Some Thoughts on Usborne

Later, a post will go up about a particular Usborne book I’ve decided to review.  But before that goes live, I thought readers of this blog might benefit from a brief background on Usborne.  In the USA at least (it might differ elsewhere), Usborne is a direct-sales company focusing on children’s books and related items such as puzzles, notebooks, etc.  They were originally known among teachers for having long lists of child-friendly internet links to back up every book.  Of course, with the nature of the internet getting better known and the passage of time, those printed lists no longer had the same value, and they are not a major part of Usborne’s marketing these days.

Usborne has a long history of being sold through company representatives, which is part of why I haven’t reviewed too many of their books.  However, it’s now possible to purchase through their website (where you will be assigned a consultant), buy select titles new through bookstores, find almost any title used, or buy them through Amazon (although I think those purchases are not endorsed by the company).  Basically, Usborne has gained enough traction that it’s possible to get the more popular titles even without going to a sales party or knowing a consultant.

How do people here in the USA feel about Usborne?  It seems to depend a lot on who you know.  Some salespeople can be very pushy, and some of the “parties” are high-pressure, relying on leveraging interpersonal connections to drive sales.  Other consultants are annoyingly perky (not every book published will be a favorite or best-seller) or misinformed about the products.  I’ve known people who denounce it as a pyramid scheme, but I’ve also known many consultants who seemed quite happy and didn’t lay on a guilt trip about purchasing.

Usborne, however, has a major challenge which is diversity.  Their new book ideas and their artwork and writing is mainly done in-house, and the core Usborne team is mainly white:

It’s further complicated in the US by the fact that here Usborne and Kane Miller imprints are sold together under the Usborne Books and More title.  Kane Miller seems to have a slightly better track record with diverse, or at least international authors.  They’ve brought the Anna Hibiscus series to the USA, and while I don’t like the cover remake, I’m glad to be able to continue reading the story.

To be fair, many of their titles are nonfiction which don’t include humans, or animal books for little kids.  Compared to say, Scholastic, they at least aren’t known for publishing or promoting books that outright harm any particular group.  But Usborne has a long way to go on diversity.  In America, that plays out in both the sales model and the consultants.  I’m sure there are POC selling Usborne books in America, but in my experience, the sellers I’ve met have been white with the exception of one Hispanic consultant.  The company does use human translators which makes their foreign language materials more reliable, or so I’ve heard.

The books are sturdy and frequently beautiful but also priced to match.  Obtaining Usborne books means not only that one must have disposable income for children’s books, but also a steady address (since books are mailed to you) and access to either a consultant or internet access and a card to place an online order.  While Usborne has lovely book fairs, Scholastic will continue to have the school market on lockdown.

Are you familiar with Usborne?  I’m especially curious about how it works and is perceived in other countries.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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