In the past few years, children's books have become a strong growth area for publishers and booksellers—and distributors as well. To take advantage of increased sales potential both inside and out of traditional book markets, many distributors are looking to sign more children's clients. Others are hiring specialized sales staff or introducing separate children's catalogues.
Last spring, Publishers Group West in Berkeley, Calif., upped its bid for children's distribution clients with its launch of PG Kids, a children's book initiative headed by former PW rep of the year Patricia Kelly. For PGW president Rich Freese, the kids program represents an opportunity to go beyond the company's seasonal children's catalogues and to move more books for clients such as U.K.-based Chrysalis Children's Books and Frances Lincoln into mass merchandisers, libraries and children's specialty stores. Over the summer, PGW added half a dozen new sales positions as part of its children's effort. "PG Kids has done so well for us domestically," Freese told PW,"it's been identified as an initiative for PG Worldwide," PWG's international distribution program.
National Book Network in Lanham, Md., regards its NBN Kids program as both a selling tool and an opportunity to add children's-only publishers, which it began doing late last year. "One of the reasons we plunged into children's," said v-p of marketing Spencer Gale, "is that there are so many opportunities where you can make a book successful without going through the regular channels. There are so many players in nonbook markets." This fall the company reached a critical mass of 15 publishers and introduced its first NBN Kids catalogue. "We're starting slowly and modestly," said Gale, noting that NBN has no plans to add to staff any time soon. "Our goal is to do kids catalogues two out of three seasons, in the fall and in the spring."
"Children's is an incredibly strong area and an incredibly competitive one," said Paul Feldstein, managing director of Trafalgar Square in North Pomfret, Vt., which specializes in distributing British publishers in the U.S. Unlike NBN, Trafalgar plans to continue to devote a portion of its seasonal catalogues to children's books. Still, with new distribution client Egmont, those pages have increased. And so has Trafalgar's presence in children's specialty stores. This fall the company has its first book in the Association of Booksellers for Children's catalogue—The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig: Pop-Up Edition by Eugene Trivizas, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Egmont, Sept.). "We're making big inroads into children's," said Feldstein, who is not aggressively pursuing new children's clients. "We choose our clients carefully and we try to maintain a balance."
Similarly, Independent Publishers Group in Chicago, Ill., which has long had a separate children's catalogue, is concerned about controlling expansion. "We have a duty to weed out stuff that's not very well done," said president Mark Suchomel. "Our children's catalogue is anchored by the Chicago Review Press activity books, like Monet and the Impressionists for Kids. We don't have a lot of $4.95 stuff. It's things that will backlist well."
SCB Distributors in Gardena, Calif., is doing well with Harry Potter titles; this fall it is publishing Wizarding World Press's The Plot Thickens... Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans (Nov.), edited by Galadriel Waters. The company's previous two Harry Potter guides have sold over 100,000 copies combined. "I can't say children's has ever been our category strength," said marketing director Lance Tilford, "but we have always had a few kids' publishers in play." By January, SCB will have added enough children's publishers, and books, to do its first stand-alone children's catalogue.
As more children's booksellers start stocking anime and manga, distributor Diamond Book Distributors in Timonium, Md., which specializes in comics and graphic novels, is finding a new market for its books. "We are just getting into children's bookstores," said Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p of sales and marketing. "We recently hired Kevin Habral, who was a specialist at Random House in selling to independent bookstores, and he will begin calling on children's specialty bookstores."
Diamond relies on a one-stop shopping approach to pop culture products, according to Liang. "If you want a Spider-Man book, game, calendar, T-shirt and action figure—we carry it all," he said. With the help of children's booksellers, Liang anticipates that Diamond will stay on-track to reach its projected revenue increase of 17% this year.