Put SpongeBob in the Story

Sourcebooks has secured the rights to Nickelodeon’s portfolio of properties for its Put Me in the Story personalized book platform. The first two titles are Dora the Explorer's Birthday Surprise! and Happy Birthday, SpongeBob!

“Nickelodeon’s content is really diverse,” says Lyron Bennett, Put Me in the Story business manager, noting that, as a direct-to-consumer platform, Put Me in the Story needs to appeal to all consumers, not only kids up to age 8 but also their gift-giving parents, grandparents, and “that cool uncle.” “Nickelodeon speaks to different audiences, and from a place of authority,” Bennett says.

The Put Me in the Story licensing roster already includes Disney’s range of properties, Peanuts, Hello Kitty, and Sesame Street. In fact, of the 80+ personalized books the company has published since the platform launched in beta two years ago, Bennett estimates that approximately 30% to 40% are licensed titles. “So much creative energy and endeavor goes into creating SpongeBob or [Disney’s] Sofia the First,” he says. “The licensors see that personalized books are another way for kids to be more closely connected to their worlds and characters.”

Some cross-pollination exists between Sourcebooks’ print and personalized programs. Most of its licensed and non-licensed print titles are also available through Put Me in the Story, while some acquired for the latter make their way to store shelves. Such was the case with Nickelodeon, whose Put Me in the Story deal quickly led to the development of a print book, Goodnight Lagoon, a SpongeBob-starring parody of Goodnight Moon.

“We’re just at the beginning of this journey,” Bennett says of Put Me in the Story. Next year will bring opportunities to expand beyond picture books, such as into nonfiction and adult titles, for example. “Clearly there’s a substantial market for personalized books. Now that we have some units out the door and have proved the concept, there’s an opportunity to see what other groups of people we can target.”

Studio Fun Adopts ASPCA License

Studio Fun International has partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Its licensed children’s books tied to the property, starting with two readers, two chapter books, and a novelty title for preschoolers, will go on sale in February. The fictional stories will weave in real-life anecdotes, with a nonfiction story of pet adoption included at the back of each book.

“This license is very different for us,” says Rosanne MacManus, associate publisher of Studio Fun (formerly Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing). “We’re a higher-priced novelty book publisher, so we tend to go after well-established [entertainment-based] brands. If our customers are spending $10, $15, $20 on a book, they really need to know the brand.”

The ASPCA appealed to Studio Fun for a number of reasons. “We felt it was a really great way to create fun animal stories with a real message and a message people care deeply about,” MacManus says. “They have a treasure trove of stories about animals that have been saved, and a bank of photos of these animals.”

The fact that a portion of the sales price goes to the ASPCA is touted on the cover of each book. “Children in schools are learning to give back and to be part of their communities, so that’s a great bonus feature,” explains Debra Polansky, Studio Fun’s publishing director.

The new license also fits with a move by the publisher over the past 18 months to broaden its product line to include formats for older kids as well as the preschool novelty books for which it is best known. “The ASPCA didn’t have any other publishers on board, so that has given us the opportunity to get into the step-reading and chapter book areas,” MacManus says.

In other licensing news, Studio Fun launched Star Wars books this fall for the first time, starting with Star Wars Rebels titles based on the Disney XD animated series. It will expand that line next fall, with books tied to the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including a highly anticipated title in the Movie Theater Storybook series, with a light saber serving as the projector. “A lot of the in-house staff are passionate about Star Wars personally, and it’s been fun to watch them bring that to the production of the books,” Polansky says.

Care Bears Join Lion Forge

American Greetings Properties has granted Lion Forge Comics the rights to produce digital comics and print graphic novel compilations tied to Care Bears, Madballs, and Packages from Planet X – the last a new animated series airing on Disney XD – under Lion Forge’s all-ages ROAR imprint. ROAR’s other licenses include NBC/Universal’s Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster.

Part of the appeal to Lion Forge was the ability to target the fast-growing children’s comic sector. “Just like novels, you can have something for everyone in comics,” says Carl Reed, Lion Forge’s chief creative officer. “There’s a gap in the market for children and, digging even deeper, a gap for comics targeting younger girls. The success of My Little Pony comics [licensed to IDW by Hasbro] has shown that there is that need.”

Care Bears will be the first AGP property to roll out, in the first quarter of 2015, followed by Madballs and Packages from Planet X, both of which appeal more to boys. All will launch through digital distribution; shortly afterward, a graphic novel collecting the first 8-10 books will debut.

The ROAR team is developing the all-original comics. “American Greetings is so creative, and they have a real understanding of what their properties are and where they want to see them go,” says Reed. “It’s a well-defined framework, but it’s not constricted. We can go where we want with the story, as long as it’s within that framework.” The digital books will also include some enhanced content. “We want to make sure it’s definitely a good comic, but we can enhance the interactivity so you can go deeper into a story with a little animation or a little gaming.”

Licensing plays a key role in attracting fans to all-ages comics. “Licensing is very important, especially for us with our ‘comics for everyone’ mantra,” Reed says. “We need to introduce new readers to comics, and licenses are the gateway drug into comics from traditional books or a TV show. If [potential readers] already have an affinity to a property or knowledge of a property, that helps a lot. Once they pick up the comic, they get hooked by the story.”

Scholastic’s Minecraft: Still Building

With more than 11 million copies in print of the first three titles alone across its retail, book club, and book fair channels, Scholastic continues to expand its Minecraft publishing program. Up next, for spring 2015, is the Minecraft Blockopedia, a comprehensive, hexagon-shaped hardcover guide to all the blocks used in the interactive world, packaged in a gift box, for $49.99.

In addition, spring will bring updated editions of the second and third titles published in the U.S., namely the Minecraft Redstone Handbook (released in March 2014) and the Minecraft Combat Handbook (August 2014). The first book, Minecraft: Essential Handbook, was published in the U.S. in November 2013; the most recent is a deluxe collection of the first four handbooks (Essential, Redstone, Combat, and Construction, the last introduced in September), published in October 2014.

“Kids just can’t get enough,” says Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher. While there are other Minecraft-themed books on the market, “these are the only official Minecraft books available, and kids are so savvy they know that. They’ve become must-have books.” Dorfman adds that there was a built-in demand for the books when they were released. “The property had been gaining momentum and popularity for a few years, through 2012 and 2013, before any books were available.”

The property also has a feel-good halo with parents and especially teachers. “Teachers are really accepting of it because of the educational value,” Dorfman says. “It’s about geometry, spatial relations, history, and imagination. We even heard anecdotally from one librarian who built a replica of the school library on Minecraft to lure kids into the library.”

Scholastic has published successful licensed handbooks in the past, notably a series tied to Pokémon, which is still going strong. “Our other handbooks have been more about the characters, while Minecraft is a little more about the gaming,” Dorfman explains. “The books include tips and info from the creators themselves, but not too preachy or how-to. The beauty of Minecraft is that you can create your own world in there. These kind of guide you.”

To date, Scholastic has been distributing Minecraft books developed by Egmont in the U.K., but it is in early talks with licensor Mojang – which Microsoft purchased in September – about ideas for potential fiction titles, as well as hybrid titles that mix fiction and nonfiction.

In Brief

Retailer Hot Topic is debuting an exclusive line of t-shirts tied to the Japanese comic and animation property Doraemon in 30 U.S. stores. The apparel, along with collectibles available through the official Doraemon product website (from Yes Anime) represent the first Doraemon licensed products in the U.S. market. VIZ Media is the licensor for North and Latin America…. Quarto Publishing acquired the rights to the Van Gogh Museum for a Van Gogh Museum Masterclass book and a sketchbook, as well as wall calendars…. Primary Colors is selling stationery, craft and school supplies, and confectionery featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar, through a licensing agreement with The Joester Loria Group, agent for The World of Eric Carle…. Cupcake Digital is developing enhanced e-book apps tied to the Peanuts Classic brand and The Peanuts Movie, license from Peanuts Worldwide, and to Max & Ruby, under license from Nelvana Enterprises…. Egmont has secured the rights to publish story, coloring, novelty, activity, sticker, and sound books, as well as annuals and magazines, tied to DHX Brands’ Teletubbies in the U.K. and 30 other international territories, starting in spring/summer 2016. The property is licensed by agency CPLG in the U.K. and Europe…. Penguin U.K. is the children’s book licensee for Sesame Workshop’s new property Furchester Hotel, which includes new characters as well as some Sesame Street Muppets. The first story, activity, and novelty titles will launch in spring 2015 through the Ladybird imprint; Penguin has global rights, excluding North America…. Caribu, maker of a family video-calling and reading app for iOS devices, signed a deal with Mattel subsidiary HIT Entertainment to add Thomas & Friends, Angelina Ballerina, Mike the Knight, and Fireman Sam titles to its bookshop.