The Secret Mountain, a publisher with offices in Montreal and Paris, is striking a chord with consumers with its line of storybook-music CD sets. Founded in 2000 by publisher Roland Stringer, the company initially focused solely on music CDs for children, which were available in Canada and France, and launched its book-and-music venture in 2003, the same year it opened a Paris office. In 2005, the publisher entered the U.S. market when it acquired NBN as its distributor of book-and-music packages in this country.
Due this spring are two new paper-over-board books, each packaged with a CD: My Name Is Chicken Joe, featuring songs written and recorded by the four-time Grammy-nominated duo Trout Fishing in America, with illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch; and Songs from the Garden of Eden: Jewish Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes, with songs collected by Nathalie Soussana, musical arrangements by Paul Mindy and Jean-Christophe Hoarau, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna.
Moving into the book business was a logical step for The Secret Mountain, says Stringer, since the company’s music sales were primarily in bookstores. "Music retail outlets kind of forgot about parents, and placed most music for children in a back corner of the store," he says. "We found that our CDs were selling well in bookstores, plus from an artistic standpoint we liked the idea of bringing together illustrators, storytellers, songwriters and recording artists and publishing books and music simultaneously."
The publisher also creates a "two-panel digipak CD" of each release, distributed by Ryko Distribution. The CDs in both the book packages and the digipaks include a printable PDF file of the lyrics, song notes and illustrations. Recordings can also be purchased online as digital downloads.
According to Stringer, The Secret Mountain currently has 11 titles in print in English, 18 in French, and that about half its releases are available in both languages. The company aims to publish between four and six storybook-music CD packages annually. "We don’t want to go too much higher than six," he says, "since on the audio side we put a lot of time and energy into production. And as a book publisher, too, it’s very important to us that the writers, illustrators and designers take all the time they need with each storybook."
The company’s efforts pay off, according to Marianne Bohr, NBN’s senior v-p. "It’s not just the storybooks or just the music, it’s the whole package," she says. "The books and CDs bring together such unique and diverse talents—from songwriters to singers to designers to illustrators." Bohr says that sales of the publisher’s releases are "spread across retailers and libraries," adding that "independents find they are ideal for customers looking for a different gift, not something licensed or cookie cutter."
Stringer says that the company relies heavily on digital technology to produce both the books and CDs. Musicians record in their own studios and submit their work electronically, and the illustrators, designers and musicians all communicate via computer. "This technology enables us to pull it all together much more easily as we publish in this multi-format," he says.
The publisher observes that he is sometimes asked whether parents and children should read the storybooks first and then listen to the CD, or do both together. "My answer is always, ‘Do whatever you feel like doing, whatever works for you,’ " he says. "Of course I believe using both together provides the richest experience. But if kids listen to the CD over and over and that leads them to pick up the book, I can say, ‘OK, we’ve done our job.’ "
My Name is Chicken Joe, songs by Trout Fishing in America, illus. by Stéphane Jorisch; and Secrets from the Garden of Eden: Jewish Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes, songs collected by Nathalie Soussana, musical arrangements by Paul Mindy and Jean-Christophe Hoarau, illus. by Beatrice Alemagna, $16.95 each ISBN 978-2-923163-49-9; -46-8