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Publishers Weekly Children's Features

A Common Thread
Karen Raugust -- 9/14/98
Publishers and cable TV networks weave together a host of tie-ins for fall
Cable channels and books are beginning to seem like natural partners. Through book publishing, networks are extending their logo into new venues, reinforcing their brand image, adding viewers and promoting programming. Meanwhile, publishers gain marketing clout, brand recognition, editorial and graphic content and incremental distribution.

This fall, publishers are introducing an array of books based on cable networks and programs. New lines include Simon Spotlight's Weather Channel books for middle-graders; Pocket Books' VH1 Books imprint, set for December; and the first U.S. Sci Fi Channel titles from Warner Books. TV Books will distribute additional Sci Fi titles, published by the U.K.'s Orion Publishing, in North America next spring. And Black Entertainment Television recently acquired Arabesque, a line of African American romance novels.

These are joined by new titles from existing cable-related imprints. To name a few, Pocket Books will introduce a Comedy Central South Park book, adding to the company's Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist line; its MTV Books imprint, which currently has two million books in print, is also expanding into original fiction. The Discovery Channel is premiering children's books based on its Animal Planet network, through Sterling, and will launch a Discovery Channel Books imprint next spring with Random House. A&E is launching a children's book line with Lerner Publications under its Biography brand, and new titles are out from Hyperion's ESPN imprint and from Nickelodeon, through Simon &Schuster and Landoll's.

Most of these partnerships are forged through traditional licensing deals, but there are variations. Several of the partners are sister companies, including Pocket Books and Comedy Central (the latter half-owned by Viacom), Hyperion and ESPN (Disney), Pocket and MTV/VH1 (Viacom), and S&S and Nickelodeon (also Viacom). In this case the imprint may be set up as a joint venture, as is Pocket's MTV Books line, or as a traditional book deal, as is the South Park title, which Pocket acquired from Comedy Central in an auction.

At Barnes &Noble, the success of books based on cable properties varies from title to title. A&E Biography books on Evita Peron and Larry Flynt did well, largely because their releases coincided with films about the celebrities. "You can't tell if [their success] is because of A&E or because of the timing," said a B&N spokesperson. "They seem to have a knack for timing it just right."

Similarly, sales of MTV Books at B&N depend on the show. Books based on Road Rules "exploded," while The Real World did "okay." A book on dating, based on the series Singled Out, did not perform well at the chain.

Current cable-related children's favorites at B&N -- and elsewhere -- are Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues and Rugrats books, which are promoted regularly at Barnes&Noble outlets, in dumps supplied by S&S. Meanwhile, Nickelodeon mass market licensee Landoll's reports that it has shipped more than 20 million units of Rugrats and Blue's Clues product in the last 15 months, including five million Blue's Clues units in the line's first five months on the market.

Original Publishing Adds Value

By far, the bulk of cable-related publishing is comprised of original works rather than pure tie-ins, whether based on specific programming or not. For example, Nickelodeon's Rugrats and MTV's Daria titles are new stories, not novelizations, starring familiar characters. Companion books for documentaries contain extra information and photographs not seen on-air. "The programming is one thread in the story of the book," said Ann-Marie McGowan, v-p of publishing and business development at Discovery Enterprises Worldwide, whose companion books include Titanic: The World's Greatest Ocean Liner. "We use the show as the hook, but what we're delivering has to be much bigger."

Some networks' publishing activity focuses on extending on-air franchises. VH1's initial offerings will be based on the programs Pop-Up Video and Behind the Music, according to Eduardo Braniff, editorial and publishing director for MTV and VH1 Books. Comedy Central's efforts are driven by shows such as South Park, The Daily Show and Dr. Katz, although it has authorized branded humor books in the past. The majority of Nickelodeon's 200 books since 1992 have been based on programming such as Blue's Clues and Rugrats; it has offered a few branded titles, including Nickelodeon's The Big Help, inspired by the network's mission to encourage volunteering.

Other networks concentrate on branded publishing, both fiction and nonfiction. These include networks that air mostly acquired programming and thus do not own publishing rights (such as the Sci Fi Channel) or that offer little traditional programming (such as the Weather Channel). Jason Korfine, director of consumer products, USA Networks, points out that USA's Sci Fi Channel lends itself to branding because of its narrow focus. "It represents a genre, so it's a much easier transition into publishing than less targeted brands," he said.

Some cablers offer a mix of branded and program-based books. Most of Pocket's 20 MTV Books titles are based on shows, including Beavis and Butt-head, but its new fiction line consists of original works -- including one authored by the first winner of an MTV-sponsored fiction contest -- designed to appeal to the youthful MTV audience. Discovery has authorized documentary tie-ins, but its Animal Planet books are branded. "We're building the brand [through publishing] as much as leveraging the brand," said McGowan.

A&E Networks also authorizes a combination of branded and program-specific titles. It has branded its literary productions, such as Pride and Prejudice, as the A&E Literary Collection; Modern Library has issued six of the books upon which the productions are based, adding photography from the shows. A&E has also branded its Biography series. Crown Publishers and Lerner both issue nonfiction books under the Biography umbrella; however, they are originals rather than transcripts, and many of the subjects have not been profiled on the show. According to Jonathan Paisner, manager of consumer product development for A&E Television Networks, the company will continue to authorize traditional companion books through several publishers. This fall, for example, the third of a three-book series from Rutledge Hill Press tied in with Civil War Journal, which aired on A&E's History Channel.

As a rule, publishing partners have primary responsibility for editorial duties. Network and publishing executives typically hold brainstorming sessions on content and launch strategies. The networks provide editorial guidance and artwork, sometimes offer access to cast and crew and approve the final product (as d s the creative staff involved with the programming). In many cases, creators, writers, consultants or art directors involved with a show also write, edit or illustrate the books.

Marketing Synergies

Two of the positive aspects of associating with a cable network are its brand strength and its large and loyal audience. "[The Weather Channel] just passed the 70 million [household] subscription milestone, which is a lot of viewers," reported Robin Corey, v-p and publisher of S&S's Little Simon and Simon Spotlight mass market children's imprints. She noted that some of these viewers, affectionately called "weather geeks" by the channel, have a passionate interest in the subject.

"A&E reaches homes that Modern Library couldn't hope to reach," admitted Ian Jackman, editorial director of Modern Library hardcovers. "They promote [their programming] a lot." Consumer advertising in publications such as Entertainment Weekly and People also indirectly helps sell books.

Although available advertising time is scarce, some networks offer on-air opportunities to promote the tie-ins. A&E presents on-air direct-response offers for its home videos and Modern Library books, while Comedy Central created a spot for Andrews McMeel's Daily Show tie-in. On-air promotions during or just after the show are especially effective, said Kara Welsh, v-p and associate publisher at Pocket Books.

A cable network can even facilitate on-air exposure on another network. Discovery used spots during a joint Dateline NBC/Discovery Channel report on the Titanic, which aired on NBC in August, for a direct-response offer promoting its Titanic books and videos.

Cablers' Internet sites often generate significantly more traffic than publishers' sites. The Weather Channel, for instance, attracts up to 20 million hits and three million page views per day. The networks sell tie-in books online, offer links with publishers' sites and sometimes serialize books for promotional purposes. The Sci Fi Channel plans to serialize Orion's new three-book fiction series, The Guardians, on its website.

Sweepstakes that encourage consumers to tune in to network programming comprise another common marketing technique directly or indirectly benefiting publishers. A&E launched a sweeps to support its literary productions last spring, providing point-of-purchase materials consisting of entry forms and posters to Barnes &Noble stores. Many B&N outlets added A&E books and videos to the display. MTV is running a short story contest this month, which will be promoted in bookstores, on-air, online and on the MTV radio network. MTV Books' first fiction release will contain an entry form and rules for the contest.

Nickelodeon also created a sweepstakes supporting its Blue's Clues birthday celebration last spring, according to Seth Jacobson, Nickelodeon's director of software and books. A fold-out in the print ad for the sweepstakes showed Blue's Big Birthday, which was given as second prize in the sweeps.The two companies credit the sweepstakes, which ran just before the line's launch, with its appearance in the number-two slot on PW's children's series bestseller list two weeks after the introduction of the first eight titles in the line.

As with any licensed book, licensees in different industries can help promote each other's products. Nickelodeon's promotional marketing group and Blue's Clues CD-ROM licensee Humongous Entertainment produced eight million door hangers, which mention both the software and the books, and distributed them to retailers, preschools and caregivers.

Some cable networks, such as ESPN and MTV, maintain radio networks; MTV has a pager network; and ESPN, the Sci Fi Channel, Nickelodeon and A&E (with Biography) are among the networks that publish magazines. All of these media are used to promote books and other products. In fact, outside of content, many publishers consider the breadth and depth of a network's promotional resources the key benefit of a tie-in. As Welsh said, "The marketing power of MTV is the key to the [success of the MTV Books] line."

The publisher's most significant contribution to the partnership, in addition to editorial expertise, is sales, distribution and promotion in traditional book channels. "We rely on aggressive retailer promotions," said Larry Lieberman, v-p of strategic planning and new business development at Comedy Central. "The humor shelf is not the most heavily trafficked area of the store. A hit book for us is dependent on moving it out of humor and up to the front of the store."

Expanding Distribution

Although cable-related books are sold primarily through traditional trade and mass market outlets, the relationship with the network can lead to new distribution channels. For example, The Weather Channel bought Simon Spotlight's books for its catalogue. Discovery is converting the recently acquired Nature Company stores to its own brand and expects books to be a key category. Hyperion's ESPN books are sold in the two ESPN Club sports bars and in the ESPN store; its Way Inside ESPN's X Games was available on-site at the extreme sports competition in June. An instant coupon book promotion on hangtags of Rugrats apparel has led clothing buyers to purchase S&S's Rugrats books for display in their departments. The MTV name is credited with boosting book distribution in music stores such as Virgin and Musicland.

Lerner, a school and library market specialist, is expecting the Biography brand to assist its efforts to expand in trade channels. "[The Biography name] d sn't hurt in the library market," said David Wexler, sales and marketing director, noting that A&E is sending a direct-mail piece to libraries to promote the books and other branded products. And, he added, "[The name] is also strategic in growing the trade. It adds that brand recognition."

Most observers expect the current flurry of cable network-related publishing activity to continue. Additional networks, including American Movie Classics and Lifetime, are looking into extending their brands and promoting their programming through publishing. Meanwhile, many of the existing partnerships are likely to expand, building upon the success they have achieved so far.
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