Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
When the American Library Association announced its 2013 book award winners Monday at its midwinter meeting in Seattle, the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to This Is Not My Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by independent children’s book publisher Candlewick Press.
Candlewick has long prided itself on its high quality picture books and commitment to the authors and illustrators, boasting two Newbery Medal winning authors in their ranks as well from the past decade, including Kate DiCamillo for The Tale of Despereaux in 2004 and again for Laura Amy Schlitz‘s Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices From a Medieval Village in 2008.
But unlike other publishers with a mix of children’s and adult titles, children’s-only publisher Candlewick Press has taken a decidedly different digital transition path. In an interview at Digital Book World 2013, Karen Lotz, Publisher of Candlewick and Managing Director of Candlewick’s parent company, Walker Books, explained the difference.
“The digital transition for us has been probably a lot slower than with a lot of the big houses. Being children’s only, in particular, has made it a fairly unique journey for us because so much of business is in full-color illustrated picture books for young children,” she said. “Even our business that is in the middle grade reader area, a lot it’s very illustrated, and early e-readers didn’t really accommodate illustration particularly well when the illustration is there as a way of understanding the words, when you have to have the flow exactly right between text and picture, text and picture. So as devices have improved and expanded their capabilities, we’ve been able to enter the market more and more.”
Lotz, who appeared on the executive panel at Digital Book World 2013, has been publisher of Candlewick Press since 1999, and took on the added responsibility of sole managing director for Walker Group, parent company to Candlewick and Walker Books UK and Australia in 2011.
While discussing the differences and disproportionate reliance of children’s picture books on physical store discovery as compared to adult titles, she acknowledged that the fate of kids book discovery is likely tied to the success of adult books and bookstores.
“I think it’s really interesting because the children’s business and the adult business are having less and less in common as time goes forward. There are houses that obviously have to serve both markets. So as a children’s-only house, our fate may be in the hands of what happens to adult publishing because of it’s effect on the bookstores, but actually in a way, people need bookstores more than ever. So certainly some of the things we’re trying to do is continue to work with the independent bookstore market, really really support them–as an independent publisher, we’ve always had a good relationship with them–and just find absolutely new places and ways to sell our books.”
Mike Shatzkin, in a recent blog post about the future of bookstores and in particular, Barnes & Noble, identified the same problem. “While the migration to digital, as measured by what we can glean about what percentage of the publishers’ sales are ebooks, has slowed, we don’t know if that’s temporary. We also don’t know if the split we see between books of narrative reading and other books will continue. There is good news and bad news for stores if it does. The good news is that stores will continue to be desperately needed for illustrated books. The bad news is that the readers of narrative books won’t be in the bookstores to have their eye caught by them anymore.”
Lotz does not yet see a viable replacement for stores or library discovery online. “There’s still an enormous amount of work to be done to figure out how to connect people to children’s books through the Internet in any way,” an opinion that was echoed in research and commentary at DBW by Peter Hildick-Smith.
Direct to consumer marketing is an opportunity for Candlewick, Lotz believes, pointing to possibility of leveraging the Candlewick and Walker Books bear logo. As she explained, “there is some potential equity in who we are. In the United States were only about 20 years old so we haven’t been around that long. In the UK, where we are a little bit older we are really synonymous with children’s books from the early days and so there’s a lot of equity built up in the Walker Books brand…For us, we hope it’s a little bit like the “buy local” movement or slow food or one of those things where you might feel a little bit better about buying one of our books because of what we believe, as well as because you love the books.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Lotz is optimistic about the future of children’s books. “I really believe [picture books] are going to come into their own in a way, because I think there’s a lot of love for the physical book.”