In an effort to make Simon & Schuster a one-stop shop for licensors’ publishing needs, the company is expanding into the coloring and activity category with its new imprint Simon Scribbles. The original plan was to start targeting kids ages two to six with product in spring 2006. But Stephen Weitzen, senior VP and publisher of S&S’s kids merchandise division, moved the imprint’s debut up to capitalize on the popularity of Sudoku puzzles.
These Japanese number placement games have become regular features of major-market Western papers such as the New York Times, and Sudoku books are cracking bestseller lists in the U.K. and U.S. (Titles devoted to the puzzles occupied four of Publisher’s Weekly’s top-15 spots for best-selling trade paperbacks in September.)
For Weitzen, it seemed a logical and potentially lucrative move to offer slightly easier puzzles that Sudoku-playing parents could buy for their kids, so he quickly acquired the rights to two titles from U.K.-based Michael O’Mara Books that had already been tweaked to suit the tastes of kids six to 14. And so the first two books in The Kids’ Book of Sudoku! series are debuting at State-side retail this month.
‘A Sudoku book requires children to think, as opposed to just sitting there staring at the television, and parents love that,’ says Weitzen, adding that it’s also an activity families can do together. Distribution channels for the rack-sized books (US$5.99) include book stores, supermarkets, drug chains and mass outlets.
Weitzen is also forging ahead with plans to spice up the coloring and activity landscape for licensed properties. To that end, the Scribbles team is currently investigating the use of different types of ink and scratch-and-reveal technologies that will make its releases more engaging and infuse them with extra play value. Already on deck is a pen containing invisible ink that will be packaged with Jim Benton’s Franny K. Stein books next summer. The pen also has a black light on one end that kids can use to reveal ‘invisible’ missives on the printed pages.
Another new technology that was developed by a U.K. publisher caught Weitzen’s eye and will be folded into the product line later next year. Building on barcode-reading systems, the tech enables molded plastic characters to talk when they are placed on encoded areas of a page. The licensing opportunities this patent opens up could be endless, and Weitzen is scouting the hottest kids entertainment properties on the market for this book range right now.
As for what’s on deck in the next few months, Scribbles’ coloring-plus line will feature crayon and paint blister packs, as well as themed magnets. The imprint is also customizing on-pack offerings to reflect the unique characteristics of properties. So Scribbles’ Holly Hobbie books (US$4.99) come with friendship bracelets, while fabric stickers accompany the Raggedy Ann and Andy Patchwork Crafts titles (US$3.99).
At press time, Weitzen had also picked up licenses for Warner Bros.’ Baby Looney Tunes and Firehouse Tales, VeggieTales (Big Idea Productions) and Groovy Girls (Silver Lining Productions) to star in new coloring-plus books hitting retail in spring ’06.