Trending: What's Happening at Bologna Children's Book Fair

License Global is in Italy for insights into publishing, brand licensing and the modern art of storytelling.

Ben Roberts, Content Director

April 9, 2024

7 Min Read
Trends on display at Bologna Children's Book Fair
Trends on display at Bologna Children's Book FairLicense Global

The publishing world descended on edition 61 of the Bologna Children's Book Fair – and edition 17 of the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids – this week to gain insight into publishing and brand licensing activity in 2024.

License Global breaks down a few key trends taking place on the show floor:

The International Kids Licensing Days (IKLD) seminar series returned for its fourth year, highlighting trends across audio-visual, publishing and gaming and featured 40 international speakers and panelists.

Day one – the spotlight on gaming and anime – included insight from Yulia Amano, senior international licensing manager, Kodansha; Ben Roberts, content director, License Global; Gary Pope, co-founder, Kids Industries; Fée Heyer, Devolver Digital; Ludvig Kullander, licensing manager, Astrid Lindgren Company; Elena Favilli, board member, founder, chief creative officer, Rebel Girls; Tadeja Irmancnik, global brand partnerships, co-brandings, public relations manager and project manager, Talking Tom & Friends; Gianluca Marani, chief executive officer, Funny Tales; Alan Vele, chief executive officer, producer, AL-ONE; and Thierry Baujard, co-founder Spielfabrique to name a few.

Amano discussed the global growth of anime and manga and how the brand's licensing strategy for the genre shifted from exclusive to non-exclusive licensing to expand market share and seize the growth of anime worldwide, enabling in-house properties such as "Attack on Titan"  to grow into a global brand.

Related:2024 Bologna Licensing Awards Winners Announced

After breaking down the key trends taking place across the brand licensing community – emphasizing gaming, fashion and footwear, toys and games and the increasing creativity of food and beverage – License Global returned to the stage to dive deeper into gaming with Heyer,  Marani and  Baujard,. The conversation explored how publishing is a constant source of inspiration for the gaming industry, as confirmed by data from Spielfabrique, with Devolver Digital illustrating the reverse function by showcasing the phenomenal fan-driven success of the "Cult of the Lamb" comic.

Speaking further into the development of successful gaming IP for those exploring the space,  Irmancnik commented: "Find your balance, the ratio of what content you give to the consumer and what interactions that come from the consumer. You give players space to develop their own story. You give them the option to do what they want to do with a character, and that's a tricky balance, but you must stay true to what you offer players."

Another key trend of significant importance was audiobooks and the medium's impact on child development.

"A lot is going on in the brain and a lot going on developmentally for children, so the benefit of experiencing audiobooks helps sentence structure and pronunciation as well as narrative understanding that comes from a steady exposure to audiobooks," says Pope. "The stimulation of various cognitive processes like imagination, critical thinking, memory and all the things that happen when children not only visualize complex storylines but have to think for themselves. So that critical thinking really gets going."

On April 9, several sessions were dedicated to celebrating major international brands, such as the 25-year anniversary of the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" Trading Card Game, the 35-year anniversary of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, the 80-year anniversary of Moomins and the 50-year anniversary of Hello. On April 10, speakers from Products of Change, BrandTrends, Mondo TV, Rai Kids and Marianne James from Hasbro – to name a few – kept the insights coming.

Watch: License Global at Bologna Children's Book Fair 2024 ...

The Art of Storytelling

The publishing behemoth of the Bologna Children's Book Fair gathered publishers, authors, artists and budding storytellers to multiple halls. With infinite titles on display, delegates explored stories by region and platform through spotlights on countries and dedicated areas for illustrators and comics.

Comics are a key player in how brands bring beloved intellectual property to life, seen at the show through examples from Hasbro's line of "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" comics to Dark Horse Comics' in-house properties, as well as adaptive tales from the world of CD Projekt Red's "Cyberpunk 2077" and Netflix's "Stranger Things." 

More prominently, however, comics and graphic novels aimed at young adult readers and adults from independent publishers worldwide showcased raw and innovative new ways to tell stories through style and narrative. The comics world has been a powerful cornerstone of the licensing community for decades and continues to generate new and thought-provoking ideas en masse.

The Mattel Press imprint took pride and place among nostalgia comics and licensed consumer goods from across the brand's portfolio this week after launching its publishing arm in the U.S. this year. The partnership with Simon & Schuster for sales and distribution allows Mattel to expand its ability to tell new stories across its portfolio of brands through its publishing platform.

"We have seen first-hand the immense value in providing fans of our franchises with multiple avenues to further engage with their favorite Mattel brands, characters, storylines and worlds," said Josh Silverman, chief franchise officers, global head of consumer products, Mattel. "In launching our own publishing imprint, we simultaneously unlock limitless exploration for kids while continuing to realize the full value of our IP."

License Global also caught up with celebrated writer, animator and voice actor Mo Willems, the author behind globally loved children's books such as "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" and owner of the Hidden Pigeon Company. Willems emphasized the importance of creating humorous and thought-provoking children's books and creating a consistent, authentic connection with an audience to promote development and play.

"I have a couple of hard and fast rules; the characters need to be easy enough for a five-year-old, so they feel empowered to go and infringe on my copyright," says Willems. "I am more interested in books being played and inspiring a spark of creativity. I want my orchestra – the parents – to enjoy it because if they like the score, they will play games and have fun. I want them to take the format of 'Don't Let the Pigeon' or 'The Pigeon Needs' and make their own stories."

Stay tuned for the full exclusive interview with Mo Willems, coming soon.

Writer, animator and voice actor Mo Willems, owner, Hidden Pigeon Company

In summary, the sheer number of new stories on display, from licensed comics and kids' books to independent authors and publishing houses — not to mention entire countries representing their brightest storytellers and the vibrant display of publishing as a platform for diversity and inclusion — brought into perspective the intimidating potential for new intellectual property on the show floor and, ultimately, the raw power of publishing as a platform.

Collectibles, Toys and Fashion

Brands displaying collectible toys, fashion and kidult products were also prominent features of the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair, with Pokémon showcasing award-winning products from Balmain and Clarks to Leoni's range of intricately crafted collectibles.

Most prominently on display were the selection of winners from across the Bologna Licensing Awards. Notable recipients across the 13 categories included Universal Products & Experiences and Spin Master, honored for the Gabby's Dollshouse playset, which secured the Best Licensed Toy Project award and Best Pre-School Licensing Project. The Pokémon Company International won the Best Kids Licensing Project for Pokémon x Van Gogh Museum, with the Clarks x Pokémon collaboration acclaimed as the Best Teen Licensing Project and Dolly Noire x Pokémon received Best Fashion Project.

Pokémon products from Balmain and Clarks to Leoni's range of intricately crafted collectibles

Rai Com's "Mare Fuori" (The Sea Beyond) licensing program was lauded as the Best Young Adult Project for its regional and international resonance. At the same time, Mattel Europe's Barbie x Zara initiative received the Best Retail Project award for its immersive brand activation. Andersen Press garnered praise for the illustrated book "Goodnight Elmer," earning the Best Licensed Publishing Project title, while Studio 100 Media's Maya – License Factory in Natural Dye project stood out as the Best Licensed Sustainable Project, showcasing innovative environmentally conscious practices.

Nerd Agency's "Mavka. The Forest Song" was recognized as the Best New Licensing Stars 2023, displaying promising potential for international success. Mattel's Barbie achieved the ultimate accolade as the Property of the Year, reflecting its long-standing influence across popular culture.

Running from April 8-10, the Bologna Children's Book Fair and Licensing Trade Fair / Kids presented a clear insight into the long-standing connection between storytelling, publishing and brand growth.

About the Author(s)

Ben Roberts

Content Director, License Global

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