Publish or Perish? The Future of Chidren’s Publishing through to 2020.

Posted on: Monday 18 April 2016 6:33pm by Simon Bor

Stephanie Barton, (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Jeff Norton (Awesome)
Cally Poplak (Egmont Publishing UK)

Host and producer:  Jon Watts (MTM)


The children’s and young adult booms as children’s reading falls.

‘We are all in the shadow of JK Rowling. Harry Potter legitimised the children’s market.’

‘Children have to read – and have to read fiction for a functioning social society.’

IMG_3464In a packed session, Jon Watts of MTM chaired this panel, asking where the industry will be in 2020.

The panel seemed to think we might already in the golden age of children’s publishing. Sales of children’s and young adult books are booming, especially in print. Cally Poplak, Managing Director of Egmount Publishing UK, admitted that the golden age label was something that had been used ever since Harry Potter, but now there had been five years of steady growth in the market and the sector represents a quarter of the print market.

But there’s something unusual about these figures, Stephanie Barton, publisher at Macmillan Children’s Books, pointing out that children are actually reading less in the era of library closures, disappearing independent booksellers and the increasing use of tablets. ‘That’s because adults buy children’s books,’ said Jeff Norton, writer and producer at Awesome. Jeff believes the rise in adult reading in the genre is because kids have never had it better in terms of content, the most exciting writing is aimed at children and young adults. ‘We are all in the shadow of JK Rowling. Harry Potter legitimised the children’s market.’

The panel went on to discuss why print is holding up so well in the age of the e-reader. Stephanie saying that the rise in e-reading with adults has reduced shelf space in bookshops, leaving more room for displays of children’s books, she added that reading on devices is a problem for children as it is too distracting. Jeff thought that picture book reading was often the only time in the day that a child gets mum or dad special time, adding that children are as addicted to their phones as adults are, so they expect interactive content on tablets but are prepared to use their imaginations with print. Cally added that the problem with kids reading comes later, once they are independent readers. Children’s reading peaks at around eight-years-old, dropping off after that. ‘We all have a job to do as parents, filling in for the work librarians would have done.’

IMG_3477As for where we will be in 2020? Jon Watts put forward various scenarios of optimistic and bleak futures. The panel were cautiously optimistic about the revival of Waterstones and they were supportive of Amazon. Cally joked that we were already in a world dominated by celebrity authors and risk-averse publishers looking for the next big thing. But added that you need a varied portfolio as you don’t know where the next big thing is going to come from. Stephanie wondered if the industry was preaching to the converted. Leaving reading as the preserve of middle-class kids was not desirable. ‘Children are our first and future readers.’ Jeff added that every single person who works in the industry wants children to read. ‘Children have to read – and have to read fiction for a functioning social society.’


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Simon Bor

About the author

Simon Bor


I studied Animation at Farnham, and, more recently, I have been awarded an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I set up Honeycomb Animation with Sara Bor and have been involved in children’s television since the mid eighties. As a writer, I have co written and created several shows… Read more