Claus Runge is a firm believer in what he calls ‘the first philosophy of Ravensburger, which is based on good ideas, not specifically good books or good anything else.’
Runge, managing director of the book division, is in charge of a company that ranks as the number one publisher of children’s books in Germany and is the publisher of the most popular kids pocketbook series in Europe.
Ravensburger’s book division has a list of 1,500 titles in total, half of which are born out of his department and then commissioned to authors and illustrators. The other half are culled from the international marketplace. It’s a business that is focused at home, but that sees almost 50 percent of its turnover through foreign sales and exports. ‘It’s at the national end that we earn money,’ says Runge, ‘but to get ideas, you have to travel internationally and translate them for the [individual] markets.’
Ravensburger got its start in 1883 when Otto Robert Maier signed his first deal to publish
a pattern folder for
architecture and craftsmanship. Things have changed a lot since then, but Runge sees a thread that dates way back: ‘Ideas again: good ones.’
Runge and his staff travel the world each year, visiting the children’s book publishing fairs at Bologna and Frankfurt in search of new concepts, and he has his sights set on the United States as a market to explore more aggressively.
‘For the whole group, the most important growth will be in other countries and especially in the U.S., where we now have a small distribution company that handles only games.’
Runge anticipates that as the company’s brand name gains more notice in new markets via its new media subsidiary, it should help his plans of expansion for the books division, especially in the United States. Runge is often working on this bilateral plane, planning for new and traditional forms of storytelling at the same time. In fact, it’s part of his job as managing director of the new multimedia division, Ravensburger Interactive.
‘The companies operate independently,’ he says of the five subsidiaries that make up the holding company Ravensburger AG, ‘but we all are informed about what the other divisions are doing so the ideas can be shared.’
One project in the works in the new media division is an example of how Ravensburger product often finds expansion through its sister operations. The award-winning CD-ROM on sex education for teenagers, Do Not Disturb, is based on the Ravensburger book Sexual Education.
In the 18 years Runge has been with Ravensburger AG, he has seen a good deal of change in the children’s book publishing industry. The global marketplace has altered children’s expectations substantially, especially through other media, such as television, interactive media and magazines. Together, these new forms of storytelling have effectively shortened the attention span of children in general, he says. ‘Now, all books for
children have to be illustrated in color and in bright colors. Typesetting must be bigger and books must be shorter with short sentences,’ he says. These are elements that are easily adapted to, and Runge says Ravensburger has been a leader in keeping abreast of trends.
Although the book division is consistently in the black, Runge is the first to acknowledge it is by no means the major source of profit for the company. He won’t say what percentage it accounts for, but he d’es say board games hold that title. Runge says, however, that books hold an unchallenged position at Ravensburger. ‘Books are the foundation for so much media, and I believe that [will apply] in the future. Books will always be the first media.’ His immediate plans are to ensure his division retains its number one status in children’s book publishing in Germany. Beyond that, ‘I want to see that the future of book publishing remains a very stable element in our company. I also want to see it grow internationally and,’ he laughs, ‘to continue to earn money every year.’