With its popular Spy Gear toy line boasting a 73% brand awareness finish with boys six to 11 in the U.S., Wild Planet thinks the action-adventure property has enough juice to spin out into a long-running book series. And Simon & Schuster apparently agrees, signing on to publish six Spy Gear books under its Aladdin Paperback imprint, which has one of the best pedigrees in the youth spy genre with both The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series featuring in its catalogue.
Pursuing publishing before looking to on-screen opps is a very deliberate strategy, says Ralph Guiffre, Wild Planet’s director of content development. ‘Since we haven’t had characters until now, we want to make sure that they’re on solid footing [before we look at TV, film and direct-to-video],’ he explains. ‘The book series will allow us to create a much richer world and develop the characters fully first.’
The first two titles – The Secret of Stoneship Woods and The Massively Multiplayer Mystery – will hit shelves next spring, and the other four should roll out quarterly. Each 150- to 200-page novel will be penned by Rick Barba, a best-selling author of more than 75 video game strategy guides.
The books star four suburban tweens who stumble upon an abandoned warehouse full of high-tech espionage equipment. They must use the gear to thwart a mysterious consortium of unidentified villains who pose a threat to the kids’ connected way of life in each story. In the first book, for example, Team Spy Gear has to stop the bad guys from destroying the world wide web, while the follow-up title features a massively multiplayer on-line game.
Since many of the gadgets the kids use in the books are the same ones on toy shelves, Wild Planet is working on marketing initiatives that may include bundling books and toys together. Guiffre says the company is also in discussions with TV producers and video game partners and would like to have offerings for these media off the ground by 2007. In the meantime, Wild Planet is launching real versions of websites that play a role in the books, where kids can go to find clues, enter sweepstakes and read Team Spy Gear’s blog.