Ripley Entertainment celebrated 100 years as a brand in 2018, and it has a 90-year history in book publishing as of 2019. In the book world, it is probably best known for its Ripley’s Believe It or Not! annuals, published at Christmastime since 2004. Over the years, its list has diversified, encompassing everything from board books to middle grade readers to all-ages gift books, and it is expanding further now thanks to the recent launch of new formats and licensing partnerships.
Extreme sports exhibitor Nitro Circus is the first-ever license that Ripley has acquired for publishing. The company selected Nitro as its initial property acquisition in part because of the alignment between the two brands. “The partnership allows us to do what we do best,” says Amanda Joiner, Ripley’s v-p of licensing and publishing, who notes that the deal began as a digital content and cosponsorship agreement before expanding to book titles. “All the books are family friendly, but with that edge that we have,” she adds.
The publishing program kicks off with five titles this year, including two 64-page paperbacks, The Best of BMX and The Best of Scooter, which feature basic information about equipment and safety gear, hints on how to do tricks, and advice from athletes, all written for eight- to 12-year-olds. Those titles, released in June, will be followed in July by two readers for grades two through four. They include You Got This! Featuring Travis Pastrana, about an extreme sports athlete and founder of Nitro Circus, and Never Say Can’t Featuring Bruce Cook, about a paraplegic Nitro Circus athlete. A 128-page holiday gift book with photos, athlete profiles, and behind-the-scenes information is due out in October.
Beyond the first list, Ripley plans to release more titles in all three formats. It also expects to announce two more licensing partnerships in the near future. “The licenses will allow us to do some new things outside of what we can do with the Ripley’s brand,” Joiner says.
Meanwhile, the core Ripley’s publishing program is growing. Last year, the company published an art book, Odd Is Art, featuring pieces from its vast collection of unusual artworks, as well as a holiday gift book marking the company’s 100th anniversary. It plans to add to its art book program in spring 2020.
Ripley also debuted a picture book series in 2018 inspired by the marine collections in the three aquariums that the company operates. The books feature fictional stories about characters such as a penguin and a puffer fish, combined with facts from Ripley’s marine biology team and hand-watercolored illustrations by the artist who draws Ripley’s syndicated newspaper cartoon. “You learn about the characters’ natural environments and mannerisms in a feel-good story,” Joiner says. “We’ve had a lot of interest in the picture books from foreign markets.”
This fall, Ripley is launching a nonfiction reader series, with eight titles to start, in levels one through four. With the new readers and the Nitro Circus titles, the company has greenlit 30 titles for 2020 to date, with more to come. That marks an increase from the 10–25 new titles it has been releasing annually.
Ripley Entertainment will also relaunch the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! TV series on the Travel Channel this summer, marking the fifth iteration of a show that premiered in 1949 and has been joined by two remakes and an animated series over the years. TV tie-in publishing is under consideration for a potential 2020 release.
In addition to its publishing and TV ventures, Ripley oversees 100 attractions in close to a dozen countries, from Odditoriums to Haunted Adventures, collectively hosting 14 million guests per year. The first permanent Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, containing Robert Ripley’s cartoons and exotic artifacts from around the world, opened in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1950 and remains open today.
Ripley Entertainment got its start in 1918, when the first Believe It or Not! newspaper cartoon—at the time called Champs and Chumps and focusing on sports oddities—was published. The cartoon strip went national in 1929, the same year Ripley’s first Believe It or Not! book was published. To date, the Ripley Publishing division, founded in 2004 with the publication of the first annual, has sold more than 10 million books.