Most publishers at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas this week are there as attendees, looking for new licenses to acquire and having meetings with licensed property owners and fellow licensees. But a growing number of houses are participating as exhibitors as well.
Some are looking to extend their authors’ book series, or their own proprietary brands, into complementary merchandise categories such as plush toys, apparel, or mugs, as a way to generate incremental revenue and, often more importantly, raise awareness for the books and attract more readers. Random House Children’s Books is one example. After hiring Rachel Bader as its director of licensing in February 2016, it is exhibiting at the Expo for the first time this year, highlighting Uni the Unicorn, along with Wonder and Emily Winfield Martin’s artwork.
Bader is sharing a booth with Rachael Perriello, director of licensing and business development at Penguin Random House, who is handling brands from the house’s adult publishing operation, and Stephanie Sabol, brand director of Penguin Books for Young Readers, which has exhibited in the past but returns to the Expo after a gap of a few years. Penguin is focused on licensing its Mad Libs brand, among others, while Random House’s adult division is offering Women in Science and I Love Science image collections, inspired by Rachel Ignotofky’s Women in Science—50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. The art collections, described as educational yet whimsical, are available for licensing into classroom supplies, toys and games, gifts and novelties, and apparel and accessories.
Comic book publisher Zenescope, which came back to the show this year after a four-year hiatus, is exhibiting proprietary IP including Van Helsing, which is the basis for a TV series on the Syfy cable channel. One of Zenescope’s key objectives is finding a licensee to create board games and puzzles based on its titles. The company has been expanding into a number of merchandise categories of late, but has been doing so mostly internally, rather than through licensing. “This is a show we’re looking to do more consistently going forward,” says Lauren Klasik, director of sales and marketing.
Another comics publisher, Lion Forge, has a booth for the second year as it generates business for Lion Forge Labs, a business-to-business venture in which it uses its expertise in creating consumer comics, animation, and gaming to produce marketing and promotional materials for clients.
Carl Reed, Lion Forge’s cofounder and chief creative officer, notes that these sorts of campaigns are more effective if created by a company that knows how to engage readers and viewers through plotting and characterization. “A lot of companies take a narrow approach, talking only about the different data points they want to get across,” he says. “We’re storytelling, storytelling, storytelling.”
Other publishers exhibiting at the Expo include Candlewick, highlighting Maisy and other titles; Albert Whitman & Co., with The Boxcar Children among its key properties; Viz, which is focused primarily on its animation brands; Dark Horse, which is displaying Hellboy, BPRD, Sin City, and The Umbrella Academy; and Devar, an augmented-reality publishing house based in Cyprus that creates licensed titles for Hasbro’s My Little Pony, Rovio’s Angry Birds, and other properties.
Long-time exhibitor Scholastic does not have a booth presence at the Expo this year, but representatives of both its trade publishing and entertainment arms are in attendance. The company hosted a cocktail party in honor of Clifford’s new television series, with 39 episodes set to premiere on both PBS and Amazon in fall 2019. Caitlin Freedman, v-p and general manager of Scholastic Entertainment, says the new show is built around early literacy and will spur relaunches of vintage titles as well as TV tie-ins.
Several new book-based merchandise programs also launched through licensing agents this year. MerryMakers, agent for Pete the Cat, Little Elliot, and Biscuit, is newly representing Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’ Crayons series, while The Buffalo Works introduced a licensing program for Fox Chapel’s new Bigfoot series by D.L. Miller. “In terms of a creator, he really knows what he’s doing and understands what it takes to build a brand in this business,” says Joanne Olds, the agency’s president and founder. “And licensees love the educational aspect of the brand.”