Publishing, licensing, and the rule-breakers that have shaped its success

A particularly enjoyable piece of trivia is that there is very real evidence to suggest Agatha Christie was one of the first Britons to learn to surf standing up. Added detail that she did so off the shores of Honolulu and Cape Town at the height of the roaring ’20s, only adds to the image of vivacity of the author known for pioneering new grounds in British literature through the creation of two her best loved characters, Hercule Poirot and Ms Marple.

Both, believe it or not, have been the subject of successful licensing endeavours in the past and present, that have taken the characters and their worlds into the physical and digital gaming space, consumer products, and, of course, countless television and film adaptations – many of which will be broadcasting on any given channel right now, as you read this.

History has long been written – but often overlooked – by the women holding the pen, while it’s arguable that the licensing industry has long been influenced by the creations that emerged from their pages. Tove Jansson, the Swedish-speaking Finnish author, as we all know, was the mind behind Moomins, Beatrix Potter brought us the world of Peter Rabbit (et al), Rowling handed us Harry Potter, Mary Shelley gave us Frankenstein’s monster (yes, that totally counts), and actually the list goes on.

In doing so, however, each had to break the rules of their era, help set new precedents, and pioneer in a space heavily enveloped in patriarchy. Licensing, by extension, has always managed to champion those rule-breakers and help create a legacy around their works. Recently though, Timbuktu Labs – the owners of the Rebel Girls IP – has striven to take this one step further.

It’s well recognised that the publishing sector has long been a favoured pitch of the licensing industry, seen by many as a fertile ground for some of the most impactful and longstanding licenses and licensing programmes in the space today. Only this week has Dr Seuss Enterprises detailed this year’s plans with Random House Children’s to celebrate the author’s 116th birthday, while the Roald Dahl Story Company has seemingly written a new future for the world’s number one children’s storyteller through its boundary-pushing partnership with Netflix.

When it comes to licensing, classic book properties really do know how to go the distance. But with such a deep well of classic children’s literature to draw from, and up against some of the most iconic characters and brands to emerge from them, it’s no small undertaking to launch modern day book properties to the same effect.

David Walliams has largely been credited with revitalising the children’s book scene in recent years, with licensing success beginning to emanate from some of his most popular titles, including the likes of the Billionaire Boy stage show, or the Gangsta Granny board game, among various other partnerships in place, or on the way. Since his embarkation on a journey into children’s books, Walliams has – to date – sold 25 million copies across his portfolio of some 16 titles, proving that no matter how popular the classic IP remains, there’s still plenty of room to reach contemporary audiences, with a spin on the contemporary messages.

And what are contemporary audiences asking for more and more? Well, better representation of the women of history that have helped shape society today is always a good start.

The Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a book series well aware of the demand for a contemporary shake-up among the book cases today. In a few short years, the series has sold over 4.5 million copies and has been translated in nearly 50 languages, taking its stories and accounts of just some of history’s best known -and the not so well known – trailblazing and pioneering women to audiences worldwide.

Its success in fact, has sparked the foundation of the Rebel Girls lifestyle brand, one that unites publishing, podcasts, digital content, and consumer product licensing, through which the values to educate and empower girls through storytelling are shared. Its global success to date is reflective of shifting audiences not only in the publishing space, but the wider market, for stories, and brands, that empower and speak out in a new way.

“The brand reaches beyond the hugely successful book series to connect Rebel Girls across multiple platforms,” Louisa Skevington, licensing executive a Rocket Licensing, the team responsible for Rebel Girls’ UK licensing programme, tells

“The Rebel Girls podcast has achieved over three million downloads between two seasons, and its digital presence is steadily growing, establishing Rebel Girls as a distinctive lifestyle brand beyond its core publishing. Rebel Girls is keeping ahead in this competitive market.”

Rocket Licensing recently detailed the first UK licensees for the Rebel Girls brand in Gibsons Games – who has developed a contemporary puzzle range based on the look and message of the brand, with a card game to follow this summer – and Portico Designs, which will be launching an extensive range of products, including back to school stationery, gift items and lunch ware.

Of course, the launch of the brand in this way, and the messaging behind it couldn’t be more timely.

“With the rise of the #metoo movement, and the increasing awareness around the importance of equality and representation, Rebel Girls is filling a space in the market that continues to grow,” added Skevington. “And Rebel Girls has a clear mission that translates into product strategy. The brand looks to identify products in need of refreshing and inspiring updates, considering impact on education, gender and environment.

“The product, like the brand, aims to be forward facing in its ideas and approach. The universal message of Rebel Girls spans a wider demographic than many publishing titles.”

From here, and working closely with the Rebel Girls US based brand owner Timbuktu Labs, Rocket Licensing is already eyeing its next move, and, with a style guide currently being finalised, we won’t be waiting too long to see what happens next.

“We are currently targeting product categories such as nightwear, daywear, social stationery, accessories, and health and beauty, while developments in licensing are supported by the ongoing growth of the brand itself, which continues to expand upon its core collection – just recently it launched two new chapter books: Junko Tabei Masters of the Mountain and Dr Wangari Maathai Plants A Forest,” continues Skevington.

“This summer it will release a fifth chapter book: Alicia Alonso Takes the Stage, while autumn will mark the release of its third anthology, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 immigrant Women who Changed the World.”