February 11, 2014
DreamWorks Animation launches a children’s books imprint
by Nick Davies
The animated film studio that’s brought us Antz, Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda, among others, has announced that it’s expanding its reach into the world of book publishing. Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Erich Schwartzel report for the Wall Street Journal that DreamWorks Animation is starting an imprint for children’s books, DreamWorks Press, to be distributed by the Perseus Books Group.
There are already plenty of books based on DreamWorks properties out there, thanks to licensing agreements that the studio has made, which means that popular characters like Shrek might not inspire much consumer interest. In addition to William Steig’s book Shrek!, which spawned the series, there are apparently hundreds of Shrek books available already, so a new one from DreamWorks would be a drop in the bucket. Still, studio executives are eager for the opportunity to publish books with more creative control than licensing allows.
Head of franchising Shawn Dennis explains that while licensing involves “far less risk…because as a publisher, you have to put up your own money,” the goal for DreamWorks is “to be in control of the storytelling.” To that end, they hope to find success with a new movie opening next year, B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations, as well as other characters to which they recently acquired the rights, like Lassie and Rocky & Bullwinkle.
The move into publishing is also part of an overall effort by DreamWorks to diversify into areas other than the high-risk film industry. Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg characterizes the past 18 months as being all about expanding into new areas, which have included theme parks and the acquisition of YouTube video network AwesomenessTV. The venture will make them more competitive with their biggest rival company; Disney has been in the book business for years, and per the Journal, this weekend had six titles on Amazon’s top 100 bestseller list that were based on the movie Frozen, which only came out in November.
Lorraine Shanley, president of a publishing consulting company, affirms that this step by DreamWorks is long overdue. “It’s surprising that they didn’t do this earlier,” she told the Journal, “Children’s branded content tied in to a larger media company is as close to a slam dunk as you can get.”
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.