MAISY'S DEBUT on Nickelodeon this month boosted ratings for the time slot considerably.

Developing TV series from books and book characters has become a fast-growing area of the entertainment business, as television producers seek established properties to maximize their chances of success in this high-risk industry. Children's books and series, from The Magic School Bus to Madeline, have long been adapted for television, and new shows have pro-liferated over the last two years, with Animorphs, Dumb Bunnies and Anatole among the shows premiering in 1998, and several more are planned for 1999. In fact, nearly all of CBS's Saturday morning line-up is inspired by book titles, while the HBO Family cable channel, set to launch in the spring, will feature book-based TV series as the cornerstone of its children's programming.

The book-television combination can be a strong sales hook for pub-lishers and licensors as well, espe-cially in the competitive environment that currently characterizes children's book publishing, the television indus-try and licensing. "Some of the most successful licenses we have are book-based," said Kate Klimo, v-p, publish-ing director, Random House Books for Young Readers, citing Thomas the Tank Engine as an example. "It never hurts to have a TV show," she added.

Sid Kaufman, executive v-p of worldwide merchandising at Nelvana, producer and licensor of book-based TV properties including CBS's Franklin, which debuted in fall 1998, noted that a history of book sales helps sell a TV property to the licensing trade (Franklin moved to Nickelodeon last month). Franklin "has been very popular year after year in book clubs and at retail," he said. "We can go to a licensee or retailer with a very reliable and significant track record." The Franklin series was first published in Canada by Kids Can Press in 1986 and in the U.S. by Scholastic the following year. There are currently 24 story books and six activity books; total copies in print number 16 million in Canada about more than five million in the States.

At the same time, television typically appeals to a larger fan base than a book property alone. "You're taking what's a wonderful property as a book and expanding its audience, said Shari Meltzer, marketing manager at Copyrights America, licensing agent for Lucy Cousins's Maisy and Mick Inkpen's Kipper, both of which debuted on Nickelodeon this month. The new TV show will enable Maisy licensing to expand from wooden toys, plush, games and puzzles into apparel, accessories, backpacks and a wider range of toys.

TV Boosts Book Sales

Although not all television series have a direct impact on backlist book sales, many literary franchises benefit from an associated television series. Soon after Arthur debuted on PBS, sales of Arthur books "easily tripled, and that was from a pretty high rate before," reported John Keller, v-p, publisher of children's books at Little, Brown.

Sales of 10 million Arthur books in the show's first year and 12 million in the second were "a surprise," admitted Arthur creator Marc Brown. "I had always considered myself successful," he explained, pointing out that the book series was already popular prior to the show's premiere.

"What we've seen with Arthur has been phenomenal," agreed Audrey Seitz, v-p of merchandising for Cincinnati-based Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd Booksellers. Thanks to Arthur, she added, "We will definitely approach Maisy books and sidelines in a much more aggressive way."

As for Animorphs, Jean Feiwel, publisher of Scholastic Book Group, reported, "We've seen a significant increase in sales of both backlist and frontlist titles" since the show's September 1998 launch on Nickelodeon. She noted that October sales increased 30% over previous months. Similarly, monthly unit sales of Scholastic's Goosebumps books rose from 2 million to 4.4 million from August to October 1995, due to the TV series' premiere in September of that year on Fox.

Some booksellers are more apt to support a TV tie-in if the property originated as a literary title. "Our people see it as a great way to get kids to read the book," Seitz pointed out.Others treat them as they do any other media tie-in. "If there's a floor display, I'll try that, but I won't continue it if it d sn't work," said Stephanie Wolfe, children's buyer at Seattle-based University Bookstore.

The advent of a television series can also provide opportunities for additional distribution. "We're not [in Toys R Us] all the time, but we are there with Arthur," said Keller. "What the [Franklin] show has done for us is open up new markets," said Barbara Howson, director of sales and marketing for Kids Can Press. The show's 1997 Canadian debut on the Family Channel resulted in special sales to the Jumbo Video chain, which merchandises books and other Franklin products along with the videos, and to Black's Camera, which sells Franklin books as part of a cross-promotion. Special sales can add 50,000 to 65,000 units to an initial press run of 130,000 per book.

While book-based TV tie-ins and the original titlesbooks on which they are based can both sell well, Steve Geck, director of children's books at Barnes &Noble, cautioned against possible oversaturation as more and more book-based television programs reach the airwaves. "It's sort of like the floodgates have opened," he said. "It's something we're having to watch." Geck predicted that the existence of too many book-based TV shows might result in less of a boost for publishing programs as each associated television series launches.

Publishing Programs Expand

Many book companies adopt a more ambitious publishing schedule to capitalize on a television debut. Harcourt Brace will add to its Kipper line with pop-up books, lower-priced versions of the original titles, and companion books. France's Hachette Livre launched a five-year publishing program, including 35 new titles in 1998, to coincide with a Babar animated series (which debuted on HBO in 1997). A similar effort is expected to be introduced into the U.S. HarperCollins is using the premiere of Paddington on HBO Family this spring as a launch point for board books and new titles by Michael Bond.

Dumb Bunnies will not engender any tie-in titles, due to the reluctance of author Dav Pilkey, but the TV series has had an effect on the book program. "We made an effort to put all of the hardcovers into paperbacks, which everyone was clamoring for," said Feiwel. "That effort was accelerated so all the paperbacks would be out in time for the show." There are more than 500,000 copies in print of all Dumb Bunnies titles, the first of which was published in February 1994.

When tie-ins are authorized, publishers try to keep the two lines as distinct as possible, segmenting them by look, target age, price, timing and/or distribution channel. Still, opinions differ on whether tie-ins and originals cannibalize each other. Little, Brown's and Random House's Arthur books are different in age and format, yet Keller acknowledged, "If we weren't in the market they would've sold more and vice versa." Yet Klimo pointed out that both companies' books are selling "incredibly well," indicating that they are not harming each other.

"We offer the [Magic School Bus] tie-in editions, but the core titles are the bestsellers for us," said Geck of Barnes &Noble. "The TV tie-ins do really well, but after a while people gravitate back to the originals."

Pam Newton, v-p of marketing at Viacom Consumer Products, licensor of Richard Scarry's Busytown, said, "Our thought is, all of it enhances each other." Random House and Golden Books have a backlist of more than 100 Scarry titles, while Simon &Schuster has published 24 tie-ins since the show's 1995 debut (with a total in-print figure of more than 3.3 million copies). "We see [the Simon &Schuster line] as just new material for the Richard Scarry franchise, just as if Richard were still doing it today," she said.

Sales of some tie-in books have not lived up to those of the original line. The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, for example, a Nickelodeon series produced by the Jim Henson Company, led to tie-in titles from Random House (also the publisher of the original Dr. Seuss books), but no new releases are planned. "The show never really took off as expected. It was probably overambitious," Klimo said. "We sold millions of books; it just didn't sustain a publishing program." As Henson v-p and publisher Jane Leventhal put it, "Trying to live up to Ted Geisel is a challenge."

The premiere of a television series is typically highlighted in marketing efforts to the trade and consumers. Many publishers add an "I'm on TV" burst to covers of original as well as tie-in titles, for example. Scholastic is drawing attention to the Animorphs television series with posters, window clings and bookmarks, generating an expected 10 million impressions through all of its distribution channels.

Kids Can spotlights the Franklin TV series in its catalogues to bookstores and on its promotional posters featuring Franklin, which it distributes annually to booksellers and schools. The books are also mentioned, along with other Franklin products, in a flyer sent to video stores by Canadian home video licensee Telegenics.

In conjunction with the Maisy television premiere, Candlewick Press is releasing seven new lower-priced Maisy titles. When retailers purchase 66 Maisy books, they will receive a display and 12 6-inch Maisy dolls, according to Holly J , Candlewick publicity manager.

Merchandise Programs Follow Suit

In most cases, television exposure leads to increased licensing activity, with merchandise expanding from a few products such as plush figures, CD-ROMs, puzzles and games, to a wider selection including toys, backpacks, apparel and dishes. The new products are often launched in specialty book-and-toy stores, although distribution may expand to mass outlets later. Back in August, Noodle Kidoodle was the first to offer merchandise based on Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear, seen on Nickelodeon.

FRANKLIN and Dumb Bunnies proved themselves as strong book properties before Nelvana adapted them for television.

Spurring increased licensing activity is the need to help finance expensive television productions. "We had to license things I had never thought about doing," said Brown, noting that each episode of Arthur costs between $400,000 and $450,000. "PBS had put a lot of money on the line for the show, millions of dollars."

The pace of licensing expansion depends on how well-known the book is prior to airing on TV. Nelvana has signed 20 licensees for 100 Franklin products, according to Kaufman, while Dumb Bunnies is about a year behind in terms of licensing development, with plush by MerryMakers the only product so far. Meanwhile, Flying Rhinoceros Junior High and Myth Men, both on CBS and based on books marketed primarily in schools, are not being licensed yet. "We don't want to get ahead of the market," Kaufman said. (Some properties, such as Babar and Paddington, have been the focus of extensive licensing programs prior to being developed for television.)

Dumb BunniesPublishers and licensors are aware of the innate contradiction between the long-term nature of a publishing franchise and the typically shorter lifespan of a TV tie-in. "One of the challenges in taking a book property into television is that publishing works very differently in the marketplace than licensing or filmed entertainment d s," says Deborah Forte, executive v-p of Scholastic and division head of Scholastic Entertainment. Higher-profile licensing and entertainment properties tend to result in lofty sales levels for books and products over a brief period, in contrast to the slower but steady sales associated with a book franchise. The type of extensive marketing splash usually associated with entertainment productions could be life-threatening to an ongoing book series, if not handled with care.

Consequently, they take steps to ensure that TV-based marketing efforts do not harm the core book property. This means not flooding the market with merchandise or tie-in books; continuing to focus on specialty stores, either exclusively or in tandem with a separate mass market effort; and ensuring that products and promotions fit with the inherent literary qualities of the property.

The trend toward more book-based television programming d s not look like it will abate soon. Kid's Can's new book series, An Elliot Moose Story, is being developed into a TV show by Nelvana, which actually purchased the property before the first book was published, indicating the power of the TV-book link. Another sign of that power is the fact that, according to Howson, sales of the initial Elliot Moose title, first published in Canada last autumn, have increased substantially due to the buzz surrounding the property's fall 1999 TV debut.

North-South's The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is expected to start airing on television in fall 1999. The Rainbow Fish has engendered a fairly wide licensing effort for a book property without TV support; products ranging from party goods to bathing suits have been on the market since the first items -- bookmarks, diaries, and magnets from Antioch -- appeared in 1993. With the advent of the TV deal, U.S. licensing oversight has moved to video producer Sony Wonder, which will expand the program to incorporate new artwork and characters from the television series. Sony will continue to support the book-inspired merchandise already available.

Scholastic has two forthcoming literature-based TV series planned. Dear America will air as a mini-series on HBO this March and will be backed by a small, upscale licensing program that includes CD-ROMs, videos, stationery and Madame Alexander dolls. Merchandise will be available later this year. Meanwhile, Scholastic's 36-year-old Clifford franchise is also in development for television. Toy Island is already signed to market Clifford playthings; Scholastic plans to authorize a full range of licensed merchandise. Forte believes that Clifford's licensing potential is not dependent on the television show, pointing out that the property's licensing style guide is inspired by artwork from the books, not the TV series.

And the examples go on and on. Viking's Time Warp Trio, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, is in development with WGBH-TV in Boston, while an animated program based on Redwall, an 11-book series by Brian Jacques, is in production at Nelvana. Harcourt Brace's 1995 book Gracie Graves and the Kids from Room 402, by Michael and Betty Paraskevas, will begin airing as a 22-episode animated series this fall on the Fox Family Channel. (The Paraskevas's Ferocious Beast aired on Nick Jr. as five two-minute segments early this year; that effort may be expanded.) Nickelodeon is developing a series based on Scholastic's Little Bill books by Bill Cosby that is scheduled to start airing this fall. And Angelina Ballerina is in development with Britain's HIT Entertainment.

Booksellers and publishers expect many of the book titles associated with these productions to sell strongly, given the potent combination of a literary background and the level of exposure that only a television show can offer. The success of these ventures will determine whether more books will find their way onto TV in the future.

Lyrick Celebrates 10 Years of Barney
Arthur and other book-based TV tie-ins comprise a growing children's publishing sector, but pure media spin-offs can also reach bestseller status.One publishing phenomenon claiming its roots in the world of TV and home video is Lyrick Studios' Barney, who celebrates his 10th birthday this year and is marking his sixth year in publishing. In contrast to many tie-in lines -- for which sales curves tend to mirror the trajectory of their related licensing efforts -- Barney publishing has grown steadily from the start, despite the fact that retail sales of licensed merchandise went from hundreds of millions of dollars in 1993 to near extinction in 1994.
Barney was introduced to the market in 1988 with a direct-to-video line, which started to take off in 1989 (the point from which the anniversary is being measured) and served as an early indication of grassroots popularity. With the premiere of Barney &Friends on PBS in April 1992 sparked the craze for licensed items, which hit store shelves the same year.
The 1994 drop in merchandise sales led many observers to predict the demise of the entire property. Yet the core Barney product lines -- video, audio, plush and books -- continues to grow, claiming double-digit increases each year.
The company released its first three book titles under the Barney Publishing imprint in 1993. Over the last five years, the in-house program has grown to 145 titles in 25 formats, with 30 to 35 new titles released annually. Fifty million books from Barney Publishing are in print, along with another 37 million from licensees Golden Books, Dalmatian and Publications International (the latter being the only outside publisher remaining on the licensee roster).
Diane Geracie, Lyrick's director of publishing, attributed the ongoing strength of books and other key categories to their being handled in-house rather than through licensees, which allowed the company to maintain control of brand identity, distribution, marketing and cross-promotion. The fact that the Barney craze was in full swing before the first books were released also benefited the publishing program. Lyrick limited the number of titles and the size of print runs to minimize future returns.
With licensing, on the other hand, Lyrick was able to cap the number of licensees and SKUs, but could not prevent manufacturers from overproducing as they struggled to address shortages. The result was a market glut in early 1994. After that low point, however, sales of licensed goods -- including toys from Hasbro and interactive items from Microsoft -- have strengthened annually, according to Ries. The total number of licensees has remained between 35 and 40, with approximately half the current roster on board since the beginning.
Meanwhile, Lyrick continues to diversify. Wishbone, airing on PBS through 2001, is the focus of two tie-in series from Lyrick's Big Red Chair division, of which more than four million books are in print. The company also distributes several video/audio series, including Veggie Tales, Francesco's Friendly World and Shelley Duvall's The American Tall Tales and Legends.
But the dinosaur remains Lyrick's cash cow. Retailer promotions are in the works, each customized and themed around one of 10 Barney Basics (e.g., sharing, taking turns, being kind). Continued product innovation, marketing support and new television episodes for the show's 10 million regular viewers should ensure that Barney lives on for another 10 years and beyond.