Should we all be Rapscallions now?

It’s a truism that the future of retail is mobile, that its multichannel and that consumers (and their needs and wants) are the key criteria for success. But what does that really mean to the average business?

If you’re a leading global brand and/or have deep pockets, then there is room for trial, testing and great technology. But what do you do if you’re starting out and you’re not a tech start-up with a potential unicorn future? Well the Ecommerce Club set out to find out and in the process came across a new publishing venture, operating on and offline, with a small presence in mobile – but it’s a small business with big ambition.

Rapscallion Press plans on bypassing traditional publishing models and going straight to the consumer – an opportunity only provided by the development of digital platforms. Its founders have agreed to let us join them on their journey over the next year, to find out what works, what doesn’t and really get to the bottom of what help a growing business needs.

Over the next few months one of the founders, Rhian Sellier, will be talking in depth to the Club about their experiences, their highs and lows, their successes and failures. We welcome Club Members thoughts and suggestions, and the team have agreed to assess each suggestion and either implement it or talk through their reasons for not going that route.

Who are Rapscallion Press?

We’re a recently launched publisher of children’s adventure stories, who believe that today it is ever more important for people to learn to live together, to be tolerant of other’s beliefs and to be creative, independent and compassionate thinkers. Our vision is rooted in the idea that children are far more open to information and challenging questions than most people give them credit for. We want every child in every part of the world to learn to think for themselves.

At Rapscallion Press we believe that the best way to do this is to challenge young children to start thinking for themselves and questioning the status quo. We do this by creating narratives to explore some of the world’s BIGGEST questions: from how was the world made, to who made you the boss and why do bad things happen? We’re starting small, with our first few books in the UK and we want to ensure that children have access to tools that help them look beyond what they’re told and engage with the biggest questions that affect everyone.

And it’s about more than simply selling books. For example, through our partnership with educational charity SAPERE, we gave away over 500 books to UK primary schools, with the book being the first ever officially recommended for use in the practice of Philosophy with Children.  So I suppose we could say that we’re a for-profit enterprise with ambitious non-profit goals.

Last year we were thrilled to be asked to run workshops fostering tolerance in primary schools using our first book Journey to the Beginning of the World, as part of Islington Council ‘s community cohesion initiative. They described Journey as “a powerful new resource with a message of tolerance of other people’s beliefs”.

As the old saying goes, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. That doesn’t mean that educational intervention at other ages isn’t vital, it simply suggests that if we want to raise a generation of open-minded, flexible thinkers with stronger abilities in basic life skills, we might want to start with the little ones.

Why did you decide to launch a publishing business?

It may seem strange that we’re going into a paper medium when the world seems to be going digital but our mission is to change the way in which children learn to think about the world.

We also believe that publishing needs a new paradigm. Margins are now so squeezed that companies must find new ways to explore potential markets. We believe in the story, and see ourselves as content creators first and foremost. What matters is that the content is exciting, challenging and thought-provoking, while accessible to a small child. We work with subject matter experts to ensure that our facts are straight – even if for some of the science questions things aren’t facts but rather hypotheses.

We think that means finding different and cross channel ways of engaging with them – in the end it’s about storytelling and how stories shape our world. At primary school level, that’s often at school, or when parents are reading with their kids. We recognise that children’s media all seems to be about games and apps and we’re not saying we’re avoiding that – but what we are saying is that our ideas are all rooted in the art of storytelling, however that may play out.

We have looked at developing apps but at the moment they seem most useful for learning facts, or guiding people to or through things, or managing data. Finding a way to be truly engaging while commercially viable is still a step away.

Why did you agree to take part in the column given the level of scrutiny?

Our ethos is based on transparency, encouraging thought and questioning the status quo – how could we be true to what we say if that’s not what we do? That in itself should prove interesting as the publishing industry is often somewhat opaque to outsiders.

We know that we have a lot to learn, even if we have been incredibly fortunate with the help and support that we’ve been given so far. But taking this approach means that we get to be transparent about what we’re doing. In a world increasingly complicated by disintermediation, globalised brands and a need for constant stimulation, we’re interested in how we can marry the best of old-fashioned personal attention with the benefits of today’s technology. It’s an opportunity to constantly assess the channels available and discuss their impact with experts, rather than simply leaping in because something is fashionable.

We also think that it’s important to record the story of our business. We feel on the verge of something amazing and, after all, above everything else we’re storytellers.

Disclaimer: The interviewer is a member of the RP team