The aisles of Licensing 2003, held June 10—12 at the Javits Center in New York City, crackled with more energy than publishers have felt the last several years of the show. And while many trends continued from the recent past—notably Japanese animation, nostalgic properties (especially from the 1980s), tween girl "lifestyle" brands and comic-book superheroes—more exhibitors used the show to launch new properties, an older strategy many had abandoned of late.
Among the splashiest introductions were films and TV series from the Hollywood studios, mostly for 2004 release. DreamWorks promoted the films Shrek 2 and Sharkslayer, while Universal officially launched Sitting Ducks, an animated series based on the Michael Bedard picture book published by Putnam in 1998, which has 200,000 copies in print worldwide. Sony premiered its licensing effort for AstroBoy, an animated series based on the Japanese show popular in the 1960s. Ragdoll, producer of Teletubbies, introduced its preschool series Boobah!, for which Scholastic will publish story, concept and novelty books.
Nickelodeon, riding on the success of SpongeBob Square-Pants and Dora the Explorer (which generated licensed product retail sales of $800 million and $500 million, respectively, in 2002), kicked off licensing for The Fairly Odd Parents. It also introduced its first two properties originating outside its television channel: the video game Tak and the tween girl brand EverGirl.
HIT Entertainment, known for properties including Barney, The Wiggles and Bob the Builder, launched Rubbadubbers, which will debut on Nick Jr. this fall. Simon & Schuster will publish six Rubbadubbers titles, while Scholastic has coloring and activity rights. "We have classics, and we're in the process of creating classics," said David Jacobs, senior v-p of HIT's brand business group. "You can't do that without publishing."
Warner Bros. had an eye- and ear-catching display to support The Polar Express, a film based on the Chris Van Allsburg book. It also featured Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a film for November 2003 release, as well as its classic Looney Tunes characters. Scholastic is tying in with Back in Action for five titles, as well as introducing a classic Looney Tunes continuity series through its clubs and fairs, while Dalmation Press will publish film-based coloring and activity titles, according to Paula Allen, v-p, worldwide publishing at Warner. Both publishers had recent successes with another Warner property, Scooby Doo; Scholastic sold 16 million and Dalmatian another four million Scooby books.
Nelvana relaunched its Babar program for North America, spearheaded by a Babar for Babies infant line and three new books from Abrams. Laurent de Brunhoff, son of Babar's creator and author of 32 Babar books, was at the show to promote the licensing effort and his newest title, Babar's Museum of Art. The book, which follows last year's Babar's Yoga for Elephants (100,000+ copies sold), will be released in September.
"One of our core competencies is to take publishing product and translate it to television and consumer products," said Sid Kaufman, executive v-p, worldwide merchandising for Nelvana, which also represents the Berenstain Bears, Franklin, George Shrinks and other literary properties. "A pre-existing market, where the book buyer is aware, is so important today. We're really committed to staying in this world."
Publishing as Launch Platform
While a studio's traditional route is to create entertainment and then extend into publishing and other categories, several exhibitors told PW that books would be the key component in some upcoming property launches. For example, a new Disney property, W.I.T.C.H., was created by Disney's global magazine group as a children's magazine. It launched in Italy in 2001, after which book publishing and magazine programs were established in 42 countries. In spring 2004, W.I.T.C.H. will debut in the U.S. as a book series through Disney's vertical publishing group, according to Ellen Morgenstern, director of communications for Disney Publishing Worldwide. The Disney Channel is looking at the property for future entertainment initiatives.
Sony is talking to publishers about creating books utilizing 3-D art from The Chubb-Chubbs, which won the Oscar for animated short this year. Since the publisher would help develop the property through books, it would participate in ancillary licensing revenues from future merchandise or entertainment extensions, according to Michael Malone, Sony's senior v-p, marketing. "Publishing gives the core fan a chance to get into the world a little deeper," said Malone, who reported that publishers have embraced the idea and a deal should be announced soon.
DIC Entertainment, which traditionally launches its properties through animation, is developing a book-driven property for teen and young adult women, expected to launch in 2005. "We'll start talking publishing strategy prior to the rest of licensing," said Nancy Bassett, senior v-p, worldwide consumer products.
One area where publishing has played a key role is the toy industry. Many companies are positioning their toys as entertainment brands, creating video, TV, software and publishing around them. Mattel has taken this path with Barbie, while sister company Fisher-Price is doing the same with Rescue Heroes and Little People. "We've tried to establish these properties in various media," said Caren Shalek, v-p, licensing for Fisher-Price, which counts Scholastic, Reader's Digest, SoftPlay and Modern Publishing among its licensees. "We're using publishing, CDs and software to bring the brands to life as far as kids and moms are concerned."
In the last three years, Hasbro has authorized more than 500 book and comic titles. Programs shipping now include GI Joe from Scholastic and Transformers from DK, Reader's Digest, Bendon and iBooks; My Little Pony will see titles from HarperCollins, Running Press and Bendon. Tom Klusaritz, Hasbro's v-p, global publishing and business development, was also meeting with publishers at the show to pitch the company's board games, such as Clue and Candyland, for mysteries and beginning readers. "These brands are really our backlist," he said.
While entertainment properties maintained the highest profile, the show featured many other licenses, ranging from corporate brands to art. While the publishing category historically has been a hard sell for corporate brand owners, that seems to be less the case these days. Many exhibitors—with properties ranging from McKids to The Food Network—said they were talking to publishers and sensing interest in return.
The Joester-Loria Group introduced a licensing effort for Mothers Work, operator of the Motherhood Maternity, A Pea in The Pod and Mimi Maternity retail chains and a designer of maternity apparel. Joester-Loria president Debra Joester said plans include a series of books that will be "gifty, but with real content," such as offering tips on nursery decor or parenting, with distribution through the company's 900 stores and general retail.
Publishing potential also exists for Snapple, such as trivia books incorporating a series of "Real Facts" that appear inside bottle caps and in a game on the brand's Web site. Jay Asher, managing director of Snapple's agent, Brandgenuity, said he's seen more interest from publishers in branded opportunities. "I think publishers are looking for content in new places," he said. "For us, it's a great way to extend the brand."
Magazine brands naturally lend themselves to books, sometimes through licensing. TV Guide, represented by agency SloaneVision Unlimited, began its licensing effort with book publishing and is now moving into other categories such as food and electronics. Barnes & Noble has published crossword puzzle books and film and video guides, and a licensee for a cookbook is forthcoming. Steve Scebelo, senior v-p of TV Guide Direct, noted that books can be sold through TV Guide's 800 number and Web site, as well as at retail; B&N sold 10% of its film and video guides through TV Guide distribution channels.
Art properties highlighted at the show ranged from the $104-million brand Thomas Kinkade to newer properties such as the Sherbet Sheep (represented by Lally Inc.), created by Barbara Leonard for children ages three to six. Jim Benton, who creates offbeat, humorous art, announced a six-book deal with Simon & Schuster to launch a new property, Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist. Meanwhile, Todd Parr—discovered by Little, Brown at a past licensing show, leading to 23 books with over one million copies sold—and his agency L&G Licensing+, previewed ToddWorld, an animated series for TLC's Ready Set Learn! block and the Discovery Kids Channel.
As always, many book properties featured prominently at the show. Marc Brown Studios announced that United Media Licensing will represent Arthur, the 115-title book line and PBS series, for licensing. A spinoff TV series, Postcards from Buster, will debut on PBS in fall 2004.
Big Tent Entertainment announced that the New York City tourism bureau named Miffy as its icon to promote New York as a family destination. The effort will include a book, Miffy Loves New York. "We really feel this show will be a watershed for us in terms of licensing," said Richard Collins, Big Tent's CEO. Recently signed licensees include Running Press for gift books and te Neues for calendars.
Silver Lining Productions acquired television and merchandising rights from Hachette Jeunesse for Gaspard and Lisa, published by Knopf in the U.S. While Silver Lining traditionally holds off on most licensing until TV plans are in place, CEO Amory Millard noted that the graphics lend themselves to certain products, such as plush. "I'll be sorely tempted to do a little bit of licensing here and there," she said. "But it would function as an extension of the publisher's marketing arm rather than a revenue generator."
Scholastic Entertainment promoted Clifford's Puppy Days, which will debut this fall on PBS with publishing to follow next spring. The company also launched The Misadventures of Maya and Miguel, premiering on PBS Kids in fall 2004. While Scholastic plans an extensive publishing effort, TV, rather than publishing, will drive this property. "It's a very different model for us," said Cheryl Gotthelf, v-p, brand marketing and TV broadcast relations.
The licensing business and licensed publishing have been experiencing tough times of late, with overall sales flat and the number of licensed titles dwindling. But this year's upbeat licensing show, along with recent publishing successes such as those based on SpongeBob and Lizzie McGuire, gave attendees a reason to keep searching for a match between their book formats and the wide variety of licensed properties available.