The opportunity for publishers to expand distribution into channels where their presence is limited is one of the key attractions of licensing. For some publishers seeking to secure rights to a licensed property, this objective is the top priority.
“We specifically teamed up with Kathy Ireland so we could expand our business outside our traditional channels,” says Ben Ferguson, president of Bendon Publishing. The company will start shipping Ireland’s books into department, office supply, and home stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond—all of which are new to Bendon—in January. “Most of our success is because of our focus on entertainment properties selling in mass, discount, midtier, drug, and grocery, and we’ll keep that modus operandi,” Ferguson notes, “but [Ireland] was a perfect fit for what we wanted to do with our business.”
New distribution points associated with a license can help introduce fans of a property to the world of books and comics. “Barnes & Noble has a nice graphic novel section,” says Greg Goldstein, president of IDW Publishing. “But,” he adds, “if you don’t know there’s a My Little Pony graphic novel, you won’t go to the graphic novel aisle. Unless you’re super in tune, you’re not going to know to look for True Blood comics. We want our product grouped with other products based on that property. If you’re a fan of the property, and not a comic fan, that’s how you find out about the comics.” Goldstein points out that comic book stores attract a fairly wide swath of consumers. “It’s already a built-in diverse distribution channel,” he says. “The trick is, what can we do outside comic book stores? If you make a good product, [customers] will come, as long as they can find you.”
The impetus for sales of licensed books into new channels can come from retailers, licensors, or publishers themselves. “A retailer might call to see if we have something hot they could bring in,” explains Raoul Goff, CEO and publisher of Insight Editions. Mass retailers, video game chains, and club stores that do not normally carry heavily-illustrated art books of the sort that Insight publishes will sometimes ask for titles to balance out an endcap or to add to a promotional display. Walmart went to Insight looking for licensed Harry Potter and Simpsons books to diversify its product arrays, for example.
Goldstein reports that My Little Pony has done well in Hot Topic, which purchases “super-topical” books but does not consider publishing to be a significant source of sales. The company “recognized the popularity of My Little Pony among its core audience,” he explains. If the order is significant, IDW will create a custom cover for the retailer, as it did for Hot Topic with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Game Stop sometimes purchases IDW’s comics if they are based on video game titles, such as Borderlands, while the FYE music and pop culture chain is interested in sci-fi properties, including Star Trek or Dr. Who. Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us display Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise on endcaps, and have purchased IDW’s comics to balance out toys.
In some cases, a licensor will drive the expanded distribution, putting licensees together on an informal basis when the potential exists for sales in new channels. “Some licensors are really astute at saying, ‘This account is working with that license and we’re going to hook you guys up,’ ” Goldstein says. That happened with the publisher’s True Blood comics when licensor HBO introduced IDW to Delivery Agent, the third-party operator of the True Blood online store.
In other instances, a licensor may coordinate an exclusive promotion in a retail chain, with books making up a part of the mix. Such was the case with the Warner Bros. movie Man of Steel in Walmart stores this past summer, according to Goff. “Walmart had a huge pallet promotion, and our books were sitting next to advance screening tickets and a couple of other licensed products,” he says.
While retailers and licensors can initiate efforts that lead to expanded distribution, the most common spur is good old-fashioned sales efforts on the part of the publisher. “Mostly it’s us going out there,” admits Goff.
Viz Media imprint Perfect Square (formerly VizKids) sells licensed graphic novels that are distributed in North America by Simon & Schuster. Beth Kawasaki, senior editorial director at the imprint, says requests for books from new retail channels often come through S&S’s sales reps. “We let them know what’s going on with the toys, the TV show, the apparel line, so they can pitch that as well,” she explains. In December, eight of Perfect Square’s Pokémon titles will be featured in a floor display in one of the top U.S. grocery store chains, while its Winx Club books have secured space in warehouse clubs in Canada.
Giving Consumers a Choice
In many instances, bringing licensed books into nonbook channels is simply about reshaping the merchandise mix. Such remixing “gives the retailer a suite of products, so the customer has a variety of things to choose from,” explains Kelli Chipponeri, executive editor at Chronicle Children’s Books. She says that Star Wars, with its strong collectability component and teen and tween interest, does well at Urban Outfitters, while Eric Carle, with its classic appeal, is a good fit for Nordstrom and Anthropologie. The latter carry Chronicle’s flash cards and growth charts and sell them with books and other items tied to the World of Eric Carle.
Ginee Seo, Chronicle Children’s publishing director, points out that one of the publisher’s books or sidelines may simply be a match for a retailer such as Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, or Paper Source at a given time. “They fall into a retail story that [the chain] is going to tell that season,” she says.
Perfect Square has seen its books become part of cross-promotions in toy store chains and elsewhere, but putting together multi-licensee displays can be complicated, cautions Kawasaki. “There are different buyers for apparel and shoes and books,” she notes, “so putting them next door to each other isn’t as easy as it sounds.”
Licenses, with their high awareness levels, are inherently attractive to retailers, which will often try to capitalize on the popularity of a film, TV show, interactive game, or other property by offering products both in and out of their comfort zone. “If people have Uglydoll plush or watch Max Steel on TV, that helps drive sales,” says Kawasaki, mentioning two of Perfect Square’s licenses. “All the pieces have to come together,” she says, “but if we have strong licenses and brands that cut across categories, we can get the new placement.”
The Real thing
Assouline and Coca-Cola are expanding their partnership, which began with a 125th anniversary book published in 2011, by adding a new title to Assouline’s Memoire series. Coca-Cola: Film, Music, Sports is a set of three books, replete with Coca-Cola imagery on those themes and featuring introductions by Ridley Scott, Quincy Jones, and LeBron James, respectively. The trade edition of the 240-page set, packaged in a slipcase, was released in late September, followed by a limited edition of 1,000 copies, in a resin slipcase resembling a sheet of ice.
“Publishing gives us an opportunity and a means to do more storytelling and to showcase the brand and its integration into pop culture,” says Kate Dwyer, Coca-Cola’s group director of worldwide licensing. “It’s more about brand building than revenue, even though there is revenue attached to most of the projects.”
“During the process of working on the 125th anniversary book, we and Assouline were stunned by the amount of content in the archives that was beautiful and relevant, and we realized there was more we could say about Coca-Cola through time,” adds Kelly Kozel, Coca-Cola’s project manager for the Assouline relationship.
Images in the new set portray subjects ranging from Marilyn Monroe and Blade Runner to Ray Charles and the Hillside Singers (from a 1970s commercial), to Mean Joe Greene and 1940s auto racer Stirling Moss, who was photographed drinking a Coke after setting a world speed record. As is typical for the Memoire format, the 180 images are unaccompanied by text; a list of captions and a timeline appear in the back of the book. “But the story is there,” Kozel says.
The Assouline anniversary book was one of Coca-Cola’s first entrees into the publishing category. Its other initiatives are all cookbooks, with recent releases including Octopus’s Coca-Cola: The Cookbook, published in the U.K. this fall, and French publisher Marabout Editions’ Coca-Cola: Les 30 Recettes Cultes, published last year. “Seventy percent of our beverages are consumed with meals, so cookbooks make sense,” says Dwyer. The recipes focus on dishes that go well with Coca-Cola, along with dishes calling for the soft drink as an ingredient.
The Coca-Cola contour bottle celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015, which will be an occasion for more publishing and consumer products activity. “We think it will be a huge moment for the brand,” Dwyer says.