Mattel is taking more control over its publishing content. It is forming a vertical digital publishing team and creating more story narratives and other content in-house for use by its global network of publishing licensees. The company made the announcement at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this week.

“It made sense to develop digital and publishing content vertically,” said Venetia Davie, Mattel’s v-p of global publishing. “We have strong digital programs with our publishers, but we also have fantastic relationships with iTunes, Amazon, and other partners that distribute Mattel’s digital apps, games, and video content. It’s a natural evolution.”

Davie noted that having the publishing team work closely with the digital and brand teams within Mattel will enhance all of the company’s digital products, whether e-books or gaming apps, by infusing more storytelling and characterization and creating a more engaging experience.

“We’ll continue to partner with our licensees,” she added. Mattel’s key publishing licensees in the U.S. include Random House for Barbie and Thomas & Friends and Little, Brown for Monster High and Ever After High.

A key goal, Davie said, is to create story narratives that work globally – paralleling the worldwide distribution of Mattel’s core toys – with partners in each market supplying localized marketing, pricing, and distribution. In some cases that means developing stories in-house for use by publishers worldwide, while in other instances Mattel might work with a licensee to develop stories that can then be licensed to publishers in other markets.

The latter was the case for a new Barbie chapter book series, Malibu Mysteries, developed in concert with longtime Barbie licensee Random House. The chapter books, along with a line of original illustrated Barbie storybooks that Mattel created in-house, will launch in 2016. That year will also see the debut of a new art style for Barbie, in which the character is slightly younger and “more relatable,” according to the company.

Mattel’s new direction is consistent with how other key entertainment licensors, including Disney, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, and DreamWorks, handle their licensed publishing operations. “It’s not unique,” Davie said. “But it’s new for Mattel.”

In other Mattel publishing news, Thomas & Friends, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, will see tie-in publishing for its latest DVD feature release, Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure, as well as a new illustrated picture book from Egmont featuring the property’s classic look.