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Publishers Weekly Children's Features

Going Hollywood
Karen Raugust -- 8/14/00
Publishing offers unique opportunities for
film studios' consumer products divisions

The major Hollywood film studios and their consumer products divisions view books as an important licensing category, not just for their revenue potential, but for their ability to create awareness for films and television programming. In addition, publishing opportunities often exist even for properties that are not considered "merchandisable."

In this Article:

"We can do things [in publishing] that the other categories can't do," said Michael Harkavy, Warner Bros. Consumer Products v-p, worldwide publishing, Kids' WB! Music and interactive entertainment.

"Great storytelling is the foundation of movies, and many movies lend themselves to good books," noted Kristy Cox, head of Dreamworks Publishing, adding, "American Beauty action figures probably wouldn't make sense."

Following is a look at each studio's involvement with licensed book publishing. While the consumer products divisions of other film companies, such as Sony (which handles the Spider-Man movie, Stuart Little, Heavy Gear and Dawson's Creek, among others) and MGM (James Bond and The Pink Panther), also are active in publishing--as are smaller studios such as Artisan or New Line--the operations cited here (alphabetically) have the largest ongoing programs.

Disney Publishing Worldwide

Richard Scarry and Winnie
the Pooh are just two
publishing properties
expanding into
other formats.
Walt Disney's consumer products arm is composed of four divisions: licensing, The Disney Store, interactive software and publishing. The last includes Disney Publishing Worldwide, which consists of two in-house operations, Disney Press and the more upscale Disney Editions, along with Disney Licensed Publishing. English-language licensing is handled by a dozen-person staff headed by director Margie Chan.
Disney licensing has undergone some changes of late. As of January 1, 2001, Random House will assume the formats currently held by Golden Books (a 70-year licensee whose relationship with Disney is ending), as well as some of the formats formerly marketed under Disney's MouseWorks imprint. The rest of MouseWorks's formats will move to Disney Press, according to Scott Chambers, Disney Licensed Publishing senior account manager.

Disney's largest book publishing licensees (outside of Golden and soon Random House) include Publications International (soundbooks), Landoll (workbooks) and Grolier (continuity series). All told, more than 30 licensees sell Disney books in North America (including Hyperion, another house in the Disney family). Most of the larger licensees work with a variety of Disney films, characters--including Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse--and television shows, although some niche licensees hold rights to just one or two properties. "It's a big corporate initiative to breathe new life into Mickey," said Chambers. "He has a lot of untapped potential."

"We work with [our licensees] any way we can," Chambers continued, noting that, because of the company's vertical publishing operations, the licensing group has the advantage of an in-house editorial staff, as well as editors and artists in Burbank devoted full-time to U.S. licensing. "We try to use that ability and expertise. We're lucky to have that knowledge."

Dreamworks Consumer ProductsDreamworks employs a staff of three to handle publishing (with the close assistance of the consumer products division's creative group). Publishing is one of the divisions reporting to the head of Dreamworks consumer products; others include toys, promotions and general licensing and merchandising.

Dreamworks's two primary book publishing partners are Landoll, which markets 8-in.-by-8-in. storybooks, coloring activity books and other formats; and Penguin Putnam, which sells a variety of formats for both animated and live-action films. "You really get to know each other over the years," said Cox of the long-term deals. "You develop a comfort level. They trust us and we trust them."

The company signs other publishers for novelty formats or specialty titles outside Landoll's or Penguin's expertise, such as Abrams for "Making Of" books or Newmarket Press for screenplays. The Penguin and Landoll arrangements are "first-look" deals, which give the publishers the option to pass on properties; if they do, then Dreamworks seeks other partners. For example, Penguin and Landoll both published books tied to Dreamworks's animated film The Prince of Egypt, as did Tommy Nelson for the Christian market. Penguin opted out of the movie's direct-to-video sequel, Joseph, set for release later this year, so Tommy Nelson will market multiple formats to both Christian booksellers and mass-market channels.

Unlike other studios, most of Dreamworks's properties are geared toward older audiences, so it d s not license many board books or other formats for the very young. Upcoming initiatives for 2001 include Shrek, a computer-animated film based on the William Steig book, and Spirit, a traditionally animated film about wild mustangs, told from the horses' point of view, which will generate a full publishing program from Landoll and Penguin. Cox described Shrek as "an edgy boys' property. There are a lot of gross, fun boys' opportunities," she said, citing a probable gag book from Penguin.

Fox Consumer ProductsTwentieth Century Fox's publishing staff of four is led by Virginia King, director of worldwide publishing. Fox Consumer Products is comprised of two arms, home entertainment and licensing and merchandising; within L&M are sales, creative, marketing and promotions divisions. Publishing is one of the categories reporting to the head of sales.

Much of Fox's publishing activity focuses on television, which befits Fox's place as the largest U.S. provider of programming. Current initiatives include Dark Angel, Fearsum, The Lone Gunman and Malcolm in the Middle. Fox tends to work with a single publisher for each television property. "Due to the types of properties we've done, we haven't really needed to segment by format," said King, who added that most deals are worldwide.

"These titles tend to backlist," King reported. "The X-Files [books] will continue to sell long after the series [ends]." HarperEntertainment launched X-Files books in 1994, and the program has grown to well over 50 titles. Similarly, Pocket's Buffy: the Vampire Slayer series, introduced in 1997, has accumulated 40 titles; 1.5 million copies of Buffy books are released annually.

Film initiatives range from this year's Titan A.E., which inspired 12 publishing products, to movies such as Me, Myself & Irene, which lend themselves to screenplay books or novelizations. Older movies such as Big and Alien also inspire books. "We're starting to look at [the catalogue] even more aggressively," King explained, noting that L&M has identified Fox Classics as a brand for collectibles licensing. "Publishers are asking about it and we're starting to brainstorm and work with publishers on that."

HarperCollins is part of the Fox corporate family and publishes a number of Fox tie-ins (including for Anastasia, The X-Files and Titanic), but it won all of those rights in auctions. "It's an arm's-length relationship," said King, pointing out that the studio has a financial responsibility to the properties' creators. She added, however, "Harper d s keep an office on the [studio] lot. That can really facilitate things."

Universal Studios Consumer ProductsUniversal's publishing process differs from the others' in that it creates its book concepts, hires the writers and editors and approves the manuscript, then sells the package to publishers. The small internal staff relies heavily on freelancers; satellite offices in London, Munich, Tokyo and eventually Paris, along with 18 international agents, handle international markets.

"What I do supports what consumer products d s, and vice versa," said Nancy Cushing-Jones, president of publishing rights, a division within the studio's consumer products group.

While the studio authorizes extensive publishing programs for its high-profile films, such as next year's Jurassic Park III, it also looks for backlist opportunities, especially for original novels. The classic TV programs Murder, She Wrote and Columbo each generate at least one new title a year, with the former approaching 20 in total and the latter more than 40. The Hercules and Xena television series have also led to a variety of adult and children's books.

As far as classic films, the studio recently licensed Scholastic for young adult novels under The Further Adventures of the Monsters banner, based on Universal's Classic Monsters brand, while Berkley began publishing original Monsters novels in 1999 (and holds rights to the films The Mummy and The Mummy Returns). Meanwhile, i-books will publish its first Alfred Hitchcock Mysteries title, The Vertigo Murder, this fall.

"We're always looking for new and different ways of developing a property," said Cushing-Jones. "The material itself has to drive the process. We want a house that 'gets' the property."

Viacom Consumer Products

Two lucrative licensed properties,
for Viacom and Universal.
Publishing rep Risa Kessler of RHK Creative Services handles sales of Viacom's properties into publishing, reporting to Viacom Consumer Products v-p of worldwide licensing sales. "I function as part of the sales team," Kessler said.
Viacom licenses Paramount's films and television shows, as well as some third-party properties. Much of its publishing activity is centered on the Star Trek franchise, for which Pocket Books (part of Simon & Schuster, a sister company) releases 50 books per year. "We deal with Star Trek every day in one way or another," said Kessler. "It's its own universe."

Other television-based licensing includes the live-action Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which is on track for 41 original novels by year-end; Charmed, which will have six books by the end of this year and more in 2001; and 7th Heaven, for which Random House will introduce original novels next year. Rutledge Hill's Andy Griffith Show books represent the studio's largest "backlist" publishing effort (outside of Star Trek).

Film licensing encompasses properties such as the upcoming Tomb Raider, which will generate a full merchandise program, and screenplay--or novelization--appropriate releases such as What Women Want and Enemy at the Gates. The new Paramount Classics brand covers nostalgic titles such as It's a Wonderful Life and The Quiet Man and is expected to lead to publishing opportunities.

Some films show potential for art books, such as Newmarket's The Art of the Matrix. Tim Burton's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow also inspired an art book featuring concept sketches and photos of sets. "I knew a year and a half or two years before the movie came out that it was going to have the right elements to do this kind of art book," Kessler said.

Warner Bros. Consumer ProductsMichael Harkavy handles the intellectual property/content business within Warner Bros. Consumer Products, including interactive software, music and books. The division has its own children's music label, but the rest of its activity is handled through traditional licensing agreements. Nearly 20 people are involved with book publishing (not including agents).

Among Warner's current consumer products initiatives are Looney Tunes, the Cartoon Network (including The Powerpuff Girls), and Harry Potter. Upcoming films such as Osmosis Jones and A.I. are not top merchandising priorities, but are significant for publishing. "For me, these are major pushes," said Harkavy. Catalogue properties that have generated bestselling books include the TV series Friends and E.R., while Babylon 5 has inspired everything from cookbooks to original novels.

Harkavy's division sometimes brings new properties into the company. It recently found a fanzine called Pesky Meddling Girls, published by 20-something Jennifur Brandt; Warner Books will publish Brandt's Life Is a Movie Starring You and Kid Rhino will release a CD compilation in 2001, with television exposure and a Web site to follow. "It's a cool, cool girls' property," Harkavy said.

Warner Consumer Products's sister companies within the Time-Warner (and now AOL) family include Little, Brown and Warner Books, but it d s deals with a variety of houses. "We tend to think strategically and long-term," said Harkavy, citing ongoing relationships with companies such as Landoll, Scholastic and Golden. "We look at publishers as unique engines of distribution."
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