Scholastic Media examines the challenges and strategies of bringing children's entertainment from the printed page to retail.
"Our book group has wonderful relationships with the book retailers," says Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products for Scholastic Media. "We've been able to take advantage of that and really go in together with our book group and pitch that these brands are more than just publishing. That has represented a good opportunity—and we value those relationships very much."
But for the media and licensing company, whose properties include Clifford, The Magic Schoolbus, Goosebumps, and the PBS Kids Go! series "Word Girl," pitching the book retailers isn't the final word. "To be successful these days, it takes more than just being aligned with a book store," says Schaefer.
Bumps in the Night
For 2008, much of that focus will be on attempting to give retailers (and consumers) Goosebumps. The long-lived children's book series from author R.L. Stine is relaunching this year with Goosebumps HorrorLand, a 12-book publishing initiative with an interwoven story. Combined with the fact that the 1990s "Goosebumps" live-action television series has been airing on Cartoon Network since last Halloween, Scholastic felt the time was right to kick their Goosebumps program into high gear.
"Now with the new content that's coming out, we saw this as an opportunity to relaunch Goosebumps in terms of merchandise," says Schaefer. As one might expect from a children's horror property, Halloween plays a large role in Scholastic's plans. Disguise is on board as a licensee for Halloween costumes, and at press time Scholastic Media was in late-stage discussions with several other licensees, as well as several retailers for Halloween-timed retail programs.
One thing Scholastic Media won't be focusing on this year is manufacturing its own line of toys. Formerly an in-house license, the Sidekicks line of plush was officially turned over earlier this year to specialty retailer Yottoy. "We decided that it would be better to team up with a company for whom this was their ongoing business, and they had their own dedicated sales force and showrooms," says Schaefer.
Schaefer says the licensor is attempting to distinguish Yottoy's Sidekicks from plush from other licensing partners, such as Play Along's Child Guidance Clifford plushes, in a couple of ways. For one, while the Child Guidance toys all come with an added-value piece like a DVD or CD, Sidekicks will be just plush. "We want to make sure that we're not flooding the market—you can only have so many big red dogs," Schaefer says. "The second thing is in terms of channel distribution. Yottoy only has the rights to distribute to specialty and smaller mid-tier toy stores. They wouldn't have the right to go to Toys 'R' Us, whereas Child Guidance does."
Because of its specialty distribution, Yottoy can also produce plush for properties without the name recognition that Clifford enjoys. The company has done plush toys based on the animal characters in Kim Parker's floral children's book
Counting in the Garden
, for instance—a rare licensing program from Scholastic Media that doesn't have a media tie-in associated with it.
"We're relatively small as a licensor," says Schaefer. "I think it's just a question of how much bandwidth we have and where we think there's an opportunity to develop something that will get traction without media."
One upcoming example of a program without a media tie-in is The 39 Clues, a multi-book young adult mystery/adventure publishing program that Scholastic is hoping will be its next Harry Potter-esque mega-franchise. With the first novel shipping in September, Scholastic will also be producing a tie-in collectible card game for the series, a first for the company.
"We are currently pursuing licenses for board games, card games, puzzles, interactive games, and consumer promotions," says Schaefer. Additionally, all aspects of the property will tie into a special Web site,
, which is indicative of a big part of the company's strategy moving forward.
"One of the directions we're heading in as a company is how we have incorporated Web content into the development of our brands in a much bigger way," Schaefer says. "[Kids are] spending so much time these days with interactive media and various gaming platforms. We think it's really important for us to be in those places."
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