DC Super Friends: First License for FSG
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers has licensed the rights to create novelty titles for the preschool-targeted DC Super Friends brand, under license from Warner Bros. Consumer Products. The first two titles, ABC 123 Workbook, a wipe-clean activity book, and The Missing Batmobile, a lift-the-flap board book with a gatefold, will launch in fall 2016. Two other titles will follow in winter 2017.
This marks the first time in memory that FSG’s kids’ imprint has entered into a licensing agreement. “I think of Roger Straus strolling the hallway, thinking: ‘Super Friends?’ ” said executive editor Janine O’Malley. “But we’re an editorial-driven house and can work on anything we want to, within reason, so I’m injecting the Flash, Batman, and Superman into FSG for the first time. It’s still of the highest caliber, to fit our mission and goals.”
O’Malley said that FSG has had success with novelty books based on its own Pout-Pout Fish and notes that DC Comics is popular with the very young, thanks in part to Fisher-Price’s DC Super Friends Imaginext toys. She has had personal experience with youngsters’ love of the brand ever since her older son received a pair of Batman costume pajamas at age three. “Since that day, he hasn’t worn regular clothes,” she said with a laugh.
While the Batman v. Superman and Justice League movies are giving the DC Comics properties a high profile this year, O’Malley points out that the storylines tend to have dark themes. “We wanted to create fun, interactive books that were appropriate for the younger set,” she said. “These are age-appropriate for a two-year-old. They’re not scary.”
So far, retailers seem enthusiastic, O’Malley reported. “The mass is really excited about this, and we’re finding nice sell-in.”
‘Animal Jam’ a Natural for Penguin
Penguin Books for Young Readers has signed on as the North American master children’s publishing licensee for Animal Jam, a girl-skewing interactive game with an educational bent, licensed by developer WildWorks! and its agent Peeko. “We liked that Animal Jam was developed in conjunction with National Geographic,” said Sarah Fabiny, editor-in-chief, licenses and series at Penguin Young Readers. “They’re really being conscientious about having a solid foundation for the learning aspect of it. It also has massive numbers of players, and it’s adorably cute.”
Penguin will introduce two chapter books for ages six to 10 in summer 2017, followed by two more the next season. “We wanted to provide a longer reading experience for a confident emerging reader that wants more than just 8x8s or sticker story books,” Fabiny said. “We want to immerse them in the world the same as the game does.” The titles will feature two or three digital codes per book, embedded within the narrative, which will unlock online content. “We want the interactive content to be part of the story rather than just an additional thing you get,” she explained.
WildWorks! launched the game in 2010 and has 50 million registered users worldwide, according to v-p of marketing Natalie Shahmiri. “The National Geographic content is featured throughout the game, so whatever the players do, there is content about the natural world,” Fabiny said.
Jazwares serves as the master toy licensee, with other licensed products ranging from apparel to trading cards. Jeffrey (J.C.) Conrad, founder and CEO of Peeko, notes that Wildworks! spent significant time building the brand before launching a licensing program. “They let this brand establish itself for the first five years,” he said. “They wanted to build the core of the game and focus on the user and the player.”
Other books tied to Animal Jam include National Geographic Kids’ Animal Jam: Official Insider’s Guide, which combines gaming tips and fun facts about animals, and Wooky Entertainment’s Style Me Up! craft and activity books, part of a broader arts and crafts license. “When we met [WildWorks!] last year I was really impressed with the success of the videogame,” said Wooky CEO Kevin Richer. “And our main customer for our Style Me Up! brand is tween girls 6-12, which is exactly the main audience of Animal Jam. So it was a really great fit.”
Scholastic Goes Deeper into the Wizarding World
Scholastic has expanded its longtime relationship with the Harry Potter franchise, forging a deal with Warner Bros. last month to serve as the master global children’s publisher, starting in September 2016, for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film trilogy. It also signed on to create new tie-in books for the eight Harry Potter movies released from 2001 to 2011.
“We’ve had a long history with Harry Potter and we’re really excited to get more into that world,” said Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade. “We’ve continued to see the love of Harry Potter grow over the years, and we now have both a new generation of readers and the readers who have stayed part of this world.” She pointed out that the recent redesign of the original novels has attracted new readers to the franchise and that the success of the coloring books (which are intricate in the vein of the typical adult coloring title) shows that the original audience is still interested.
The books tied to both Fantastic Beasts and the Harry Potter movies will include a variety of film tie-in formats. “The storytelling lives with J.K. Rowling,” Berger said. “We can retell the story in different ways and make some deeper dives into the characters. There’s an incredible opportunity for new content and to create a different experience that adds to the world.”
The first seven to 10 Fantastic Beasts titles will focus on activity/creativity formats, sketchbooks, coloring books, and poster books, as well as movie handbooks, according to Berger, to be released in time for the premiere of the film in November of this year. (Two more movies are planned for 2018 and 2020.) “The visuals are spectacular so we’ll be doing a lot of formats that highlight that imagery,” she said.
For Harry, plans include books profiling Ron, Hermione, Harry, and some of the Hogwarts teachers, more coloring books, four-color versions of earlier titles, script books, and more.
Ladybug and Cat Noir Ready for Action (Lab)
Action Lab Entertainment, a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 2010 with a focus on creator-owned comics, is launching a series of licensed titles based on Zag Heroez: Miraculous. The animated action-adventure series, which stars a female protagonist, has aired on Nickelodeon since December to high ratings—following successful releases in Korea and France—and is licensed by Zag Inc.
“This was a perfect match for us,” said Bryan Seaton, publisher of Action Lab, which offers a line of superhero comic books for girls and boys. “We love DC and Marvel superheroes, but they tend to be older. I want to bring superhero comics to the market that my kids would like.” The female-centric nature of the show was also appealing, he added. “This has an empowered young girl who is the star. We’re very excited to be working with such a strong property that presents girls so well.”
The comics will be the first Miraculous licensed product released, in July, followed by toys from Bandai and other merchandise in August and September. “We consider publishing a cornerstone to the program,” said André Lake Mayer, Zag’s president of brand strategy and consumer products. “Comics are the most intuitive format, because the character is based on a classic comic book superhero archetype.”
Action Lab’s Miraculous program consists of two series, one an adaptation of the TV episodes in the show’s first season, Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, with the first three issues and a trade edition coming out in July, and the other consisting of all-new illustrated stories based on the characters and the world, to be released in October.
Mayer reported a very engaged teen fan base that is active on Tumblr and other social media platforms, which co-exists with the Nickelodeon show and its audience of children. While the latter attracts both boys and girls, most of the licensed products will skew toward the latter. But Mayer believes the comics may attract both genders, noting that some of the covers will highlight the male sidekick.
Action Lab is a relatively recent entrant into licensing; its other properties have included Vamplets and NFL Rush Zone on Nick. “Licensing helps bring awareness to your brand as well as the other properties that are part of your brand,” Seaton said. “We don’t want to do all licensing, but we’ll take select licenses that we feel strongly about, mostly in the kids’ space.”
Green Toys Adds Green Books
Green Toys, a marketer of U.S.-made, eco-friendly children’s toys that foster open-ended, non-digital play, is expanding into storybooks for children aged two and up. The first three 32-page hardcovers will come out in fall 2016, followed by more storybooks and additional formats, potentially including board books and activity books, in 2017.
“We’re all about simple, non-structured, very back-to-basics play,” said Robert van Goeben, president of Green Toys and author of the books. “Books are a natural. They promote simple, mommy-and-me time and promote imagination, and we can manufacture them in the U.S. from 100% recycled materials. They’re perfect for our consumer, today’s millennial moms.” The books will be available as standalones as well as in book-and-toy sets.
The characters in the storybooks are based on Green Toys products, starting with a train, construction vehicle, and boat, and contain themes such as exploring the world and using the imagination. Green Toys is publishing the books, rather than working with a publisher, at least initially. “We have to prove on our own that we have a winning formula, and no one knows the brand as well as we do,” van Goeben said. “Producing the books took much longer than we thought. Getting the formula right is not easy. We developed a real appreciation of what it takes to make a great children’s book.”
Distribution will be to Green Toys’ core customer base; it counts Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Indigo Books and Music among its top 10 accounts. It also sells to the likes of Whole Foods, Pottery Barn, and Cost Plus, not to mention independent book, toy, and gift stores.
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