A Series of Unfortunate Licensed Products Ahead
The 13 books in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events have sold 65 million copies worldwide since the debut of the first title in 1999, as well as inspiring a film and a Netflix TV series. But there has never been a licensing program based on the property, until now. Licensing agency JLKBrand is representing the book series for licensing globally, on behalf of author Snicket, a.k.a. Daniel Handler.
“The time is right for this kind of family-friendly-but-dark humor,” said Kathie Fording, co-founder of JLKBrands. “This past year has created an opportunity for this kind of humor. It can make people laugh and cry at the same time. It’s a way for people to help express the feelings they’re having.”
While the announcement coincides with a new one-off Lemony Snicket book, Poison for Breakfast, set for release on August 31, the licensing effort will focus on the original books, particularly their many quotable phrases, and encompass categories such as apparel, stationery, back-to-school products, gifts, games, toys, home goods, and promotions.
Because the licensing program does not include visuals such as book covers, JLKBrand is working with Handler to develop some artwork for licensing. “You do need a little something,” Fording said. “There’s plenty of editorial content that would work on t-shirts or office supplies, but the program will benefit from a small collection of visuals.”
The core middle-grade readership will be the sweet spot for the program, along with young adults who read the books when they first came out. Although it will not target kids below age eight initially, the property is likely to attract a broad age range, similar to other long-running franchises such as Harry Potter and Goosebumps. “The products will have the same ability to reach across ages and genders,” Fording said.
The initial press release about the licensing program has generated a lot of interest from potential licensees in North America, she said, as well as from licensing agents in other territories. She points out that many of the original readers are now working in design or other parts of the licensing business, making them excited to work with the property and driving creativity. JLKBrand was approached by some Snicket fans who are now executives at a video game company, for example, who proposed developing some fun games based on their intimate knowledge of the books.
“Daniel is completely involved in this, approving everything we do every step of the way,” Fording said. “We’re very hands on with our small stable of licensors, especially someone like Daniel who has never done this before.” She added, “For someone who has been fairly reticent about licensing, he has been open to all the categories we’ve suggested so far.”
Bendon Goes to School with New Educational Licenses
Bendon Publishing is known as the leading supplier of coloring and activity formats in the mass and value channels, especially licensed titles. Recently, the company has been focused on education, signing a range of new licenses that will be applied to its workbooks, flash cards, and reward stickers across all tiers of retail.
“Across the board we’ve seen incredible growth in workbooks and education,” said CEO Ben Ferguson, who noted that the company shipped better than 10 million workbooks during the pandemic. The new licenses hit different grade levels, together creating a full educational offering. “They each have unique and entertaining ways of teaching,” he added.
The newest is Teacher Created Materials, a marketer of resources for teachers and students—all created by teachers, as the name suggests—across all K–12 subjects. The TCM range joins workbooks tied to Highlights, for ages 6–12, which is hitting retail shelves now; ABC Mouse, an app with a full online curriculum for kids ages 2–-8, which launched last year; and PBS Kids, which skews toward preschoolers, also introduced last year.
Bendon has also expanded some of its existing licenses further into the workbook format, including Nickelodeon, which brings Paw Patrol and Blue’s Clues into the education space, and Disney.
Meanwhile, the company has also added a number of new licenses for its core coloring and activity formats. They include CoComelon, Dr. Seuss, Miraculous Ladybug, and the Netflix properties Go! Go! Cory Carson, Ridley Jones, and Storybots. Bendon has also expanded its licensing deals with existing partners to add new properties including Rainbow High, L.O.L. O.M.G., Na! Na! Na! Surprise, Little Tikes, and Rainbow High from MGA Entertainment; Space Jam 2 from Warner Bros.; the new My Little Pony movie from Hasbro; TrollsTopia, Gabby’s Dollhouse, and Jurassic World, including Camp Cretacious, from Universal and Dreamworks; Baby Shark’s Big Show, and retro brands including Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy from Nickelodeon; and the Paw Patrol Movie from Nickelodeon and Spin Master.
PI Kids Doubles Down on Baby Einstein
Kids2, the licensor of the Baby Einstein brand, has named PI Kids, an imprint of Phoenix International Publications, as the property’s global master publishing licensee.
The publisher began working with Baby Einstein in 2014. It started with key formats including sound books, Look and Find, and My First Library titles. “We’ve had tremendous success with Baby Einstein over the years,” said John Russell, PIP’s v-p of global licensing. “As our relationship and sales grew, we started talking about where we could expand our presence.”
In recent years, the company has added Baby Einstein coloring and activity titles, followed by bath and cloth books. The last preschool niche to fill was storybooks and especially interactive board books. The license for these categories, held by Cottage Door Press in North America, is set to end this year, opening up an opportunity for PI Kids to add the last major piece of the puzzle.
PIP will launch novelty board books in North America in spring 2022, following a debut in international markets in 2021. The first three titles will be Lift a Flap My First 100 Words, Spin & See My First Colors, and Lift & Learn My First Vehicles.
“We looked at the different types of novelty features, like color wheels and push-and-slides, and paired them with the most important early learning concepts,” said Sophie Partridge, PIP’s executive v-p and global publisher. “This is the perfect brand to do that with. Its emphasis on discovery through play is unique, and it supports curiosity, nurturing, and open-ended play with both parents and children. It’s not a parents-put-the-child-in-front-of-a-TV brand. It’s a whole child approach.”
Separately, PI Kids is celebrating 30 years of its Look and Find format with an anniversary logo, special editions, and social media promotions. The franchise crosses many of the company’s licenses and is PI Kids’ top non-sound book format, with sales of 96 million units over its three decades. Over the years, it has expanded beyond its core into other formats such as My First Look and Find and Write-and-Erase Look and Find. The celebration has already begun and will continue into spring 2022.
More Precious Moments Publishing from Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson, part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, has renewed its longtime license with Precious Moments—which has sold more than 14 million units across formats to date—adding new children’s Bibles and storybook formats to its existing list. Spotlight Licensing and Brand Management represents Precious Moments for licensing.
“It’s a trusted, quality brand,” said Laura Minchew, senior v-p and group publisher of HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s children’s and gift books group. “It really evokes a sentimental warmth. The moms that grew up with Precious Moments are excited to share it with their own children.”
In addition to a variety of children’s Bible formats and translations in English and Spanish, Thomas Nelson has published storybooks based on prayers, Bible stories, and seasonal themes, all under the Tommy Nelson imprint, with the most successful format being cased board books. These are fully illustrated books with a trim size of 5 ¼ x 7 and 34 spreads, with titles ranging from Precious Moments: Little Book of God’s Love to Precious Moments: Little Book of Prayers.
The renewal of the licensing agreement calls for formats including 5 Minute Treasuries, compilation storybooks, and other story formats for children up to five years old. The company has published into some of these formats in the past, but “we’ve really leaned into the hardcover board books,” said Minchew. Tommy Nelson typically publishes two to three new Precious Moments children’s books per year, and that pace is expected to continue. Among the titles in the works going forward are Precious Moments: Little Book of Angels (August 2022) and Precious Moments: Little Book of Bible Songs (March 2023). Precious Moments: My Little Book of Baby Animals was published in March 2021. Spanish translations of two seasonal titles and a 5 Minute Treasury are also in the works.
Bibles account for a significant percentage of sales, although in recent years the books’ share of the business has grown, Minchew said. The company plans to issue several new Precious Moments bibles through the Thomas Nelson Bible Group in the coming years, including new International Children’s Bibles this September, followed by new editions of the New King James Version of the Precious Moments Small Hands Bible, a New Revised Standard Version, and a Catholic Bible, as well as Spanish editions.
“Publishing is an anchor of Precious Moments,” said Carole Postal, president of Spotlight Licensing. “It encapsulates the brand’s mission, which is about the sensitivity and simplicity of childhood and the inspiration that is childhood. Publishing is a great way to get that message out.”
The Precious Moments brand is not a religious property per se, but rather inspirational, according to Postal. “That could be derived from the Bible or from the everyday things in life, like having a picnic or riding a bike. Precious Moments goes with you through every change in your life, from the first bite of ice cream to the day you get engaged to grieving a death. Religion is definitely one component, but inspiration and positive messages are the other layers.”
New Partners on Board for Yoto Audiobook Content
Kids’ audio platform Yoto is increasing its licensing activity, most recently acquiring new content from Ameet and Lego Books, Disney Pixar, and KidzBop. With Disney, it just launched a 16-minute My First Disney Classics Bedtime Storybook and a 12-minute Pixar My First Bedtime Storybook, both for $5.99. Future titles will feature content from The Lion King, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3, and The Incredibles. This month, Yoto and Ameet are launching a co-created series of six new audio card packs to complement the LEGO Duplo range. And Kidz Bop has licensed its musical albums to Yoto.
The new content joins more than 400 titles, some original and many licensed from third parties, especially the leading publishers in the U.K., where Yoto is headquartered. The company expects to announce more licenses targeting the U.S. and other English-language markets. “The U.S. is on track to overtake the U.K. this year in revenues,” said CEO Ben Drury.
The Yoto Player launched on Kickstarter in 2017 and, after several improvements, the current version was introduced in the U.K. in February 2020 and in the U.S. in June of the same year. Influenced by Montessori teachings, which emphasize self-directed activities and hands-on learning, the Yoto Player is a physical device with audio content cards that the child places in a slot.
“Our mantra is ‘kids in control’,” Drury said. Once their parents connect the device to WiFi and log in for the first time, the kids take responsibility for recharging the battery, adjusting the volume, and so on, as well as selecting and launching the content cards. “Kids love collecting cards, and kids love to put things into other things,” Drury said. The device also features a simple 16 x 16-pixel display that shows a different icon for each chapter while listening, as well as serving other functions, including as a nightlight or clock while offline. There are three different play modes.
“We’ve taken a holistic view of what audio is,” Drury said. The company has developed and licensed not only audiobook content but radio broadcasts, music recordings, soundscapes, and more. That said, more than 70% of sales and consumption is related to books and storytelling, and Drury expects that to remain the top use. “Listening to stories is a pathway into reading,” he added. Drury said that publishers are increasingly producing original audio content as well, citing Penguin Random House U.K.’s original educational audiobooks about topics such as rainforests and deep-sea adventures under its Ladybird brand. “Those have done brilliantly well for us,” Drury said.
The core market for Yoto is ages 2–8, but older kids have also taken to the device to listen to music or podcast content, while grandparents and parents are buying it as a way to lull their babies to sleep.
Penguin Young Readers is extending three of its key brands, the licensed World of Eric Carle and the proprietary Who HQ and Mad Libs, further into educational workbooks. Four Who Was? and four Mad Libs titles are available, and the first-ever preschool workbook tied to Eric Carle, written with educational consultant Wiley Blevins, comes out September 14.... Ameet and Lego Books have partnered with multiplatform content creation company Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics for Lego-branded comic books to debut in 2022.... Among Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ licensees for graduation-related products tied to Oh, The Places You’ll Go! are Hallmark for greeting cards, Build-A-Bear for plush, and Skechers for footwear, and others. Random House Children’s Books has expanded the property into a coloring book, a hardcover activity book, and a Spanish-language version of the original.... Netflix is launching a six-episode Stranger Things fiction podcast, Rebel Robin: Surviving Hawkins, as a companion to Random House Children’s Books’ forthcoming YA novel, A.R. Capetta’s Stranger Things: Rebel Robin.... Gearbox Entertainment and 2K, along with agency Retail Monster, licensed Dark Horse Comics to publish tie-ins to the new video game Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.... Insight Editions partnered with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for a picture book, Where the Weird Things Are: An Ocean Twilight Zone Adventure, set to publish in January 2022.... IDW’s nine-year-long monthly comic book series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is coming to an end with September’s issue #102. In October, a new series, My Little Pony: Generations! will include the ponies of Friendship Is Magic along with the first-generation ponies from the 1980s.... The children’s book series Ninja Life Hacks has licensed Fun World for a line of gender-neutral costumes, set to launch in May 2022, to help kids identify their emotions through role play. The Brand Liaison is the agent for the property.