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Children's books buck the trend

12 March 2012

With the word's top children book fair, Bologna, starting on the 19th March, all eyes are on this lucrative and expanding area of the publishing market.

This is partly because across the world parents have continued to invest in books for their children and in their children's education at a time when general bookselling has been affected by recession. Children's publishers are subject to less uncertainty than their adult counterparts and can continue to invest in the long term.

The huge success of the Harry Potter books, which had a crossover from the children's market, through Young Adult to an adult audience, has affected how publishers feel about this part of the market. More recently, the Stephenie Meyer phenomenon has focused attention on the YA market, again with crossover into adult. More traditional children's publishing areas, middle-grade fiction for 8-12 and picture books, have been rather neglected, with the result that publishers are now turning back to them to fill depleted lists. After all, there are still just as many children in the age groups these books are written for as before, if not more in some countries where the birth rate is higher or economic expansion is driving the book market, so the international children's market is growing fast and this makes commercial sense. Middle grade is publishers' biggest children's market but it has not been the focus in recent years.

Everywhere there is a preference for tried and tested authors and series, and relatively little risk-taking, which is why it is quite hard for new authors to break into the children's market. This is particularly true of picture books, where there is a strong preference for well-known authors and illustrators. Each picture book represents quite a big investment for the publisher because of the cost of commissioning and reproducing the illustrations, so it's easy to see why they play safe.

The children's market has always been quite international because of the high cost of originating the books, which makes it more analogous to the general illustrated book market. In the same way it has focused on international co-editions and this is what makes Bologna such an important occasion for children's publishers from across the globe. Publishers need to build the co-edition with orders from other countries to make the initial investment in the book or series work.

The rise of digital and the arrival of apps has just made the children's market even more international. In this area, parents seem to have a preference for printed books, perhaps feeling that they are more 'educational'. Sara Lloyd, digital director of Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books, has said: "Many perceive physical books to be a positive in removing children from the constant stimuli of digital that surrounds them. The sense of a book as something tactile that can be shared - and possibly even be bounced, or chewed - is hard to deny."

Whether you are buying or selling, Bologna is an essential date in the children's publishing calendar.

Children's Publishing in our Inside Publishing series