What's in a household name?
Many niche publishers dedicated to courting child consumers have also had to reconsider how to print and package new book products to compete in a market saturated with brand names.
Underdown notes, "There are a number of ways to create a children's book brand name: Dr. Seuss became a brand name because his books were so consistently good and easily recognizable. Arthur has become a brand name after the success of the TV series based on the book. The Little House on the Prairie has recently and quite deliberately been developed into a brand by HarperCollins (www.harpercollins.com). Celebrities from Shaquille O'Neal to Mary Chapin Carpenter may write or lend their name(s) to children's books. Houghton Mifflin (www.houghtonmifflin.com) has commissioned writers and illustrators to create new Curious George books, to extend another 'classic' brand name."
On the heels of the Pokemon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fuss, came the initiative of adapting mainstream media into print. And while many of these television shows may be difficult to translate into print (both from technical and editorial perspectives), when successfully done, as in the case of Parachute Publishing's (www.parachutepublishing.com) Mary Kate & Ashley series, the results can be very profitable.
"We are appealing to a generation of readers who recognize television," explains Susan Knopf, Parachute's senior vice president. "We specialize in taking a media property and creating a story." She says that though the books abide by a standard digest format, there are plenty of "bells and whistles" implemented to appeal not only to consumers, but also retailers. "We use foil stamping, embossing, a pair of trading cards is included with each book," describes Knopf.
The more pressure that exists for manufacturers of printed collateral, the more intense examination of production occurs. And while children's books of yesterday may have fancied basic hardcovers and antiquarian art, the new market is more "MTV" in its mission. That is, books must catch the attention of consumers that might otherwise be weaned on the moving picture and not necessarily the printed one. "What people recognize most are the photos," explains Knopf.