How do children's publishers allow for maximum success at home and overseas?
The business side of children's books can be difficult to follow. Once an industry dedicated to providing quality books for libraries, children's books now are a big business, with brand-based domestic and international publishing programs contributing significantly to the bottom line of media conglomerates. The challenge is tailoring programs to appeal to diverse cultures and consumer preferences. Repped by New York-based Silver Lining Productions Ltd., "Gaspard & Lisa," for example, is a series of more than 16 black-and-white books that have gained a huge following in Japan. The U.S. publisher is Random House, but Silver Lining has not yet launched a licensing program in the States, says Silver Lining Co-Founder Amory Millard. Although consumer demand in the U.S. and other international territories is not as strong, Millard expects it to build over time, boosted by a strong publishing program. Here, a look at how a few domestic publishers and international print licensees work to create a cohesive publishing program.
Random House serves as Sesame Workshop's primary U.S. publishing partner, but the company also works closely with Learning Horizons (English language and bilingual educational workbooks), Reader's Digest Children's Books (novelty formats), Bendon Publishing (coloring and activity books), Color All About (bilingual jumbo coloring books), and Soundprints (book/audio formats). According to Sesame Workshop Editorial Director for Book Publishing Jennifer Perry, "because we are very research- and education-based, we always like to have a book component to complement our other products." This spring, Sesame Workshop will launch a non-fiction series, "Sesame Subjects," with Random House that targets schoolkids ages 4 and up.
On the global front, Sesame Workshop's international publishing business has quadrupled in the last four years. According to Susanna Phillips, director, international publishing, Sesame Workshop, the company has focused primarily on countries that currently have a local co-production in place (approximately 20 territories). In Holland, for instance, the local co-production has been on-air for around 30 years. "We recently decided to revamp both the show and the publishing program, focusing our attention more on localized content and characters," says Phillips. "The overall goal was to broaden our reach to include mass market and trade." Last fall, meanwhile, Sesame launched a new co-production in France and currently is in discussions with several major French publishers. New markets include South Africa, Russia (a new book program will launch this year), and Egypt. According to Phillips, the books are a mixture of adaptations of U.S. titles and new titles created with localized content. "In some countries, publishing has been the lead, but this doesn't always hold true," explains Phillips, adding that it depends where the opportunities arise.
Artist and author Jim Benton currently has more than six different book titles due out this year across his Dear Dumb Diary, It's Happy Bunny, and Franny K. Stein series. The success of It's Happy Bunny at retail led to the deal for the book series, according to Carole Postal, president of agent CopCorp Licensing. In addition, she notes, "the power of It's Happy Bunny licensed products at stores such as Claire's and Hot Topic helped open up these and other retailers to the idea of carrying Scholastic titles." With Benton's Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein book series, on the other hand, the publishing deals came first, but product began appearing on store shelves at roughly the same time or very soon after the launch of the books.
Postal's agency works closely with overseas publishing partners such as Scholastic International to help roll out Jim Benton publishing and licensing programs around the world. In English-speaking territories (UK, Australia, and New Zealand), It's Happy Bunny licensed product launched first and was followed by books. In Italy, however, CopCorp and Scholastic worked together to launch and develop the It's Happy Bunny licensing and publishing programs in tandem. In a major 'tween initiative, Scandinavian publisher Egmont is "seeding" the market with mobile content and stationery products that are being launched simultaneously with apparel from HB Textil A/S in advance of the publication of It's Happy Bunny.
According to Scholastic's director of international rights, Linda Biagi, "The biggest challenge when launching a brand-related international publishing program is maintaining the perfect triangle: marketing synergy between the licensor, the domestic publishing strategist, and the global print licensees for the brand." When marketing Benton's It's Happy Bunny brand to international publishers, one of Scholastic's primary obstacles was the idiomatic nature of the language. "Because some of Benton's humor is based on puns, word play, or slightly skewed catchphrases, there is always a risk the books or jokes will be lost in translation," says Biagi, "but fortunately, 'tweens and teens overseas love a rude bunny just as much as American kids."