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“An unusual approach for the book industry”

Thilo Schmid, Geschäftsführer Verlagsgruppe Oetinger

© Jörg Schwalfenberg

From book to film to game … and vice versa! In almost no other segment of the publishing industry are stories and characters being developed and promoted as innovatively as in books for children and young adults. Time for an interview with Thilo Schmid, managing director at Verlagsgruppe Oetinger and award-winning publisher of the group’s migo imprint!

Mr Schmid, first of all: congratulations! You received the ICMA Award for creative media in recognition of migo, your group’s “project publisher”. The goal of migo is to address current topics in real time and across media – not just in books, but in entertainment, games and music as well. It sounds very innovative, but what are your publishing activities like on a practical level?

migo researches and activates trending topics based on what our target groups and like-minded customers are interested in. That means the publishing process starts with a broad analysis of current and coming expectations and a collaboration with the end customers who are expected to buy the product or book and – very important – with their children. That allows us to respond to trending topics for children and the entire family by using all the advantages strong brands offer to strategically develop products that have the potential to become longsellers. If we are to react flexibly, we need much faster workflows on all levels of production, marketing and sales. Without a doubt, this is still an unusual approach in the book industry, but it’s one that will ultimately prevail.

With HeldenstückeLIVE, you are offering paid online readings by your authors. What do you and your authors expect from these events?

Authors have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, since readings and events provide them with a large share of their earnings. By organising HeldenstückeLIVE, we want to give them the opportunity to generate income. The idea behind the platform is to assign a fair price to something inherently valuable, namely creative output.

As a publishing house, we have to try new things, which is true of all other event organisers as well. Paid events, both digital and hybrid, have become an important source of income and they will become even more important after the pandemic. HeldenstückeLIVE offers attractive content for families in a safe, protected space. Here, too, we are taking a new approach while remaining well aware of our responsibility to families – and offering all interested creatives, not only those in our publishing group, a platform to generate visibility and income.

 Through Oetinger Corporate, you are a service provider for transmedia storytelling and merchandising for children’s media. I could license the character Benjamin the Elephant, for example, to create a personalised book for my customers. Aren’t you concerned that this could dilute the brand? And could you give a best-practice example of how the implementation works?

The service offered by Oetinger Corporate goes much further than just licensing an existing character for a personalised children’s book. We focus on the core of the relevant brand and, through the jointly developed products, offer many advantages for positioning, customer loyalty, customer acquisition and, of course, planned and impulse purchases. As an agency with a start-up mentality which is part of both a successful publishing group and, in the best sense, a traditional provider of content, we take all the necessary parameters and KPIs into account. So it’s not about diluting the brand, but about a very targeted solution based on extensive expertise – one that closely reflects the taste of the customers in question and their own end customers. Prime examples are the hidden-object book we created for Hamburg’s University Clinic, the children’s book on the topic of finance for the German Bundesbank and the advent calendar for IKEA, whose digital contents were supplied by our organisation. There have been many other very successful collaborations, including the “Isar Detectives” created for Bavaria’s state government.

To take a look at the digital world’s near future: What challenges and opportunities will publishers of books for children and young adults face in coming years?

We are currently in an evolutionary process of digital transformation. That means we have to question, adapt and further develop everything we currently know – strategically, organisationally and technologically. As we do so, we have to decide which role we want to play in the future, what exactly our purpose, our task is – and, above all, which values connect and guide us.

I firmly believe we can contribute significantly to shaping life and the future on a personal and societal level if we think and act more sustainably and collaboratively, and if we succeed in creating relevant, dynamic spaces in which we can experience new things and interact with each other.

Thank you!

Interview conducted by Frank Krings, PR Manager at Frankfurter Buchmesse. It is part of Digital Cross Over - a cross sector project within the Creative Europe funding programme of the European Commission.