There may have been no mega-hit property at this year’s Licensing 2002 International show — notwithstanding the media hootenanny over Lemony Snicket — but even in this somewhat gun-shy climate, which saw licensing industry retail sales dip 4% last year, deals were being dialed up at the Javits Center on June 11-13. First in line, perhaps, were former Golden Books colleagues Stephen Weitzen and Rich Collins, whose merchandising, licensing, and publishing operation Big Tent Entertainment was working overtime to promote its first property, Dick Bruna’s Miffy, whom they represent in North America on behalf of Dutch publisher Mercis. While she’s a major hit in Japan (where there are 36 dedicated retail stores, and $1 billion a year in sales), the adorable little bunny has never quite hopped in the US, despite the fact that worldwide book sales exceed 80 million units, spanning 100 titles in 40 languages (with 37 titles available in the US). But having grabbed North American licensing rights from United Media, Big Tent signed ten new licenses at the show, including Gund for plush and a deal with Sony, plus a firm US deal for distribution of a 3-D animation TV series. But Big Tent’s first order of business entails some remedial work on the book program. US publishing rights had been licensed to Kodansha, and titles had the odd flavor of being translated from the Japanese, rather than Dutch. After tweaking the existing titles, however, Big Tent will be adding to the list, confident that Miffy can melt the hearts of a sizable US audience.
Another substantial first exhibitor was Classic Media, a company spawned as a separate entity when Golden Books was jointly acquired by Random House and the entity now known as Classic Media, which divided up the spoils. The company represents the hallowed Golden properties (that puppy, that rabbit), as well as those acquired by Golden in its last years, including Lassie, Underdog, and Casper. No deals to report yet, but lots of interest. Incidentally, no exhibit sparked quite as much interest as the FDNY Fire Truck, as New York’s firefighters are now actively in the licensing business to forestall the ripoff trade, with all royalties going to the Fire Safety Education Fund.
Elsewhere at the show, and having already conquered much of the civilized world, Hungry Minds licensing mavens Marc Mikulich and John Hislop were seen scheming more far-flung franchises for their Dummies imprint. Initial licensing forays were via video (Yoga for Dummies) and interactive CD-ROMs, which kicked off in France and are now on tap in Germany, with 10 titles targeting personal finance, creating greeting and business cards, and the like. Then there were chocolate-chip cookie baking kits in the US, and now consumer electronics are on the horizon, via Gemini Industries (Home Theatre Hookups, Home Networking, and Computer Setup). But that’s not all, folks. Stay tuned for the four-hour Pregnancy for Dummies TV series, which airs this fall on the Discovery Channel, and not to be missed are the nine sets of “conversation cards” — card decks, themed by book title (Public Speaking for Dummies, Dating for Dummies) — that have been licensed to Table Talk, a division of The BookSource, the St. Louis wholesaler. (The BookSource’s Sandy Jaffe, who bought the paper goods company Peaceable Kingdom two years ago, also reports new deals with Dr. Seuss, Ian Falconer’s Olivia, and Thomas the Tank Engine.) For those who just can’t get enough, Bally’s casino is testing a Winning for Dummies slot machine, and Basic Solutions will be releasing massage kits in fall ’03, which will go in perfectly decadent style with the four page-a-day calendars set for the UK in ’03: Sex, Wine, Golf and Beer for Dummies.