Knowledge is adventure,” says Paul Kelly, CEO of DK. Sharing such knowledge is central to the mission of the illustrated reference publisher, which was founded in 1974 in London by Christopher Dorling and Peter Kindersley as a book packaging business and is now part of Penguin Random House.

DK’s list for children covers everything from animals and the human body to homework help and craft activities. The books make learning accessible, visual, and enjoyable, Kelly says. Meanwhile, adults turn to the brand to “fill their knowledge cup” with up-to-date information, current thinking, and high-spec visuals on such topics as travel, history, science, nature, sports, gardening, cooking, and parenting.

“The 50th anniversary has been a real catalyst for us to review our business and which new horizons we can explore as a publisher,” Kelly explains.

DK recorded one of its strongest years in 2023, with net global sales hitting $250 million. It also achieved more bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic than ever before. Expanding into new genres and formats, along with increasing the number of partnerships with brands, have been among the drivers of this growth, Kelly notes. Moving into new markets has also been formed part of the growth strategy, with the acquisition of specialist educational publisher Phonic Books in 2022.

“Kids have always been smart, funny, and thoughtful, and our publishing has continually evolved with their needs and wants,” Kelly says. “They still want to pore over mind-blowing visuals and facts about dinosaurs or delve into the past and hang out with Cleopatra. But their expectations and sensibilities are changing. Kids love our anthology series because not only is it an object of beauty but it’s a world where they can discover ribboned sweetlips, vampire squids, and goblin sharks. There are also topics that just weren’t talked about 50 years ago, for example Wonderfully Wired Brains that inform kids about how neurodivergent brains work a little differently, or ABC Pride, celebrating diversity from a young age. And there are series like A Kids Book About that really get into important topics that we should be introducing kids to—they’re smart and ready to learn about social injustice.”

DK sees increasingly polarized politics around the globe as a major challenge. “Book banning continues to be an urgent and worrying trend which we must continue to push against,” Kelly notes. “It’s sad and wrong that children are being denied the opportunity to learn about different perspectives and form their own opinions. Children are naturally inclusive, and books have the power to foster this at an early and important age. Through education and engaging dialogue, we can overcome the prejudices that adults develop during their lives.”

The company restructured in 2023, and output was consolidated into four main business lines: DK Adult, DK Children’s, DK Licensing, and DK Learning. It was a move designed to “create more autonomy in division, allowing us to be braver, acquire more, and broaden the list,” Kelly says. “Our scale allows us to spend more per page on content and take bigger risks than most other publishers. We are not afraid to invest in ambitious projects.”

DK is developing its picture book, author-led, and fiction lists for young readers. Across adult it is developing its narrative nonfiction and author-led offerings, plus is about to launch a new positioning on travel books to include a diversity of voices.

“We also have our DK Germany and DK Espanol lists that continue to grow our presence in these markets,” Kelly says. “The future of our licensing is about scaling our premium product and ambition for our licensees.”

We are not afraid to invest in ambitious projects. —Paul Kelly

At its core, DK’s mission remains the same as it was 50 years ago: to inspire, educate, and entertain readers of all ages. It also remains committed to print formats.

“Trends come and go in publishing and tastes change, but the pull of holding a book in your hand will never go away,” Kelly says. “Books are objects of beauty and treasure. Books are part of people’s lives, they take us to other worlds, help us make sense of things, and allow us to empathize and learn. I sincerely believe that 50 years from now we’ll still be celebrating well-thumbed books.”

Tim Relf is a journalist who lives in Leicestershire, England.

Return to the main feature.