Albert Whitman repairs relationships and goes multimedia
Albert Whitman & Company, better known as the publisher of the Boxcar Children series, has undergone a transformation in the past six months. The 102-year-old Chicagoland publisher is entering the digital media market with the launch of Albert Whitman Media and is also expanding its workforce in writing, sales and marketing. Executives also implemented new procedures designed to improve the strained relationship between AW&C and its authors and illustrators who PW reported last November, when a number of writers and literary agents publicly stated a series of issues they had encountered while working with the publisher.
On a recent conference call, President John Quattrocchi noted that the complaints filed “have been helpful to us and we have been working internally to focus on resolving the issues.” He claimed that all royalty payments are up to date.
Senior Marketing Director Tom MacDonald added that AW&C “remains committed to this path going forward.” He said AW&C is striving for more transparency in its dealings with authors and agents by forming an “accountability team”. The group, led by him, includes representatives from the marketing, editorial and operations / accounting departments. It meets every two weeks to discuss “all aspects of contributor care” and to monitor AW & C’s new help desk.
In the first quarter of 2021, the team answered more than 60 questions, ranging from questions about royalties to changes of address, MacDonald said. He also created a quarterly newsletter for authors and illustrators that answers potential questions and shares new company initiatives.
“Our royalty statements are not as clear as they should be,” Quattrocchi admitted. To resolve the issue, he said the publisher sent a sample royalty statement to authors, illustrators, and agents explaining what each component is. The fake statement was also published in the company’s newsletter. The comments received by AW&C are “all positive”, he added.
More than a dozen authors and agents PW recently interviewed confirmed that their royalty payments were up to date and that communication had improved significantly over the past six months. Still, given previous issues with the company, nearly all of them are cautious in their optimism. “Have things improved? This is a difficult question to answer, ”said one author, noting that she had received a scheduled payment on time since November. PW the story ran, but it was hard to discount all the late payments that had been made in the past.
A boutique agency manager said that a recent conversation with two executives from AW&C was “mostly direct and open about information that I have struggled to get in the past.” She added: “It was a good development. I will of course be keeping a keen eye on the future, but what a relief to just have an open line of communication. “
Umair Kazi, director of policy and advocacy at the Authors Guild, confirmed that the organization had not received any new complaints about delays in filing or royalty payments, “which were the two biggest concerns.” He added: “I think it’s fair to say that the collective voice of the authors has prompted them to be more attentive, at least for now.”
Several authors and agents were concerned about what they said was a persistent lack of transparency regarding sub-rights and licenses, and Kazi confirmed that he was working to obtain overseas sales data for a member. Others have argued that AW & C’s accounting policies are a major source of problems. AW&C “is the only publisher I have worked with in my nearly 30 years in business that does not pay with the statement for this royalty period,” said an agent. “There is still a six-month difference between the statement and the payment. “
Quattrocchi disputed this, explaining that AW & C’s royalty statements “come out 45 days after the six-month period and are then paid 90 days after that.” He added: “We should radically change our payment system at the time of royalty reporting. The AW&C terms “were set for a reason,” he explained, noting that the publisher uses its frontline income to pay royalties. “We haven’t changed our conditions for 75 years. If someone has read the contract and signed the contract and hasn’t had a problem with it, I don’t know why it’s becoming a problem.
MacDonald noted, “We understand that there are things that need to be changed. We are not done making changes. We are open to inquiries and suggestions from authors, illustrators and agents. We try to do our best. “
Albert Whitman Media launches
AW & C’s efforts to improve relationships with the creative community coincide with the publisher’s expansion into digital media and education technologies through the launch of Albert Whitman Media. Quattrocchi said the creation of AWM was intended to take advantage of the media rights that the publisher controls to “a huge list of high-quality books” and to ensure that they “can control the process” of content development. digital based on his books. The new company is headed by Attila Gazdag, an entertainment media and educational technology manager in Los Angeles who worked for Disney, Warner Bros. and Age of Learning / ABCmouse.
“We are well suited to provide interactive applications and platforms that allow children and families to experience books in a digital format,” Gazdag said. The goal is to “stream to their devices and computers in a way that effectively provides an additional reading comprehension solution.” After all, he added, “this is where the kids have a decent time: streaming or interactive stuff.
AWM debuts this fall with a subscription-based digital reading app designed as an additional educational resource for families as well as teachers and librarians. The app is aligned with Common Core reading standards, and its content, curated by education experts, will feature “hundreds” of AW&C books that have been enhanced with professional animation and voiceovers, according to Gazdag. Mini-games and other interactive elements complete the set.
Describing the classic Boxcar Children series as the “crown jewel” of AW & C’s portfolio, Gazdag predicts that it will become the backbone of AWM’s efforts due to the possible “endless stories” for the adaptation. There are approximately 170 titles in the series, which was created by Gertrude Chandler Warner and which AW&C began publishing in 1942.
Gazdag said AWM is working with several writers and a Hollywood creative studio to produce a live adaptation of the Boxcar Children books. The project will be presented to television networks and streaming platforms “in the coming months”, with the aim of developing something that will appeal to adults and children. A Boxcar Children podcast series that will include music and narration is also in development. And AWM is pursuing Boxcar Children merchandising opportunities.
With an AW&C catalog that features more than 1,000 classic and contemporary children’s books, AWM will also carry out other projects, Gazdag said. For example, AWM is teaming up with another studio to produce an animated series based on the Zapato Power books by Jacqueline Jules, about Freddie Ramos, an ordinary boy with shoes that turn him into a superhero.
“We have laid the groundwork,” Gazdag said. “We plan to make announcements on upcoming shows in the coming months. He also noted that the production cycle for these projects can take up to two years.
Quattrocchi described the formation of AWM as “a natural extension” of AW & C’s mission, but stressed that the company will remain focused on publishing quality children’s books as it moves into the media market. digital. “We are a publisher of children’s books,” he said. “That will never change. Now, we’re just expanding it to these other areas, the digital areas, where the kids are anyway. “
A version of this article appeared in the 05/07/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under the title: Whitman repairs relationships and goes digital media