Thunder Bay Sees Success Through Licensing
Thunder Bay Press, an imprint of Printers Row Publishing Group, has been expanding its roster of licensed titles since fall 2019, when it released its first list featuring multiple licenses. That offering included a total of 10 titles tied to Harry Potter, Bob Ross, Disney, and Star Wars. In the last three years, Thunder Bay’s assortment has expanded to 20 licensed titles per year, under the auspices of 14 different licensors.
The company includes the licensed books as part of its adult craft and activity list, but many of the properties and formats are family-friendly, according to Peter Norton, v-p and publisher at Thunder Bay. (Sibling imprint Studio Fun is known for its licensed children’s titles, especially sound books and other interactive formats.)
Some of the imprint’s top licenses to date include Harry Potter, which has appeared on 15 different formats and counting; a newer license, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which has only been active for a year and a half and is already on 10 formats; and late artist Bob Ross, whose brand has also expanded to 10 different formats. Star Wars, including the current Disney+ series The Mandalorian, is another top seller, with multiple formats ranging from Star Wars Dollar Origami to Star Wars Scratch Artist, with more to come.
New licenses for the company include properties with appeal to a wide age range, including Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons, as well as more specifically adult-focused properties including Game of Thrones, “painter of light” Thomas Kinkade, and Seinfeld.
Thunder Bay Press has six formats that it considers core to the licensing program, each with five or more licenses attached to it. “These are formats that are scalable to multiple licenses, and we’ve been able to grow our business that way,” Norton said. These include the company’s crochet titles, which have been attached to more than 15 licenses, and sticker art puzzle books, of which 16 licensed titles have been published. Other formats, such as paint with water, are emerging and are likely to become core down the road.
“Our growth and success come from how we are able to marry our licenses to the right formats,” Norton said. While crochet and embroidery kits lend themselves to a wide variety of titles, paper models are appropriate for relatively few. Rock painting kits and a variety of coloring formats tend to be more family friendly. And some formats work best for properties with a lot of editorial content, while others are more visual. Even in more graphics-driven formats, well-known phrases are integrated. “People like to embroider snarky things,” Norton observed.
One new title, The Wizarding World of Stickers, is unique to the Harry Potter franchise, incorporating lots of artwork from apparel designs, international territories, style guides, and other sources to create a collectible sticker book packed with artwork, much of it never before seen by the fans. The back side of the sticker pages has a mirror image of the art, to preserve the graphics even after the stickers are removed.
“Our goal is to find evergreen licenses that are not tied into a film or a quick hit, and have broad appeal,” Norton said. The imprint’s licensing strategy seems to be working; according to NPD Bookscan figures, as reported by Norton, Thunder Bay typically accounts for several of the top 10 craft titles year-round, with its crochet and embroidery books especially dominant. “These are primarily titles from our licensing program,” Norton explained, noting that Harry Potter Crochet alone has sold more than 250,000 copies in its lifetime.
Rebel Girls Set to Expand with New Licensing Agency
Rebel Girls, the brand best known for its biographical book and audio content collections highlighting notable girls and women from history and today, has retained King Features Syndicate as its global licensing agency. The new partnership will help expand Rebel Girls’ licensing efforts worldwide, with a focus on promotions, collaborations, and licensed merchandise in all categories.
“As a female-led company, King Features is proud to represent this girl-focused brand that is making a difference in the world,” said Carla Silva, v-p, general manager, and global head of licensing at King Features, which also handles licensing programs for properties such as Moomin, Popeye, and Cuphead. “Rebel Girls is a purpose-driven, girl-empowerment brand that is inspiring future generations of female leaders, creators, champions, and innovators. And the brand presents licensees with a unique opportunity to bring these impactful stories to life through product and experiences.”
Rebel Girls, a certified B Corporation, published its first book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, in 2016 and since then has published spin-offs highlighting more than 2,000 women, with sales exceeding eight million books and more than 20 million podcasts downloaded. Rebel Girls has a goal of reaching 50 million girls by 2025.
The brand already has a merchandise program in place in North America, with a licensee list that includes Jay Franco for bedding, Mad Engine for t-shirts, Centric for pajamas, Fashion Angels for crafts and stationery, Build-a-Bear for plush, Coalition Snow for snowboards and skis, and PlayStories for personalized books. “There is a huge opportunity to serve [the brand’s] international audience with consumer products, starting with Latin America, Italy, and Germany,” Silva said. “Our goal is to build a long-term brand that will inspire girls all over the world for generations to come.”
In the short-term, King Features will continue working with current partners to build on their assortments as well as securing new deals in backpacks, collectible dolls and figures, craft and activity kits, and other categories. Longer term, the metaverse, virtual reality, augmented reality, and other digital technologies are on the table, along with brand collaborations. “[Rebel Girls] is supported by a strong, growing coalition of influential women from all over the world, so the products that represent their stories must be culturally authentic and engaging,” Silva said. “As such, we are more concerned with finding the right partners in each market than ensuring each category box is checked.”
A Rebel Girls Confidence Project brand campaign is in the works that could bring licensed merchandise into bookstores, Silva said. “Rebel Girls has a strong ecosystem of storytelling, and we’re looking forward to building upon that with all their partners.”
Original Fairy Tale Publisher Anboran Signs Apparel Deal
Anboran, a publisher of original fairy tales featuring Black characters, signed a licensing deal with Mad Engine Global for a line of apparel sold through the e-commerce sites of many major mass-market and specialty retailers.
Founder Ronnie Anderson Jr., a scientist who manages three laboratories and has been running Anboran on the side, started writing the fairy tales in 2017, after being unable to find stories he thought would resonate with his daughters. “Anboran is a storytelling company focusing on original, timely, and captivating content that is inclusive and reflective of people of color,” he said. He has written six books so far, with a seventh in progress. All are published by Anboran and sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s e-commerce site, and Anboran’s website. Anderson is hoping to find a partner to take over the publishing duties in the future.
After seeing an article about apparel licensing in License Global, a trade magazine for the licensing business, Anderson sent emails to several apparel companies mentioned in the publication and got a call back from Mad Engine. “I wanted to bring the characters from the stories alive,” Anderson said, noting that he would eventually like to see them in films and animation. “I’m so excited to be partnering with Mad Engine,” he continued. “They’ve been nothing but wonderful, and they’ve been instrumental in getting us into Amazon, Walmart, Target, Sears, Box Lunch, and Hot Topic.”
Anboran’s titles include Changing Beautiful, The Candlemaker and the Moon, Restoring Joy, Everla and the Stone Prince, The Hairless Bear, and 5 Amazing Fairy Tales, all written by Anderson with illustrations by Seda Coskun. The Mad Engine range includes a mix of designs featuring the Anboran logo, characters such as Princess Beautiful, inspirational phrases, and other imagery and content.
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