Marion Jablonski, president of children’s publishing at Éditions Albin Michel, explains how the market across the Channel has fared in uncertain times, and her hopes for the future.
Can you tell us about your role, and what you publish?
I manage the youth and comics departments of Albin Michel, which is an independent publishing house. The children’s catalogue is very open because it is aimed at all children, from toddlers to YA [readers]. We are particularly well-known abroad for our albums, thanks to artists such as Blexbolex or Benjamin Lacombe, but we also have very high-quality production in fiction, paperback and large format.
Around 40% of our authors of novels are foreign and we are particularly proud to publish David Walliams and Rick Riordan. Since last year, we have been developing a new comic book catalogue, the highlight of which was the French comic book creation of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, which met with exceptional success throughout the world.
Can you give us an overview of the children’s publishing market in France?
In 2020, children’s publishing represented 14% of the overall publishing turnover, and 19% of production. With a turnover of €355m, it is the third-largest segment in French publishing, according to statistics from the the French Publishers Association. It is a segment that has been growing steadily for years and is driven by many publishers: large groups, medium-sized independent houses but also many small, very creative structures. Middle grade novels have been particularly growing recently. France is an exceptional breeding ground for talent, as demonstrated by the many international awards received by our illustrators.
How are your rights sales?
The youth and comics sector is spearheading sales, and our influence, abroad. In addition to our traditional links with Europe and the US, we can see an increase in trade with Eastern Europe and Asia, particularly China, a market which buys many titles from us.
Do you also import books?
France is traditionally a country of openness and curiosity towards foreign cultures. This is true in literature and also in children’s literature. Even if English and American rights purchases are dominant (over 70%), we are always on the lookout for talent in all territories. For this, the big fairs such as Bologna and Frankfurt are great places to make discoveries.
How did the market fare during coronavirus?
This has been an ordeal for everyone. Fortunately, we have a large number of committed booksellers throughout the country, thanks to the law on the single price of books, which has existed since 1981. Thanks to click-and-collect and the close ties they have maintained with readers, particularly through social networks, sales in 2020 did not fall, although publishers reduced their number of titles by 11%. There was even a slight increase of 1% in sales for children’s publishing. This is very good news.
Finally, thanks to the lobbying efforts of publishers, booksellers and authors, books are now classed as an essential commodity, so bookshops will no longer close during lockdowns.
What areas of children’s publishing are you excited about for the next few months?
During the health crisis, we saw an increase in the number of readers, especially among young people. This gives meaning to our profession! At no time have the offers or international exchanges between publishers stopped. We cannot stand still: the world is changing, and so are our readers. We will rebuild the world with them and take into account what they have just experienced. Imagination is a vital escape in order to dream, but also to calm down after this collective trauma. The public is also showing a growing attraction for non-fiction, a need to better understand this complex world that needs solidarity more than ever.
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