Parragon Is Sweet on Num Noms

Parragon has secured master publishing rights to Num Noms, a scented, food-based line of novelty-collectible toys from MGA Entertainment. The deal includes English-speaking markets and global military bases.

“We looked at a lot of collectible brands,” says Amy Jarashow, Parragon’s licensing director. “Everyone seems to have one.” She notes that the main element differentiating Num Noms from other collectibles was that each product is scented, a characteristic that will carry over into the books, either on the pages themselves or through a value-added element. “The fact that it was scented was a big piece of it,” Jarashow says. Other appealing characteristics, she added, included the toys’ cuteness, the fact that there’s a surprise in each one, and universal enthusiasm for the license from Parragon’s offices around the world. “It was one of the easiest licensing decisions we’ve made in a long time.”

For MGA, Parragon’s wide distribution and product-development creativity were key selling points. “Parragon can take traditional formats and break the mold, and at a competitive price,” says Lisa Foster, MGA’s senior director of licensing. “They’re in upstairs specialty stores and they still play in the mass and mid-tier. They can piggyback on the channels where we’re most successful, and extend our brand into traditional toy and book stores.”

Num Noms collectibles contain a hard-sided Nom character within a squishy Num character, each with its own scent, plus a surprise such as lip gloss or a stamp. Since the first series of the toys came out in fourth quarter 2015, they have been appearing on fastest-growing toy lists and have attracted 100 million promotional views on influencers’ YouTube channels. The strong early reaction has led MGA to move up its licensed product introductions, originally planned for 2017, according to Foster. The first apparel, accessories, and crafts will debut this fall, followed by food and scented stationery in spring and a full licensing program, including publishing, in summer and fall 2017. Forty licensees have signed on to date.

Parragon’s initial list, which will likely include four to six titles in the U.S. and eight to 10 globally, will focus on novelty, collectible, and gift formats and manuals for girls 4–8. Some will work in all territories, while others will be region-specific formats, such as annuals in the U.K., collectible guidebooks in the U.S., and header grab bags (a book-plus-craft package) in Australia. MGA is developing some animated online shorts it is calling “snackables” to introduce the main characters; that may lead to more book formats focused on storytelling in the future, Jarashow says.

Random House Attends School of Dragons

On September 6, Random House launched its first two titles tied to School of Dragons, an educational online and mobile game published by JumpStart, based on DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon franchise. The deal marks the first time Random House has been involved with the Dragons franchise; Simon & Schuster has the tie-in license for the films and TV series, while Little, Brown publishes the original books by Cressida Cowell. This line of nonfiction books on science topics ties specifically to the game.

“We loved that it had the commercial appeal of a license as well as this academic substance,” says Michelle Nagler, associate publishing director at Random House Children’s Books. “This is the most curricular-based nonfiction we have ever done at the chapter book level with licensing,” she says. “We do both chapter books and nonfiction really well, but we haven’t done it with our licenses, and we wanted more nonfiction on the licensing side, especially for older children.”

The questing game, which has more than eight million players worldwide, launched in 2013 and is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. “We were looking for something that would resonate with the 8–13 demo that we could build a science-based product off of,” says Jim Czulewicz, JumpStart’s chief revenue officer. The 25-year-old educational gaming developer works closely with DreamWorks’ writers, and now with Random House, to ensure that the story lines in the games are different from those in the books and TV shows but that all complement and fit with one another.

To develop the books, in consultation with both JumpStart and DreamWorks, Random House considered basic STEM concepts for grades 1 and 2 and selected those that made sense with the Dragons brand, rejecting topics such as baby animals. “Baby dragons are not interacting with baby pandas; that’s just not a thing,” Nagler says. The first two titles are on volcanoes and inventions; a book on weather will release in spring 2017 and one on flying machines the following fall. Written from the point of view of the characters, the books feature four-color throughout, combining photographs and character illustrations, and include codes to unlock new gaming content.

Both Nagler and Czulewicz note the smooth working relationship among Random House, JumpStart, and DreamWorks. “We all want the same thing, which is to help elevate the educational level of the product,” Czulewicz explains.

Sesame Street Grows Up with Running Press

Running Press is a brand-new Sesame Street licensee, with plans for deluxe storybook and treasury collections and mini-kits, some adapted from existing Sesame Street content and some original.

“In addition to the brand recognition, Sesame Street has a unique relationship with generations of parents, and that longevity was appealing,” says Kristin Kiser, publisher of Running Press. “The diverse and lovable characters give us lots of opportunities to create the unique formats we’re known for, and the spirit of Running Press and the spirit of Sesame Street just felt very right.”

A Very Elmo Christmas, a slip-cased edition of two Elmo stories with stickers and a poster, will release this fall. Titles following in 2017 will include I Can Do It! A Treasury of Stories and two mini-kits: The Goodnight Elmo Kit, with a nightlight and mini-storybook, and The Monster at the End of This Book, with a mini-edition of the full story and a Grover backpack. Six books in total are planned for the first year.

The mini-kits were of particular interest to licensor Sesame Workshop. “It’s a proprietary format that has amazing creativity and variation, and we like the fact that the mini-kit format reaches both kids and adults,” says Jennifer Perry, v-p of worldwide publishing. The ability of Running Press to bring the Sesame Street brand out of the toy department, to the register or a spinner rack, also was attractive, Perry says.

In addition to the treasuries and mini-kits, Running Press is developing a book specifically for adults, a first for Sesame Street publishing. “There is a lot of nostalgia in the adult market as we move toward the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street in 2019, and Running Press was really eager and willing to take on the nostalgia factor,” Perry says. Noting that the brand has a strong following among adults on social media, she adds, “We’re excited to very purposefully tap into that market. We want to reach those fans, whether they have kids or not.”

In Brief

Manufacturers creating products for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, licensed by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, include Funko (vinyl figures), Bioworld (apparel), Elope (fashion accessories and costumes), Jacmel and Carat Shop (jewelry), and Northwest (bedding). Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million will carry products, including some exclusives, as well as books from Scholastic, HarperCollins, Insight Editions, and Insight sub-licensee Candlewick.... Vera Bradley, a label known for its women’s handbags, fashion, and gifts, has licensed Fox Chapel for coloring activity and design books along with gift sets, available for holiday 2016.... Comic book publisher Valiant licensed Catalyst Game Labs for a second tabletop game tied to the Valiant Universe.... Viz Media retained Evolution USA as licensing agent for its manga/anime properties, which include One Punch Man, Naruto, and others.... Dark Horse Comics released its first comic book based on World of Tanks, a free online game from Wargaming.... Little, Brown has published three titles tied to the film Kubo and the Two Strings, under license from LAIKA Entertainment. The publisher previously worked with LAIKA on ParaNorman and The BoxTrolls.... Bloomsbury U.K. signed a license with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to publish children’s nonfiction and activity books.... In other U.K. gardening news, the Royal Horticultural Society has expanded its agreement with long-time licensee Frances Lincoln for a new assortment of books and stationery.