Though titles bearing the Imagination Studio logo have been rolling out since January, the new imprint from Random House's Listening Library, which has a more commercial bent, officially launches this month, supported by a $150,000 marketing campaign.
Imagination Studio will be home to titles for children, tweens and teens that cross-promote popular publishing and media properties. Most releases are currently two CDs in length and priced under $20. Early examples include tie-ins to TV's Alias, the forthcoming feature film of John Woo's The Hulk and The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares, sequel to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
"It's allowing us to experiment and gamble a little bit with format," said Listening Library publisher Tim Ditlow. "Imagination Studio can respond quickly to the marketplace and play a little bit with format and packaging to give mass-market retailers what they need. This will hopefully help us find a home for children's audio in new outlets."
The genesis for Imagination Studio dates back several years. "When I came to Random House in 1999 [with the recording of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in tow]," Ditlow explained, "I had a whole new mass merchandise sales division that took Harry Potter into outlets I had never even heard of before. The numbers were amazing. Soon the reps were asking, 'What else have you got?' But nothing on the Listening Library list was really exciting enough for those buyers."
Ditlow began doing some research and along the way discovered that "the same tired old book-and-cassette sets that are 15 minutes long are still the only titles available in some outlets. I saw a market opportunity—there was a void for parents who are going to pay under $10 for a title. Why not bring them something better? Lower price but not lower quality."
To that end, he aims to bring titles that have "a minimum running time of 45 minutes—full entertainment value," into the mass-market arena. In addition to the first wave of Imagination Studio CDs, a line of single-cassette titles priced at $8.99 each will roll out this August and will include such top-selling series as The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne and Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park. Ditlow believes the combination of low-price-point and top-selling authors will have strong appeal for mass merchants as well as for retailers in traditional audiobook outlets and librarians.
Approximately 20-plus titles per year will be produced under the Imagination Studio banner as the imprint becomes established (though this launch year will see more titles than that).
As for any launch fanfare, Ditlow says there won't be much, though a broad advertising campaign is planned and bookstores and other retailers will receive handouts and CD openers. "The bells and whistles are the titles themselves."