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Harper Collins and its business development team are a great example of how publishers are adapting to the business of content, not simply bound sheaves of pulped wood.

In an indicator of how service-based the UK economy has become, Harper Collins now sums up its business as following:

"We create bespoke content based on products and campaigns for our clients."

"We work with content, not just books, across print, digital, mobile and more."

"Our editorial expertise, content and creativity enable clients to communicate brand identity and values."

One of the areas of the publishing house where this is most evident is Harper Collins Children’s Books. I decided to find out more about its business model.

Looking at brands that have fallen short when designing for the younger demographic, it’s clear Harper Collins is in a position to advise companies targeting children and parents.

Harper Collins' intimate knowledge of design, the written word, and this audience is valuable in more than just book publishing. All of this means the publishing house is perfectly placed to work with brands.

In this post I’ll look at some of the campaigns Harper Collins have worked on, and I’ll add in some detail about recent changes in the bookselling world. 

The move to multimedia

The market for books is complicated. Despite the rise of the e-book, there are also companies experiencing a renaissance, such as the Folio Society, which is doing better than ever, selling expensive, top-quality beautifully bound editions.

But the wider trend within some age groups is away from the physical book. The young adult market in America, on the back of big titles such as Twilight and Hunger Games, has soared to equal numbers E&P (e-book and physical). E-books are dominating in many genres, such as fantasy, sci-fi and adult.

Harper Collins is set to publish Tape, a flagship title for young adults that will be multi-platform. Each publishing house is working on key titles such as this, setting their stalls out as innovators outside of mere print. 

In the children’s market sales are much smaller on the e-book side, because there’s a parental barrier to adoption. In practice though, kids don’t seem to mind what the medium is.

The web as mixed blessing

Of course, technology has squeezed the tranche of childrens’ time spent in books. 

But, apps and websites aren’t exclusive of publishers. Harper Collins is one of many that now work with a design team on projects both off- and online.

Working with The Times

An obvious opportunity for two News Corp businesses sees Harper Collins partnering with The Times to give free downloads to Times subscribers.

When the books given away are part of a series, this makes sense for both parties - a reward for Times subscribers and increased engagement with a particular Harper Collins title.

Brands

One of the advantages of working with brands instead of newspapers is that brands work a long way ahead. Movies, seasonal ranges and the like can all work on content relationships more than a year out from release.

With brands such as 1D, The Hobbit, Hello Kitty, and Paddington, along with authors such as Michael Morpugo, Harper Collins is well-placed to explore brand tie-ups.

On projects such as the Cadbury’s Buttons furry tales website back in 2010, Harper Collins is effectively acting as an agency. The characters are unique to Cadbury’s, so no licensing of content was required. Harper Collins used their design team and knowledge of the market to create the website.

Density of text, appeal of characters, etc. are all optimised through Harper Collins’ history of design.

Yeo Valley: on-pack offer, microsite, physical books

Harper Collins has worked on an on-pack marketing campaign offering free children’s books to a variety of age groups. They know the audience and can improve the product’s appeal dramatically with a giveaway aimed at families, at a time when more ‘artisan’ food products may be wresting away parts of the market.

Collecting a yeoken allows a child or parent to visit the promotional website (click below) and claim a free book that gets delivered in the post. Although the focus is still on the physical books that many parents favour, the website allows for easy uptake of the offer, both for parents and for older children.

Fairy Liquid: branded stories online

Harper Collins created two digital books (‘Why I love mummy’ and ‘Why I love bedtime’) for Fairy Non Bio, promoting interactive fun and learning. They are both available in a web browser, and act as a piece of content marketing for Fairy.

McDonald’s, Emirates and more

There are many other more traditional content tie-ups, such as 9m Morpugo titles in McDonald’s Happy Meals and mini-editions of Dr Seuss for Emirates in-flight packs.

Conclusion

Content is more important than ever for brands, and creating content comes with inherent risk. It makes sense for brands to call on publishers like Harper Collins to provide characters and heritage built over many years, or to use their design skills and audience insight. 

It will be interesting to watch how Harper Collins and its business development evolves as e-books and multi-platform stories further infiltrate the children’s market.

Ben Davis

Published 6 December, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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