Despite some grumbling about the heat—99° degrees outside the Javits Center on the show's first day, and not much cooler inside—and about next year's move to Las Vegas, attendees and exhibitors at Licensing International 2008 seemed happy with business, even while reporting light traffic compared to previous years. Very few publishers had their own booths this year; John Wiley and Scholastic, both with extensive licensing programs, were notable exceptions. (Several publishers, including Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Chronicle Books, have properties represented at the show by their licensing agents.)
One evident trend was the growing role of the Internet in supporting a licensed brand, book-based or otherwise. While television or film exposure used to be the most critical aspect of an entertainment license, these days books, merchandise, television, films and the Internet are considered almost equally important, with each helping promote the brand and drive consumers back and forth among all the elements.
Each licensing program integrates technology in its own way. Scholastic was highlighting the 39 Clues, which includes 10 books to be published from 2008 through 2010—starting with Rick Riordan's The Maze of Bones in September—355 collectible cards (including six with each book) featuring hints to the clues, a Web site where kids can register and digitally manage their cards, an online game launching simultaneously with the first book, and contests for a total of $100,000 in cash and prizes and a chance to play a part in the story.
Chorion handles merchandising and Internet development for Jon Scieszka's Trucktown series, published by Simon & Schuster. “We take our lead from the publishing,” said Jeff Norton, Chorion's senior v-p, brand development. The Web site, which launched the week of the show, is game-based, but all the action encourages reading. “The whole idea of Trucktown is to encourage boys to read more, both with the books and new media and then circling back to the books,” Norton said.
United Media is supporting its new Precious Moments brand extension, Precious Girls Club, with a virtual world targeting girls 4—8 and their mothers. Dalmatian Press, one of the inaugural partners for the program (and an affiliate of Books-A-Million), will release a Precious Girls Club chapter book series starting in August with A Little Bit of Faith. A film for DVD and limited theatrical release is planned for late 2009.
These types of Web initiatives can drive book sales. Broadthink, a branding agency that represents Dean Koontz, among other authors, has launched a Web site (www.deankoontz.com) that includes flash animation; avatars of Koontz, his character Odd Thomas and his golden retriever Trixie; an online retail store featuring a variety of merchandise; podcasts; newsletters with special offers; and previews of upcoming books. Cynthia Cleveland, one of the cofounders of Broadthink, reports that backlist book sales jump when Koontz's online newsletter mentions a title.
Publishers' editorial teams increasingly are involved with providing content for both online sites and technology-driven offline products. One of Wiley's newest For Dummies licensed products is a GPS system with licensee Maylong. “Our editorial team worked for months on creating a new user interface and icons,” said Marc Jeffrey Mikulich, Wiley's v-p, brand management. Wiley's editors are always involved with putting together the booklets and manuals included with each licensed product, but this was the first time they were so involved in the product itself.
Lots of discussion at the show centered on what will happen with the move to Las Vegas next year, with plenty of attendees not looking forward to the switch. Publishers with a portfolio of licensed titles will most likely make the trip to participate in the licensee summits that go on around the show, as will those few houses who exhibit. It remains to be seen if those who typically visit the show annually to see what's new in licensing, or to maintain their contacts with the licensing community, will head out West. Show organizers are only committed to Vegas for 2009, although some of the industry's constituents, such as the Los Angeles studios, back the idea of a convention in a Western city.