A UK coedition publisher and packager that has made its name internationally working with Disney and Nickelodeon is now setting its sights on the UK market.
Red Bird, founded by Martin Rhodes-Schofield in 1998, is returning to the London Book Fair this year after a 10-year absence in a bid to build business in its home market. Having started out as a design and print company working with technology groups and musicians, the business became aware of the children’s book industry through an early relationship with DK. “I found myself with a load of good ideas to sell, so I took a stand at Bologna in the late '90s and started an imprint,” says Rhodes-Schofield. “It became very successful, and within a year I thought ‘I really want to make children’s books and sell them.’ So I moved away from commercial design and printing and started packaging and publishing children’s books.”
Using its specialist technical skills, the business pivoted to create children’s books that utilised special print effects, including glow-in-the-dark, 3D and lenticulars. Rhodes-Schofield says: “People that know how to make ink work on paper know how to make SFX in books.” Now, according to Rhodes-Schofield, Red Bird is the largest manufacturer of 3D and glow-in-the-dark books in the world and has seen success with titles such as Way to Glow! Amazing Creatures that Light Up in the Dark, as well as Star Wars and Sesame Street books. He says: “We’re able to come up with unique and unusual things that publishers don’t think of, and work with companies and licence- holders who wouldn’t be able to produce books of this sort by themselves due to their prohibitive cost.”
Over the past 10 years, the Colchester and Suffolk-based business has been concentrating on the US market, with between two and three million books sold per year for the past six years, says Rhodes-Schofield. Its largest title is a glitter-embellished “Frozen” book, which he says has sold one million units.
Although the company used to attend LBF, it stopped going a decade ago, after a “disastrous” outing at the ExCel centre and the fair’s proximity to Bologna. This year Red Bird will be returning to LBF to develop business in the UK—currently, 90% of its sales are export. “Our home market is quite weak, and we don’t really have a presence in the UK, although we think there’s potential and that we should be represented here,” says Schofield.
There’s even more potential with the demise of licensing publisher Parragon, which shuttered last year, Rhodes- Schofield adds. “Our market was dominated by publishers such as Parragon and others who simply sold books way under cost to gain huge market share. Of course they all went out of business as the losses could not be sustained. Now, we hope, it’s a more even playing field so we are coming back to see what market there is in the UK after the demise of the pockets-full-of-money greedy old ducks.”
Rhodes-Schofield is not enamoured with trade publish- ing’s business model, about which he says: “If a book is not a complete hit, it’s like putting a gun to your head.” When working with export publishers, Red Bird uses dummy copies to show customers, and then prints books based on orders and delivers them on firm sale. “We don’t have any stock, it’s a straight-line thing,” he says. “We haven’t found the [sweet] spot with UK publishers yet. The sale or return business model is hindering us in terms of working with them at the moment.”