A global publishing approach can take many forms. For Parragon Publishing, which started in the late 1980s as a conduit to get books into U.K. supermarket chains, the key is tailoring content that can roll out across borders in one fell swoop.
Founded in Bath, England, Parragon was sold to DC Thompson in 2001. (DC Thompson is a family-owned media company based in Scotland that has holdings in industries ranging from newspapers and magazines to e-commerce sites.) In 2005 Thompson, which had initially bought a majority stake in the company, acquired the entire division. Currently Parragon, which does publishing as well as licensing, publishes throughout the globe and has offices in New York City, the U.K., Australia, Denmark, Germany, Holland, India, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as, through a joint partnership, a branch in China.
Releasing about 2,000 titles a year with a focus on nonfiction, about 50% of what Parragon publishes is in the cooking and adult categories, with 25% original children’s titles and another 25% licensed material. Wendy Friedman, president of Parragon North America/Latin America, said one of the things that sets the company apart is that “we don’t publish separately in each territory.” Unlike many traditional houses, which often function independently in different countries, Parragon looks more holistically at its content.
The “aesthetic” is a key factor for Parragon, Friedman said, elaborating that the company thinks extensively about what’s on the outside of their books as well as the inside. Noting that Parragon books are created with an eye toward ensuring titles can “live within the book world as well as the gift world,” Friedman said packaging is key. The goal, Friedman specified, is to have titles sit as comfortably in book retailers as in nontraditional book outlets. Recent in-house lines like the Life Canvas journal series, as well as the children’s line Little Learners, exemplify this.
Life Canvas was launched by Parragon in April, and there are currently 13 titles from the series in the market. The series, which is released in multiple languages—Friedman said the company has shipped over 200,000 units to date—melds journaling with a lifestyle approach. The journals feature themed cover designs, from Roy Lichtenstein–inspired pop art to butterflies, and high-end stationery within. The Little Learners line, which the company launched in March, has been particularly successful—the children’s books, for toddlers, feature a variety of packages, some in foam, others board books with finger puppets on the cover—and Friedman estimated that more than 600,000 units have shipped in North and South America.
While Parragon has a particularly strong licensing business—it releases titles featuring characters/content from Disney, Discovery Kids, Power Rangers, Trash Pack (a popular toy line) and recently inked a deal with Marvel—its core business is publishing.
To that end, it has begun expanding into app development. The app it created with Discovery, the Discovery Sharks app, was voted one of the top five educational apps of 2011 by Apple, and Parragon has also done a number of cooking apps with Entenmanns (Parragon published branded cookbooks by the food company). In addition, Parragon is about to launch an app in conjunction with a U.K. retailer—the title will only be available there—and is also working on a handful of cooking apps with TLC, featuring a variety of personalities from the channel’s cooking shows.
Overall, though, the one focus Parragon touts is its ability to grab readers, whether they’re browsing in Barnes & Noble, shopping in Urban Outfitters, or surfing the latest online flash sale. (For about 18 months, Parragon has been selling titles through a variety of flash sale Web sites, like Gilt.com and Foundary.com. Friedman said the effort is as good for sales as it is for marketing, providing another way to get the word out about the publisher’s books, through social media.) “We’re focused on the lifestyle element,” added Venetia Davie, v-p of new business development. “We want to identify who our consumer will be and how our books will fit in with their lifestyle.”