Event Report: Publish or Perish by Kim Hutson

Kim Hutson looks at what could happen in the children's publishing world by 2020

At the London Book Fair back in April I attended a very useful panel discussion called 'Publish or Perish', which was a part of the Children's Media Conference. 
Three industry professionals; Stephanie Barton (Pan McMillan), Cally Poplak (Egmont), Jeff Norton (Author & TV Producer), were posed four possible predictions for the world of children's publishing in 2020: 

 “Welcome to Walliams' World” - Franchises and celebrity blockbusters dominate the world of children's books.

 “Super-serving the super-fans” - Industry is geared towards super-readers which results in a 'lost generation' of the rest who are not catered for. 

 “Welcome to the retail renaissance” - A new breed of independent books shop emerges and and entire generation rediscovers the joy of books. 

 “1000 digital flowers bloom” - Traditional publishing thrives AND digital publishing empowers and develops a whole new breed of writers using new and exciting platforms.
All the projected scenarios were eagerly discussed by the panellists and really made me think about the way children's publishing is currently going. 

Here are some interesting quotes and titbits I garnered from the event: 
  •  Less than 15% of children's book sales are digital – print is king. “The very print paperness is what makes it very special.” (Cally Poplak) 
  •  Sales in Children's are booming – some are calling it a 'Golden age.' 
  •  Children's interest in/time spent reading has gone down every year since 2012 with more time being spent digitally – but not on digital reading. 
  • “If you time-travelled from 30 years ago to today you would be shocked at the range and depth of subjects being dealt with.” (Jeff Norton) 
  •  Last year 2 MILLION new ISBN numbers were produced. 
  •  The top 5000 authors sell 75% of the books. 
  •  The fact that more ADULT e-books are being sold means that there is more physical space in retail for children's. 
  •  Despite increasing digital engagement 75% of children and young adults still want to read actual physical print books. 
  • There has been a 'sweat test' done with 44 children and their parents to see their reaction to print vs. digital reading. The engagement with print was tactile and relaxed, with the child often curling into the parent, while with digital the child became territorial about the device and EVERY TIME lost interest very quickly in what they were reading.  (more info on digital vs print engagement here: https://www.egmont.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Egmont-Reading-Street-ch3.pdf) 
  • The physical experience of reading a picture book at bedtime is often the only one-on-one time a child has with their parent(s) every day and is a special moment that will come to be associated with books and reading, while a digital device comes with an expectation of interactivity and engagement with the rest of the world – reading a print book is a completely personal experience. Books are special (but we know that already!) 
  •  Reading for pleasure drops off at age around seven or eight, when parents stop reading to their children.  14 million adults buy books for children – a quarter of the adult population. Half of those would rather buy books based on familiar franchises.  “Unless you're willing to market the heck out of books, don't bother.” (Jeff Norton) 
  •  “We do invest in debuts, or what would be the point?” (Stephanie Barton) 
  • “Everyone in this industry believed that children reading is a good thing... it's not about literacy, it's about practising life and experiencing other people's lives – essential things for creating a society of non-sociopaths.” (Jeff Norton) 
  • “People are obsessed with creating books in their own image – which is dangerous. Reading should be the broadest possible church – every child should feel that they can win at reading.” (Jeff Norton) 
  •  “We need to make every child feel that their reading choice – comic, annual or literary fiction – is a GOOD thing.” (Cally Poplak) 
  •  “Shops need to stop thinking of themselves as a bookseller, but more as a community hub – bring the community together at events and experiences.” (Jeff Norton) 
  •  If we need to do anything to ensure the success of the children's publishing industry the number one thing we can do is fight to keep our libraries, which were referred to as 'Netflix for books' and a huge source of children's discoverability. Librarians and libraries are essential for the next generation and “The book industry needs to get involved in funding libraries.” (Stephanie Barton)
Thank you Kim, for sharing all these useful tips. 

When Kim isn't writing, she works in a Tudor manor house (with obligatory ghosts).  She has alsoworked in a video shop, at a theatre, for a concert promoter and as a Bookstart Officer. She has two degus, two frogs, a snake and beardy ginger husband. She won the Margaret Carey Scholarship 2014 and has a Masters in Writing for Children from MMU where she now works occasionally, mainly teaching poetry.




  1. This is interesting to read, esp about children still wanting to read print books. Makes me think that it will be worthwhile to publish in print as well as ebook.

  2. Really interesting-thank you!


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