonnick, Moss, and Vliegenthart are scheduled to appear in this year’s Bookseller Children’s Conference at the Southbank Centre on 25th September.
Moss and Vliegenthart are appearing on a social media panel with authors Matt Haig and Alice Oseman. Bonnick will discuss the role of apps in today’s publishing market.
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