PBS Kids Heads Downtown

This fall, Downtown Bookworks will introduce its first three titles under a new license with PBS Kids that encompasses activity books, interactive board books, and craft kits. The first titles include PBS Kids Do-It-Myself Kids’ Cookbook, PBS Kids Do-It-Myself Super Simple Sock Crafts, and PBS Kids Doodle Pad. Two to three titles per season are planned thereafter. The agreement came about after PBS Kids executives attending a recent BEA saw DTBW’s licensed DC Comics board books and approached the publisher about doing some titles for their brand.

Noting that both PBS Kids, which is represented for licensing by Parham Santana, and DTBW have a similar focus on making learning fun, DTBW president Julie Merberg said, “[PBS Kids’] mission is so pure and their standards are so high, and the quality of what they do is so impressive. They’re a delight to work with.”

The books will include PBS Kids–branded versions of existing Downtown Bookworks formats, as well as new titles that grow out of the collaboration. “They have shared all kinds of research as to how children learn, which will help us come up with new formats,” Merberg explained. A future craft kit will focus on making projects from sticks and stones, in keeping with a PBS Kids’ initiative to get young children outdoors and into nature.

DTBW is also working closely with Mudpuppy, the new PBS Kids licensee for sticker and building sets, puzzles, finger puppets, and crafting activities. The two companies have been approaching retailers together and collaborating to ensure their pricing, packaging, and branding are compatible, for example.

Merberg is talking to two other licensors about possible future book programs. “[Licensing] is not something I’ve been aggressively pursuing, but at BEA we always get a number of inquiries,” she said. “We took the DC license with the intent to get dads to read to their babies. That line has a cool and classic, nostalgic comic book feel, and it has been hugely successful in museum stores, Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, and Gap. We’ve had some nice mass merchant sales as well.”

The Little House Lifestyle

Friendly Family Productions has retained licensing agency Knockout Licensing to represent a new Little House on the Prairie lifestyle brand in the U.S. and Canada. Friendly Family owns the rights to the Michael Landon TV series, as well as other film, television, merchandising, and theme park rights to the property; the Little House Heritage Trust owns the publishing rights, which are licensed to HarperCollins.

The lifestyle brand is based on new imagery that captures the feeling of the books. “[Friendly Family Productions] created a magnificent style guide that takes into account the essence of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories,” said Carole Postal, Knockout’s co-president. “It’s all-new artwork but it’s so recognizable and so representative of what the stories are. It’s very Americana and very much what you think of when you read the books. It’s about that ingenuity of who we were and who we aspire to be, and there are very few properties that speak to that.”

Trip Friendly, CEO of Friendly Family Productions, whose father Ed initially acquired the rights and was a producer of the original Little House on the Prairie TV series, said that research about the brand conducted in 2010 revealed that recognition was higher that year than in the 1970s or 1980s, when the show was on in primetime. “We realized we had a very powerful brand here,” Friendly said. “We think it has far surpassed simply a successful series of books and a successful series of TV shows. It has become part of American culture. So we wanted to take the attributes of the property and reinterpret them in a modern, fresh, and authentic way.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books have sold more than 60 million copies in 100 countries and the television series has been on the air for 40 years, currently on the Hallmark Channel and the Inspiration Network. “It’s a nice platform to build a licensing program on,” said Postal. The focus will be on products for girls ages five to 10, with some items for adults as well. Postal envisions select products in all distribution channels, such as dolls in Walmart, jellies at Cost Plus World Market, quilting kits at quilting specialty stores, and journals at bookstores.

VeggieTales Are Ripe for Comics

Since 1993, VeggieTales has driven sales of 70 million DVDs, 15 million books, seven million CDs, and two million plush figures, but has never appeared in the comic book format. That is about to change, as B&H Kids will debut its first two of eight planned VeggieTales comic books in February 2015, under a new license from DreamWorks Animation subsidiary Big Idea. This is also the first comic book venture for B&H Kids, which was founded in 2012.

“I worked on the first VeggieTales books that came out 20 years ago, so I know the Big Idea people, and I worked with DreamWorks on The Prince of Egypt,” said Dan Lynch, acquisitions editor, who was with Tommy Nelson and Word Records before joining B&H Kids. “Kids’ comics are definitely on the rise in the general market for this age group,” he added. “There are none in the Christian market yet, but this is the perfect brand to do it.”

Each 104-page paperback “supercomic” will contain two stories (one adventure and one Bible story) that are familiar from the VeggieTales videos, as well as a new story featuring the character Larry Boy. The B&H team is creating the original stories, sending them to Big Idea and DreamWorks at various stages of creation, as is typical for a licensed book program. “It’s a long process, but we’re having fun with it,” Lynch said. The stories will be available individually as e-books.

Lynch expects distribution to be wide. “The Christian bookstore market carries the whole breadth of VeggieTales product,” he said. While the general market is more selective about the property, Lynch sees potential in bookstores and mass merchants as well. “We’re hoping to get into comic book stores too,” he added. “We’re looking forward to having VeggieTales comics at ComicCon one of these days.”

Robot Cat Comes to America

VIZ Media is launching a licensing program for Doraemon, a Japanese property that was introduced in 1970 as a comic book by Fujiko F. Fujio. VIZ, a subsidiary of Doraemon licensor Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions (ShoPro), will serve as master licensee for North America and Latin America.

Globally, Doraemon has 600 active licensees and drives $500 million in retail sales of merchandise annually, much of it in Asia. More than 140 million copies of Doraemon manga have been published, and the franchise has attracted more filmgoers than any other in its home country, with more than 34 feature films to date and more than 100 million tickets sold in 2014. But the property has had little presence in the U.S. market in its nearly 45-year history.

The Japanese anime series is available in North America through digital manga for Amazon’s Kindle and through mobile game apps, and the first-ever airing of an English-dubbed version of the anime is set to launch on Disney XD this summer. “This will be the first time the Doraemon license and merchandise are in the U.S.,” said Daisuke Aoki, VIZ Media’s v-p licensing. “Still, we’ve found people know of the property, especially if a family member grew up watching it in another country.”

The TV series and the 45th-anniversary celebration in 2015 made this a perfect time to launch a licensing program, Aoki noted. Merchandise will be aimed at two consumer groups: children who watch Disney XD, and fashion-oriented teens and young adults. Globally, Aoki said, products are aimed at all ages and range from guitars and snowboards to high-end streetwear and a Swarovski Crystal/Doraemon crossover item.

Doraemon features a cat-like robot from the future that has more than 1,800 gadgets in his magical 4D pocket. The stories are comedic but also contain a lesson for children. The property is well known in Latin America and VIZ plans to restart its TV and merchandise programs in that market as well, said Aoki, with Brazil being a territory with prime potential.

In Brief

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