Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
5 mins read

How one UK publisher successfully launched in China

Founded in 2014, Storytime is a printed magazine and digital publisher based in south London. Ranked by the Guardian as one of the top five magazines for children, the brand has remained true to its core values since launch, focusing on heartwarming children’s stories, fables and fairy tales.

A big component of the magazine’s success has been its emphasis on vivid imagery and original illustrations to accompany each of its 3-8 page stories, as well as a suite of creative add-ons in the form of downloadable arts and craft material.

The publisher has also recently branched out into audio, converting its entire back catalogue of magazines and stories into audio versions – 700 stories in total – that it has made available on its online Storytime hub, fully searchable by theme or topic, for parents and children to access.

Storytime has two main audiences – parents, who buy the magazine to read and share with their children, and schools, who buy the magazines in bulk for classroom use. Licensing of content is also an important revenue stream, with Storytime’s illustrated tales available to third parties for story treasuries, textbooks, story apps, etc.

Fast forward to 2021 and the publisher has now launched a Chinese language version, partnering with a publisher who has successfully launched Chinese versions of US children’s magazines. WNIP caught up with Leslie Coathup and Lulu Skantze, Publishers and Directors of Storytime, to find out more.

WNIP: Can you give us some background to your launch in China?

Leslie Coathup: We always created Storytime with a global audience in mind – we have an international creative team selecting, writing and illustrating all of our stories. This has gone hand in hand with an active licensing programme which has developed further as we’ve grown in readership, international reach and more companies have become aware of us.

Celebrating the wonderful diversity of tales from around the world is a core part of who we are.

Leslie Coathup, Publisher and Director of Storytime

WNIP: Did you make a strategic decision to expand into China?

Leslie Coathup: As more companies have become aware of us, we’ve been approached by more prospective partners. The approach from Muse Future – our partner in China – came completely out of the blue and was a wonderful surprise.

We’d received enquiries from publishers in China before, yet it’s never quite worked out – by contrast, Muse had a solid business plan, and they’ve already successfully launched some well-known, respected US children’s titles in China – they know the Chinese children’s market well so they were a good fit for us.

Creating audio versions of every story in our back catalogue has been hugely appealing to prospective licensors, particularly where English is an additional language.

Leslie Coathup, Publisher and Director of Storytime

WNIP: Who ‘manages’ the Chinese edition – is it wholly managed by Muse?

Lulu Skantze: We share the files but they manage the entire process with regards to translating and creating – however, we approve each edition before going to print. So far we have not encountered any censorship of our content whatsoever, but Muse do tailor each issue to their audience, and have freedom to change the stories and move them around. All our illustrations so far have been approved. It’s been quite a seamless process.

Our partners in China know their market really well and what they wanted to create, so it was no different from most licensing deals we have done before – and we are really pleased with the first issue.

Lulu Skantze, Publisher and Director of Storytime

WNIP: Was creating a Chinese issue a lot of extra work for your team?

Lulu Skantze: It certainly takes some work to share your entire catalogue and help your business partner choose the right content to launch the product. There were a few emails and calls, to understand the product, the market and the appeal, and work on the format they wanted – but we were able to give Muse access to our full catalogue digitally, which makes the process much smoother.

Because of our vast catalogue, it should not be a problem if our licensee partners decide not to publish a particular story.

Lulu Skantze, Publisher and Director of Storytime

WNIP: Will you now be running a few more Chinese myths and stories generally?

Lulu Skantze: We have always included Chinese stories in Storytime because it’s a very culturally rich country. Around the World Tales is our most loved section and we ensure it’s diverse and includes many Asian stories – not only Chinese of course. Our Chinese partners have not requested more Chinese content – they are interested in the diversity of the content and stories from other cultures, in particular our real-life tales and many of our fairy tales too. The appeal is more on the variety of the content and the educational value of these stories.

WNIP: What advice would you give to other publishers looking to move into China?

Leslie Coathup: You need to make sure you create content that appeals to an international audience and would work well there because it’s inclusive and varied.

Publishers also need to remember that their title is unlikely to be used in exactly the same format as a UK or US version, so ideally it is worth having extra content to allow the product to be shaped to suit. Storytime in China will have extra pages and the audio content was a great plus for them and will be an integral part of the offering.

The Chinese market is very fast paced and may require a lot of extra promotional materials and digital content.

Leslie Coathup, Publisher and Director of Storytime

It helps that our licensee partner already worked with a few like-minded magazine publishers in Europe and the U.S., so it was easier to discuss terms and processes with them as they were already in place. Our experience of publishing in Singapore and their experience with European partners meant we both had realistic expectations and we met in the middle.

We would also advise if any prospective licensor does contact you, to always ask for a solid business plan. Unless the project makes financial sense for them it’ll never get off the ground – so make sure they don’t have unrealistic expectations before they launch. We also look for prior experience in launching a successful children’s title, subscription management and—depending on the territory—a strong distribution network to schools as that’s a key audience for us internationally.

I first came across Storytime in 2018. The illustration on the cover was beautiful, and the magazine was not only attractive on the outside but also had so much inside….my little boy loved it as much as I did, and I felt eager to introduce Storytime into China and share it with all the other Chinese children immediately!

Ji Rongchang, Editor in Chief & CEO, Muse Future

WNIP: Thank you and good luck with your Chinese edition.