PT thanks The Licensing Letter ’s Ira Mayer for his reporting.
Visiting the Bologna Children’s Book Fair  in March after an absence of a dozen or so years was a wonderful reminder of how vibrant an art form children’s books are. While the children’s book market is dominated by name brands (Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon, etc., as well as Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears , and Maurice Sendak), the quality of illustration on display among the 250 exhibitors was astonishing.
When I last attended the Fair, the organizers didn’t want to admit someone from a publication called “The Licensing Letter.” (The same was true at BEA.) “Our exhibitors don’t do ‘licensing,’” they told me, implying that licensing was beneath them when, of course, it was an inextricable part of the whole publishing business. It still is, though retail sales of licensed merchandise based on publishing properties in the U.S. and Canada last year was $1.42 billion—down 19% over 2007’s $1.75 billion.A rough count in Bologna found that about 10% of the exhibitors prominently displayed their licensed properties, e.g.:
- Italy’s Edizioni Play Press  with Marvel, Dragon Ball Z, Warner, and Bratz
- Germany’s Paragon, emphasizing Sesame Workshop and Disney
- India’s Sterling , with Disney, DC, Cartoon Network, Mattel, and Warner properties
- Egmont , with bases in the UK, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, featuring HIT, Disney, Nickelodeon, Mattel, and Marvel
- The U.S.–based Publications International , with HIT, Disney, Nickelodeon, Mattel and Sesame Workshop books packaged in multi-title blister packs.
Beyond the publishers, property owners were nestled among the exhibitors as well, with Marvel, Dark Horse , Hasbro, United Media , HIT, Warner, Disney (via Hyperion), Ripley , Chorion , Rainbow, RAI, and a handful of agents, including Sweden’s Plus Licens , on the exhibit floor.
But “other media” were a surprisingly small presence. The concentration at the Fair is at the lower end of “children” by age, so maybe that’s not so surprising. At the Kids Licensing Forum following the official Fair, there were, unfortunately, very few publishers (or others) to hear Scholastic UK’s Lisa Edwards detail the multimedia efforts the company has undertaken for its Horrible Histories  series (including an audiobook promotion on 28 million Kellogg cereal boxes in the UK), as well as for 39 Clues. Her presentation would have made the notion of multimedia— from 3-D electronic trading cards to webcasts to user-generated content that will be incorporated into books—less foreign to the traditional publishing world.
There’s an overwhelming amount of creativity in evidence at the fair, and if you’re looking for sources or direction for animation as well as design/illustration, you should be reviewing the work of artists with extraordinary vision emerging from Japan, Iran, Korea, and Eastern Europe. Their books may not be the foundation for new licensing programs or digital initiatives—most are one-offs, so it’s difficult to build a sustainable licensed line or online presence for them— but some of the illustration would lend itself to social expression, posters, domestics, and novelties, among other categories.
Wedding the wonderful art form that is children’s books to a multi-disciplinary reach is where the future lies for both the children’s publishing and licensing communities.