InBox Interview: Walden Media—Production Company Turned Publisher
Walden Media, previously a production company known mainly for its smash-hit “The Chronicles of Narnia,” recently delved into the book publishing industry. The company is partnering with Penguin Group USA to publish books for young adults. Debbie Kovacs, vice president of publishing for Walden Media, spent some time with Book Business Extra! discussing the company’s venture into books and expanding the Walden brand. Kovacs is responsible for Walden’s partnership with Penguin. She also maintains relationships with major U.S. and U.K. publishers whose books may be turned into films. She says her company is currently in the process of developing more than 20 books -- many of which include movie tie-ins. In the past, she’s founded her own publishing company (Turnstone Publishing Group), worked for Sesame Street and Scholastic, and authored a few children’s books.
Extra!: Walden Media took a unique path into publishing, in that the company made its name in filmmaking and just recently decided to create a publishing division. What went into the decision?
Kovacs: Our company’s projects have always been closely connected with the world of children’s literature, as we believe strongly that great films can encourage kids to read great books. Many of our films, both released and in production, are based on some of the best books in children’s literature -- including “Holes,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Hoot,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and many others. It is natural to us to extend our commitment to literature and literacy into a partnership that enables us to get involved with new properties from their initial manuscript stage.
Extra!: How big a role did the success of “Narnia” play in the decision to branch into publishing?
Kovacs: We began our partnership more than a year before the release of Narnia; the announcement came a long time after the work had begun.
Extra!: What resources did Walden need to acquire or create in order to have the staff, expertise, technology, business plan, etc. to be successful in this new pursuit?
Kovacs: Penguin and Walden established this partnership to be able to draw upon each company’s strengths. We work collaboratively to identify and secure projects. Our colleagues at Penguin provide editorial, manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution; we collaborate to develop collateral educational materials in print and on the Internet that extend awareness of our properties in the educational and library fields. We develop and produce film properties based on works we have jointly acquired, and also based on works in Penguin’s excellent frontlist and backlist. For example, we are excited to be developing a film based on “Heat” by Mike Lupica, a best-selling title that has just been released by Penguin’s Philomel imprint.
Extra!: What advice would you give to a small or mid-sized publishers just getting into the business?
Kovacs: Lead with your strength. Proactively seek to form complementary partnerships.