Publishing Focus Part Five – Nosy Crow

When speaking to the guys at One Third Stories for a previous Publishing Focus feature, they mentioned Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow as one of their primary inspirations. We wanted to know a little more about one of the UK’s most celebrated independent publishing houses, so we made contact with Nosy Crow’s Business Development Manager and Commissioning Editor, Tom Bonnick.
We asked him a few questions about what makes them tick, and how Nosy Crow has become so successful in a relatively short space of time.
Hi Tom, thank you for speaking to us. First off, could you tell us a little about Nosy Crow and what sets you apart from other publishers?
Nosy Crow is an independent children’s publisher based in London. We began publishing books and apps in January 2011, and although we’re small, we’re fast-growing and multi-award-winning: we’re currently the 15th biggest publisher of children’s books in the UK (after just 5 years), and were named Children’s Publisher of the Year and Independent Publisher of the Year at the 2016 IPG Independent Publishing Awards.
Our traditional print publishing output represents the overwhelming majority of our list, but we’ve become especially well known for our work in the digital space, and in particular for our apps. We have a small, in-house app development team working full time on these products, and that’s certainly one of the things that sets us apart from other publishers (particularly ones of a similar size).
How would you say you’ve adapted to the digital revolution?
In some ways, we are lucky in that we’ve never had to “adapt” to the digital revolution: the company was founded in 2010, and we began publishing in 2011, and so the founders were able to build a company that was digital-ready from day one, with all of the right skills and expertise to take advantage of the opportunities that digital publishing offered.
You mentioned your in-house app development team. How important is your apps portfolio to your offering?
Although the apps make up a small proportion of our overall list, they’re hugely important for a number of reasons. From a business point of view, they have contributed immensely to our reputation as an innovative, forward-thinking company, and we’ve won a number of awards for our digital publishing programme. That brand-building element has been particularly valuable for a company as new as Nosy Crow – in a very short space of time, we have created a name and carved a space for ourselves alongside much larger, older, and more established companies.
And of course the apps have great intrinsic value, too. They are absolutely incredible products – our fairytale story apps are some of the very best interactive digital reading experiences available for children on any platform, I think. We learn a great deal in the process of making them, and that knowledge has informed not only how we make the next app, but also how we think about print publishing, too – the experience of creating print and digital products side by side gives an invaluable perspective on the unique merits of each format.
What advice would you give to other publishers when thinking of an app publishing strategy?
Treat your print and digital lists separately – don’t make the mistake of trying to squash a book onto a smartphone or tablet.
In 2010 and 2011, when apps were a new format for most publishing companies – and mistakenly seen by many as a sort of road to riches – we saw a lot of products that were pretty uninspiring and unimaginative. Every large publishing house felt that they needed to have an app strategy and to “make an app” for their lead titles. Typically those apps were being made by outside agencies (at great expense…) who didn’t always have the right set of skills to make a truly great reading experience. The result was a lot of perfectly good books being made into not particularly good apps, which, as well not being terribly satisfying to use, didn’t come close to recouping their development costs… and subsequently putting off many of those publishing companies from seriously investing or experimenting any further in apps as a format.
We were a brand new publishing company in 2011, and we didn’t have a backlist – we didn’t have books that we could turn into apps. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to create truly exciting digital reading experiences that really took advantage of the technological potential of devices like the iPad, and so we created stories that were designed specifically for the format. That approach, and the fact that we were making the apps ourselves, in-house, is what defines our app publishing strategy, I think.
You take a very diverse approach, even offering toys and gifts to customers. What’s the thinking behind this?
Well, in general terms, expanding book properties into other areas like toys and gifts is a well-trodden path, and there are very obvious reasons for following it: building a book brand, expanding the universe of a particular series or set of characters, deepening the relationship between readers and a book, and so on.
We re-launched our website in 2015 with a new e-commerce platform, and we knew that building a successful direct to consumer strategy would rely on being able to demonstrate a unique offering. For us, that has included exclusive product lines – we sell things like signed, limited edition illustration prints of artwork taken from our picture books, Nosy Crow-branded merchandise (like mugs and babygros), and signed books – that we hope will give consumers a reason to visit our website and buy something from us.
What would you say the main challenges are for Nosy Crow as a publishing house?
For Nosy Crow specifically, I would say the issues that surround managing growth. We are a fast-growing company, and as a result we face challenges that range from the prosaic (like the ever-shrinking amount of available space in our now very-cluttered office) to the cultural (having to transition from being a company which didn’t require a great number of meetings or systems in place to get things done to one that increasingly does), and so on. We have more ideas for books than we are able to physically produce, simply because keeping up with the pace of growth can be so difficult.
What have been the most rewarding moments so far?
This year alone, two things that immediately spring to mind are being named Children’s Publisher of the Year and Independent Publisher of the Year, and winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for the debut novel My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons.
Great inspiration for other startup publishers, but what advice would you give to give to them in today’s world?
Play to your strengths. There are, of course, plenty of ways in which small startups cannot easily compete with larger corporates, but there are at least an equal number of ways in which the opposite is true. As a small independent, we are able to act quickly, to take risks, to be flexible, to speak freely as ourselves, to experiment, and more besides.
A massive thanks to Tom for speaking to Ribbonfish. You can learn more about Nosy Crow on their website. You can follow Kate Wilson’s Nosy Crow account on Twitter here, or follow Tom himself.
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