Sales in Disney Publishing's U.S. children's book group jumped 35% for the year ended September 30, capping a five-year run in which revenue in the group rose a total of 47%. Lisa Holton, senior v-p and publisher for global children's books, said sales were up in all channels, including the school and library markets, in fiscal 2004, and added that the group benefited from an "incredibly strong" fiction list.

The September release of Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson "came out late in the [fiscal] year, but it came out with a bang," Holton said of the book, which now has 500,000 copies in print. Other fiction titles that did well in the year included the first two titles in the Bartimaeus trilogy, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Crispin: The Cross of Lead, while the Lizzie McGuire and Artemis Fowl series sold well in both hardcover and paperback.

Another area that made an important contribution last year was Baby Einstein. The line has sold more than five million units since it became part of Disney in 2001 with its top seller, Neighborhood Animals, having sold more than 560,000 copies. Holton cited Einstein as a good example of a franchise that has benefited from Disney's promotional power at the retail level. To keep the concept fresh, in late summer Disney created a boxed set of 12 Einstein titles that the company sold exclusively through Advanced Marketing Services accounts, including Costco where it was one of the top five book SKUs.

The strong performance by Einstein brought the line's share of Disney's U.S. children's book group total sales to 12%, up from 9% in fiscal 2003. Hyperion Books for Children became the biggest contributor to the group for the first time in fiscal 2004, generating 43% of revenue, while Disney Press represented 35% of sales. Disney Editions added 10%. The sales mix as well as the group's publishing portfolio of 250 titles is at about the optimum level, Holton said. "We now publish soup to nuts," she said.

Holton credited the expansion of Disney's publishing program in part to "an investment in talent," which ranges from signing high-profile authors Barry and Pearson to the publication of Sharon Flake, whose first novel, The Skin I'm In, was plucked out of a slush pile and now has a total of 300,000 copies in print in hardcover and paperback. Holton said the children's book group is not shy about working with Disney's other media enterprises where it makes sense. "We're not slaves to synergy. We use it when we feel it works and walk away when we feel it won't work," Holton said. Baby Einstein, Lizzie McGuire, the Cheetah Girls and W.I.T.C.H. have all benefited from Disney's many media formats, most notably television and movies. Holton expects the W.I.T.C.H. line to receive a boost in January when the W.I.T.C.H. television show debuts on the Jetix cable network.

Disney will also be expanding W.I.T.C.H., which began as a magazine in Italy, from a hybrid paperback/graphic novel format into additional formats, including traditional graphic novels, as part of its commitment to broaden its presence in the graphic novel and manga fields. (As part of the commitment, Disney bought CrossGen's assets last month [News, Nov. 15]). Another initiative for 2005 is a new novel featuring Tinker Bell. To be released in the fall, the book is being written by Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine and will introduce new characters, which Holton hopes can form the basis of a new franchise.