Random House Children’s Books and Sesame Workshop are expanding their four-decade-plus licensing relationship, adding e-books and apps to their extensive Sesame Street print publishing program. The first of 19 initial ebook titles, Elmo Says Achoo! and Elmo’s Breakfast Bingo, were released on Wednesday.
“E-books are a major initiative for us,” says Chris Angelilli, v-p and editor-in-chief, Golden Books. “We want to publish licensed and original titles alike in every conceivable format for young readers.”
Random House is Sesame Workshop’s oldest licensee. “We’re very proud that books were the first licensed product for Sesame Street,” says Jennifer A. Perry, v-p worldwide publishing at Sesame Workshop. “Now we’re taking that longstanding program into the digital realm. It’s the next logical step.”
The initiative will focus on early learning and reading readiness titles, with digital editions available in all channels where Random House distributes e-books. The first raft of titles, to be released through June 2012, will be mostly Step into Reading books, along with some from the Happy Healthy Monsters series. “We publish a lot of board and novelty books, but those don’t translate as well to ‘e’,” Angelilli says.
Of the 19 initial titles, six have audio tracks—voiced by longtime Sesame Street actor Bob McGrath—and one is interactive, with the rest being read-alongs. The bulk are based on print titles, but some original e-books are planned as well, including a Step into Reading digital storybook app in the works now.
The digital-origin titles may eventually make their way into print. “Our hope is that we can work in both directions, both print to digital and digital to print,” Perry says.
Random House is the first of Sesame Workshop’s 30 print publishers to which it has granted e-book rights, but an announcement of a deal with a second publisher is forthcoming. “Where our publishers have a digital publishing program, we want to support that strategy,” Perry explains.
Meanwhile, the licensor has a number of digital-only e-book licensees, including Impelsys, which currently publishes 160 titles for Sesame Street’s own e-book site and the iOS platform; Callaway Digital Arts for the two bestselling Sesame Street e-book apps to date, The Monster at the End of This Book and Another Monster at the End of This Book, both available on iTunes; ScrollMotion for 10 iOS ebook apps to date; and Nokia Research Center for mobile apps that run on Nokia Lumia phones. As with the television show, the Workshop researches and tests all of its digital content and shares many of its findings with the industry at venues such as this week’s Digital Book World conference.
“Digital certainly plays a supplemental role in children’s reading,” says Perry, who notes that Sesame Workshop’s digital revenues are growing every quarter. “It’s all about storytelling, both in digital and print.”
Random House has acquired e-book rights from several of its other licensors aside from Sesame Workshop, including Mattel (Barbie) and Mattel’s newly acquired HIT Entertainment division (Thomas & Friends), Henson Productions (Dinosaur Train), Cartoon Network (Generator Rex), and Zinkia (Pocoyo).
“It’s true that most preschoolers don’t have their own Nook or Kindle, but their parents and caregivers do, and young kids are fascinated and mesmerized by digital devices,” Angelilli says. “It’s intuitive and comes naturally to them. It’s difficult to predict exactly where it will go, but e-books are an exciting new format and it’s impossible to deny their importance.”