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Books Make Their Mark at Licensing '98 Show
Karen Raugust -- 6/29/98
Books commanded a lot of attention at Licensing '98, the annual trade gathering held June 9-11 at New York City's Jacob Javits Convention Center. The combination of Star Wars' expected domination of next summer's licensed-merchandise market and the spotty track record of recent films resulted in a dearth of hyped movies, which opened the door for a wide variety of literary properties.

Book-show tie-ins included Jim Henson merchandise
from The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.

The property with the most palpable presence at the show was Star Wars, although its trademark owner, Lucasfilm, did not exhibit. Licensors plan to avoid competing against what they consider a sure merchandising hit for 1999, the summer release of the first film in George Lucas's prequel trilogy. Meanwhile, several hoped-for blockbuster movies have fallen below expectations of late. Godzilla merchandise, for example, has sold fairly well in some children's categories (including publishing), but many observers view it as a disappointment overall.

Instead of films, potential licensees were met with a wide range of licensable TV programs, running the gamut from the preschool PBS series Teletubbies to the irreverent and foul-mouthed Comedy Central offering South Park. While television shows are supported by ongoing exposure -- an attractive quality in the eyes of licensed manufacturers -- they are still considered risky, with only a relatively small percentage succeeding recently. As a result, television (and film) producers are increasingly basing their programming on recognized franchises, with literary properties commanding an especially high profile.

Virtually the entire CBS Saturday morning lineup for fall 1998, which is supplied by Canadian animation house Nelvana, is based on children's books. The lead series is Franklin, inspired by the classic turtle series that has sold 15 million copies worldwide. Specialty retailer Zany Brainy will introduce Franklin products this fall in conjunction with the launch of the show. Additional book-based Nelvana/CBS properties for fall include Anatole, The Dumb Bunnies (Gund is signed for plush items), From the Files of the Flying Rhinoceros (Baskin-Robbins is introducing a licensed ice cream flavor) and Guardians of the Legend, based on Scholastic's Myth Men.

Other book properties highlighted at the show included Charlotte's Web, a 25-year-old animated film from the E.B. White story, for which Viacom Consumer Products is hoping to sign an exclusive deal with a retailer for merchandise that will include new books and videos. White's Stuart Little, represented by Sony Signatures, will be the basis of a film released in late 1999, while Curious George will star in a Universal Studios movie this year.

Public television station WGBH-Boston featured Between the Lions, a literacy-based children's program that will premiere on PBS in spring 2000 (Golden Books is among the licensees). The station also highlighted Debbie Travis's Painted House, a series that attracts one million viewers per week in 50 countries. WGBH plans to license craft and activity kits, calendars, gifts, accessories and home furnishings for the property, which is based on a 1997 Clarkson Potter book.

Licensors of two classic children's book properties announced new licensing agency representation at the show. United Media will license Raggedy Ann &Andy worldwide, on behalf of trademark holder Simon &Schuster, and expects to authorize products for adults and children, including a new book series. Meanwhile, The Berenstain Bears moved to Sony Signatures for licensing and marketing representation and video distribution. The company plans a direct-to-video film and products for children aged two to eight; 18 new books are scheduled for 1998, as well as a spin-off series, Berenstain Baby Bears.

Publishers' entertainment divisions spotlighting literary properties included Scholastic, which announced the signing of two key licensees, Hasbro and Columbia TriStar Home Video, for its Animorphs television series. Golden Books featured Pat the Bunny and its classic Golden characters, as well as its entertainment library, which includes Lassie, The Lone Ranger and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Parachute Publishing exhibited two R.L. Stine line extensions: Fear Street Seniors, which is in development for a film, and Goosebumps 2000.

A room full of Curious George items was shown
by Universal, which is doing a spin-off.

Several publisher-exhibitors sought licensees for a variety of titles from their catalogues. North-South Books was displaying several Marcus Pfister titles, including The Rainbow Fish (which has 13 licensees and a forthcoming TV series), Dazzle the Dinosaur (six licensees), Hopper (two) and Milo and the Magical Stones (three), as well as other titles. Harcourt Brace recently signed F.X. Schmid for Piggies floor puzzles and a Lives of the Presidents puzzle for adults. Workman displayed Brain Quest, which has been authorized for board games, card games, puzzles and other products, while Little Friend Press offered My Little Friend picture books and other titles. C&T Publishing specializes in books on fiber and textile arts, including quilting, and has the exclusive rights to sublicense the artwork of its 50 author/artists on an image-by-image basis for items such as mouse pads, bedding, apparel and puzzles.

In addition to companies that exhibited multiple titles, several independent licensing agents and publishers offered single book properties, many available for licensing for the first time. Licensing agency SloaneVision introduced the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Licensees are signed for greeting cards, calendars, board games and other items, and SloaneVision also has the licensing rights to Troll's Grumpy Bunny series.

Pop-up book specialist Intervisual Books premiered David A. Carter's Bugs in a Box series as a licensed property in a three-way deal with Carter and Simon &Schuster. Five million copies of the 25-book series have been sold over 10 years; possible products include apparel, dinnerware and back-to-school merchandise. A related animated series, The Curious World of Bizbee Bug, is scheduled for Nickelodeon in 1999.

Addison Wesley Longman, through its U.S. master licensee, Yellow Submarine, showcased GoGo, a character developed to teach six- to 10-year-olds English. North American distribution is starting with areas that boast large non-English-speaking populations, such as Quebec, Miami and Los Angeles. Possible avenues include books, software, video, television and consumer products.

Independent licensing agency Bliss House highlighted Houghton Mifflin's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, as well as other artwork by H.A. Rey. British licensor Enid Blyton Ltd. showed author Blyton's 700-plus stories and books, which were grouped into three sub-brands. (North American agent itsy bitsy Entertainment holds U.S. representation for Blyton's best-known creation, Noddy, which will launch as a PBS television series this fall.) DBP &Associates exhibited the work of author, p t and illustrator Synthia Saint James, which has appeared on the covers of 40 books, including titles by Alice Walker and Terry McMillan. Her images are being offered for licensing into accessories, apparel, bedding, furniture and many other categories. Some exhibitors were attempting to license brand-new books. Dingles &Co. sought manufacturers of educational products for The Adventures of Paulie &Sasha, a book series promoting multicultural understanding that will be launched in August. Last month at BookExpo America, Eurpsville USA introduced nine titles featuring alphabet characters called the Eurps, and the company was pitching the learn-to-read property for educational products at Licensing '98.

Among the attendees at this year's show were editors and marketing representatives from publishing companies, who kept an eye out for licensing trends and properties that might have acquisition potential.

Megan Tingley, senior editor of children's books for Little, Brown, attended the licensing show for the first time last year, where the booth of artist and first-time exhibitor Todd Parr caught her eye. "He had a personality and quirky perspective that would lend themselves to children's books," said Tingley. "Last year, I left knowing I could do a book with him." That initial meeting led to the creation of four children's books, which, with an initial printing of 20,000 each, will be Little, Brown's lead children's titles for spring 1999.
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