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Penguin Rides the Wave

Penguin Rides the Wave
Please tell License! Global readers your story and how Penguin has evolved thus far. When I joined Penguin, it was already doing well. It had acquired Peppa Pig, the BBC joint venture was coming into its own with brands

Please tell License! Global readers your story and how Penguin has evolved thus far.

When I joined Penguin, it was already doing well. It had acquired Peppa Pig, the BBC joint venture was coming into its own with brands like Doctor Who and the licensing portfolio was being built from scratch. Then we acquired Club Penguin and I realized that interactive was going to be very exciting. We chose Club Penguin because it existed entirely online; it was the beginning of this "new wave" of publishing. Then we did the deals for Moshi Monsters and Made in Me.

Are the classic business models changing as this "new wave" of publishing takes hold?

Yes. Some of the major publishing deals done 10 years ago could never happen now. They are too big. Now, it's more about joint venture and collaboration, especially if done with start-up companies. Our editors and designers, for example, feel like they are part of Moshi Monsters or Entertainment One and they do have to contribute. We're trying to carry that through to how we work with other partners and authors. With Made in Me, for example, we are investing and brand building because we believe in story telling on the Internet.

What do you mean by "story telling on the Internet?"

As well as working for tablets and apps (we made five times as many apps this year than last year), I'm a firm believer that the Internet is underexploited in terms of narrative for publishers. Everyone has the Internet so it's more universal than an app. It allows us to talk directly to consumers and be more audacious, more direct. And we aren't limited by third party distributors.

Can the tablet replace the traditional children's book?

A year ago there was no iPad but now everything we do is focused on the iPad or other tablets. They allow us to do away with all the practical constraints of the way books are made. And we're talking to a generation of kids that has always had a touch screen. I don't think the picture book should become a DVD, but it can become more than just looking and reading on a tablet, more of a shared experience for children. Take activity books, for example. We could be more environmental and move these across to tablets completely.

Do you think of yourself as a publishing person or a licensing person?

I do always think of myself as a licensing person. And as a publisher, we think of our biggest competitors as Disney, Nick, Nintendo, etc., rather than the other publishers. We need to think more like them. And fortunately Pearson is a visionary company.

How do your classic properties like Beatrix Potter fit into this new wave of publishing?

The Frederick Warne properties, like Beatrix Potter, were created in the last century but are relevant now. What was great and beautiful and old is clashing with the high tech and the new, and this is a great moment for them.

What are your plans for the next six months?

Every category is growing for us. The next six months is also about licensing out for brands like Made in Me, Spot and a few others that we will announce shortly. We also have to make our apps an everyday thing. We are looking for new acquisitions. We are now acquiring story rights and then asking, "what makes sense for this brand?" It's a very exciting time to be in kids publishing. Yes we're still learning. We make mistakes but we make them fast.

Children's publishing is in a state of flux as old world companies meet new world content and re-configure their products to appeal to a generation born to touch screen technology. Penguin's media and entertainment division is at the forefront of the new wave of kids' publishing, thanks in part to its smart deals with Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters, two of the most successful virtual worlds for kids yet. At the head of the division is Eric Huang. Huang joined Penguin in London in 2006 after holding previous roles with Disney Publishing (U.S.), Penguin Australia, Funtastic and Parragon. When he joined the Pearson-owned company, it had a clear ambition to become the No. 1 licensing publisher. That was five years ago and, as he says, "no one expected the future to look like this."

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