Conference Updates: Booksellers Conference and Nosy Crow Conference 2014

Booksellers Conference 25 September 2014

Jonas Herriot

Thursday the 25th of September saw ‘The Bookseller Childrens Conference 2014’ take place on Southbank in London, at The Queen Elizabeth Hall. Bringing together publishers, booksellers, authors, and librarians along with a over 200 professionals in related fields, the day was designed to highlight what experiences and lessons had been learnt, and how this related to what was – or wasn’t – working in the world of children’s books.

Rather than give a rundown of who said what, and how they thought this was important, this review will focus on how the information and best practice talked about on the day can be related to libraries and in particular children’s reference issues. This will be divided into several interrelated strands: book sales, children’s literacy, social media, and discovery tools.

One of the most interesting points which came up in many of the talks was that this year seems to be a very good one for children’s publishing. John Lewis from The Bookseller talked about how the charts so far indicate record sales by the end of the year if they follow the current trend. Sales of new books from several top authors including David Walliams, are backed up by strong sales from backlist titles, again from key authors such as Julia Donaldson. While fiction sales are increasing, figures prove that non-fiction is also selling very well. While a large percentage of this is driven by sales of books relating to pop-culture themes such as Minecraft and Lego, school textbooks and study guides are up 5% on last year. This shows that the market for books which can be used to support reference enquiries from children is strong, meaning there are good reasons for publishers to continue producing books for it, and that their focus isn’t just on fiction, and chasing the large blockbuster sales in this area.

Another key theme of the day was that of children’s literacy and how this can be increased, and the gains from this not only in book sales and increased revenue (unsurprisingly a popular area among attendees) but also the cultural impact and benefit this brings. As Ann-Janine Murtagh pointed out while the format is important, it is the content that does the work. Indeed producing good quality printed texts can more important than trying to create e-books and digital media formats, and this was backed up by evidence that shows that younger readers still prefer printed books, although the gap is decreasing and digital sales are increasing year on year.

Many of the speakers chose to talk about the success and in one case failure (Tim Collins from The Beano) of their attempts in using social media to connect, inform, and direct their customers. While the big players – Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube – were talked about in depth, the more interesting experimentation focused around some of the smaller ones such as: Snapchat, Popjam, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and Instagram. While some of these are already well known, what the speakers showed was that relying on one or two of these media channels was a mistake, and instead to be successful there was the need to diversify and use the unique elements and features of each to complement and support each other. Alongside this is the fact that these newer channels are becoming more popular among the younger users, and by utilising each of the different social media channels they were able to not only reach a larger audience, but show their relevance and highlight their ability to connect.

Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy talked about how they had developed Moshi Monsters, and the problems they faced getting it off the ground. He highlighted how one of the key changes they made was incorporating safe social features for its users in their online environment, and how the games incorporated into it are based around learning. The use of games to support children’s knowledge development is one which has been touched on before in ideas about gamification and its place in libraries, but it always interesting to see it done so commercially, and with a strong financial result. He also talked about the importance of creating social media sites aimed at younger users, and how when done properly and filled with the right tools can become sandboxes for children to use to create their own content.

Extrapolating this information showcases the need for children’s reference librarians to actively seek out and promote the information they have access to through new means, and to connect with potential audiences they might be missing. While in public libraries we face the problem of councils not allowing free rein when it comes to new social media channels – indeed many have only just managed to join Facebook and Twitter – there is a need to highlight the success others are achieving by moving beyond this, and to build a fact and evidence backed business case which can then be referred to in the effort to expand our skills and services online in the digital age.

Also connected to social media is the need for good quality discovery tools to allow readers/consumers to find books. A key issue here was that, despite arguing about the problems with relying on old fashioned window displays or book reviews to promote new books, and the need to find new ways of reaching audiences, there was no mention of libraries and their roles in this. Although this conference was by “the Bookseller” – and not “the Booklender” – it seems rather remiss that the largest network of localised points of contact, backed up by trained staff able to deliver this, was ignored. While it is possible that we are not a visible key driver of sales, there are many opportunities for better integration with librarians and library based projects.

The day finished with a panel comprising an author, agent, reviewer, publisher, bookshop owner, and librarian. Focused around sharing what worked for them, and how this could be used by the others, this discussion was the only example of a voice from libraries being on the main stage. This highlighted the power of engagement that libraries can wield when uniting readers with authors, and the events that they run. If next year’s conference could feature more of this, and build upon what we saw this year, it would be a worthy addition to the conference field for more librarians to attend and be heard.

Nosy Crow Conference: Everything you always wanted to know about children’s publishing (but were afraid to ask) 13 September 2014

Helen Edwards

Children’s publishing is a dynamic area in which to work. Children take naturally to new media. I recently saw a small child trying to enlarge a picture in a printed book by pulling with her fingers at the edges as if she were using an iPad – and experiencing some frustration when this didn’t work. At the same time even parents who are screen fixated themselves often value print for their children. This conference looks at recent trends from the perspective of the publishing industry and book trade.

Nosy Crow is a fairly new entrant to children’s publishing. In its three and a half years of operating it has published around 200 books and 14 apps.   Although the conference focused primarily on publishing fiction, there was also much of interest and relevance to the nonfiction and reference markets.

  1. The market for children’s books

Charlotte Eyre, Children’s Editor, The Bookseller

Nielsen Bookscan figures for 2013 show a fall of 3.5% from the previous year for children’s books. However 2014 looks better and, if sales continue at the expected rate, could be the best children’s year ever since Bookscan started in 1998, at a projected £337 million. A sizeable proportion of the market is made up of big names such as Julia Donaldson and branded series such as Peppa Pig and Lego. The hugely popular video world building game Minecraft accounted for 6.6 million in sales. Although many Minecraft users invent their own random worlds to play in Minecraft can also be used for real information. The complete OS map of the British Isles down to the level of individual houses is now available to download as a free app http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-29330265.

The British Museum is also planning to create itself, with all its exhibits, within Minecraft although this project is still in an early stage http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-29281051.

Florentyna Martin, Buyer, Waterstones Children’s New Titles

Waterstone’s stock around 4000 titles, 35% of which are new books. In addition to established series such as those by Usborne and Eyewitness, there are some interesting new titles in children’s reference. Big Picture Press specializes in “visually intelligent” books aimed at readers of all ages, abilities and nationalities. Maps (2013) by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski was bestseller in the 2013 Christmas market. This year Big Picture Press are offering Anamalium (2014) by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, the first in a new series of virtual museums.   Another example of a visually appealing new children’s reference book is Tiny, the Invisible World of Microbes (2014) by Nicola Davies, author of The First Book of Nature (2012).

Young adult nonfiction is also a potential area for expansion. A typical Waterstone’s shop will only have about a shelf devoted to this compared to a substantial section at a branch of Barnes and Noble in USA. Titles attracting new readers include the inspirational autobiography I am Malala (2013) by Malala Yousafzai with Christine Lamb; The Pointless Book (2014) by YouTube sensation Alfie Deyes; and Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir) (2014) by Maya Van Wagenen, which describes how the author used a 1950s etiquette book on a year long mission to become more popular at school.

  1. Trends in Children’s Publishing

Kate Wilson, Managing Director, Nosy Crow

  1. Competition: The competition for children’s attention is hotting up. Books and reading now have to compete on the same devise and on the same screen as other activities such as youtube, videos and games.
  2. Amateur: The audience is becoming more fragmented as everyone can now become a publisher using self-publishing sites such as Lulu.
  3. Personalisation. Internet sites such as Me Books make personalisation easy.   Children themselves can be inserted into stories by adding their own text, pictures and audio. This is advertised to parents and teachers as a way of engaging children more deeply with reading.
  4. Multimedia: The prevalence of multimedia provides both the opportunity and need to provide more support for young readers. Illustrations are more important for older age groups than previously. There is a whole new category of illustrated fiction for 8 – 11 year olds. Some books now include QR codes that enable stories to be read aloud. However the kind of support sites sometimes provided around adult books have little traction in children’s publishing.
  5. Interactivity: At its best interactivity can extend the opportunities for genuine support of learning. The Nosy Crow app Franklin Frog – aimed at 3 to 5 year olds – makes it take several attempts for the child to release the tadpole from the frogspawn to illustrate the reality of the hatching process.
  6. Gamified: Games can be big business in children’s publishing as the success of Minecraft shows.
  7. Resilient: In the children’s market print is still surprisingly resilient. Even parents who are heavy screen users themselves still like print for their children. Reading is still recognized by everyone as critical for academic success.
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