Back in the early seventies Corgi, part of Transworld Publishing, along with several other companies at that time (Fontana, Piccolo, Beaver, Sparrow et al), launched themselves into children’s paperbacks with its Carousel imprint. Ten years on Corgi almost closed down their children’s publishing; senior management knew that they had got it wrong but looked wistfully across the Atlantic at their extremely successful American partners, Bantam. Corgi’s answer, a formula successfully instigated by imprints like Hippo, Beaver and Sparrow, was to import quality, editorial publishing experience and effective children’s book marketing in the form of Ingrid Selberg (ex Fontana Lions, Usborne and Collins – where she was a senior editor) and Clare Somerville (ex Puffin and Fontana).
Editorial policy developed over the last few months is now conceived of as a two-pronged operation: retain the best of the already established popular commercial bits of the list (Sweet Dreams, Sweet Valley High and Choose Your Own Adventure – all under the Bantam banner) and add more mass-market, highly commercial publishing, mostly with media/toy tie-in potential (like Sindy, Transformers and Dragon Warriors) and then, most important of all, embark on some serious, quality children’s book publishing. Hence we now have Picture Corgis (with Shirley Hughes, Frank Asch, Judy Brooks, Stephen Kellogg and H. E. Todd appearing on this list), Young Corgis and Corgis. So far it’s Picture Corgis that have been developed fastest and are most visible. There are plans for fiction publishing but it’s harder to find.
This is a conscious balancing act, with a strong commitment to quality books. Some would hold that it’s the only way forward for a publisher who wants to survive in the children’s book business.
What makes the Corgi approach especially interesting is their unabashed attitude to the popular, mass-market (a misleading term if ever there were one but which publishers seem addicted to) end of their list. Transformers (as comics, cartoons and principally as toys) is Very Big Business and is predicted to remain so well into 1987. Think of it as a mechanical, futuristic cousin to the now familiar dungeons and dragon scenarios. These warrior robots in disguise, now in adventure game book form, could have the same enticing-to-books effect.
Ditto Sindy books. Did you know that over twenty million pounds worth of the now 21-year-old doll and her accessories is sold worldwide?! That 89% of girls between three and twelve have ‘spontaneous awareness’ of Sindy, and 100% have `prompted awareness’! Sindy, unlike Barbie – described to us as unashamedly West Coast and a bit tarty, is ‘everybody’s playmate’. She’s an aspiration toy (a wonderful toy trade term) who’s modern, career minded. She’s even achieved that rare status of mother to daughter brand loyalty. It’s worth just mentioning all this to put the books into some perspective and to get a clearer understanding of the Corgi policy to intensively commercial children’s book publishing. They say you simply cannot avoid or ignore these days the all-pervasive presence of licensed toy products which soak up vast amounts of disposable income spent on children. Books should be in there pitching, indeed Corgi reckon they represent excellent value at £l .95 when compared to Sindy’s loo costing £2.45 and Sindy’s country manor at £65. Neither should books seek to be seen in isolation from other toys, clothing, even wallpaper. Corgi admit they’re up against the idea that toys don’t have to have educational values whereas books do. In defence they point out that reading is involved in all their titles and that their award-winning Weetabix promotion (children collected tokens from an on-pack offer and redeemed them for free books) elicited nearly a million redeemed books over a two-year period.
The conclusion they have drawn is that books must be a part of the total children’s product market, but that it can only do this by having an equally strong commitment to quality book publishing.
Illustrators for Ethiopia
Hard on the heels of the very successful The Children’s Book appeal comes another initiative from the world of children’s books to raise funds for Ethiopia. Over one hundred pieces of original artwork have been donated by internationally known illustrators ranging alphabetically from Janet Ahlberg to Freire Wright. An exhibition of the illustrations will be travelling the country in the coming months. Visitors (and those who cannot get to see it) are invited to donate £1 and make a guess at the total world sales of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in its 21st birthday year. The one hundred nearest guessers will win the pictures. The project is sponsored by the Puffin Club, Athena and DRS of Milton Keynes who are handling the entries on their computer. It’s a Band Aid approved project.
For details of how to enter, contact Eunice McMullen, Penguin Ethiopian Appeal, PO Box 27, Richmond, Surrey TW9 ILT. For details of where to see the exhibition, contact Bob Wilson, North Staffs. Polytechnic, Design Dept, College Road, Stoke-on-Trent.