Devar Partners with Bendon for My Little Pony AR

Augmented-reality specialist Devar has partnered with Hasbro licensee Bendon for a series of four My Little Pony-branded, AR-enhanced coloring and activity books, each focused on a different main character. The deal is the first for Devar in the U.S. market, according to Alex Tsukanov, Devar’s digital marketing and communications director.

The books—Home and Nature with Applejack, Party with Pinkie Pie, Sports and Games with Rainbow Dash, and Train Your Brain with Twilight Sparkle—feature themed games and activities, along with coloring pages where the reader’s creations come alive in 3D. The titles work in conjunction with the Devar app, which houses all of Devar’s titles in each market where it does business, allowing for cross-promotion.

Devar creates AR applications for books, toys, and other products. It has a catalog of 200 book titles to date, many with licensors including Nickelodeon, Hasbro, and Rovio. It also offers proprietary AR titles including encyclopedias and coloring books. In its flagship encyclopedia program, which includes Wow! Dinosaurs and Wow! Animals, the books are designed to be customized depending on the age of the reader.

“Using our own algorithms, the app recognizes the age of the child and provides them with suitable content that will be the most interesting to them,” Tsukanov said. “Kids six to nine get an exciting story mode. Kids nine to 14 get an encyclopedia mode featuring a more academic approach. Personalization is important to us and we keep pushing it forward with new ideas and concepts.”

The company works with publishers in different ways; sometimes the publishing houses print and distribute books created in-house by Devar, in other cases Devar overlays its technology on existing titles, and in certain circumstances the partners develop products collaboratively, as was the case with Bendon and Hasbro. All told, Devar operates in 40 countries and produces books in 26 languages.

Elmer Sets Sights on the U.S. and Canada

Spotlight Licensing and Brand Management has been named the licensing sub-agent for David McKee’s Elmer the Patchwork Elephant in the U.S. and Canada. U.K.-based Andersen Press is celebrating its 30th anniversary of publishing Elmer this year; 27 original Elmer picture books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since 1989. Andersen Press USA is the publisher in the U.S., with HarperCollins holding some older backlist titles.

“I’ve always loved the property and what it stands for,” said Carole Postal, Spotlight’s president. “It’s about diversity, without being preachy.” Plush and toys will drive the program in the U.S. and Canada, she said. “They take the character on the page and turn it into something you can hold and love and play with.” The character’s distinctive patchwork-quilt look also offers opportunity for crafting and quilting kits for kids and adults.

Elmer has had a licensing program in the U.K. for about 20 years, encompassing plush, toys, greeting cards, puzzles, costumes, and the like for babies and preschoolers. When MetroStar Media took over U.K. licensing in 2016—it is now the lead agent for the property and named Spotlight to the sub-agent role—the first order of business was to expand the property into apparel. It developed a strategy and style guides and placed product in retailers such as Sainsbury’s and JoJo Maman Bébé. “It went from zero to a top-five baby property in apparel in the space of two and a half years,” said Claire Potter, MetroStar’s managing director. “The growth was more dramatic than even I thought it would be. It’s not just the love of Elmer, but the aesthetic. There is no other character like it.”

The property has been a hit beyond books in some countries outside of the U.K., such as France and Japan. Although there has been some merchandise on the market in the U.S. over the years, this territory has seen relatively little licensing activity overall. That may change, Potter and Postal believe, now that a cohesive strategy and style have been established. “Spotlight will find that they have the support and the assets in place now for a successful program,” Potter aid.

Postal plans to meet with booksellers and other retailers that will be able to merchandise books and licensed products together. “The two will work in tandem, and one will help support the other,” Postal said, adding, “No one has ever told the full Elmer story at retail before.”

Crawford Steps In the Sports Zone

Independent publisher In the Sports Zone, a licensee of major universities and three of the U.S. pro sports leagues, has acquired the rights to Crawford the Cat. Crawford is a video-, online gaming-, and app-based educational property that teaches kids core values such as manners, cleaning their rooms, and brushing their teeth. Alita’s Brand Bar, licensing agent for Crawford rights owner Crawford’s Corner, brokered the deal. The agreement marks In the Sports Zone’s first partnership outside of the world of sports, and Crawford’s first license for publishing.

The paperback activity book, which just hit Amazon, is for children ages four to seven. “I love the people behind the Crawford the Cat brand,” said Darla Hall, founder of ITSZ. “They care about kids and teaching kids valuable life lessons, and that’s my mission too. It’s colorful, it has the lessons, and it’s a fun way for kids to learn.” The fact that Crawford could appeal to children nationally, rather than needing to be regionalized—as is the case with sports licensing—was also attractive.

Hall, who formerly owned a marketing company, founded ITSZ in September 2011 after a client’s child was in an accident and she could not find an activity book as a gift for the young University of Alabama sports fan. To fill the gap, she created the first Roll Tide Activity Book, securing a license from the Collegiate Licensing Company (now IMG College) in 2012. (Visits and donations to children’s hospitals remain core to ITSZ’s business model.)

Since then, ITSZ has expanded its business to include more than 200 licensed titles in a variety of formats: 48-page kids’ activity books, adult coloring books, some apps, and recently the first concept storybooks for younger kids. There are titles for all of the teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association, along with 38 universities. In addition to signing Crawford, Hall has recently expanded into corporate titles with the likes of Ace Hardware and Jockey.

ITSZ’s books are sold online, including at B&N and Amazon, in Learning Express stores and mom-and-pop book and toy stores, and in about a third of the teams’ shops. Although Hall is currently a one-person operation, she is developing partnerships to assume marketing and other duties. “I’ll have the capacity to do more things in the licensing industry,” she said.

In Brief

Dav Pilkey and his licensing agent MerryMakers have fast-tracked their Dog Man licensing program, with the first merchandise to hit store shelves simultaneously with the release of book #7, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, this August. Initial licensees include University Games (board games and puzzles), Jakks Pacific (mass market plush, figures, and activity sets), Disguise (costumes), Brown Trout (calendars), and Raymond Geddes (school supplies). MerryMakers produces specialty plush.... Sanrio, marketer of the Mr. Men and Little Miss franchise, has partnered with the Spice Girls for a series of four books featuring the members of the singing group as Little Miss characters. Four of the five original Spice Girls are launching a reunion tour.... Hachette Book Group is expanding its Fortnite publishing program with Epic Games, bringing Running Press into the fold with a calendar and planner under the RP Studio imprint. Additional titles for children (from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) and adults are on the way as well.... HarperCollins Children’s Books will offer tie-ins to the 2020 film based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters, including a novelization, sticker book, and gift edition.... Z2 Comics is producing a limited-edition graphic novel featuring the Grateful Dead, adding to its roster of music licenses. A 9x15 deluxe version of Grateful Dead: Origins, shipping in April 2020, includes a 12-inch LP of previously unreleased Dead music and three art prints.