A number of publishers and licensors exhibiting at or attending this year’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, which runs June 4–7, are looking to license their proprietary, book-based brands to manufacturers of toys, arts and crafts, apparel, and other products. The goal is not only to create new revenue streams, but also to use the expanded retail presence to sell more books.
Encyclopaedia Britannica was a first-time exhibitor, planning to expand the licensing programs supporting its Britannica Kids and Merriam-Webster brands. The company expects to announce a joint venture with a nonfiction publisher soon for formats aimed at kids aged 6-12 under the Britannica Kids umbrella. The deal will bring the Britannica name back into print and serve as the centerpiece for its brand-extension activities, according to Matt Dube, v-p, business development. Licensees already signed include PI Kids for interactive sound books, Master Pieces for games and puzzles, Publications International for a VR box set for adults, and Google for an Alexa skill. “The response has been very, very positive,” Dube says.
Lil’ Libros, a publisher founded in 2014 to produce bilingual books that introduce kids to the language and culture of Latin America, was also a first-time exhibitor, hoping to expand its brand into related products for its core audience. Ariana Stein, company co-founder, reported enthusiasm from Expo attendees for the books, which are available in Target, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores. “We want to change the way we’re seen in the country and make sure the kids feel represented,” Stein says.
Lil’ Libros also serves as a licensee, having acquired children’s book rights for a number of brands with resonance in the Hispanic community, including Ritchie Valens, Selena, El Chavo, and Frida Kahlo.
Longtime Expo exhibitor Sesame Workshop debuted a new licensing and publishing program called The Year of the Monster, based on its bestselling The Monster at the End of This Book, published by Random House. In addition to a sequel and several different digital and print editions from Random House, the franchise includes a new soundbook version from Readerlink’s Studio Fun imprint.
The Year of the Monster will have as its focal point an animated TV special, The Monster at the End of This Story, on HBO and PBS, and will extend into other media formats such as short-form entertainment. There will also be new publishing activity and licensed products. “Grover isn’t Elmo or Cookie Monster or Abby Cadabby,” says Scott Chambers, senior v-p and general manager, educational media and licensing, North America. “We thought, let’s be true to a character that’s not in our top three. It’s the first of a number of planned brand initiatives to take our characters or sub-brands and make them bigger.”
Dr. Seuss Enterprises is debuting licensing and publishing programs based on a number of new sub-brands. Seuss Steam School is based on content from the Dr. Seuss Learning Library, with workbooks and educational toys among the tie-in products under consideration. Oh, the Places You’ll Go….Travel would encompass everything from travel content and experiences to luggage, while Seuss Chef is a cooking-themed brand, with a cookbook in the works for next Christmas. And Thing 1 and Thing 2 is “a fun exploitation of these wacky characters that everyone loves,” says Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. Random House’s publishing tied to that program to date includes a line of holiday books.
DSE also introduced an art-themed licensing program based on a new Dr. Seuss Art Style Guide. The initiative is inspired by Random House’s upcoming publication of Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum, the second of three unfinished manuscripts (after What Pet Should I Get?) discovered after Dr. Seuss’s death. The new licensing effort does not feature imagery or content from the nonfiction book, which is illustrated by Andrew Joyner, but is sparked by its themes of understanding and celebrating different art styles. Leap Year is the first licensee, for a line of arts and crafts. The campaign will also feature a digital art program, where children can upload and share their art, school/library educational content, and other elements.
Brandt says a series of character-based board books recently introduced by Random House, including I Am Cindy Lou, I Am Max, and most recently I Am Sam, are doing well at retail and are also being considered as a launch pad for licensed products based on those characters.
Patty Sullivan, director, retail and business development for the Highlights brand, was meeting with potential licensees for Highlights Learning, which is currently being featured in a summer promotion at Target. The company plans to extend that recently launched brand for a range of educational products, such as board games and educational toys.
Highlights is also planning a new licensing effort tied to Goofus and Gallant, the comic strip that has appeared in Highlights for Children magazine since its inception. A retro collection and a tongue-in-cheek contemporary collection featuring the characters re-imagined as 30-something urban millennials, will hit the market in time for Highlights’ 75th anniversary celebration in 2021, Sullivan says.