Beyond the Books: Licensed Publishing BBL

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On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, a group of 30 ever-curious members of YPG gathered at Random House for a BBL on Licensed Publishing. The panel featured Gayley Avery, director of licensed publishing at Scholastic, Inc.; Dennis Shealy, editorial director of licensed publishing at Random House Children’s Books; and Lori Burke, director of licensed publishing at Penguin Young Readers Group.

Moderator Karl Jones, an assistant editor in children’s books at Penguin Young Readers Group, began the BBL by asking the panelists how licensing and publishing go hand in hand. Avery said that at Scholastic, Inc., licensing is a large part of their business when considering the millions of teachers, parents, and readers they reach at Scholastic Book Fairs. She speculated a lot of the licensing success has to do with the buying power of the youth at these fairs and the high demand for characters they see on TV or at the store. They want to continue their characters’ stories across all entertainment platforms.

Burke mentioned how licensing drives her business through attendance at trade shows, toy fairs, and licensing shows that go beyond what book buyers and publishers attend. Licensing is essentially another arm of publishing where research often happens in toy stores, on YouTube, and by scouring comic books. Questions like “what’s the next big thing?” or “how can a great book be spun with this?” or asking retailers “what’s buzzing?” are asked on a daily basis. Licensing is more of a research process than a submission process, separating it from traditional publishing.

Shealy stated that aside from gaining new licenses through research, maintaining current licenses is a full job in itself. Constantly going over contracts with the legal department to make sure the licensor is keeping up their end of the bargain and that the licensee (the publisher) is doing all it can to promote these titles in the mass market is all part of the workday. Are there new episodes coming out that can be tied to a book? How do we keep this license profitable? All of these questions, Shealy says, are part of a long-term maintenance program just like the relationship traditional publishers maintain with their authors.

One point of confusion for YPGers seemed to be the idea of sharing a license. All of the panelists agreed that while this is sticky territory, it is necessary for the individual publisher’s success with a license. While one house excels at coloring books, one may succeed with episode tie-in 8x8s, and another does well with book and plush items. Certain licenses work in different formats, and with so many different fans for things like Star Wars, multiple publishers can succeed in the saturated marketplace. Another example is the Dinosaur Train franchise: Penguin Group (USA) and Random House share this license helping to leverage buyers. If one publisher’s format is doing well with mass-market retailers, the other publisher can come in and ask its buyers to try to add their product to the mix–it is a win-win all around. Competition and different formats end up giving the customer more options.

Another benefit to licensing is the cross-promotion you get from the licensor and their efforts to promote the license on their own. The particular licensor already has a marketing and promotion team in place to get word out on the TV show or a new toy, and publishers utilize this cross-promotion to promote a book tie-in with an acquired brand, DVD, or toy party. Licensors already have a large customer base, and this exposure is integral in reaching this already captive audience.

While a licensee’s job is never done—from getting manuscripts and artwork from licensors, to finding out broadcast dates and marketing promotions, to navigating the fields of legal contracts—it is full of opportunities for non-book players to work together to provide new products to consumers in the marketplace.

Don’t forget to join us for YPG’s next BBL on Indie Publishing, to take place on October 30 at the AAP offices (71 Fifth Avenue, 2nd floor)!

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