The Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018 has been a broadly positive event, with non-fiction on the rise and the UK market’s Middle Grade mania continuing, though Bonnier Publishing’s shock decision to shutter its Australian children’s division sent ripples of concern through the halls.
Bonnier Publishing announced yesterday (27th March) that it was restructuring its Australian arm and would completely dispose of its local children’s publishing programme, despite claiming to be Australia’s second-largest children’s licensing publisher. The move means 35 of its team of 36 will undergo redundancy consultations. Part of its local kids’ publishing through imprint Five Mile is to be acquired by Australian publisher Hardie Grant Egmont, with other Five Mile titles’ rights to revert to authors, illustrators and licensors.
The move comes a month after the dismissal of former c.e.o. Richard Johnson, a result of Bonnier Publishing’s Swedish parent firm’s “profitability concerns” regarding Johnson’s English-language division.
Julian Shaw, group commercial director for Bonnier Publishing, said the closure of the kids’ division was “a tough decision, and not one that was taken lightly”, adding: “While Australia remains an important market for us, it has become an increasingly challenging one. Therefore it is necessary to ensure the wider group remains competitive and ready for further growth.”
Though the news was a dampener for some fairgoers, most were enthusiastic about Bologna 2018. Skylark Literary co-founder Joanna Moult called the fair “buoyant”, adding: “Submissions are better this year. The quality of the writing is better than it has been, so we are excited. Publishers are more interested, it seems, and everyone is in the mood to do deals—more so than [they were] in the second half of last year.” Moult’s fellow Skylark co-founder Amber Caravéo agreed: “We are starting to see more interest in YA. For a while it was all Middle Grade, Middle Grade, Middle Grade. Now people want to find good YA. There has been a sea change.”
Yet many believed Middle Grade still had most of the oxygen in the fiction sector. Hilary Murray Hill, c.e.o. at Hachette Children’s Group, called BCBF 2018 a “really lively fair”. She said: “There has been a lot of activity in the past three weeks and Middle Grade is where the action is. People still want to build their Middle Grade lists and find books to topple the titles dominating the charts. We all want the next Liz Pichon or David Walliams. There is still room for YA, but we are being judicious about buying [it].”
Bloomsbury Children’s Books editorial director Ellen Holgate echoed Murray Hill’s views. “We had an overwhelming slew of submissions pre-fair, a dozen a day at one point. In the UK it’s still all about Middle Grade, and YA has been much tougher.”
HarperCollins UK’s head of rights, Carla Alonzi, concurred. She said: “Publishers are saying there is a wealth of Middle Grade but they are struggling more with YA. Our properties are selling brilliantly—half an hour [in a book fair appointment] isn’t long enough to talk about all of our books. People are generally very excited. In terms of territories, Germany has been good for fiction and Italy is buying a lot in general this year, while French publishers want to see new illustrated books.”