Jennifer Powell is Director of Rights and Co-Editions, Scholastic Inc. in New York City. We got in touch with her ahead of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 1-4) to ask her about current trends in the children’s market, how selling rights has changed over the years, and how Scholastic is working with IPR to ensure their books get an international profile.
Tell us about your background and what you enjoy most about working in Rights at Scholastic?
I’m from Dublin, Ireland, but I have lived away from Ireland for the last 15 years. I did my Masters of Publishing at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and then worked for several years in Rights at Simon & Schuster UK in London, and then at Macmillan Children’s Books, also in London.
I absolutely adore working at Scholastic Inc.! Scholastic’s mission of fostering literacy and learning around the world resonates so strongly with me as an individual, and I thoroughly enjoy being part of that mission on an international level, by selling rights globally.
I find it fascinating to work with foreign publishers, to learn what kids enjoy reading around the world, and to discover emerging trends in different markets. And, I must admit I get a thrill from negotiating and sealing a deal!
But, when it comes down to it, the thing I enjoy most about working in Rights at Scholastic is getting great books into the hands of kids around the world in their local language. That is hugely satisfying for me.
Dog Man by Dav Pilkey has become an absolute phenomenon here in the USA, and one of our goals for 2019 is to help our 27 foreign publishers to replicate that success in their markets. That being said, while of course, we have strategic priorities in terms of markets, authors, brands, titles or genres with the most financial potential, on a broader level, my priority is to ensure that all our books and all our authors get the opportunity to reach a global market.
Do you foresee any big changes in which territories are most likely to grow (or shrink) over the next few years?
Like most Rights departments, we are seeing continued growth in China. I’m delighted to say that we are also seeing a huge increase in our co-edition business across picture books and licensed properties. I anticipate that both of these sales channels will continue to grow in the next few years.
Are there aspects of how you sell rights today that are different from how you did things in the past?
Absolutely! We try to keep pace with the changing markets internationally, by having a direct knowledge of foreign markets. And so, one of the biggest changes over the last few years has been that our team now travels extensively to foreign markets to meet with local publishers. 30 minutes at a book fair twice a year simply isn’t sufficient for one to understand a market or a publisher! We need more time with our editors, and so we’re making that time by going to see them in their offices. The benefit of these trips pays off almost immediately. For instance, one of Rights Managers went to the Netherlands in 2016, and since her trip, our business in that market has tripled.
In addition to travelling to foreign markets, we also now attend many more international book fairs. Each year, 5 of my team attend the Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs, but we also send a team to the Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and Guadalajara Book Fairs.
Another significant change in how we sell rights is that we now sell co-editions on a significant scale. To put in context: in the last three years, our income from traditional rights sales i.e. advances – which has always been the core of our business – has grown meaningfully. And, in the same time period, our co-edition income has grown from zero to now almost matching that traditional rights income. This is phenomenal growth, but it is also very time consuming. So, as the Director of the department, I am constantly trying to be mindful of how to balance this new business and its associated workload with our broader goal of selling rights across all titles on our list.
It’s so hard to pick just one! But, if I must narrow it down to just title, it has to be Hey Kiddo. This YA graphic novel is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive. It’s a National Book Award Finalist here in the USA, and really worth reading.
Do you see any upcoming trends in types of titles that interest non-English language publishers?
Illustrated nonfiction, both in novelty and non-novelty formats, are growing in popularity for us. STEM / STEAM, of course, is appealing to a broad range of publishers globally. Licensed fiction is a huge area of business of us – for instance, our Riverdale YA fiction based on the T.V. show of the same name sold in 14 languages within a month or so of our releasing materials.
The most visible growing trend, to me, is the rise in interest in middle grade graphic novels. Scholastic Inc. has been publishing graphic novels for middle grade since 2005 and so we are perfectly placed to furnish foreign publishers with a variety of bestselling, high interest, topic drive and beautiful graphic novels for their new graphic novel lists.
Tell us about the biggest challenges you and your team experience around licensing.
Time! We have such a huge list, with so many phenomenal books from such a wide range of genres that is sometimes feels we just don’t have enough hours in the day.
Can you speak of some ways that IPR is helping you with those challenges?
We are using IPR to get as many international eyes on our books as possible. We’re using it as a tool to ensure all our books get an international profile, whether they are front list, backlist, trade, educational, professional or club originals.
My kids are 4 years old and 10 months old, so we’re deep in the picture and board book world right now! I especially love reading books that make my 4 year old laugh. He was blown away by Baby Monkey: Private Eye by Brian Selznick, and laughed so hard he literally fell out of bed! It’s a wonderful read aloud, and really hits the mark with little kids – nothing more enjoyable than seeing a look of unbridled joy on your kid’s face while you read to them!
Attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair? You can find Scholastic Inc. at Hall 25 Booth A141.
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