As of February 22, Barnes & Noble is partnering with Moomin Characters Oy Ltd., the global licensor of author and illustrator Tove Jansson’s Moomins, for what is billed as the brand’s first significant foray into the U.S. market. Select Barnes & Noble physical stores, as well as bn.com, will be highlighting a range of children’s books from the Moomin series, along with a line of Moomin gift and lifestyle products including mugs, notebooks, and home goods.
The books are about a community of trolls living in the magical Moominvalley, whose adventures illustrate themes including kindness, respect for nature, tolerance, friendship, and courage. “Our role is to bring people’s attention to really good books, and Tove Jansson’s books are delightful,” said James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble. “There’s a gentle quirkiness to them, and the values are universal. It’s been really nice to see how the booksellers have been responding. There’s been a great thrill of discovery.”
Some of the titles featured initially through the partnership include the eight original Moomin novels, published from 1945 to 1970, and two board books, Moomin’s Little Book of Numbers and Moomin’s Little Book of Words, all from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, as well as The Book About Moomin, Mymble & Little My (1952) and Moomin Book One: The Complete Comic Strips of Tove Jansson (2006), both from Drawn & Quarterly. Drawn & Quarterly and Macmillan’s Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers and Square Fish imprints are long-time U.S. publishing partners for the brand.
Jansson wrote and illustrated her first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, during World War II. The title is about the father of a small family of trolls who has gone missing in a flood, and is an allegory for World War II, in which everyone in Europe lost someone and thousands lost their homes. “In a really frightening way, it’s topical again,” said Roleff Krakstrom, CEO of Moomin Characters, noting that there are more than 200 million refugees across the world today, including eight million in Ukraine alone.
As a queer woman during a time when being queer was outlawed in her country, and as part of the first generation of Nordic women to secure political and employment rights, Jansson was known for living her life the way she wanted to, and that sense of independence is reflected in the books. Krakstrom noted that Nordic children’s literature in general has long embodied the gender equality, acceptance, and inclusivity for which Nordic societies are known.
Jansson followed the publication of The Moomins and the Great Flood with eight more Moomin novels and four picture books over the next 30 years. In addition, she wrote 12 novels and short stories outside of the Moomin world.
The Moomins hit their stride globally in 1954, when the Evening News in London commissioned a Moomin comic strip that ran for 20 years and was syndicated in 40 countries at its peak. Today, Moomin books are published in nearly 60 languages. A number of TV adaptations have been produced and have aired in 120 countries. More than 800 licensees worldwide are selling Moomin products, and there are 20 Moomin shops and seven Moomin cafés—and counting—around the globe, as well as theme parks in Japan and Finland. There have even been theater, opera, and ballet productions.
The brand is valued at well over $700 million globally at retail, according to the property’s global licensing agency, Rights and Brands, with close to 50% of the company’s business coming from Japan, followed by the rest of Asia and the Nordic countries. Over the past 10 years, the global value of the Moomin brand at retail has increased more than 1,000%, with double-digit growth every year, according to Krakstrom. That fast pace of growth has left the small, family-owned company without the bandwidth to take on the U.S. market, where awareness of the Moomin characters has lagged behind the rest of the world.
Finn Family Moomintroll was the first Moomin book translated into English, in 1950, and the brand has had a long publishing history in the U.S. But, while publishing has been among the many categories seeing rapid growth on a global basis, sales have been stable in the U.S. “We simply haven’t had the capacity for this market,” Krakstrom said. “That’s why we’re enormously happy to get this opportunity.”
There are signs of untapped demand in the U.S. On the company’s own moomin.com website, “every month the U.S. is the number-one market,” said Krakstrom. “Twenty to 30% of sales each month online have been from the U.S., which has been really encouraging. It’s a small, quirky, but growing population of urban young adult women.”
The launch of the partnership with Barnes & Noble precedes the premiere of a new Moomin Characters-produced podcast on March 1, 2023, The Moomin Phenomenon, narrated by actors Lily Collins and Jennifer Saunders.
It is about how and why the characters have inspired fans globally and how Moomin Characters’ commercial activities balance preserving the original works’ artistic integrity with satisfying demand for licensed products. It includes interviews with content creators who have been inspired by the property.
Krakstrom hopes that the Barnes & Noble partnership will be a first step in expanding the Moomin brand’s profile in the U.S. market. Four seasons of a new television season have been produced and are being aired in 60 countries, and Krakstrom expects there will eventually be a distribution deal in the U.S. as well. There are plans afoot to develop a Moomin feature film, mostly likely with a U.S. studio. And Rovio, developer of Angry Birds, is working on a Moomin interactive game that could debut as early as later this year.