An Appetite for Hunger Games Merchandise

Bookstores are among the retail chains helping consumers whet their appetite for licensed merchandise based on The Hunger Games. The movie’s $152.2 million opening-weekend box office take was the third largest for any film and the largest ever for a non-sequel.

“All the locations that have been selling products are doing well with them, and reordering,” says Paula Kupfer, v-p promotions and consumer products for Lionsgate, which licenses the film with assistance from agencies Most Management and Striker Entertainment. “We’re extraordinarily happy with the sell-through, as well as the scope and quality of the product.”

NECA serves as the global master licensee, producing everything from board games and apparel to collectibles and jewelry. A few other licensees also are on board, including Skin-It for electronics accessories and Mattel for a Hunger Games Barbie. In addition, promotional partners include China Glaze, which is selling a limited-edition line of nail polish; Microsoft, which is tying in with the property in conjunction with Internet Explorer 9, its stores, and the Xbox; and two nonprofit groups, the United Nations’ World Food Program and Feeding America.

“We didn’t want to overcommercialize the property,” Kupfer says, noting that products are mainly sold in specialty stores, such as Hot Topic, and bookstores. Some mass-market retailers, including Toys ‘R’ Us , carry limited ranges of product, but only if they are merchandised alongside the books. Most merchandise is film-based, although bookstores carry a limited assortment of items tied to the books themselves; NECA is also author Suzanne Collins’s master licensee, with products appearing in stores just after the release of the second Hunger Games title, Catching Fire, in 2009.

The DVD and Blu-Ray release of the movie will spur a broader, mass-market merchandising effort, according to Kupfer. Moving forward, Hunger Games products will remain on the market, with spikes around future film and DVD releases. “We’re thinking of this as a marathon and not a sprint,” Kupfer says.

Penguin Dives into Digital-Origin Licenses

Penguin U.K. has been busy acquiring licensing rights, often for global, all-language distribution, to properties originating in the digital world. “Our digital tie-in program has definitely eclipsed our film tie-ins,” says Eric Huang, publishing director, media and entertainment. Licenses such as Peppa Pig and the newly acquired Raa Raa the Noisy Lion mean the company’s preschool TV licensing roster remains strong, he says. “But [TV is] now neck-in-neck with digital in terms of income. With the new brands we’ve signed, digital tie-ins will become the biggest part of our licensing program.”

Penguin’s digital licenses range from mobile apps to social networks. The most recent acquisition is Whale Trails, a game app that Huang reports has great character art, a story already built into the game, and a retro-modern look. The company will publish a picture-book app this spring, followed – depending on the first title’s performance – by more digital e-books, and potentially physical books (physical versions of the e-books and/or originals).

Another of Penguin’s new digital property-based publishing programs encompasses an e-book and four physical books, mainly fiction, based on Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, a videogame with physical avatars (i.e. collectible figurines) that allow users to carry the game wherever they go. It was the top-selling videogame for children in 2011. Penguin is also publishing a novel tied to the second title in Deep Silver’s Risen franchise, a sword-and-sorcery-themed online role-playing game for teens. These properties follow the company’s ongoing girl-skewing, activity-focused programs for the virtual worlds Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters.

Meanwhile, Penguin is launching an in-house-created brand under the Puffin imprint called Edmund and Cecilie, a picture book series that will launch as interactive e-books. Created by animator/developer Matt Howarth and children’s writer/illustrator Chris Mould, the dragon-focused property is expected to extend into consumer products.

“It was about four years ago that we began to notice that kids were going online and starting to spend so much time there,” Huang says. “We see many opportunities to tell great stories and extend these rich worlds into publishing.”

Coming Soon: Products for Dorks

Rachel Renée Russell and her literary agent, Daniel Lazar of Writers House, have retained JLK Brand Licensing Group to act as the licensing agent for the Dork Diaries series. Planned products include apparel, accessories, social expressions, jewelry, makeup, room décor, cellphone accessories, and other products for girls 8 to 12, according to JLK partner Kathie Fording.

Products are likely to be sold in tween-targeted retail outlets such as Hot Topic, Claire’s, and Justice, as well as in bookstores. “That’s where consumers are going for the books, so it makes sense to have related products right there too,” says Fording, who notes that puzzles and board games are in the works, and are among the items likely to find placement in book chains.

Fording says that an aggressive marketing plan for the books, overseen by Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint, will help drive licensed product sales. “Simon & Schuster is a great partner for this brand,” she says, adding that potential retail and licensee partners are already aware of the Dork Diaries, which makes the property a relatively easy sell.

“The books are known,” Fording explains. “We don’t feel that we need to wait for TV [before launching a licensing program]. There are over 5 million books in print; that’s a lot of eyeballs.” Four Dork Diaries books have been published, with two more planned for this year.

Olivia and Noddy Head to Classic Media

Classic Media has taken over licensing duties for Olivia and Noddy, both formerly represented by Chorion, the bankrupt licensing company that specialized in literary properties. Classic will represent Ian Falconer’s Olivia for consumer products licensing, and has purchased Enid Blyton’s Noddy outright.

“Both of these properties have a tremendous heritage and are a good fit with our portfolio,” says Nicole Blake, executive v-p global marketing and consumer products. Noting that Classic has a history of representing literary brands including Little Golden Books, Pat the Bunny, and Where’s Waldo?, Blake adds, “These are right in our wheelhouse.”

Classic is in the process of talking to retailers and licensees about long-term plans for the properties. “There are so many wonderful things already in the works,” Blake says. “We’re looking for as seamless a transition as possible.” Olivia, with books published by Simon & Schuster and a 3D-animated TV series airing on Nick Jr., already has a wide range of products available in the U.S., from underwear to sporting goods to educational materials.

Most of Noddy’s fame is abroad, including in the U.K., its country of origin, and in Portugal and France, where it is among the top three properties for preschoolers. “Our initial focus will be on countries where the property has that heritage; we can build on the success there,” Blake explains. Secondary markets will be some of 100 countries where the TV series Noddy in Toyland airs. Noddy is not on the air in the U.S. right now, but an announcement about a broadcast partner is expected soon.

Chorion has been selling off and reassigning its assets one by one as it ceases operations. The remainder of the Blyton estate, outside of Noddy, was recently transferred to Hachette U.K.; licensing agency the Joester-Loria Group took over responsibilities for Eric Carle; the Copyrights Group, a former Chorion division that was repurchased by its founders, represents Paddington Bear; former Chorion CEO Waheed Alli’s company Silvergate Media assumed control of Beatrix Potter and the Octonauts; Hello Kitty owner Sanrio took over Mr. Men and Little Miss; and Acorn Media purchased a majority share in the Agatha Christie estate.

In Brief

VIZ Media acquired the license for Redakai from Cartoon Network Enterprises and Spin Master. VIZ will create graphic novels for the animated series and trading card game.... Bendon acquired the rights from Scholastic for Clifford coloring and activity titles, workbooks, flash cards, sticker books and coloring box sets.... Paws Inc. granted Random House rights for e-book versions of its entire back catalog of Garfield comic compilations, at a rate of four titles per month for 18 months.... Scholastic’s Klutz imprint acquired the rights to Disney Princess and Toy Story for book-plus titles for younger kids.... Warner Bros. Consumer Products signed Ravensburger to create 2D and 3D puzzles and card games tied to the upcoming films The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again, as well as the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, for distribution in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.... BBC Worldwide named Walker Books as the global master publisher for Ragdoll Productions’ The Adventures of Abney & Teal, with the first two picture books and a novelty title launching in time for Christmas.... Magazzini Salani will publish books in Italy tied to Holly Hobbie; parent company Adriano Salani Editore already markets notebooks, calendars, agendas, stickers, and other products based on the character.... Pedigree will publish Build-A-Bear Workshop activity handbooks and annuals in the U.K.... Sesame Workshop expanded its deal with Callaway Digital Arts for three new interactive apps.