Publishers and authors were out in full force at this year's Licensing International trade show, held June 19-21 at the Javits Center in New York City. Books have long served as source material for the television shows and films that dominate the entertainment licensing market. Now, as publishers look for new revenue streams, and retailers and manufacturers seek niche properties with potentially long lives, a growing number of merchandising initiatives are based on books alone.
Children's author/illustrator Karen Katz, whose 22 titles include Where Is Baby's Belly Button?, was at the show in support of her new licensing effort with agent Act III Licensing. Small World Toys is her first licensee. "Because I don't have a character, it's a little different," Katz said. "But I have a look and a following."
Innovative Kids, a mass market publisher of educational, interactive books, had several of its brands on display at the Moxie & Company booth. Properties include Now I'm Reading!, Phonics Comics, iBaby, and A Kid's Guide to Giving; products planned range from workbooks and electronics to apparel and bedding.
Meanwhile, United Media Enterprises was touting two book-based programs. One, tied to HarperCollins's Fancy Nancy, focuses on items such as dolls, dress-up toys and activity kits. Joshua Kislevitz, UME's senior v-p licensing, said there's room at retail for properties outside the high-profile entertainment realm. "There's a wave underneath that, where Fancy Nancy lives," he explained, adding, "This feels like a little girls' franchise in the making." UME also revealed a licensing program in support of Simon & Schuster's new Raggedy Ann and Me! book series, launching in 2008.
HIT Entertainment, best known for properties such as Barneyand Bob the Builder, recently acquired licensing rights to Rainbow Magic. Scholastic publishes the British series in the U.S. and has sold three million books in the last two years, according to HIT. Licensing will start with stationery and other bookstore-friendly categories for girls ages 5-9. "We recognize the importance of the book trade," said Rick Glankler, HIT's v-p licensing, noting that Thomas the Tank Engine and Angelina Ballerina products licensed by HIT have long had a place there. "With bookstores, we can build programs to last for years to come."
Scholastic Media previewed two book-only licenses this year. Little Scholastic is a new developmental publishing brand for children 0-3, while R.L. Stine's new 12-book series, Goosebumps HorrorLand, is set to debut in April 2008. Licensing will follow.
A few of the other book-centric properties at the show this year included Where's Waldo?, being previewed by its new owner Entertainment Rights Group; author/illustrator Nancy Wolff, whose two Tallulah titles are published by Henry Holt; Jane Seymour's This One 'n' That One, published by Angel Gate and repped by licensing agent Bergen-Wild; and Penguin's Mad Libs brand, newly represented by The Wildflower Group.
Because so many bestselling children's books eventually make their way into entertainment, licensees can give themselves an edge, should that happen, by linking to a book early. "The idea is to get in on the bottom floor before it takes off," said Renée Fountain, Simon & Schuster's licensing and brand manager. "You want to be in before the studios get hold of it." Properties exhibited by S&S included the Little Quack series, illustrated by Derek Anderson, Jimmy Zangwow's Out-of-this-World Moon-Pie Adventure by Tony DiTerlizzi (riding the coattails of the SpiderwickChronicles movie, based on the DiTerlizzi-illustrated book series), David Carter titles and the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale.
Most licensed products are sold through mass market chains such as Wal-Mart and Target. But licensors and manufacturers are increasingly interested in having a presence in the book trade, and the leading book chains have shown a growing propensity to participate in licensed promotions.
Paramount's marketing support for the SpiderwickChronicles film will include a limited-edition poster given to customers on "Harry Potter Night" at Borders and other stores; additional bookstore-focused promotions for the movie are in the planning stages. And Scholastic is working on book-trade promotions for the New Line film The Golden Compass, for which it is the global publishing licensee and oversees U.S. licensing. "Yes, there's a big movie coming out," said Leslye Schaefer, senior v-p marketing and consumer products. "But I see this property as having a long life, particularly in the bookstores."
While book-only properties represented a growth area at the show, they still account for a tiny portion of the licensing business compared to book-based entertainment licenses. Still, the underlying success of the books is instrumental in attracting interest to the latter.
Chorion Silver Lining, an entertainment and licensing agency specializing in book-based properties, recently announced that the Mr. Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves would be the basis of a Cartoon Network series to debut in January 2009. In the last six months, the licensing program has gone from one to 20 licensees in the U.S., with retailer Target on board for a back-to-school promotion in the fall. Pamela Ferris-Muller, v-p licensing for Chorion Silver Lining, believes this growth is due to the strength of the books rather than the promise of animation. "It was the buzz of the brand," she said. "The animation was just icing on the cake." Penguin's Price Stern Sloan imprint is the U.S. publisher.
Chorion Silver Lining has partnered with Nickelodeon to create a 3D-animated TV series based on Ian Falconer's Olivia, published by Simon & Schuster. An established licensing program consists of products featuring book illustrations; a separate, more mass-market effort will feature the 3D artwork from the TV show.
Another newly announced book-based TV series is Geronomo Stilton, for which Scholastic oversees the U.S. publishing program. Taffy Entertainment recently secured licensing rights for the TV series from property owner Atlantyca Entertainment and plans to sign manufacturers for videogames, electronics, toys, wireless applications, apparel, stationery and room décor.
From The Saddle Club
Big Tent Entertainment is expanding its licensing for Dick Bruna's Miffy; the TV series will be moving to public television stations soon. New licensee Play Along and other manufacturers will market products targeted both to preschoolers and, with a new pink and purple color palette, to tweens. Miffy appears on over 10,000 products, which consumers have purchased to the tune of $1 billion in books and merchandise worldwide. (Big Tent also licenses The Saddle Club, which airs on Discovery and PBS stations, based on a Bantam book series by Bonnie Bryant.)
In addition to Paramount's The Spiderwick Chronicles and New Line and Scholastic's The Golden Compass, several other book properties are being made into films and were available for licensing at the show. Sony Pictures' booth was draped in spaghetti in honor of the studio's 2009 computer-animated release based on Judi and Ron Barrett's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Universal Studios' new licensing agent, The Beanstalk Group, counted Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, which will be the studio's main holiday release in 2008, among its properties. At New Line, Cornelia Funke's Inkheart is being made into a film, also for a 2008 release, while Warner Bros. is just starting to pitch its film based on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild ThingsAre to prospective licensees.
Publishers were walking the aisles looking for properties of all types that might make sense for tie-in books. Several publishing deals were announced at the show, including HarperCollins' recent agreement to publish books tied to the Neopets brand, under license from Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products. Several exhibitors said they were expecting to sign publishers they met at the show this year.
Children's publishers are most likely to tie in with entertainment properties, but there are other options as well. Hasbro has a robust publishing program for its toy properties, ranging from My Little Pony (with 18 million licensed books sold to date) to its board game brands, which recently added Sterling as a licensee for game books for adults and children. Even the racing organization NASCAR has 50 publishing partners and more than 150 titles in print. Its NASCAR Library Collection, launched in 2004, is the umbrella for formats from coloring and comic books to historic guides and romance novels.
For licensors of all kinds, publishing is an important facet of their strategies. As Holly Rawlinson, v-p of licensing and entertainment at Pokémon USA, which has boosted both its in-house and licensed publishing activity over the last year, said, "A robust publishing program is so important because kids stay with the property for years, and they become more involved with it throughout their lives."