When Jon Scieszka and his editor at Simon & Schuster, Justin Chanda, first discussed the idea for Scieszka's preschool boys' brand, Trucktown, it included not only 52 books, but online games, social networking, toys and entertainment. “All this stuff was really crucial to the whole concept of Trucktown,” Sciescka said. “We wanted to really think it through and not just let it happen after the fact.”
For the non-book facets of the property, Scieszka and Chanda turned to Chorion, a brand management company specializing in literary properties that include children's characters and mystery writers. “They really got the idea and took it another 100 steps,” Scieszka said.
The business of U.K.-based Chorion is to take properties that have their roots in books and expand them into television, Web sites, merchandise and more, which can have a big impact on backlist sales.“We take our lead from the publishing,” said Jeff Norton, Chorion's senior v-p, brand development. “Trucktown, as Jon envisioned it, is very active and interactive. We wanted to transfer the Trucktown experience as it leaps off the page and bring it to life on the Internet, in an active and interactive way.”
Scieszka describes the Trucktown Web site, which launched in June, as loud and bright, with plenty of things to smash. “It's so satisfying,” he added.
In contrast, other properties the company handles followed different paths. Ian Falconer's Olivia started with high-end merchandise and will star in a 3D-animated television series in spring 2009. “Olivia is rooted in storytelling, so animation made sense,” Norton said. With Mr. Men and Little Miss, “The current iteration was an exercise of, how do we take the characters—there are 83 of them—and make them funny and relevant for kids today?” The answer was to create an animated sketch-comedy series, which debuted on Cartoon Network in February, as well as a Web site and licensed products.
“Our role is to creatively transform the property to other media where it isn't,” Norton said. “Everything should feel like it comes from the world of the book, but also fit with the new medium.”
Other of the more than two dozen mostly literary properties represented by Chorion are The World of Eric Carle, which, along with Olivia, came through the acquisition of New York—based Silver Lining Productions a few years ago; Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter, which were added through last year's purchase of U.K.—based Copyrights Group; and Enid Blyton's works, including Noddy and the Famous Five.
“We treat all the properties with a duty of care to the original character and the DNA of it as it was first created in the book,” said Chorion managing director Jane Turner. “We see ourselves as turning engaging stories into engaging toys, entertainment content and interactive properties, and new publishing. The key thing as we look at a property is, first, to discover more about the essence of that property. What was Ian Falconer's or Eric Carle's vision at the inception?
“Everything has a holistic feel to it,” she continued. “We see ourselves as having a strategic alliance with publishers, and the authors and the estates are an integral part of the process.”
“That was another piece that really appealed to me,” Scieszka commented. “Most people say that, but they really meant it.”
“The important thing to remember is that all of our properties are literary properties,” said Alison Faulkner, Chorion's worldwide publishing manager. “It starts from a strong publishing base and that means it starts with good storytelling.” She noted that the classic publishing is just as important as any new activity. “We don't just take the publishing rights and translate them into multiplatform brands; we are also the caretaker of people's memories.”
This strategy translates directly to increased backlist sales. For example, Penguin Books for Young Readers reports that, thanks to Chorion's brand activities, backlist unit sales of Mr. Men and Little Miss books for the first nine months of 2008 exceeded 1 million, a 213% increase over the total for all 12 months of last year.
“[Chorion's] strategy is to build a franchise,” said Don Weisberg, president of Penguin BFYR, which also works with Chorion on Eric Carle. “It's all about expanding the brand and expanding the awareness in many different ways. We spend a lot of time strategizing on how to dovetail with each other."
Alison Grubard, director of licensing and brand management for Simon & Schuster Children's Books, works with Chorion on Olivia, Trucktown and Eric Carle. She talks to Chorion executives at least once a week, and they are included in twice-monthly meetings attended by the S&S editors involved with each of their properties.
Grubard pointed out that Chorion's activity both expands distribution and raises exposure. “[The properties] become more mass brands and have a more general appeal,” she said. “It's an easier sell.”
Chorion also manages the literary estates of such writers as Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon, as well as Enid Blyton, for whom it has recently launched a range of refreshed publishing for the U.K. and Europe. “We work to keep the authors' work as active and beloved as in their lifetime,” Norton said. “We find ways to make a backlist author frontlist again.”