Fresh Strawberry Shortcake

Iconix Brand Group, best known for its licensed fashion and lifestyle labels, purchased the rights to Strawberry Shortcake in February 2015. Formerly owned by American Greetings, Strawberry Shortcake is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. The property has been a publishing powerhouse throughout its life, and books will play a key part in its revival.

Penguin Young Readers Group continues as the master licensee, a role it has played since the early 2000s. Other U.S. publishers include Bendon for coloring and activity formats and IDW, a newly signed licensee for comic books and graphic novels. Worldwide, the publishing program encompasses 50 partners in more than 130 markets. Matt Bonaccorso, senior director, marketing and ecommerce for Strawberry Shortcake, says a full complement of new titles, featuring refreshed content and additional formats, will be released by fall 2017, through existing and additional licensees.

Digital content and marketing will be a cornerstone of Strawberry Shortcake’s commercial activities going forward. The character already counts more than 50 million app downloads and 2.5 million Facebook friends (an increase of 30% since the purchase). Meanwhile, TV programming is available in more than 500 million households worldwide, with particular strengths in Brazil, France, Mexico, and Russia. In the U.S., distribution includes Discovery Family and Netflix. The property has more than 350 consumer products licensees globally.

Iconix is aligning Strawberry Shortcake with an aspirational girl-power message. “We want to empower the girls of today to become the leaders of the future,” says Bonaccorso. As a first step in that mission, it is partnering with Elevate, a New York women’s networking group, for a series of events tied to the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl.

In many ways, the plans for Strawberry Shortcake mirror the path Iconix has taken with another classic property, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. It acquired a majority ownership share in Snoopy and the gang in 2010.

Stampy Cat Curls Up with Egmont

Egmont has acquired worldwide publishing rights for two books featuring Stampy Cat (a.k.a. Mr Stampy, Stampylongnose, Stampylonghead), a character created by U.K.-based YouTube star Joseph Garrett. Garrett creates “let’s play” videos featuring Stampy in various videogames and posts a new Minecraft video every day. He is represented for licensing by Maker Studios, which hosts his gaming-centric StampyLongHead YouTube channel, as well as his story-driven and educational Wonder Quest channel. Garrett’s videos have attracted more than six million subscribers and four billion views – currently more than 47 million a month – since his first upload in 2006.

“We were aware of Stampy Cat because of Minecraft,” says John Packard, publisher at Egmont Publishing U.K., which also has a license with the popular interactive game. “Stampy’s ‘let’s play’ videos follow his avatar Stampy Cat, taking on challenges in a variety of different computer games, and are loved by millions of children worldwide. Because of Egmont’s track record in publishing game-related tie-ins, this made him a great fit for our list. Although many adults won’t be at all aware of Stampy Cat, the reality is that many parents are very familiar with him and their children are regular and committed viewers of his daily videos."

The first title, Stampy Cat’s Lovely Book, is an annual – a format popular in the U.K. – featuring activities, comic strips, jokes, information about Stampy and his friends, anti-boredom challenges, and tips on how to get into Stampy’s Love Garden, an online gallery of fans’ illustrations and projects. The first book will be followed by a second in 2016. Egmont is in the final stages of an auction for U.S. rights and plans to grant sub rights for Canada and Australia/New Zealand as well.

Amy Finnerty, executive v-p of talent partnerships at Maker Studios, which handles licensing and publishing for Maker’s top stars, says a number of factors play into which creators are a good match for publishing. They include audience size and engagement, the talent’s personality and goals, and, importantly, the star’s ability to collaborate on a book while continuing to post video content regularly.

“Egmont made the process really easy for Joe,” Finnerty says. “At the same time, he was hands-on and had a real voice in all of it. He wants his fans to see the different sides of Stampy Cat in a new way.”

Scholastic’s ‘Secret Hero Society’

Scholastic will release three illustrated novels for middle-grade readers under the DC Comics: Secret Hero Society banner, written and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. The pair is known for its Batman L’il Gotham series with DC.

Scholastic has been publishing books with licensors DC Comics and Warner Bros. Consumer Products for more than 20 years. In addition to two upcoming tie-ins to the spring 2016 feature film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice – a prequel and a handbook – it has published formats ranging from LEGO: DC Super Heroes books to titles in its Head-to-Head line. But this series is different, according to Samantha Schutz, associate publisher for licensing and nonfiction. “Those are all traditional licensed formats,” she says. “We treat [Secret Hero Society] internally, and present it to our buyers, as middle grade fiction and not as part of our licensing list.” She notes that the company considers this series “review-worthy and event-worthy,” comparing it to Scholastic’s Disney-licensed Star Wars Jedi Academy novels, which have been ongoing for three years.

DC Comics: Secret Hero Society follows young Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and other DC Comics characters as they attend a mysterious middle school. The first novel, Study Hall of Justice, will release simultaneously in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in February 2016, taking advantage of the marketing opportunities leading up to Batman vs. Superman. The plan is to publish one new title per year.

Relaunch for ‘Rainbow Fish’

Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish, first published in the U.S. in 1992 by North-South Books, is set for a consumer products push. New merchandise is expected to debut in advance of the property’s 25th anniversary – and the publication of the eighth Rainbow Fish picture book—in 2017. The book series has sold 30 million copies worldwide.

The product assortment this time around will focus on imagery from the picture books, according to Rob Mejia, owner of RJM Licensing, which was recently retained as the property’s licensing representative for the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. “It will be an old-school book licensing program,” Mejia says. The property’s previous licensing foray, in the early to mid-2000s, featured artwork from the animated TV and video version.

Four deals are in the works for posters and bookmarks, oversized wall décor, educational materials and games, and a master license for infant and toddler products ranging from plush and gifts to feeding products. Bedding and room décor, as well as stationery and party and paper goods, are the next step, Mejia reports. Rainbow Fish is currently highlighted in a stage musical with ArtsPower and a dance program with Raleigh Dance Theatre.

In Brief

VIZ Media is releasing a 240-page art book tied to the classic role-playing board game Magic: The Gathering, under license from Wizards of the Coast.... Little, Brown's Grand Central imprint will publish a tips guide and an adult coloring book tied to the online game Candy Crush, under license from King Digital Entertainment.... Coolabi Group signed Penguin Group USA to distribute a picture book in the U.S. and Canada based on the British TV series Clangers, which airs on Sprout in the U.S. Penguin is the master global publishing partner outside of the U.S. and Canada.... The British Library has licensed 10/6 London, a division of Cotton World, to create a line of children’s t-shirts, pajamas, and bedding inspired by Alice in Wonderland, to be available initially in the British Library shop and ecommerce site. The Library, which holds the original Lewis Carroll manuscript, celebrates the book’s 150th anniversary this year.... Soul and Vibe has released Johnny Tractor and Friends: County Fair, its first interactive ebook title under license from John Deere. Additional titles will be released quarterly.... Cosmic Forces is developing a mobile game, Goosebumps: Night of Scares, for Sony Pictures Entertainment and Scholastic, to be released in time for the Goosebumps feature film this fall.... Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has partnered with WGBH Boston to co-produce a TV series based on Gossie & Friends by Olivier Dunrea.