Over the past six months, toy maker Hasbro has been reconfiguring its global publishing strategy, internally creating long-term story arcs to ensure continuity among the various facets of its entertainment and publishing programs worldwide. The first examples of the new strategy in action are the books being released in conjunction with Hasbro's summer films Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, to be released on June 24, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, set for August 7.
The publishing efforts target children and adults and encompass prequel stories, tie-ins that retell the movie and original titles to carry the story forward. More than 20 publishers worldwide are on board, with 35 titles scheduled for North America alone. In the U.S. and Canada, licensees include Del Rey for adult novels for both franchises, as well as a G.I. Joe guide; Simon & Schuster for 11 G.I. Joe children's books; HarperCollins for nine Transformers children's books (adding to its existing Transformers program tied to the first film and the animated series); Reader's Digest for novelty titles; and Bendon for coloring and activity books. IDW will release comics and graphic novels for both films, building on the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra and Transformers Universe comics it introduced this spring. International publishers include Titan Publishing, Egmont Russia, Ice Water Press, Hemma, and Panini.
Michael Kelly, senior global publishing manager in Hasbro's entertainment and licensing division, explained that, under the old way of doing business, publishers in each country would come to Hasbro with ideas, the toy maker would review them for brand appropriateness, and the publishers would move forward. Sometimes, Kelly said, that would lead to characters doing contradictory things. “But now, we're taking the lead by controlling the story line and the continuity, so no character does anything out of context. A character who's in Paris in May couldn't also be on Jupiter in May.”
Kelly stressed that publishers still can tailor their books to their individual needs. “The idea is to give general plot lines and story arcs,” he said. “My job is to be part brand manager, part editor and part creative consultant.” Movie-based titles tend to be driven more by Hasbro's brand teams, while the classic Transformers and G.I. Joe titles are more collaborative. “We have a long, 20-year history of comic publishing,” Kelly noted. “We can't just walk away from the past, and we don't want to contradict what came before.”
Much of the content translates directly from country to country, but there are some differences. For example, IDW's comics are aimed at ages 15 and up in North America, but in the U.K. and Europe the fan base is younger, 10 to 15, and the content is adapted accordingly, while still remaining true to the property universe.
Hasbro's publishing director, Matt Gildea, pointed out that the publishing strategy for other Hasbro brands, including My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop, is taking a similar direction, with Hasbro assuming the lead, and the global brand team, licensing team and publishers collaborating to ensure consistency and continuity. “We're learning how to raise the bar on content and storytelling as we take our brands from the toy box to the book shelf on a global basis,” he said.