There's lots of news from last month’s Licensing Show and beyond: new Playskool books from Simon & Schuster, children’s books tied to Dean Koontz’s Trixie, a first license for Meadowbrook Press, a mass market book line for Bob the Builder, a Roald Dahl licensing program, an expansion of the Weekly Reader brand, and the first children’s books from the Save Our Seas Foundation.
Playskool Throughout the Day
One of the things that appealed to Simon & Schuster about its new Playskool license was the amount of demographic research licensor Hasbro was willing to share, according to Valerie Garfield, S&S v-p, publisher, novelty and licensed publishing. “They gave us a lot of good information about who buys Playskool and why they purchase, and we were able to develop the publishing plan from that,” she says. “The customers are busy moms, they shop in mass market channels, and they want items that are solutions-based.”
Each book focuses on a particular time of day. For example, five December titles will include one for stroller time (a book that clips on to the stroller), car time (a coloring book with a cardboard lap pad), and mealtime (a new format that includes 12 write-on, wipe-off placemats folded into a book cover, with blister-packed crayons attached).
The books will introduce a family of Playskool characters inspired by toys from the brand’s 80-year history, according to Bryony Bouyer, senior v-p licensing for the Americas, Hasbro Entertainment & Licensing. The characters also will appear on some toys, in marketing materials and on the Playskool Web site.
It’s Trixie Time
Dean Koontz’s book-writing golden retriever Trixie—whose third book for adults is being published by Hyperion in September and who has an audiobook in the works—will expand into picture books through a deal with Penguin, brokered by branding and development agency Broadthink. Proceeds from Trixie books support Canine Companions for Independence. Merchandise, potentially including pet supplies and children’s products, will follow. “We’re just looking at opportunities that make sense,” says Cynthia Cleveland, Broadthink co-founder. “World domination is not our goal.”
Broadthink has set up a Web site for Koontz, which features an online store with signed books and a small range of merchandise. Also on the site are Flash animations, avatars of series characters, podcasts, newsletters and sneak previews. The agency has assisted Koontz in developing videogames, graphic novels and comic books for some of his properties, including Odd Thomas, Frankenstein, Nevermore, Fear Nothing and Seize the Night.
Meadowbrook’s First License
Meadowbrook Press, a publisher best known for humorous children’s poetry books, has acquired its first license, the music-based CD/DVD brand Baby Genius, from the Joester-Loria Group. The first four board books will launch in spring 2009. “They sell millions of DVDs and CDs through Target and Wal-Mart, which gives them mass appeal,” says Meadowbrook’s publisher Bruce Lansky. “They’ve also sold hundreds of thousands of plush toys, which shows that people really like the characters.” The books will encourage movement, singing, laughing and learning, and will list the Baby Genius Web site address on the back so parents can download the songs on which each book’s text is based.
The titles will be sold into a wide range of retail channels, both by Meadowbrook’s distributor, Simon & Schuster, and Baby Genius’s distributor, Pacific Entertainment. “The accounts we’ve met with have been universally excited about it,” Lansky reports.
Bob in Paradise
Paradise Press is the latest Bob the Builder publisher, for coloring and activity, board books, and foam and value-added novelty titles, primarily for mass distribution. Other Bob publishers include Bendon for workbooks and educational titles, Simon & Schuster for the Follow the Reader electronic format, Publications International for soundbooks and Giddy Up for specialty-ink books.
“It’s been a popular license for quite a while,” says Randy MacDonald, senior v-p at Paradise. “We talked to our customers about it before we signed on, and we got a good reception. I think we can create a really nice assortment of Bob books that will fit well into the mass market.”
Paradise is expected to publish 20—25 titles per year over the three-year deal, according to Katie Price, senior director, global publishing, for licensor HIT Entertainment; the first title will arrive later this year. HIT plans to introduce a computer-animated TV series, and Paradise and other licensees gradually will phase out the classic look and use the new.
A Fantabulous Licensing Launch
Licensing agency The Wildflower Group has debuted a North American licensing effort for The Fantabulous World of Roald Dahl, which includes characters and phrases from Dahl’s books, along with drawings by Quentin Blake. Planned products for children and adults include stationery and paper goods—most likely the first items to market—calendars, apparel, and board, card and electronic games.
Licensees will have the whole range of Dahl/Blake characters to work with. “It’s not just Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” says Michael Carlisle, principal of TWG, which is working with U.K.-based master licensor DRi Licensing. Properties available range from Matilda to Fantastic Mr. Fox, which will be made into a movie in 2009, with a separate film-based licensing effort handled by Fox Licensing & Merchandising.
TWG expects to work with booksellers on back-to-school and summer reading promotions, and will encourage licensees to work in partnership with U.S. paperback publisher Penguin. “We really see this property finding a home in the book and specialty market,” Carlisle says. “This is not a red-hot entertainment property, but I can see it growing over a number of years.”
Weekly Reader Goes Home
Weekly Reader Publishing Group has forged a deal with CCI Entertainment to produce content for TV, DVD and online channels, as well as consumer products such as art, science and magic kits, as well as books and software. “We connect what happens with kids in the classroom to what happens in the world around them, and we combine education and fun in a unique way,” says Neal Goff, president of WRPG. “We want to take the unique engagement of video as a medium and stay true to the roots of Weekly Reader as educational and good for children.”
CCI is developing a variety of themed content, such as shows based on art, music, magic, science and language. “Everything will have an interactive, how-to component,” says Arnie Zipursky, CCI’s co-chairman and chief executive. Products will have an educational slant as well, and CCI plans to solicit input from teachers through Weekly Reader’s distribution channels. “Our partner isn’t just Weekly Reader,” says CCI co-chairman Charles Falzon. “Our partners are the 300,000 or more teachers that use Weekly Reader as a tool in the classroom.”
Goff points out that Weekly Reader has partnered with QVC for 15 years on a Weekly Reader Editor’s Choice show, through which it sells repackaged bundles of classic children’s books. “It’s the credibility of our brand that makes that work.”
Books to Save Our Seas
When marine videographer Tom Campbell and the Save Our Seas Foundation, the nonprofit that funds his documentaries, wanted to spread an environmental message to children, they turned to Jokar Productions, a 17-year-old book packager specializing in licensed titles. The first two chapter books for children eight to 12—which combine new illustrated characters with stills from Campbell’s work—launched in June, distributed by National Book Network.
Jokar president Jon Rosenberg describes the “gadget-driven” chapter book series as “sort of Spy Kids meets Jacques Cousteau.” Two to four titles are planned per year for the next four years. “Once the chapter books are established, we want to do other formats, and age it down to the younger siblings,” Rosenberg adds. International expansion, probably through co-editions, also is anticipated. Distribution will be through trade and mass channels, along with specialty outlets such as museum and aquarium shops.
Penguin is launching a licensing program for Skippyjon Jones, to include toys, games, apparel, bedding and other children’s products; there is also interest from the entertainment community.... Simon & Schuster will publish six formats tied to the book-based Paramount film The Hotel for Dogs, set for 2009 release.... Sterling will release its first two Hasbro-licensed children’s books under its ongoing license with the toy company. The initial two titles will be joke books tied to Mr. Potato Head and Barrel of Monkeys.... New publishing licensees for Out of the Blue Enterprises’ PBS series SuperWHY! are Bendon for coloring and activity and Giddy Up for disappearing-ink books.... Modern Publishing will launch a line of books tied to Cartoon Network’s Ben 10: Alien Force this fall.... The Sharpe Co. has launched a licensing program for The Daring Book for Girls; it already has signed several licensees for The Dangerous Book for Boys.... D3Publisher will produce videogames based on the movie version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, licensed by Universal Pictures.... Chorion has licensed Eric Carle to Canson for a line of art and activity pads for children ages 3—9. Meanwhile, Carle’s bear books will be featured in the ongoing Kohl’s Cares for Kids charitable program this summer.... Bendon signed a licensing deal with Cold Fusion Entertainment to incorporate the latter’s Cypher technology into a series of educational books in 2009. The Cypher device adds audio when placed over a word or picture.... Imperial Toy will produce bubbles, sprinklers, sand and novelty toys featuring Marvel Super Heroes.... Hasbro licensed IDW for a new line of G.I. Joe comics.