Business profile: David Henderson, managing director of Top That Publishing

Business profile: David Henderson, managing director of Top That Publishing

David Henderson is managing director of Top That Publishing, and also the m.d. of Tide Mill Media.

The former is the well-established children’s packager/publisher nestled on the banks of the River Debden in Woodbridge, Suffolk; the latter comprises the publisher but also a digital developer which just opened an office in the heart of Soho.

But fear not, the companies are one and the same. Tide Mill is the new parent company of Top That, created to encompass a new digital arm, which includes an app-developing business, Playcreate, and Loved by Kids, a “curated” digital aggregator, whose Story Station platform delivers content to schools.

Tide Mill was set up because Top That was faced with the modern publisher’s dilemma of rejigging its business to respond to digital, while keeping true to its core. “[The new digital businesses] just wouldn’t work with the Top That brand,” Henderson explains. “We had to diversify–it was a new philosophy, a new way of thinking. Effectively, what we are is a well established publishing company and two start-ups.”

Playcreate was officially launched at this year’s Bolonga Book Fair back in March, creating 15 apps for Disney Latam, the media giant’s Latin American business, in its first few months.

This may seem completely new territory, but Henderson says it is merely an extension of the business. “Playcreate is not a publishing company, but an app developer. We are competing with other developers, but we just speak the language of publishing, which can demystify things. If we say to our customers that we can create an iPad coedition, they know what we mean and we are comfortable with that. In truth, it’s not all that much different to what we’ve always done–it’s digital packaging, instead of physical packaging.”


Like Playcreate, Story Station is in its infancy. Working with other publishers–such as Anderson Press, Macmillan and Walker–the platform repurposes content and is linked up with teachers’ lesson plans. The digital content is curated by both an in-house team and a group of external advisors, including Made in Me development director Eric Huang and Fiona Waters, founder of The Travelling Book Company.

“Ultimately, it’s about being multi-channel,” Henderson says. “You can no longer be bound by the physical restraints of 32 pages and getting a book into the high street.”

This is not to say Top That is neglecting its publishing programme–far from it. In its last published accounts (12 months to 30th June 2012), Top That/Tide Mill posted revenue of just over £8m, with a £317,000 profit. Henderson says for 2012/13 the publisher is up a healthy 25%-“not too bad in the current climate”–and this year has passed the £10m revenue mark for the first time in its history.

The bulk of this growth is the good old-fashioned publishing business, led by its licensed titles which include Angry Birds, Roald Dahl activity books and gift sets, and the Froobles, Top That’s pre-school range which has sold over 1.5 million units worldwide since its October 2011 launch.

“We have changed somewhat,” Henderson concludes. “But fundamentally the core is similar to when we started in 1999–the key is investing in the publishing programme. The slight difference is more of focus; Tide Mill is an IP creator and we are just channelling [the IP] into these different businesses in whatever format they need to be in.”