At Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas, which opened its doors on Tuesday, preschool properties remained hot commodities in the publishing category. Licenses for the youngest readers are abundant on the show floor, and a number of publishers report they are adding new licenses to their preschool portfolios.
Scholastic recently signed two new preschool properties, for example. They include the Disney Junior series Molang, licensed by Licensing Works—a deal that was announced on the day before the show—and the Nick Jr. series Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, licensed by eOne. Scholastic continues to do well with its ongoing preschool publishing effort tied to Peppa Pig, according to Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and consumer products. Peppa Goes Swimming ranks as the company’s bestselling e-book.
Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster also has added two preschool properties to its publishing program, adding Jim Henson Productions’ Dinosaur Train, which airs on PBS Kids, as well as Crayola. The Crayola books will focus on feelings and moods, and their connection to color. These new licenses join S&S’s other preschool book series, including PJ Masks, licensed from eOne. The TV program airs on Disney Junior and has been a leading preschool property across many product categories over the past year.
Valerie Garfield, S&S’s v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing, says leveled readers have been a particular focus. “We’re doing a lot more [license] acquisitions specifically for Ready to Reads,” she says, citing Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Harlem Globetrotters, and Ready Jet Go! as recent additions. “We’ve been building up our Ready to Read program and are looking for properties with high interest for younger readers,” she adds. “This is a new trend for us. Usually we acquire licenses for a whole slate of formats, but some licenses really lend themselves to this area.” By the end of the summer, she expects to have another two to three properties signed just for the Ready to Read program.
Also on the leveled reader front, David Linker, executive editor of HarperCollins, reports that Pete the Cat, a Harper-published picture book series with a growing licensing initiative spearheaded by Merrymakers, will be the first character the company is taking into multiple levels of readers. Children can follow Pete from level 1 through level 2 and so on. “Where Pete really kills it is with our leveled readers,” Linker explains. “Kids love him and want to grow with him.”
Like many other publishers at the show, HC is meeting with IP owners to find additional properties with publishing potential. “We’re meeting with all the studios, all the big game producers,” Linker says. HC recently added Beat Bugs, a Netflix show based on the music of the Beatles, to its roster of licenses. Other properties it holds include Angry Birds and DC Comics, as well as this year’s heavily licensed Wonder Woman movie from Warner Bros.
For older readers, a standout license in the past year or so has been Five Nights at Freddy’s, an independent videogame property that “is still hotter than hot,” according to Scholastic's Dorfman. A second novel is coming in June and a guidebook in August, following the publication of the first novel, Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes, last September. On the opening night of the Expo, The Silver Eyes won the 2017 International Licensing Award for Best Publishing/Social Expression/Back-to-School program.
Comic book publisher Lion Forge joined other publishers, including Albert Whitman, Scholastic, and Candlewick Press, as an exhibitor at the show. Lion Forge holds the license for the 1980s animated series Voltron, now rebooted on Netflix. The publisher was talking to licensors about other potential properties, as well as pitching its custom comic book services to attendees. Dewayne Booker, Lion Forge’s new-business consultant, says that the goal is for the publisher’s list to be about 50% licensed and 50% proprietary, with plans to eventually license some of its own properties into other products.
Although traffic was generally light on the show’s first day, perhaps a function of the Expo being moved to a timeslot about three weeks earlier than in the past, many exhibitors said their meetings were productive and business was being done. “I have seen some drop-in traffic that has been meaningful,” says Patty Sullivan, managing partner at P.S. Ink, who oversees licensing for Highlights for Children and represents Jim Henson Productions for the publishing category. “I think that’s a positive trend. Drop-ins had been declining for the past few years.”
The licensing business in general had a strong year in 2016, according to the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association, sponsor of Licensing Expo, which released its annual figures on the size of the global licensing business on Tuesday. Retail sales of licensed merchandise in all categories, including publishing, grew 4.4% to $262.9 billion globally, the organization says, with the U.S. and Canada accounting for 57.9% of the total. Licensed merchandise tied to publishing properties drove $17.5 billion in retail sales worldwide.