“We are in an age where publishing houses can play a fundamental part in taking the heart of a wonderful book and giving it another life beyond the printed page.” Walker Books’ PR and publicity manager Alice Burden is enthusiastic about the licensing opportunities for the firm in coming years.
The children’s publisher, established in 1978, announced earlier this year plans to bring Lucy Cousins’ European licensing programme in-house as part of an ongoing business growth strategy to maximise brand extension opportunities across Walker’s award-winning list of children's books.
Walker has always published Lucy Cousins’ books, so it was a natural progression to look after the licensing as well. Maisy is a pre-school figure appealing to both boys and girls, which represents an inclusive, interactive learning and play experience that is also part of the publishing programme.
Maisy is a successful publishing brand, published in 27 languages and with 27.5 million copies in print worldwide, so the ideal property to start up the in-house licensing division with.
Walker has in fact had a licensing division of sorts in place for over ten years, but has always used external agencies to manage properties. Helen McAleer, managing director of Walker, says: "Walker is regarded as the leading UK independent children's book publisher, and we are home to some of the world's best authors and illustrators. We are constantly looking at ways to maximise the potential value of Walker's brands and titles to the business.
“Walker Productions was launched last year to develop Walker-owned content for other media platforms and Walker’s licensing division will give us the opportunity to develop exciting licensing programmes with our partners."
The licensing division is headed up by licensing director, Judy Burdsall, who has been part of the company since it was founded and has been managing licensing activity for several years across Maisy and other Lucy Cousins' brands.
Burdsall comments: "We are delighted to be bringing this part of Lucy’s licensing programme in house, where it will sit alongside her successful book publishing programme. With several new books from Lucy due to publish in 2009, I'm looking forward to working closely with existing licensees, and bringing new licensees on board as we position Lucy Cousins as a major player in the licensing industry."
30 years on from its conception, Walker Books still has its founder Sebastian Walker’s ethos at heart. Walker had a simple vision for the company: a publisher dedicated to creating the best stories and pictures for children everywhere. “All that counts,” he said, “is that a child says at the end of the book, ‘Again.’” Again, this ethos translates into the licensed market too.
Back in 1978, Sebastian created Walker Books with colleagues Amelia Edwards and Wendy Boase in a spare bedroom, building up a portfolio of 18 books in 1980 and the firm now creates over 300 books per year.
Walker has since established a sister company, Candlewick Press in the US, founded in 1992 and Walker Books Australia in 1993.
Walker has a long list of children's authors and artists on its books including Allan Ahlberg, Jez Alborough, Lucy Cousins, Polly Dunbar, Martin Handford, Anthony Horowitz, Shirley Hughes, Jill Murphy, Helen Oxenbury, Mal Peet, Michael Rosen and Martin Waddell.
Many of the books published were favourites then and classics now, including Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy; Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. Perhaps most notably, the company launched Martin Handford’s Where's Wally? in 1987, which has sold over 43 million copies to date worldwide.
Founder Sebastian Walker passed away in 1991 but ensured that his spirit lived on in the company - thanks to him, Walker is wholly owned by its staff, authors and artists.
One of the notable successes of more recent years was the introduction of Anthony Horowitz’s teenage spy Alex Rider, which sold more than four million copies in the UK and Ireland, and over ten million worldwide.
McAleer talks of Walker's vision for the future: "We continue to be excited by the new: whether it's a new author, a new format we haven't explored before, like books with animated DVDs, or just a new way of doing things. That's why we established Walker Productions in 2007: to develop our characters and stories in other media ourselves.
“Over the years, many of our favourite characters and stories – Maisy and The Large Family to name two – now have second lives on TV, while Alex Rider leapt onto the big screen with Stormbreaker the movie. At Walker Productions we’re working with a range of world-class producers and animators, bringing books to life and creating environments in which yet more stories can unfold. We already have two series in development – and many more to follow.
“It's all very exciting - and thoroughly grown up. We are really excited to be taking a stand at Brand Licensing Europe this autumn for the first time. We will be hosting licensee summits for our existing and potential licensees and working closely with our marketing and PR team to building profile for our brands and our company throughout the year."