Harper’s Avatar Adventure

These days, publishers often are leery of creating licensed publishing programs based on original, non-franchise-based films. But the risk paid off for HarperCollins Children’s Books when it tied in with Avatar, which has become the top box-office earner of all-time. “We knew from the get-go that this would be a groundbreaking film, technology-wise,” says Joanna Marutollo, director of marketing. “We had a feeling that it would become a franchise.”

The publishing program consists of three titles, including a 64-page chapter book, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Na’vi Quest—done in lieu of a junior novelization, since many of the plot points, including the ending, were kept secret until the movie release—as well as a movie scrapbook and a reusable sticker book. (Abrams is the licensee on the adult side, publishing The Art of Avatar: James Cameron’s Epic Adventure.)

Not only were key plot lines under wraps, but Twentieth Century Fox held back many of the images, even from licensees, due in part to the technology used. “There were not many assets we could show retailers until late in the game, so they took a leap of faith,” Marutollo says. “Most of the retailers quickly came to realize that this was going to be an event.” Harper declined to release sales figures, but Marutollo says some reorders are coming in due to the film’s success, noting that retailers are keeping promotions in-store longer as Avatar remains the top draw for moviegoers week after week.

The delay in receiving art assets precluded doing tie-ins with other licensees—there are more than 125 Avatar products on the market, from companies including Ubisoft, Mattel, and JEM—so Harper cross-promoted with the Fox Movie Channel’s Web site, where the books were featured and offered as contest prizes.

Percy Jackson : On Screen and In Store

Four retail chains—including Borders and Barnes & Noble—are featuring products and promotions tied to the February 12 release of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the Rick Riordan series from Hyperion. This according to Virginia King and Lora Cohn, senior v-ps, U.S. licensing and retail, of publishing/softlines and hardlines, respectively, for Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising.

Borders and Barnes & Noble were natural partners. “They both have such a long and illustrious history of success with the book series,” King says, adding, “Barnes & Noble wanted it to be a book moment and not a film moment. Borders’ merchandise mix is broader. They’re as excited about the merchandise as the books.” Fox is working closely with Hyperion as it develops its licensing and promotional programs.

Barnes & Noble has tables featuring all of the Percy books, which have been reissued with covers featuring movie art, as well as a few products such as bookmarks. It also is highlighting the film with in-store signage and exclusive online content. Meanwhile, Borders has set up tables for books and merchandise, such as light-up pens, a few action figures, t-shirts and bookmarks; displays signage at the front of the store, on the entry doors and in the YA section; has exclusive online content; and is hosting premiere parties with trivia, discussions and other activities. It also is offering an exclusive patch with certain purchases of books and merchandise, and a few stores will be part of the cast tour, with Q&As and merchandise signings.

The other two retailers supporting the film are Hot Topic, which will carry apparel, accessories and novelties, promote the film with signage, provide exclusive content and promotions online, and participate in the cast tour; and Toys R Us, which will highlight action figures and accessories. “The fact that we have these four chains on board speaks volumes to the different types of readers this franchise has,” Cohn says. Licensees include Jazwares, Activision, C&D Visionary, Trends International and Giant.

Gryphon House Goes to the Lions

Gryphon House, which has a backlist of nearly 200 titles of children’s and teacher resource books, has entered the licensing arena, forging a deal with WGBH-Boston to publish educational titles based on the PBS television series Between the Lions. There was a good fit between publisher and property, according to editor-in-chief Kathy Charner. “The mission of Between the Lions is to improve the literacy of all young children,” she says. “And Gryphon House has always stood for bringing quality resources to parents and teachers.”

The house will publish five Between the Lions products, according to marketing and rights director Cathy Calliotte, including a book called What Does a Lion Say? that includes literacy games, two books for teachers, and two educational card decks. Products are distributed to the book trade through Consortium and sold through educational and school supply stores.

There has been an uptick in licensing in the school and teacher markets in the last couple of years, with school and library publishers such as Lerner, Capstone, and ABDO among those trying to entice children to reading through licensed properties.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Agent Bradford Licensing began representing the Sherlock Holmes brand in the U.S. in late 2009 and is currently in talks with manufacturers about creating products for both children and adults. The agency is representing The Sherlock Holmes Company, a division of The Sherlock Holmes Memorabilia Company, which has been manufacturing and selling Sherlock Holmes-branded products and services since the late 1980s from three store locations, as well as online and via mail order, according to Bradford president Michelle Minieri. The company is not associated with the estate or heirs of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Products will include a logo featuring the detective’s silhouette, complete with pipe and deerstalker hat, and a Sherlock Holmes “signature.” Children’s merchandise from the company in the past has included limited-edition bears meant to appeal kids and collectors alike.

In Brief

Author and artist Debby Carman has signed with Suppertime Entertainment, which will handle licensing for a 2011 feature film based on Carman’s picture book, The Nutcracker Cats of the Kremlin, and for her portfolio of dog and cat designs, including book characters. It also will oversee international publishing deals for her six picture books.... Random House continues its long partnership with Disney, releasing a number of titles tied to Toy Story 3, in theaters June 18. It also added The Last Airbender, another summer film, to its portfolio of Nickelodeon-licensed titles.... HIT Entertainment has signed a number of licensees for Thomas & Friends, including Added Extras for health and beauty products, Tara Toys for arts and crafts, The Tin Box Company for buckets, carry-alls and wastebaskets, Think Wow Toys for swim and pool toys and accessories, The Toy Workshop for wooden room décor, and Upper Deck for trading cards.... Guinness World Records signed licensee Paladone Products for a line of gift items, some packaged with mini books, for the U.K. market. The deal was brokered by Start Licensing.... Also in the U.K., Alligator Books acquired the license for the Hanna-Barbera characters from Warner Bros. Consumer Products, for a line of coloring, activity and novelty books.... Among the latest licensed characters to be featured in digital books for the iPhone are the stars of VeggieTales, through a licensing agreement between licensor Big Idea and software company Scrollmotion.