Meet the Commissioners – Publishing

Posted on: Thursday 04 July 2013 7:38pm by John Kent


Children’s changing media habits and the impact of digital are popular themes for programme makers. But what are the publishers up to?
John Kent went to meet the commissioners.


  1. Penguin, Random House, Egmont and Walker are all heavily involved in TV and digital as well as books.
  2. Books aren’t always the best place to launch an idea
  3. Strong story  and strong characters are still the key ingredient in a good idea
  4. Publishers will looking for opportunities to grow a brand over time
  5. Egmont receives 50% of its revenue from screen based product
  6. Penguin have three examples of new cross platform IP – all found at CMC
  7. For digital brands, a publisher can add a layer of enrichment through narrative that will increase audience engagement and add to the success of the brand.
  8. Between them, these four companies publish over 1000 children’s books per year
  9. Reluctant book readers are increasingly downloading e-reading apps
  10. Some companies have strategic relationships – but they’re not exclusive, they all want to work with people they like

The session kicked off with each publisher giving a ninety second introduction from each of the publishers. There were some great facts;  did you know, for instance that Egmont donates 100% of its profits to charity, or that Walker Books has an in house production team making TV shows for CITV, CBeebies and Disney?

As the session developed it became clear that these publishers consider themselves as part of the children’s entertainment industry rather than simply children’s books. Publishing models are evolving!

Each of the companies on the panel refer to themselves as a new kind of publisher – but actually the messages they presented had similar themes.

Julia Posen, for instance, referred to the need to mirror the way children access different kinds of content on different platforms. Francesca Dow echoed the sentiment – Penguin no longer talk about books, they talk about stories: and their business reflects the different ways children access those stories. Cally Poplak went as far as describing Egmont as platform agnostic.

Each of the publishers commented on the different types of partnerships they prefer to develop brands: Random House and  Egmont each have strategic relationships with Komixx and DHX respectively – although both are along the lines of ‘first look’ relationships rather than handcuffs. Walker Books and Penguin are not aligned in the same way – but all four stressed the need and desire to find and work with the ‘right’ partner for each project.

Digital is providing new opportunities in this respect – creating new opportunities to develop a narrative that can build engagement around digital brands. Randon House were involved in developing narratives for the Stardoll website that led directly to Stardoll books. Penguin have collaborated with Moshi, Skylanders and Angry Birds. And now Egmont are developing a story around Minecraft.

Cally Poplak pointed to the success of technology is encouraging reluctant book readers to download digital reading-based experiences. Intriguingly, she also said that Egmont refer to their digital strategy as ‘experimental’ as they do not yet have the whole business model.

While the publishers are clear that their business models are changing, they are clear that books are central part of their business – and in many ways they echoed the opening keynote.  Francesca Dow reckoned that books are the perfect ‘fitness test’ for a story – and if the story is right, it can be developed. Julia Posen position was that while a rights can be bartered in order to extend a brand, Walker will always retain the book rights.

So what does that mean for aspiring authors? Each of the publishers said that they want to work with people they like, and they are want to see strong ideas: Julia Posen said she once commissioned an idea from a single sketch.

Penguin’s Francesca Dow referred to three projects that have been developed through to production – and they all were found at the CMC. So if you have an idea – take the chance to grab them while they’re here!

To quote @BuzzBurman on twitter: “Random House Penguin: the idea comes first, everything else follows after that! #tcmc

Moderator & Producer – John Lomas-Bullivant
Exec Producer – Debbie Macdonald

Francesca Dow – Penguin UK
Fiona Macmillan – Random House UK
Cally Poplak – Egmont
Julia Posen – Walker Books


CMC Ebulletin Event Reports regular

John Kent, Digital Director – Kids Industries

About the author

John Kent

Kids Industries, Digital Director

John is a content strategist and producer with more than 20 years experience, and now works as Digital Director at Kids Industries – developing strategy and producing sites and apps. Recent work includes a new strategy and relaunch for Al Jazeera Children's Channel and new branding and relaunch for licensing… Read more