Article from the St. Louis Business Journal, published on October 10, 2019
2018 revenue: $18.45 million
2016-2018 change: 153.94%
The mission of Classroom Library Co. is simple: Get kids reading. CEO Benjamin Conn and his wife, co-founder and publisher Marla Conn, hope to extend that mission as far as possible.
When they started the company in 2011, it was a culmination of both of their lifelong passions. Benjamin Conn grew up in his family’s retail book business in Brooklyn, New York, while Marla spent 18 years in education as a reading specialist in nearby Queens, New York, before moving into publishing consulting.
A few years after moving to St. Louis, the couple decided to merge their interests and launch CLC. The company distributes books and other classroom resources to pre-K-12 school districts and other private retailers around the country.
The Conns planned to do big business from the beginning — when they launched operations in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse at the old Corvette plant on Union Boulevard. Over the past three years in particular, though, growth has picked up. CLC grossed $18.45 million in revenue in 2018, an increase of more than 150% from 2016. Though it began as a husband-and-wife team, the company now employs 30 people and expects to top $20 million in revenue this year.
That growth has been driven by the company’s unique approach. “There’s nobody really packaging or distributing these books in a way that the schools or customers can consume,” said Benjamin Conn. “We aggregate everything so there’s a really good user experience.”
When a school or entire district needs to update its curriculum, CLC’s representatives help it select the exact mix of materials needed to meet its specific goals along with state and national standards. As of this year, the company has added thousands of organizations to its roster. CLC works with private labeling for companies such as Barnes & Noble, providing books for deployed troops in the U.S. military, and with many school districts around North America.
The rapid growth is fueled by the Conns’ knowledge of the business and passion for the mission.
“It’s all bootstrap, meaning that we have no private equity, we have no big money behind us,” said Benjamin Conn. “We have Enterprise Bank who loans us money, we pay it back, we borrow it again and so on.”
This year, the company acquired Texas-based proprietary publisher Novel Units, which has provided CLC with its first opportunity to develop its own resources. While CLC currently sells single primary sources, say the novel “Catcher in the Rye,” Novel Units will enable the company to sell packages that include teacher guides and student packets along with the novels.
Year founded: 2011
Headquarters: North city
Number of local employees: 30
Top local executive: Benjamin Conn, CEO
K-12 solution offers educators access to differentiated teaching materials that build deep, meaningful connections to text for all students.
ST. LOUIS, Mo., Aug. 1, 2019 — Conn Education today announced it has acquired Novel Units, a K-12 solution created by teachers for teachers. A provider of educational materials and technology solutions to PreK-12 classrooms, learning centers and school districts in the United States, Conn Education acquired Novel Units from ECS Learning Systems.
Novel Units’ products provide lesson planning roadmaps for in-depth learning that enhance the reading experience for the student and teacher alike. The content contains high-interest material, clear objectives, and thought provoking activities that promotes student engagement, participation and critical thinking.
Benjamin Conn, CEO, Conn Education, and his wife, Marla Conn, who is an educational consultant and literacy specialist, said the acquisition was borne out of their familiarity with Novel Units and passion for supporting educators in the quest to spark students’ creativity, knowledge and curiosity.
“When the opportunity arose to acquire and relaunch this iconic brand, we moved quickly at the opportunity,” Benjamin Conn said. “Marla was a customer of Novel Units as a teacher in New York City, while for more than 20 years I have marketed and sold it as a distributor. We are excited to put our educational and distribution experiences together to enhance more than 1,000 titles that are core books in classrooms.”
Conn said Novel Units’ chapter-by-chapter guides incorporate research-based, higher-order reading, writing, and thinking activities. Student-centered discussion questions help teachers captivate students in a participatory dialogue about the novel’s literary elements, including plot, conflicts, themes, and character motivations.
In addition to Teacher Guides, Novel Units also provide Student Packets, which feature vocabulary strategies, content-rich study guides, quizzes, and character analysis. Critical-thinking challenges, including open ended writing prompts, and reading responses further foster comprehension of the text.
“We look forward to updating and boosting the content to reflect current trends in education and teaching practices,” Marla Conn said.
She added that a complete Novel Unit consists of a teacher guide, student workbooks, trade books, end-of-book assessment, and audio book. Graphic novels, Spanish editions, and large-print versions of titles are available as well.
“We will integrate Novel Units through our Classroom Library Company distribution platform and will make them available to existing customers, in addition to introducing the product to new market channels,” said Benjamin Conn, who added his company distributes books, directly to schools as well as through a select network of educational partners such as Pearson, School Specialty, Open Up Resources, and the US Military.
Sam Barnes, COO of ECS Learning, a publisher and distributor of teacher and student instructional materials, said he is confident Novel Units will be in excellent hands with Conn Education.
“Our partnership with Conn Education has shown us first hand its quality, integrity and passion, which perfectly aligns with our mission,” Barnes said. “We look forward to the renewed investment of Novel Units with Conn Education’s experience in the marketplace and its stellar, well-deserved reputation. We mutually share the same vision and we are beyond fortunate to be part of Conn Education’s expansion into this space.”
For more information about Conn Education, visit www.classroomlibrarycompany.com. For more information about Novel Units, visit www.novelunits.com.
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HarperCollins Children’s Books has announced plans to launch HarperAlley, a graphic novel imprint under the direction of Andrew Arnold, who has been named editorial director.
HarperAlley will release its first graphic novels in fall 2020. HarperAlley is described in a release as a “collaborative, creator-focused publisher” that will specialize in graphic novels for “readers of all ages.”
Read the full article on Publishers Weekly's website.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 2, 2019 - Highlights for Children and Kane Press announced today that Highlights for Children has sold Boyds Mills Press and its affiliated imprints, Calkins Creek and WordSong, to Kane Press. The new company will be known as Boyds Mills & Kane and will be headquartered in the Kane Press offices in New York City. The new ownership is effective immediately.
“I am overjoyed to welcome the Boyds Mills imprints into the Kane Press family,” says Kane Press Publisher, Juliana Lauletta. “As Boyds Mills & Kane, we are committed to working closely with our talented authors, illustrators, and agents, and to continuing our mission of creating amazing books for kids, young adults, and kids-at-heart.”
Boyds Mills Press was launched in 1990 by Kent Brown, grandson of the founders of Highlights, to add trade book publishing to the company’s portfolio. The decision by Highlights to sell the BMP imprints reflects an increased focus on its growing branded business. “BMP has been an important, vibrant part of the Highlights legacy of serving kids and families,” says Mary-Alice Moore, SVP, Publisher of the Highlights Retail Group. “But the expansion of our Highlights branded businesses—in publishing, licensing, digital, and international—means we are no longer able to devote the appropriate strategic attention and resources that the BMP books so richly deserve. We are heartened by Kane’s commitment to the long-term success of the books and authors and illustrators we love. Although we are sad to lose the BMP imprints from our portfolio, we are committed to the continued growth of our Highlights Press and Highlights Learning book imprints.”
Key BMP staff will move to the new company: Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor of Calkins Creek; Rebecca Davis, Senior Editor of BMP and WordSong; Barbara Grzeslo, Art Director; Kerry McManus, Marketing Manager; and Suzy Krogulski, Assistant Editor. “The chance to join Boyds Mills Press with Kane Press to create a single company focusing solely on book publishing was an incredible opportunity for us,” Lauletta says. “Our shared goals of compelling storytelling and wonderful artwork for both fiction and nonfiction books are at the center of our imprints’ Venn diagram and make this acquisition feel like a perfect fit.”
Echoing Lauletta’s statements, Leying Jiang, President of Kane Press, adds, “As part of the international publishing business under our parent company, Thinkingdom Media Group, we are particularly excited about the great opportunities of leveraging our unique resouces and taking Boyds Mills & Kane books into a broader market.”
With assets across five distinct imprints—Boyds Mills Press, Calkins Creek, Kane Press, StarBerry Books, and WordSong—the Boyds Mills & Kane library comprises nearly one thousand titles in print, many of which are recipients of starred reviews and prestigious awards and honors, including the Sibert Medal as well as Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and Geisel honors.
The new business entity’s name is Thinkingdom, Ltd., doing business as Boyds Mills & Kane. The company’s business operations will be overseen by President Leying Jiang, and Juliana Lauletta will serve as Publisher. Ordering information for all titles will remain the same.
Highlights was represented by Broadwater & Associates, an investment banking firm specializing in the media and information industries.
About Boyds Mills Press
Established in 1990, Boyds Mills Press publishes a wide range of high-quality fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers. Boyds Mills Press’s picture books, chapter books, novels, and nonfiction books focus on excellent storytelling, imaginative illustration, and strong characters. Authors and illustrators include Suzanne Bloom and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.
Calkins Creek, which celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2019, publishes nonfiction and historical fiction that introduces children to the many people, places, and events that have shaped U.S. history, presenting multiple points of view through original and extensive research. Calkins Creek authors include Sibert Medal–winner Larry Dane Brimner and Sibert Honor–winner Gail Jarrow. WordSong, established in 1990, is the only children’s imprint in the United States specifically dedicated to publishing poetry.
WordSong titles capture the vibrant, unexpected, and emotional connections between text and young readers. Some of the well-known poets who publish under the WordSong imprint include Nikki Grimes, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Jane Yolen.
Devoted to Fun with a Purpose for over 70 years, global media brand Highlights (www.highlights.com) has helped millions of children foster their creativity and become their best selves. Its magazine portfolio includes the flagship Highlights magazine; Highlights High Five; High Five Bilingüe, an English/Spanish version of High Five; and Highlights Hello. Its branded book publishing program launched in 2013 with Highlights Press and has expanded to include Highlights Learning with distribution by Penguin Random House.
About Kane Press
Founded in 1992 by Joanne Kane, Kane Press is an award-winning publisher of fiction and nonfiction books for children ages 2 to 11. Connecting great stories with educational content is the focus of all Kane Press books. Kane Press is proud to have received several Teachers’ Choice Awards as well as recommendations from the Parents’ Choice Foundation and ILA’s Children’s Choices Reading List, among others.
StarBerry Books was created in 2018 to encourage diversity and children’s natural curiosity with picture books created by authors and artists from all over the globe. StarBerry titles have garnered a Junior Library Guild selection, a Kirkus starred review, and inclusion in CBC/Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year list.
About Thinkingdom Media Group
Thinkingdom Media Group is the parent company of Thinkingdom, Ltd., dba Boyds Mills & Kane. TMG is a publicly traded publishing and media company headquartered in Beijing.
Leying Jiang, President
73 Peter Coutts Circle
Stanford, CA 94305
Tel: (650) 862-2566
Juliana Lauletta, Publisher
Boyds Mills & Kane
250 Park Ave., 7th Floor
New York, NY 10177
Tel: (646) 844-3485
Mary-Alice Moore, SVP, Publisher
Highlights for Children
815 Church Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
Tel: (570) 251-4520
Educational Book & Media Association is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
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