The appointment late last month of Hector Sierra as general manager and senior v-p for National Geographic Society’s books division completes the new management team that will now drive the book operation for one of America’s best-known brands. The change in the division began last October when Declan Moore, who began at NGS in 1995, was appointed executive v-p for the society and president of publishing. Shortly after his appointment, Moore asked Melina Bellows, chief creative officer of Kids and Families for NGS, who worked on children’s books, to oversee editorial for adult books as well.
Moore credits Bellows with giving NGS a bigger presence in the children’s market, noting that through the first part of 2011 sales in the children’s trade group were up by double digits. Sales through the direct-to-consumer channel were also up in the period, with the weak spot continuing to be adult trade, where NGS has reduced its title output. Moore acknowledges that spring 2011 was a “challenge” for the adult unit, but said he expects improvements once books bearing Bellows’s stamp start hitting the stores. Vision of Earth, set for release this month, is one of the first titles to come out under Bellows’s direction, but the real impact will be in the spring, when a new gift line of $9.95 titles bolsters her goal to provide more NGS titles for the general reader. Two of the three titles have been set: Mother’s Love: Inspiring True Stories from the Animal Kingdom and Love You, Dad: A Book of Thanks, both 96-page hardcovers in a 7-in.×7-in. trim.
Broadening NGS’s appeal has been one of the keys to growth in the children’s group. The Weird but True series, a solid hit for the book unit, is based on columns in Kids magazine, for which Bellows is editor-in-chief. The first hardcover in the series, Ultimate Weird but True, was a bestseller this summer and provided a nice complement to NGS’s perennial bestselling Kids Almanac.
The book division is also pushing much harder on the digital front. E-book sales are up 280%, but Moore acknowledges that sales started from a low base. Since the early digital devices lacked color, NGS waited for a critical mass of devices that could properly present its books; that came with the launch of the iPad. Kicking its digital conversion into high gear, the book division now has a total of 150 apps and e-books. It had an early app hit with Dinopedia, which has more than 25,000 downloads, and followed that with an app for Weird but True, which had 32,000 downloads in its first month. Whether apps or e-books, Moore said it is important to NGS that its digital products offer more than a recreation of its books. “It’s important that they be dynamic,” he said. High on Moore’s to-do list is implementing a publishing system that will let NGS “create once and publish in many formats.”