The U.K.-based Walker Books has positioned itself to grow its children's properties globally, in particular its baby and infant brand, Guess How Much I Love You.
Walker Books is a uniquely structured company. It was founded in 1978 by Sebastian Walker and is now one of the world's leading independent publishers of books and content for children, with sister companies Candlewick Press in the U.S. and Walker Books Australia.
Walker Books revolutionized children's publishing by championing its authors and illustrators and by producing some of the most beautiful picture storybooks in the market, setting the standard for the books we see today. Its most famous characters and titles include the Maisy series, Guess How Much I Love You, the Judy Moody series, Where's Wally? and the Alex Rider series.
Walker has seen two important changes in the last five years. Under the guidance of Helen McAleer, Walker's chief global development officer, Walker Productions was established in 2007. Its first animated series, "Tilly and Friends," based on the books of the same name by Polly Dunbar, will debut on CBeebies this year. Walker also brought its licensing in-house in 2009. There has always been licensing at Walker, but prior to 2009 it was managed by agents.
"Now we are able to take our brands and do something very proactive with them, and to create bespoke assets for a licensing strategy," says Anna Hewitt, head of licensing, Walker Books U.K.
It's a game changer for Walker licensing, opening the brands up to the full potential of the parent company.
"It's not re-defining what we do, but continuing to do what we do best–to demonstrate our understanding and guardianship of the brands we work with," says Hewitt.
First up, and to illustrate how Walker can now tell the story of a brand, is the baby and infant property, Guess How Much I Love You, already a global publishing hit with 28 million books sold in 50 languages since it launched in 1994. It started as a book, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram. Now Walker has an opportunity to show its capabilities as a progressive publishing company by establishing Guess How Much I Love You as a contemporary classic. Brand plans are in place for the U.S. and Europe, with the consumer products roll-out being led by the U.K. Plans are also in place to extend the property swiftly to Germany, where book sales are strong, and to Australia, where the TV series is on-air. New assets have been produced based on the story's globally recognized illustrations and iconic phrases. The activity is supported by continual refreshing of the publishing program with new formats, books and more.
"Guess How Much I Love You carries the universal message of love and has always lent itself to the baby and infant market," says Hewitt. "It's based on the attempt to measure the immeasurable, the universal theme of love between a parent and a child. This emotional connection means the book has become a contemporary classic with the potential to become a global brand–a brand built on sentiment."
Mary McCagg, director of licensing, Candlewick Press, agrees, and says it has the same appeal in the U.S. market.
"From a U.S. perspective, it resonates with all ages–it stays with you," she says.
There are two parts to the strategy for the Guess How Much I Love You brand: a classic program for baby/infant aimed at parents and gift givers, and a preschool licensing program applicable where the TV series airs. The look for the classic baby/infant program is contemporary with colors and trends adaptable territory by territory (stronger colors in Germany, for example) while keeping the core elements consistent with the brand. Suncrest (bedding and textiles), Dennicci (apparel), Rainbow Designs (plush, toys and gifts) and Hallmark U.K. (greeting cards and wrap) products will be launching early next year. Walker is finalizing retail partnerships now.
The U.S. team is currently refreshing its style guide and its relationship with partners, including Hallmark, whose greeting cards and exclusive recordable books are the basis of the current licensing program.
The animated television series, "Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare," is produced by Suzanne Ryan at SLR Productions, with co-producers KiKa and Disney Junior Australia. Fifty-two episodes are now airing on ABC in Australia. SLR added characters for the series so that the Little Nutbrown Hare can have adventures in each episode before always going back to his father, the Big Nutbrown Hare. The series airs on Disney Junior in the U.S., debuts on KiKa in 2013 and has been sold to Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Spain and Italy. An iPad game is also being developed for the show.
"The television extends the brand to an older audience," says Ryan.
Hewitt says the hope for the Guess How Much I Love You property is to see it build into a contemporary brand positioned across two different age segments, both of which reinforce the strength of the publishing.
"We are creating a world of Guess How Much I Love You by gently building it out, and we are giving recognition of the book and its creators to a wider audience. Retail reactions have been very positive because they can see the potential," she says.
For author McBratney, the strategic push behind the Guess How Much I Love You brand is an opportunity to reach more people with his original concept.
"When I wrote Guess How Much I Love You, I had been writing children's fiction for more than 20 years, so the worldwide success of the book was an unexpected thing," says McBratney. "I didn't see plush toys, merchandise and 30 million copies marching over the horizon. My advice to product developers is to concentrate on producing useful, interesting and lovely things for very young children. I say that because you would be amazed at the uses people make of this book. It seems to be able to convey emotions of all sorts (including deep sadness) among and between people of all ages. And yet, at its most basic and most simple level, Guess How Much I Love You is simply a light-hearted story for a 'big one' and a 'wee one' to share and have fun with. I really do like most of the material that has been developed–the newest design guides I have seen are a delight."
Walker will be at Brand Licensing Europe 2012 with more news about Guess How Much I Love You, Tilly and Friends and other properties.
Walker now publishes more than 300 books each year. Other authors and illustrators to watch for include Allan Ahlberg, Jez Alborough, Lucy Cousins (creator of the Maisy series), Martin Handford (creator of Where's Wally?), Anthony Horowitz, Shirley Hughes, Helen Oxenbury, Michael Rosen and Martin Waddell. Tilly and Friends, written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, will be broadcast as a TV series by CBeebies in September this year.