The Star Trek publishing program, anchored by Pocket Books for fiction and other formats and IDW for comic books, has exploded in the last few years. The licensee roster increased from four partners in 2009 to 14 in 2013. Just this year, 13 new titles are coming out—in addition to ongoing Pocket and IDW series—including five from brand-new licensees Carlton Publishing, DK, Cider Mill Press, and Running Press.
“We realized, in thinking about the property and the strategy, that Star Trek had become so much a part of pop culture that it was time to add new partners,” said Liz Kalodner, executive v-p and general manager, CBS Consumer Products. As a result, the licensor began signing licensees across all categories, including apparel, toys, games, and collectibles, along with an assortment of new publishing formats.
Kalodner noted that the publishing category, with its wide scope, has become an important revenue-generator. “Each one is not the size of a videogame, but collectively it’s quite meaningful,” she said. In addition, she explained, books offer new content that can be used to develop and freshen other products and help keep Star Trek “a living, breathing, contemporary property.”
Recent success stories range from Carlton’s On Board the U.S.S. Enterprise, a virtual tour of the famous spaceship packaged with a CD-ROM, to The Star Trek Visual Dictionary from DK, to a bind-up of four movie prequel comics from IDW called Countdown to Darkness.
Make It So
From crafts to cartography, novelty formats are a current area of expansion. As part of that effort, CBS forged a relationship with packager becker&mayer! to help create complex formats that publishers may not have had the resources to accomplish on their own, according to Kalodner.
A handful of examples of new and upcoming novelty titles include cross-stitch and crafts books and A Very Klingon Khristmas from Pocket; How to Speak Klingon from Chronicle; and Stellar Cartography from Amazon’s 47North imprint. A pop-up book is in development for 2014. “There is tremendous opportunity in novelty formats,” Kalodner stated, citing parody, cookbooks, and geography books as future possibilities.
“Some of our more offbeat titles have been extremely successful,” reported Ed Schlesinger, senior editor, Gallery Books and Pocket Books, who oversees Star Trek and other media tie-ins. “For example, the current edition of The Klingon Dictionary, which has been available for nearly 30 years, has over 340,000 copies in print and is now in its 26th printing.”
Running Press recently released light-up phaser and light-up Enterprise mini-kits. “We’re seeing a huge response for these,” said James Chan, national accounts representative for Running Press parent Perseus Books Group. “[Star Trek] has a timeless appeal. Fans see them on display at a book- or comic book store and they think, ‘Hey, I’d like a light-up phaser, this is awesome.’ ”
Chan noted that Running Press is producing more mini-kits tied to mass-appeal licenses and has done well with sci-fi and comic properties from Dr. Who to Batman. “Overall, the accounts just find that geeky things and nerdy things sell,” he said. “There is a strong, loyal fan base for any sci-fi or comic book property, whether at a comic book store or at Anthropologie.”
Live Long and Prosper
Good storytelling is key to Star Trek’s longevity, and the core of the Star Trek publishing program remains Pocket’s fiction and IDW’s comic books. Pocket, a licensee since 1979, has millions of books in print tied to the franchise’s various films (the latest being Star Trek into Darkness, which premiered May 16) and the five TV series (Original, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), as well as book-only spin-off series.
Pocket currently releases a new Star Trek mass-market paperback novel each month, with storylines covering all series, and there have been at least a few hundred novels published over the years, according to Schlesinger. The primary focus these days is on the Original series and the ongoing story line of The Next Generation expanded universe, which features characters from TNG, DSN, and Voyager, as well as book-exclusive characters, all interacting within the same story.
Pocket has published the TNG expanded universe series for several years and it has become one of its most successful Star Trek ventures; two novels in David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy, a story arc within the series, were New York Times bestsellers at the end of 2012, for example. Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations of the 2009 and 2013 J.J. Abrams–directed films and the Voyager series by Kristen Beyer also have been strong performers.
“Obviously the bookselling marketplace has changed tremendously over the past three decades,” Schlesinger said. “There was a time when, during the TV series run of The Next Generation, Star Trek had 20 million viewers per week. There was also a point when Pocket Books was publishing two Star Trek mass-market paperback novels per month. Either way, to this day, it remains one of the most stalwart and reliable franchises out there.”
IDW has been publishing Star Trek mini-series, ongoing series, and comics collections since 2006 and has several hundred thousand copies in print, according to Dirk Wood, v-p of marketing. Star Trek: Countdown, a prequel to the 2009 feature film, has been the bestseller to date, while the current ongoing series, depicting the original TV show’s episodes but with the current movie cast and continuity, also sells well.
“Star Trek stories naturally lend themselves to amazing visuals, and comics are the perfect medium for that, especially because there is no special effects budget holding us back,” said Mike Johnson, who writes Star Trek for IDW, overseen by Roberto Orci, one of the writer/producers of the Star Trek films.
“Trek is also fundamentally a combination of science fiction and high adventure, two genres that have always been cornerstones of comic books,” Johnson added. “Ultimately, it’s about the characters. Comics have always been driven by readers’ love for distinct and memorable characters, and they don’t get better than Kirk, Spock, and company.”
Resistance Is Futile
Not only does Star Trek work across print formats, but digital platforms also sell well. All of Pocket’s frontlist and backlist titles are available as e-books, as are IDW’s comics. “Star Trek: Countdown was arguably the first digital smash hit in comics, and Star Trek remains a [digital] bestseller,” Wood said.
Other longtime Star Trek licensees, aside from Pocket and IDW, include Titan for newsstand magazines and GE Fabbri/Eaglemoss for partworks in international markets. This year, Eaglemoss is introducing the Star Trek Ships Collection in the U.S., marking its first partworks for this market.
The U.S. and U.K. are the biggest markets for Star Trek licensing and publishing, but other territories also embrace the property, notably Japan, Germany, and Italy. “The Czech Republic is a great market for us, especially for the movie novelizations,” Kalodner said.
The increased number of publishing formats and other merchandise over the last few years has enabled Star Trek books and products to be cross-merchandised at retail, including at Barnes & Noble. “Now that they carry so much gift product, we have the opportunity to put several products together and round out the Star Trek experience,” Kalodner pointed out. “The same collection can be replicated online.”
Star Trek: The Next Generation, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012, is becoming increasingly popular, in part due to the release of the entire series on Blu-Ray for home viewing, according to Kalodner. But she added that the classic TV show featuring Kirk and Spock, which debuted in 1966, still rules: “The original series is the behemoth of the program.”