German children′s publishers take traditional route to success | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 07.07.2010
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German children's publishers take traditional route to success

Books for young people have resisted the economic crisis. The youth segment in publishing shows stable growth - even though the majority of children's and youth publishers are refusing to go digital.

A girl reads a book among a row of shelves in the library

Computer games and the Internet have proved no match for children's books

Edmund Jacoby took a chance: Two years ago, he founded the youth and children's book publisher "Jacoby & Stuart" together with his wife. Becoming a publisher had been the now 61-year-old's dream for decades, but the undertaking is not easy given the already crowded German book market.

"Nevertheless," added Jacoby, "youth and children's books make up the most stable segment in publishing at the moment. So our idea may not be as bad as it seems."

Betting on a "Worldshaker"

At around 15 percent of total book sales, children's books represent more than just a niche in the German publishing industry. Total sales of books for young people are also increasing annually.

"Worldshaker" is a title Jacoby is especially excited to bring to the German market. The book is by English author Richard Harland and picks up on the "Steam Punk" subgenre that has become popular in the US and England in recent years.

"Steam Punk refers to books that are almost like science fiction and start from the premise that world history took a different turn, namely that everything got stuck in the steam-engine era and then developed from there," said Jacoby.

With "Worldshaker," Jacoby hopes to pick up on another lucrative trend in youth publishing by focusing on all-age books. Bestselling series like Harry Potter or Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series that have appeal for both young and adult readers are a formula for publishing success.

Unthreatened by the Internet

A row of children sit and read at a literature festival

Books appealing to wide age groups have been a recent formula for success

Publishing house S. Fischer has profited from the all-age formula. Fischer takes some of its titles that have been successful in the children's market and then republishes them in adult editions. The publishing house has also created an independent division in which children's books that may be of interest to adults are marketed separately from its other books for young people.

But books explicity for young children remain an important foundation in publishing, said Sibylle Bachar of S. Fischer: "At the end of the day, how can young people get interested in all-age books if they're lacking basic experience with reading? Today's children's book readers are tomorrow's all-age book readers."

Children's book sales are suffering from the Internet age less than is popularly assumed. Studies have shown that reading is still one of the most popular free time activities for kids, despite computer games and the Internet. While publishers catering to adults are searching for new ways to package their products digitally, youth publishers can still breathe easy.

Young but old-fashioned

The cover of the popular German children's story Jim Button is shown

Young readers enjoy the classics in the same format as always

Ulrich Stoeriko-Blume, Head of the Consortium for Children's Book Publishers, noted that the demand holds for old-fashioned books among kids.

"The story of Jim Button was adapted into a picture book and into a number of other movies for TV, but the book itself still exists," he said, adding, "It's still bought heavily - and it's still a good book."

Stoeriko-Blume speaks from experience. Alongside his work at the Consortium, he is an executive at the Boje publishing house. Boje has published a few titles as e-books, but only a handful of people bought them.

Publishers are also unsure how digital versions of classics like Pippi Longstocking or Jim Button could look. So far, sales figures show that their hesitant approach still hasn't hurt the industry. Even setting aside the all-age bestsellers, children's books are showing stable sales increases.

Author: Nadine Wojcik (gsw)
Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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