Licensed books and intellectual property always have a strong presence at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and 2018 was no exception. Not only did the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair, which runs alongside the Book Fair, highlight more than 600 properties from 60 exhibitors, but the book fair itself spotlighted the publishing activities of licensors such as I.M.P.S. (Smurfs), Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products, Hasbro, and Universal Brand Development, as well as licensed titles from a variety of publishers from around the world.

“What you see in the licensing show hall at Bologna is only the tip of the iceberg with regards to licensing business that is done at the BCBF,” said Daniel Graham, publishing director of Imagine That Publishing, which was saw attendee interest in its Arty Mouse early learning series, which has been available for brand licensing since 2016. “With so many publishers having their own dedicated licensing teams, there are lots of meetings that take place on stands in the publishing halls and in cafés outside the hall. There has also been a big increase in the number of licensing professionals who attend the book fair and licensing show, but who do not exhibit.”

Rosanne McManus, v-p and publisher of Readerlink’s Studio Fun International and Silver Dolphin imprints, said, “I think the good news about Bologna was that there was not just one big brand that was the talk of the show, or any one upcoming movie. And without a huge movie in the next 12 months, international publishers were looking for the strong television brands to be the big sellers day in and day out.”

High-profile properties cited by publishers—many of them TV-based, evergreen, or retro—included Nickelodeon-controlled brands like Paw Patrol, Nella, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Tangled: The Series, and Puppy Dog Pals; PJ Masks, Peppa Pig, and Trolls; Moomin, which has a new television series coming up in Europe; nostalgic gaming brands and other reinvigorated classics from the 1980s; and a variety of toy brands.

Ameet showed its co-branded Lego Harry Potter, Lego Disney Princess, and Lego Jurassic World titles to potential publishers around the world. “People were very excited to see the Lego IPs and Lego publishing expand, especially into these great evergreen brands,” said Eric Huang, v-p and publisher.

Michael Kelly, v-p of global publishing at Hasbro, reported that his company had a very positive experience at the fair this year. “Along with the usual interest in our brands My Little Pony and Transformers, we also saw a lot of interest in our other entertainment brands like Stretch Armstrong, as well as significant interest in our traditional games brands like Monopoly and Clue,” he said.

Many of the [perennial properties on display are being rejuvenated or kept fresh through a variety of promotional strategies. Fabienne Gilles, business and legal affairs manager for the publishing category at I.M.P.S., global licensor of the Smurfs, reported high engagement from attendees, thanks in part to the characters’ 60th anniversary and the promotion surrounding it. “Some events, such as our Smurf plane, ‘Aerosmurf,’ and our exhibition project are appreciated by our publishers as marketing support for their anniversary books,” she said. “On top of this, a new Smurf TV series is in development and this opens high-profile opportunities.”

Mattel was another licensor modernizing the look and content of its evergreens. “The Mattel brand makeovers caught my eye,” said Graham. “The new core messaging of Barbie worked really well and should help to support their new push to move into digital narrative publishing and storybooks.”

In addition to the popular properties at the forefront, newer licenses appealed to many publishers. “We noticed that our established brands like Angry Birds got a lot of attention, but even very recently launched titles and brands like The Great Majesco and Horace & Co. received a lot of positive feedback, and many publishers who don’t normally venture into licensed publishing expressed interest in several new titles,” said Tuomas Sorjamaa, licensing and acquisitions manager at the Kaiken Agency, an arm of Kaiken Entertainment.

With newer properties especially, licensed titles need to have a strong story to attract readers, Sorjamaa said. “Any licensed or media tie-in title needs to be able to stand on its own legs, as competition is fierce not only in licensed publishing but in publishing in general.”

The presence of online influencers and streaming media continues to grow. “One trend that seemed quite prominent this year was in the use of social media influencers to support book launches, and this was true not only for licensed publishing, but across the board,” Kelly said. “That’s not new, but it was in the forefront this year.”

Influencers’ own books also had a growing profile. “I noticed this year that more and more foreign publishers are embracing YouTubers or other social media influencers as part of their publishing programs,” said Sonali Fry, publisher of Bonnier Publishing USA’s Little Bee Books, BuzzPop, and other imprints. She cited BuzzPop’s books by slime crafter and influencer Karina Garcia as an example.

“One trend I noticed is the focus licensors now have on stories and IP that have Netflix and YouTube as their main channel,” Huang said. “Numerous licensors showcased shows that will debut on web/mobile platforms rather than terrestrial TV.”

The marriage of educational content and licensing was also noted. Gilles reported interest from several territories in I.M.P.S.’s educational formats for younger kids, such as Smurf picture books in bilingual versions (e.g., Chinese-English) and leveled readers.

Terry Nantier, CEO of Papercutz, which holds comic book licenses for Nickelodeon’s The Loud House, Smurfs, Barbie, Nancy Drew, Geronimo Stilton, Trolls, and many more, noted interest in one of its proprietary brands, Geeky F@b 5. “It’s a new STEM-based empowerment series for girls,” he explained. “Both the STEM element and the empowered girls were sought-after at the show, many told me.”

The demise of Parragon U.K. and Bonnier’s Five Mile children’s imprint in Australia were announced just before and during the show, respectively. Both were key publishing licensees in their markets. “The shutting down of Parragon led to many urgent discussions with licensors who are looking for new homes for publishing rights formerly with Parragon,” said Huang. “It seems also that many licensed publishers are reevaluating and refining their strategies to see if there’s an opportunity left behind by Parragon’s exit.”

Despite this news, and a challenging market for licensed publishing in general of late, many exhibitors and attendees reported a sense of optimism and energy surrounding licensing and licensed publishing at this year’s book fair and the complementary licensing show. “Compared to previous years,” Graham said, “the licensing exhibition at this year’s show seemed much busier, buzzier, and more upbeat.”