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Face to face with… Macmillan Children’s Books

We chat to Stephanie Barton, publisher for 0-6, about her plans in the preschool licensing space.

Firstly, can you talk me through your big successes in the preschool space in 2016?

Macmillan Children’s Books is the number one publisher of picture books and preschool books; we are proud to publish widely across the age group and understand very well, the needs of preschoolers and parents for high quality stories and sturdy books that can be read time-and-time again.

Big successes? Well, I’m going for Acorn Wood by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. With over half a million sales annually, the books are now published as sturdy high quality board books that continue to be among our most enduring and treasured series. And I have to mention Campbell Books, our specialist maker of books for little children. Campbell shone [in 2016], selling books around the world in over 25 languages and this year, launched a new partnership with Monkey Music, creating books based on the Monkey Music classes for babies and toddlers.

What are your big properties in that space for 2017?

Well, we’re really excited to be celebrating the 35th anniversary of the publication of Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo. Rod has been a household name as a preschool early learning specialist since he penned the well-known opening lines to his most famous book: ‘I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…’ Since then 8 million copies of Dear Zoo have been sold around the world and Rod has over 40 books in print.

We’ve got a full year planned of events and celebrations, including a special partnership and launch at ZSL London Zoo in March.

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Not only do we publish the classic picture book Dinosaur Roar by Henrietta and Paul Stickland, but in 2017 we will launch a new and brilliant board book collection, specifically designed for preschoolers and inspired by the classic picture book, each one featuring a dinosaur from the original book. Endorsed by the Natural History Museum in London, Dinosaur Roar is their first and only preschool dinosaur brand.

We work with rights’ holder, Nurture Rights, who are developing a cross-media approach to the brand and the whole team at Macmillan are excited about launching this in 2017.

What was the biggest change in the preschool environment in 2016?

The pervasion of technology into family life, providing new ways for children to learn and play and for families to spend time together. There is a host of really impressive new toys launching this year, teaching children about coding and technology and YouTube is the number one destination website for pre-schoolers. The way even very small children access and engage with content has changed forever.

What are some of the main challenges for you as a brand owner in the space?

I think the challenge is always about how to make something stand out. Preschool books compete with toys, games, films and a host of merchandise so we always have to think carefully about our approach and always start with the child.

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How is the retail market for preschool properties currently? Are newer brands being given the chance to shine or is there still a reliance on classic brands?

From time to time, new brands can and do break through and such brands achieve the status of a ‘classic’ if they have a unique sense of the child; Peppa Pig, now a modern classic, has that for instance. Classics that are sensitively curated from one generation to the next – Paddington, Enid Blyton, and our own Dear Zoo and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – are always going to have a special hold on the child that became an adult, buying for their own child.

How important are live events and attractions for preschool brands do you think?

Children are doing more of everything. While technology has impacted everyday family life, sales of children’s books are in their third year of growth and the popularity of meeting ‘real’ authors and illustrators who read stories directly to them is, for many children, a magical and unforgettable experience. Going on a Gruffalo Trail, taking a ride on a Thomas train or visiting immersive exhibitions such as Discover makes memories and cements a connection to a favourite character or world.

What do you think the major trends will be within preschool for 2017?

I think we’ll continue to see the mix between technology-led toys which develop creative thinking and skills alongside traditional make-and-do, crafting, games and puzzles, which encourage talking, sharing and family bonding. Toys, films, books and activities that nurture emotional well-being, a sense of happiness and compassion may also have a special place in 2017.

What would you most like to see happen within the licensed preschool market in 2017?

The emergence of a new classic.

Dinosaur Roar illustration (c) Paul Stickland, 1994

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