Trade and Reference

Despite ongoing pandemic and supply chain challenges, our Trade and Reference activities did well, particularly in children’s fiction and school dictionaries. We found new ways to support parents and home learning, shone a new spotlight on the breadth of the English language, and won high-profile media coverage with our UK Oxford Children’s Word of the Year.

A solid year for children’s fiction and dictionaries

Children’s fiction saw some impressive growth:

  • Jodie Lancet-Grant’s debut picture book, The Pirate Mums, exceeded expectations with over 10,000 copies sold.
  • Two of our Mirabelle books more than doubled their sales forecasts, selling upwards of 20,000 copies each, and three Isadora Moon titles achieved combined sales in excess of 60,000.

Our school dictionary and thesaurus also had a very successful year, beating forecasts by more than 150 per cent. Meanwhile, our 2021 UK Oxford Children’s Word of the Year—‘Anxiety’— resulted in extensive international media coverage.

New opportunities in digital

Digital formats continued to enable us to build new kinds of learning experiences, from adaptive learning to augmented reality.

We also saw major growth in digital assessment in the wake of the pandemic. For example, our 11+ test preparation service Bond Online achieved 800,000 visitors.

There was a similar picture in online reference: Oxford Bibliographies Online grew 30 per cent, and Oxford Research Encyclopaedias 46 per cent. Reference was particularly strong in India and South-East Asia, with a high increase in sales (80%).

Supporting learning at home

We are proud to be supporting families learning at home in all kinds of ways.

Our free Oxford Owl for Home service gave families a huge range of resources to support home learning, and achieved high engagement throughout the year, with more than half a million visitors every month.

Meanwhile, our Gift of Words campaign reaffirmed the importance of reading at home, and challenged us to support families in new ways.

Breaking new ground

The launch of the OED Varieties of English page was one of the highlights of the year. With 1.75 billion speakers across the world, the English language is more diverse than ever. Varieties of English charts that diversity, with free articles, webinars, teaching resources, and pronunciation information. More than 1,000 people registered for the Language Prejudice webinar we hosted to launch the new site.

The success of Jodie Lancet-Grant’s The Pirate Mums extended beyond sales results; it was read by Sue Perkins as a CBeebies Bedtime Story—the first time a story about a child with two mums had been chosen. Meanwhile the Marv series written by Alex Falase-Koya, a black author, featuring a black protagonist, has led to an important conversation around inclusive publishing.

We also launched a children’s version of the Very Short Introductions series with the series Very Short Introductions for Curious Minds.

Many titles across our Trade & Reference portfolio won prizes this year, most notably the Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. As well as selling 24,000 copies and receiving positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times, it won the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal for Excellence in Reference—reference publishing’s most prestigious prize.


languages that our early childhood and home education products are available in


copies sold of Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails


visitors monthly on Owl for Home

Case studies

Buzz around the Children’s Word of the Year

Reflecting diversity through picture books