IN an effort to break out of the cookie-cutter product trap licensees sometimes fall into, Simon & Schuster’s license imprint Simon Spotlight is shaking up its approach to IP-driven offerings. For the coming spring/summer line, the focus is on building mini-publishing programs emphasizing new novelty formats and storytelling tactics that tap into the DNA of the characters involved. New book formats featuring Nickelodeon faves SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer are up first, and the publisher is on the hunt for tween licenses to pad out its programs for older kids.
According to Valerie Garfield, VP and associate publisher of Little Simon/Simon Spotlight, the plan is to push the envelope and give each property the imprint licenses a unique retail presence. ‘With Dora, for example, we didn’t just say ‘Let’s do an 8×8 and a ready-to-read.” Instead, her team pored over what current formats and new bookmaking technology would best suit Dora to create the interactive, lower-priced novelty product she says mass retailers are asking for right now.
One title, Dora Rides to Bike Park (US$9.99), features a working bike bell that kids can play with as they read. Cousin Diego’s Swing, Diego, Swing! (US$12.99) comes with plush toys of Diego and Baby Jaguar on a vine that can be attached by Velcro to various parts of the book as the action unfolds. Meanwhile, the mighty Sponge’s Party Pants (US$7.99) is a board book encased in his pineapple house. Notably, the plots of these titles are not derived directly from episodes of the three TV series.
Simon Spotlight’s dance card for preschool and younger-skewing properties to flesh out its inaugural novelty offering is getting full, but Garfield admits she’s aggressively pursuing the tween market and is continually scouting for hot licenses for the seven and up crowd. With older kids, however, the innovation is coming from the writing, not the add-on bells and whistles. Spotlight is breaking new ground this summer by launching original chapter books (US$5.99 apiece) based on Everybody Hates Chris and an original fiction series (US$5.99 each) featuring the Sprouse brothers from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Garfield admits creating property-based books for tweens can be tricky. It’s a media-savvy group that’s also suspicious of having any brand/IP shoved at them, she explains. So the Sprouse brothers’ book series 47 r.o.n.i.n. was developed in cooperation with the boys (who are represented by the Olsen twins’ licensing agent DualStar) and plays on their aspirational qualities without referencing their TV alter-egos.
The adventure-laden spy stories are meant to engage tween boys, and the teen brothers acted as a sounding board for Simon Spotlight, identifying ‘cheesy’ or unbelievable plot points.