Random House Books for Young Readers is pairing with Funko and Universal Brand Development for a line of Little Golden Books featuring Universal properties in the style of Funko’s Pop! brand, one of the top collectible product lines in the U.S. with placement across retail channels, including in bookstores.
“We had been in touch with Funko for a long time,” said Dennis Shealy, Random House’s editorial director, licensed publishing, who will edit the series. “They’re super cute. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that doesn’t like the look of the Funko Pops!: they make everything, even scary properties, so adorable. The brand has a classic feel to it and it’s perfect for the illustrated style of Little Golden Books, almost like a Little Golden Book from 40 years ago.”
The Pop! vinyl figures depict pop-culture icons, including film and TV properties, videogame characters, sports leagues and athletes, musicians, and corporate brands, all in the brand’s recognizable big-headed style. All told, Funko works with more than 800 licensed properties from 200 content creators. Examples run the gamut from family-friendly properties such as Harry Potter and Minnie Mouse to adult-oriented brands such as Michael Myers from the Halloween horror film franchise.
Once Random House and Funko decided to proceed, the next step was to find a licensor with properties featured as co-branded Pop! figures that could star in a series of Little Golden Books without any licensing conflicts. “Universal was open to the idea and there were no issues,” Shealy said. Random House has a long history with the licensor, publishing tie-ins for Jurassic World, Minions, Trolls, and Secret Life of Pets, among other properties.
Random House’s first Funko-Universal title, releasing on September 7, will highlight the Universal Monsters, including Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. “Everything will be appropriate for a two- to five-year-old,” said Shealy. “But there is a huge Little Golden Book collector market that loves new and different content, and Funko has a huge collector market as well. With these three iconic brands coming together, I think the books will be enjoyed by the target audience, their parents, and the collectors.”
Funko reveals many of its upcoming fall products, especially those themed to Halloween, and offers fan giveaways at a spring promotional event known as Funkoween; the 2021 iteration took place digitally in late May. Meanwhile, Universal does a lot of Halloween promotion each year to support its Monsters. Those natural marketing hooks resulted in the Monsters becoming the first property in the Little Golden Books Pop! series, with the title coming together in about eight weeks to be ready for Funkoween. “This is one of the fastest books I’ve ever done completely from scratch,” Shealy said. “From the contract to art to approvals, everyone has been a real team player.”
Going forward, about two titles will publish per year thereafter. The three partners are working on Little Golden Books featuring properties such as Back to the Future, Jaws, and The Office, among others. Most will be released in conjunction with a property milestone. The E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial title, for example, is slated for fall 2022, timed to the brand’s 40th anniversary.
After a tough year in 2020, with sales declining to $653 million from $795 million in 2019, Funko rebounded in the first quarter of 2021, with sales up 38% year-over-year. It expects full-year top-line sales to rise 33% to 38% in 2021 and its year-end total to exceed 2019 levels. The company makes a wide range of pop-culture collectibles and other products. But the Pop! brand is its flagship, accounting for more than 79% of sales as of the first quarter 2021.
Funko has made a few forays into publishing prior to the Random House deal. It has published eight volumes in its World of Pop! series of pictorial guides, with new editions typically coming out around San Diego Comic Con time. In 2019, it paired with Sterling for a limited collection of seven children’s books tied to its proprietary Wetmore Forest brand, sold exclusively through Barnes & Noble. Most recently, it released the Pop! Super Heroes Coloring Book and Pop! Anime Coloring Book, in October 2020 and February 2021, respectively.
While Random House’s deal with Funko is currently focused only on Little Golden Books and the Universal roster of properties, additional formats are always a possibility for the future, as are additional Funko co-brands, as long as they are appropriate for Little Golden Books. “We have a vested interest in looking after the Little Golden Books brand, and we would never do anything untoward,” Shealy says. “There’s not going to be a Freddy Krueger or Reservoir Dogs Little Golden Book.”