Bendon Adds Licenses with Eye Toward Streaming Content, Diversity
Bendon has traditionally paired its coloring, activity, and other value and mass retail formats with the most popular licensed brands, offering 1,600 active titles across 300 active formats. While hot licenses remain the company’s bread and butter, it has become more strategic. “We’re far more selective than we’ve ever been,” said CEO Ben Ferguson. “We want to meet the buyers and the consumers where they are.”
Among its new properties are several from streaming channels, including Super Sema (on YouTube), a STEAM-themed superhero property that takes place in Africa; Karma’s World (Netflix), a music-themed show created by rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges; Bluey (Disney+), the hit series from Australia; and Cry Babies Magic Tears (Netflix), a preschool property from IMC Toys. “We’re leaning in on where the world’s going, and we’re seeing success with non-traditional viewing channels,” Ferguson said.
Super Sema and Karma’s World, along with AfroUnicorn, a lifestyle brand aimed at Black and Brown women and girls, are examples of Bendon’s addition of more properties with diversity at the forefront. “Our content is far more diverse than it used to be, and that’s a very positive change,” Ferguson said. “We always tried to show diversity, but we were limited to a degree by what content was available.”
Educational workbooks have always had a strong presence in Bendon’s assortment, and it has made a concerted effort to acquire the rights to more educational brands, such as Highlights, ABC Mouse, Teacher Created Materials, and PBS Kids, in recent years. “We were so happy and fortunate that we had those licenses in place when the pandemic hit, and we were able to react quickly to meet the demand,” Ferguson said, noting that Bendon sold 25 million educational workbooks within four months in summer and fall 2020.
“What makes a successful brand is when the content is aligned with the social and emotional climate in the country, whether it’s embracing diversity or learning content,” he said. “That’s important to us and we feel we can be a positive influence.”
These newer properties are not replacing the Disneys and Nickelodeons of the world. New developments on the classic side of the business include the success of Marvel’s preschool series, Spidey and his Amazing Friends. “It’s putting together two of our strongest brands, Marvel and Disney Junior,” Ferguson said. In addition, the company recently acquired the rights to Pokémon, a 25-year-old property but one that is new to Bendon.
“We picked up more retail space, and we need more of the latest, but we still need the tried and true,” said Ferguson. That said, he added, “We have so many planograms, we need to stay fresh. That’s the nature of the beast. We can’t afford to be off-trend.”
Gotta Catch ’Em All: Insight Debuts Pokémon Books and Journals
Insight Editions has acquired the rights to publish Pokémon cookbooks, art books, paper-crafting titles, inspirational notebooks, and other formats for all ages. “Our breadth of formats made this a great marriage,” said Mike Degler, publishing director of Insight Editions Gaming. “We can bring a lot of fun, new, and different opportunities to our partners that they haven’t done before.”
The inaugural list includes six titles for both children and adults. The first, published this week, is Pokémon Wisdom, a journal for adults that includes writing prompts and other activities to help them find their “inner trainer,” with discussions of Pokémon characteristics like aggression or excitement used to prompt thoughts and feelings for a full year. A similar format for ages 7–11, Pokémon: My Super Awesome Pokémon Journey Notebook, will come out in December, with writing prompts supplemented by coloring pages, recipes, outdoor activities, and the like, including some tear-out pages.
For the same age group, Insight is publishing small trim-size guides—perfect for a backpack—featuring fun facts and images about different regions of the Pokémon universe. The first two are Pokémon: Trainer’s Mini Exploration Guide (Oct.) and Pokémon: Trainer’s Mini Exploration Guide to Galar (Nov.). More books in this series are set for release through 2023 and 2024.
Also coming in October are My Pokémon Cookbook and a My Pokémon Cookbook gift set that includes the book and an exclusive apron. Recipes are tied to different elements of the franchise; one is a poké bowl made to look like a Pokéball, for example. This is an all-ages title with recipes requiring a range of skills levels. “It’s meant to be used to cook together as a family,” Degler said. “It’s a new way to experience Pokémon beyond the card decks, games, and animation.” More formats are in development for 2023 and beyond.
Another of Insight Edition Games’ recent licenses is Minecraft, for which it will produce both books and stationery. Unlike Pokémon, which skews toward children, the Minecraft program will be weighted toward adults. “But we know Minecraft has a large, younger fan base, so we’ll include products that will appeal to them,” Degler said. In 2022, Insight will release the first-ever coloring books for the property, one each for adults and children, followed by more products in spring 2023, including a cookbook for adults, a stationery program encompassing journals and desk sets, and paper-engineered items.
Insight Editions Gaming oversees all of the company’s gaming-related publishing activities, working with most of the major game studios on formats from art and lore books to crochet and knitting titles. All told, the imprint will release 22 titles in 2022, Degler said, with plans for 27 in 2023.
HarperCollins Productions Expands Distribution, Licensing with WildBrain
HarperCollins Productions recently expanded its relationship with WildBrain, naming the company as its global distributor for the Carmen Sandiego TV series and retaining its WildBrain CPLG unit as the global licensing representative for Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, and Pretzel and the Puppies. All are book-based properties it has developed or is developing for entertainment.
“HarperCollins Productions focuses on developing and producing films, TV, and interactive content based on HarperCollins books, including animation and live action, preschool through YA, and family content. That’s an ambitious agenda,” said Caroline Fraser, head of HarperCollins Productions. “So we look for best in class partners like WildBrain CPLG.”
As a producer, with HarperCollins Productions, of the Carmen Sandiego animated series that launched in 2019, distributor of the 1990s TV series, and licensing agent for the David Walliams children’s books on behalf of Harper U.K., WildBrain knew the company, and especially Carmen, well. “They had a stellar track record in global distribution, and they had consumer products capabilities in CPLG,” Fraser said. “We don’t have in-house resources for those businesses.”
Jasen Wright, WildBrain CPLG’s v-p for North America, said, “We like to approach properties from a 360-degree point of view. That means offering not only licensing services but, where possible, production and distribution for the properties it represents. “It’s a holistic approach to consumer products. We wanted to build on our relationship with HarperCollins, to give the fans more ways to experience these three storied brands. They have such an emotional connection with consumers.”
For Carmen Sandiego, WildBrain CPLG will represent the animated TV series and a live-action film currently in development. The plan is to build on the existing merchandise program, which includes some toys and games, apparel, and Halloween costumes, adding products for both adults and children. “It has a fashion point of view, it’s an empowering property, and it’s also a natural for inclusivity and diversity,” Wright said. “These are themes that resonate in consumer products.”
Oregon Trail, meanwhile, is a hit educational video game franchise from the 1980s and 1990s, which has recently been extended into gaming and publishing and has an entertainment project in development. Licensing will be centered on teens and young adults. “We’re looking for spaces where we can do something unexpected,” Wright said.
Both Carmen and Oregon Trail have roots in gaming and have seen a resurgence in that space of late. Oregon Trail has emerged as a top-ranked game on Apple Arcade, while Carmen mini-games on Google Earth attracted a significant audience, according to Fraser. “That success solidified our belief that there is a huge audience that loves these properties,” she said.
Pretzel and the Puppies, a 1946 picture book by Margret and H.A. Rey, was recently rereleased by HarperCollins imprint Clarion Books and debuted as an Apple TV+ animated series in February. Licensed products for preschoolers and slightly older children are expected to include traditional categories such as toys and apparel, as well as items that fit the show’s themes, such as pet products.
HarperCollins is developing many other of its properties for the screen, and some of those will offer opportunities for licensing. “Consumer product potential is one of many lenses we use to evaluate the potential of our properties, and it’s an important one,” Fraser said. “It helps strengthen the brand and drives people to the entertainment and books. If you love a brand, you want to read it, see it, and play, hold, and experience it.”
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