Exhibitors and attendees at last week's Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas—including publishers, licensing agencies representing book-based properties, and retail book buyers—were cautiously optimistic that the licensing business may be about to turn a corner after a rough 2008 and 2009. As has been the case in recent years, much of the focus was on the tried-and-true, including classic properties, entertainment franchises, and retro licenses.
As part of that trend, plenty of licenses with roots in books, comic books, and comic strips were on display. "That [emphasis on classics] is a powerful opportunity for us," said Mark Freedman, president of Surge Licensing, which is launching Archie Comics for licensing in anticipation of its 70th anniversary. "Archie is feel-good stuff."
Penguin had its own booth for the first time—a number of its brands have had a presence at the show through agencies—and was pitching two paranormal series, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy and Heather Brewer's the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. "The fan base is rabid for merchandise," said Lori Burke, director of licensing. "And people who are reluctant readers or who don't know the books can come into the world through the gaming or the merchandise and then start to read." Attendees responded positively, she reports. "They knew the brands and were happy we were at the show."
Other book-based brands being introduced this year included the Complete Idiot's Guide, represented by RJM licensing; artwork from Rand McNally Junior Elf Books and other vintage titles from the 1950s and 1960s, licensed by the Toon Studio; Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which has a dual licensing program based on the film and the Jeff Kinney books, both handled by 20th Century Fox; and Zagat, which was represented by the Licensing Company. A number of children's book illustrators, such as Synthia Saint James and Stacey Peterson, also exhibited.
There was a lot of talk on the show floor about digital media, from interactive gaming and social networking to mobile applications. Apps ranging from Where's Waldo? games to Roger Tory Peterson bird identification programs have garnered strong sales, and publishers are increasingly asking licensors, many in the process of forging their digital strategies, for rights to create apps from the books they produce under license.
Although Hasbro expects to retain rights for most digital applications going forward, it did grant IDW the rights to create apps from its licensed G.I. Joe and Transformers comics, with 200 titles currently available for Apple platforms. "The comic genre has been at the forefront of digital publishing," said Matt Gildea, Hasbro's director of publishing and paper products. "So we gave the rights to them, and we learned from them."
"If a publisher requests rights for digital, it's a whole different negotiation," noted Joanne Loria, executive v-p of the Joester Loria Group, which has signed publishing deals on behalf of Discovery Channel, Baby Genius, and other clients. "How royalties are structured is different from print publishing."
Sesame Workshop has a new e-book download site and has licensed ScrollMotion for iPhone, iTouch, and iPad apps. "We're just kind of trying everything," says Scott Chambers, senior v-p, worldwide media distribution. "It won't make traditional books obsolete, but it provides a new way to access the content."
The show spotlighted one emerging area: cookbooks. Wiley published a family cookbook tied to Sesame Street and is following that up with a similar title tied to Nickelodeon's Dora and Diego; Parragon is publishing a cookbook tied to the Entenmann's brand, licensed by the Joester Loria Group; and the Girl Scouts has cookbooks on its radar as well.