Licensed properties originating in digital media continue to proliferate as their licensors try to emulate the success of the Angry Birds merchandise program. This trend was evident from the growing number and expanding size of booths featuring digital properties at the Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas last week.
Among the mobile apps that have recently become available for licensing and were on display were Candy Crush, Subway Surfer, Zombie Farm, Talking Tom, and Doodle Jump. While some apps have inspired book lines—Kappa Books holds the license for Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, for example—their publishing activity tends to be limited.
A relatively new phenomenon is the availability of blogs being positioned as lifestyle brands with licensing potential, with many of these viewing publishing as a first step. The licensing agency Brand Central offered the blog brands Apartment Therapy and Cupcakes and Cashmere, for example, while Beanstalk represented Bag Snob and Miss Lilien. Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop brand, which started as an online newsletter, also is extending into merchandise, including a line of city travel guide e-book apps.
While digital properties are top of mind, traditional properties continue to drive most licensed publishing programs. A number of licensors announced new book deals just before and during the show, including artist and cartoonist Jim Benton, Big Idea (VeggieTales), and Universal (Despicable Me 2).
These types of licensed books based on media and entertainment properties can spur children to pick up a book or comic. “When I hear a comic book retailer say, ‘I saw the first 11-year-old girl in my shop ever, and I’ve been open for 10 years,’ it warms my heart, because what we want is to encourage reading,” said Michael Kelly, director of global publishing at Hasbro, whose My Little Pony comics with IDW inspire that sort of comment.
Meanwhile, books continue to attract attention from the licensing community as merchandisable properties. Among those launching licensing programs at the show were James Dean’s Pete the Cat, Jane Seymour’s This One & That One, and Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty. “We’ve received a lot of interest at the show [for Bad Kitty], especially from Europe,” said Carol Postal, partner at Knockout Licensing, which just began representing the property, published by Macmillan. “It’s always a challenge, but I love properties like these that haven’t been ‘mediaized’ yet. The original sensibility from the books is still there.”
The Wizard of Oz franchise had a strong presence on the show floor with Warner Bros. highlighting the 75th anniversary of the film, and licensing agency Evolution featuring the 2014 release of the movie Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, based on Dorothy of Oz (1989) by L. Frank Baum’s great grandson Roger Stanton Baum. Baum was present at an event to promote the film. These follow Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful, a movie that inspired several licensed products earlier this year.
The number of international exhibitors touting properties to the global marketplace continues to grow. For the first time, the Brazilian licensing community had a pavilion, while Masha and the Bear (which has an extensive publishing program in its home country) became the first Russian property to be featured at the Expo. Licensors from Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and elsewhere also promoted properties from their regions to attendees.
That global outlook is permeating licensed publishing as well. Hasbro increasingly looks to regions outside the U.S. for content and format innovation, according to Kelly, who said that seven or eight years ago, most of its global book content originated in the U.S. The company began to encourage more local content creation from its different global offices, and in the last year has begun to import some of that into the U.S. “They come to the brands from different perspectives, so you might get formats you hadn’t thought of,” Kelly explained. In one example, Egmont Digital created a Transformers Prime app for the European market and now has been granted the rights to sell it into the U.S. as well.
Another trend that continues to grow is the number of celebrities launching licensing programs. Musicians Flo-Rida and Will.i.am, former supermodel Kathy Ireland, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow all launched new licensing programs and/or appeared at Licensing Expo events. Ireland recently added children’s books from Bendon to her extensive licensing roster. “Children and education are passions of mine, and at Bendon they share that passion,” Ireland said. “Of everything we get to do, this is one of the things that brings me a lot of joy.”