Hooked on Licensed Products

As part of Hooked on Phonics’ transition from direct-to-consumer sales to a retail strategy, the 20-year-old brand has signed its first group of licensees. New partners include Zizzle for electronic learning products, Endless Games for board games, and Baby Signing Books for a Hooked on Baby Learn to Sign program. Products are rolling out in 2007 and 2008.

“We were a cultural icon, but not top-of-mind for moms,” says Chip Paucek, Hooked on Phonics CEO. The relaunch involved shutting down the informercial side and creating retail versions of its flagship learn-to-read products, which are now sold in chains such as Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Toys ‘R’ Us and Meyer, as well as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon and Books-a-Million. (The company created a special clamshell kit for the book trade.) A $5 million TV advertising campaign will support the brand starting this holiday season.

Among booksellers, Borders has been a strong supporter, launching an 18-product fixturing program in November and carrying some of Zizzle’s electronics. Bookstores also have embraced Hooked On’s new brand extensions, which include baby, math, Bible and foreign-language products.

Building Character

Karen Katz’s Princess Baby, launching in early 2008 from Random House’s Schwartz & Wade imprint, is her first book to feature a character. Licensee Merrymakers will introduce a doll and finger puppets to coincide with the publication, and more licensed items will follow.

The character-based licensing program will be separate from an existing program based on Katz’s 30 other books, published by Simon & Schuster. “We’ve been licensing her both as a designer and a book author,” says licensing agent Aviva Rosenthal, partner of Act III Licensing. She explains that some products have been based directly on book art, while others have the “Karen Katz look and feel.” Small World Toys is the first licensee for that program.

Because Princess Baby is a character, it has more licensing potential, according to Rosenthal. While the original Karen Katz program will encompass a variety of infant products, Princess Baby will extend beyond that into figural items such as plush, as well as apparel, bedding and home décor.

Keeping the Faith

Mission City Press has named DIC Entertainment its global licensing agent and entertainment partner for The Beginner’s Bible. Plans include an online community, animation and an extensive range of merchandise for both secular and Christian stores. Zondervan has sold more than 15 million units of The Beginner’s Bible and related titles.

The Beginner’s Bible had a licensing program in the past, but all agreements were allowed to expire in 2003 in preparation for a new program, based on fresh artwork from the Bible’s 2005 edition. MCP and Zondervan were in the process of looking for a licensing agent when DIC unexpectedly approached them. “Being in the entertainment world, they think bigger than we could ever dream,” says Sandi Shelton, MCP’s president and publisher. “It’s exciting to see those kinds of resources overlaid with this property.”

“We were going in a faith-based direction in terms of content and merchandise, and this is the Coca-Cola of Bible stories for kids,” explains Lisa Streff, DIC’s v-p licensing. She believes DIC’s experience relaunching properties such as Strawberry Shortcake was a selling point. “Within five years we made that into a $2 billion brand, and kept the integrity of the property. That model was enticing to them,” Streff says, adding, “This is a major, major initiative for us. It’s about wrapping a child’s life around The Beginner’s Bible.”

Pokémon Lives

Scholastic has seen a resurgence in sales of Pokémon books of late. The company began publishing the property in 1999, at the peak popularity of all things Pokémon. After two years, sales leveled off and maintained a steady sales rate from 2001 through 2005. But, starting last year, activity has increased dramatically, with some titles showing double or triple year-on-year sales. All told, Scholastic has sold more than 11 million copies of Pokémon books in the trade alone.

“Pokémon is one of our hottest licenses right now,” says Lynn Smith, director of licensed publishing. “The accounts are selling [the books] fast and they want more titles.” Scholastic is planning five additional titles (possibly more) for 2008, including the Ultimate Pokémon Handbook, featuring all 480-plus characters, and a how-to-draw title.

Meanwhile, one of Scholastic’s new licenses is Doodlebops, a Disney Channel preschool series; the first books were released this fall. “It’s high-energy, and the whole musical aspect was attractive,” Smith says. “It’s not just the typical 6x9 program that’s common for a license. We’ve been able to take the energy and music and translate that into novelty formats. And it doesn’t look like anything else out there.” Formats include a 32-page paperback concert book with photos from the Doodlebops’ annual sold-out concert tour and a board book shaped like the group’s tour bus and featuring the lyrics to one of its songs. Scholastic is cross-promoting its books with Disney Records’ CDs and DVDs, in boxes of Doodlebops toys and on Radio Disney.

Dangerous Products for Boys

Expect to see licensed products tied to HarperCollins’ Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, on store shelves starting in fall 2008. The core of the program will focus on gifts and educational toys and games, such as chemistry sets, construction kits, electronic toys and the like, for boys 7-11. Other products ranging from apparel to camping supplies are under consideration for later, and a collectible program for adult males is also in the works.

“The branding is very strong, and the content opportunities are very obvious and direct,” says Charlie Day, president of The Sharpe Co., the licensing agency representing the property in North America. “The nature of the content is so much in tune with what’s going on in society today,” he adds, noting that it is both nostalgic and relevant, whimsical and useful. “This is one of those properties that lend themselves naturally to licensing.”

In Brief

McFarlane Toys was announced as the action figure licensee for Paramount’s Beowulf. The figures were released in conjunction with the movie’s premiere on November 16 and are sold in toy and specialty entertainment stores, among other retailer outlets.... Scholastic Media licensed Aurora World as the plush licensee for Dragon, the preschool TV series based on Dav Pilkey’s books…. Chorion acquired The Copyrights Group, adding book-based licenses such as Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter to its existing portfolio, which includes Mr. Men and Olivia…. Big Tent Entertainment signed two licensees, Loungefly and Mighty Fine, for Miffy & Friends; both will sell tween and teen apparel and accessories exclusively through Hot Topic retail stores…. Nickelodeon licensed Shutterfly for SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! personalized photo books, adventure books, greeting cards and photo cards sold on Shutterfly.com….Planetwide Media has been licensed to create an interactive Web site for Forever Entertainment’s Holly Claus, tied to the HarperCollins book series by Brittney Ryan.