David Cadji-Newby used to get an email alert every time a copy of his personalised picture book was bought from his website. There would be just a few a day, until, shortly before Christmas in 2013, sales suddenly took off.
“My email was going ‘ping, ping, ping’, I thought it was broken. I was thinking ‘oh my God, what’s happening?’” said Cadji-Newby today. The book, a beautifully illustrated hardback which creates a personalised story around the letters of a child’s name, has now sold 500 000 copies to date, according to its publishers.
Not available on the high street or from Amazon, The Little Girl/Boy Who Lost Her/His Name sold 132 000 copies in the UK alone in 2014, says the publisher, more than Julia Donaldson’s hit picture book Superworm, making it the biggest-selling picture book of last year. And sales in the UK so far this year are already topping 20 000.
Cadji-Newby set up Hackney-based digital publishing start-up Lost My Name, the company behind the book, in 2012, with three others. “We all had day jobs,” he said. “[Co-founder] Asi [Sharabi] had this grand vision that we would sell 1 million copies, which seemed crazy to me, given that we were selling around 40 a month. But now we’re halfway to that figure.”
The idea for a better quality of personalised children’s books was Sharabi’s, says Cadji-Newby, after he was given one for his daughter. “He thought ‘this isn’t very good, but there’s something here which could be done well’ — something that wouldn’t just take up shelf space, and be cheap and gimmicky, but something with real creative value,” said the author. “We thought we could definitely do something better, [where] the name isn’t just dropped into the narrative … something that people would keep coming back to.”
The Little Girl/Boy Who Lost Her/His Name opens as a child wakes, to discover their name is missing from their wardrobe door. They then set off on a quest to find it, meeting bears, mermaids, narwhals and other creatures, depending on the letters which make up their name.
After a slow start, the title made it into a range of gift guides for Christmas 2013, and last summer, the founders went onto Dragons’ Den, where they secured a £100 000 investment for 4% of the company — the highest valuation in the show’s history.
The team now numbers 30, and ships books, printed on demand, to 136 countries. The books are offered in French, German and Spanish, as well as English, with more languages being added — and plans for a new title are also in the pipeline.
“It’s based around location rather than name,” said Cadji-Newby. “Kids really identify with reading books about themselves; the hope is this will turn them into readers from a really young age, so we want to keep bringing new books to the market.” – By Alison Flood
Image – Screengrab of www.lostmy.name