The 2017 Licensing International Expo, held last month, illustrated the symbiotic relationship between books and licensed products. Although publishing and licensing are two very different businesses, licensed products can offer publishers and authors effective means of promoting their books and generating revenue.
Properties with literary origins at the expo mainly hailed from the world of children’s books, although authors such as Debbie Macomber and book-based brands for adults such as Quirk’s Worst-Case Scenario represented for licensing by Moxie & Co., were also in the mix. These were primarily exhibited by licensing agents and by the many entertainment studios and producers that are currently creating book-based entertainment.
A handful of publishers also had stands. They included longtime exhibitors Scholastic and Atlantyca, second-year participant Candlewick Press, and first-year booth holder Albert Whitman & Co.
Candlewick was showing a variety of its titles and series, including Guess How Much I Love You?, the Judy Moody books, Circus Ship, and Bears on Chairs. Director of licensing Mary McCagg notes that one of the benefits of having a booth is the connections that are made. “There are so many different people here that we wouldn’t meet otherwise,” she says. “They ask things like, ‘Have you thought of a baby swaddling blanket?’ and we say, ‘No, we haven’t, but we’ll take your card.’ ”
The smaller IP owners at the expo sometimes seem to get lost among the huge and eye-catching booths of the Twentieth Century Foxes, Nickelodeons, and Mattels of the world. But many attendees are looking beyond Hollywood, according to McCagg. “Some of them seem to appreciate the balance we bring to the Warner Bros.–Universal madness,” she says. “They want to work with someone who they can trust to care for the brand. And we want them to take care of our authors as well as we do. Our licensees are really invested in our properties and products, and they take it seriously.”
Albert Whitman staffers have been coming to the show for four years to learn about licensing through the seminars and by walking the floor. This year, the company decided to try a booth. “We feel like we’re educated enough to do some deals, and there may be a couple that come out of this,” says president John Quattrocchi. “There have been a few interesting things that have popped up that wouldn’t have without the booth.”
Whitman was focusing primarily on the Boxcar Children but also showing other properties, including Grumpy Pants and the Zapato Power series. “You have to identify what your best properties are in this context, not the book context,” Quattrocchi says. He also cautions that publishers need to remember their core business. “It’s easy to get distracted with this. You have to be careful.”
Author and Illustrator Enthusiasm
Over the years, book creators have become increasingly open to the idea of licensed products based on their names, characters, or titles.
Debbie Macomber Inc. recently retained agent Seltzer Licensing to launch a lifestyle licensing program inspired by the author’s books and personal interests. Adele LaCombe, Macomber’s daughter and chief executive officer of the company, notes that books and writers have many of the same connections with consumers that an entertainment property has. “You’re drawing on emotion the same way a TV show does,” she says. “We always hear that Debbie has brought hope to people when they really needed it. With the products, we want to bring that encouragement and hope beyond the book.”
At this year’s expo, an illustrator won the One to Watch award, presented by organizer UBM and trade publication License Global. The award honors a new property and first-time expo exhibitor considered to have strong licensing potential. Renée Graef, who has illustrated 80 children’s books including American Girl’s Kirsten titles and HarperCollins’s My First Little House program, won for her Lulu brand, which was selected from among 35 submissions. The next step, Graef says, is to find a publisher for Lulu stories written by Barbara M. Joosse, author of Mama, Do You Love Me?
Authors and illustrators are also increasingly involved with the entertainment productions based on their books, which can help spur both licensing and book sales. Diane Kredensor, who has animation experience, is billed as creator and producer on The Ollie & Moon Show, which airs on Sprout and Netflix and is based on her Random House series for preschoolers. Spotlight Licensing represents the property for merchandising.
Conversely, just as authors are more often engaged in the creation of entertainment based on their books, so too are animators, entertainment creators, and producers more apt to have a hand in the publishing based on their properties. Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe on Cartoon Network, is heavily invested in the books based on her show, which include art books from Abrams, comics from Boom, and children’s books from Penguin’s Cartoon Network Books imprint. “She has a real grasp of the brand itself and can really tell a story, and she has a big fan following, which adds a lot of excitement,” says Pete Yoder, v-p of Cartoon Network Enterprises North America.
The growing synergies between entertainment and books are also illustrated by a current initiative involving A+E Consumer Products, its Lifetime show Little Women: LA, and one of its stars, whose memoir with Post Hill Press, Terra Jolé: Fierce at Four Foot Two, is set for an August release. The book is being incorporated into the storytelling of the show’s current season, with the cast discussing what she might have written about them and the season culminating with a book party held at the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.
Streaming Is Top of Mind
Publishers have been among the most active companies in securing the rights to TV properties that are streamed on platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu as opposed to having a traditional TV slot. As was evident on the show floor, streamed series are proliferating and more are becoming available for licensing. One of the concerns expressed by manufacturers considering signing a license for a Netflix-distributed show is the fact that kids binge on streamed programming, just as adults do. Although that can drive demand, some licensing executives believe there is a danger that children will age out of the show before the next season is available.
Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing at Simon & Schuster, thinks publishing can help address that concern by providing content between seasons. For Trollhunters, she says, “We’re developing a marketing campaign to ‘bridge the binge.’ ” An original production for Netflix, Trollhunters debuted in December and has been the most successful kids’ property on the platform to date, according to Netflix (which doesn’t share ratings numbers). Simon & Schuster is publishing a guidebook and a series of chapter books.
Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services make it easier for book-based TV series to secure distribution platforms. HarperCollins is seeing three of its publishing franchises make their way to TV this year and next, via both streaming and traditional networks: Pete the Cat is set to debut on Amazon, Pinkalicious and Peterrific on PBS Kids, and Fancy Nancy on Disney Junior. Its Splat the Cat! is also in development for television.
At the expo, Mattel was touting Wellie Wishers, an episodic TV series from its American Girl division, which airs on Amazon; Genius Brands was highlighting its licensing program for Llama Llama, which airs on Netflix; Amazon Studios was showing If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; and Dr. Seuss Enterprises was promoting its upcoming Netflix series with Warner Bros. and Ellen DeGeneres based on Green Eggs and Ham.
Whether streaming content can drive book sales is still unknown, but a traditional TV time slot or feature film typically does lead to more books released (both tie-ins and classics) and to more book sales. Dr. Seuss Enterprises was touting the November 2018 release of the latest How the Grinch Stole Christmas feature film, a 3-D animated retelling starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The film studio Universal is handling promotions and movie-related licensing for the theatrical and DVD releases over the next two holiday seasons, while DSE will continue to oversee book-based licensing. DSE president Susan Brandt explains: “The films really buoy Seuss books and products as a whole.” Master publisher Random House is also planning some Grinch film tie-ins, ranging from a junior novelization to a sticker book. It also has two new board books in the works, featuring the Grinch’s dog Max and Cindy Lou Who, and a Step into Reading title, Cooking with the Grinch.