Finland’s Laura Nevanlinna: ‘Learning from Angry Birds’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The co-founding executive vice president of the new Kaiken Entertainment has a message for Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum: Think ‘full 360,’ story worlds, and ‘finding the right partners.’

Angry Birds, seen here in the ‘Angry Bird Blues’ series, have come along with Laura Nevanlinna and her associates—at least in some media—at Kaiken Entertainment. Image: Rovio Entertainment Ltd.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘A Really, Really New Thing’
The subtitle of the talk that Laura Nevanlinna will give at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum conference in late April is “Publishing in a Global Perspective.” But the term global really could be taken in two important senses: Nevanlinna has become a leader not only in internationally commercial content but also in properties that are developed “globally” in terms of format, for “full 360,” as she likes to say—and she means revenue potential as well as cross-media development.

Laura Nevanlinna

Nevanlinna is co-founding executive vice president of a new company, Kaiken Entertainment. Less than a month old, its prime client is one that’s new to no one: Rovio’s Angry Birds. The Angry Birds brand began as a mobile game app, released in December 2009. It quickly rose in popularity, reaching 3 billion downloads by July 2015. The brand evolved to encompass film, books, video games, merchandise and more.

Kaiken’s establishment was announced on March 7 and the startup is the co-founding project of Nevanlinna; former Rovio CEO Mikael Hed; animation specialist Ulla Junell; and creative director and producer Joonas Rissanen. It’s a case in which four key players of one company set out to create their own company and were able to carry some of the best eggs along: Rovio sold its Vancouver TV animation studio to Kaiken along with certain Angry Birds properties and—to our purposes here—its book publishing business.

The new operation, Kaiken, is operated out of Helsinki, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, which is where Nevanlinna was when she spoke to Publishing Perspectives about her very young company.

For anyone doing a double-take here, you’re not wrong: “Kaiken Publishing, the publishing arm that I’ve been running,” Nevanlinna says, “was a subsidiary of Rovio,” which is based in Espoo, Finland. “It was founded in February 2016 and until now an affiliate of Rovio, a part of the animation division which was run from LA. So I answered to LA and I answered to the head of animation.

“Now, with the founding of Kaiken Entertainment” along with her three colleagues as an independent corporation, “we bought out the publishing division of Rovio and its Canada operation. We also bought some non-Angry-Birds-related properties that we’ve been working on.”

She takes a breath, contemplating an upcoming flight back from Vancouver to Helsinki that will allow her to enjoy five days at home before traveling again. “So yeah, it’s a really, really new thing,” she says with a laugh. “But we’re still the master licensee in publishing for Rovio and we’re still a strong partner for TV and animation content. We remain in close touch, but we’re now an independent company.”

A selection of ‘Angry Bird’ books developed by Kaiken prior to its establishment as an independent company. Kaiken Entertainment bought the publishing assets of Rovio.

‘Telling Stories in Full 360’
“We all share a vision of telling stories in full 360. We want to be creating story worlds in multimedia.”Laura Nevanlinna

Once the business elements have been discussed, you notice that storytelling and story worlds become the keywords of Nevanlinna’s conversation. The distinctions are important. Rather that talking of “titles” or “books”—although most of Kaiken’s properties do start as books—Nevanlinna goes straight to the concept of something bigger, something you might have called transmedia a few years ago before we all wore that one out and drove our Hollywood colleagues nearly over the edge in the process.

“The nice thing about it,” she says, meaning the recent development of Kaiken with its four founding partners, “is that we all share a vision of telling stories in full 360. We want to be creating story worlds in multimedia and have a chance of meeting fans, meeting readers, people who watch animation in any kind of medium. That’s sort of the way we look at things.”

It might, in fact, surprise some that those wildly successful avian-gamy creatures, Angry Birds, have something to do with books. But they very much do. A story in appadvice from May 2013 announces the release of the 162-page documentary Angry Birds: Hatching a Universe at US$32.55. As it turns out, books have become big business for followers of the feathered fiends.

There’s a cookbook, Bad Piggies: Egg Recipes; at least eight activity books, including Learn To Draw Angry Birds; at least two story books, Angry Birds: Hunters of the Jade Egg and Bad Piggies: Piggy Island Heroes; and even a series of National Geographic books, including Nat Geo Angry Birds Space: A Furious Flight into the Final Frontier. (Clearly those of us who think National Geographic is still about pith helmets and exotic sunsets need to look again.)

What’s important in the way Nevanlinna and her associates see things is to avoid getting caught up on that “book” business. Appreciate it, yes. Stop there, no.

“For us, for our own IP—and potentially for third parties, as well—we can be a full 360.”

‘Every Brand Has a Story’

‘The Bird Circle’ series by Elina Rouhianen is one of the properties being developed by Kakin Entertainment.

Nevanlinna agrees with many who see world book markets facing historically unprecedented levels of entertainment competition—like, ahem, Angry Birds games, films, etc. In an insightful, concise article, Why Your Brand Should Move Into Publishing at LinkedIn last November, you can see her signaling what she and her cohorts are delivering now.

There, she writes, “Every brand has a story and publishing allows you to share it in an illustrated and elaborate way. It gives you the perfect opportunity to fully reveal your characters and key values.” And this, of course, is good news for publishers. If they’re approached by non-book brands—or if they go about attracting brands with which they’d like to develop books—then they’re on the way to that “full 360” concept of creating and exploiting rights channels and media for appropriate properties.

Nevanlinna’s wisdom in the process, however, is quickly evident in that article, as she goes on to write: “The key is to know who to publish for, and with.

“If your brand is a kids’ favorite, you should find partners to create children’s books with. If you’re more a teen property, comics can be a great way to tell about your brand. And if you have a lifestyle brand? Maybe an e-zine partner will suit you best. The key is knowing your brand’s story: never let someone else define it for you. It is essential that you establish your backstory before starting a publishing program.”

Kaiken’s specialty, then, is in discerning right properties for “full 360” development as story worlds and storytelling vehicles, and in being able to deliver a range of media responses to that potential.

Properties that Kaiken Entertainment is developing include ‘Storm Sisters’ by Mintie Das and ‘Freya’ by Matthew Laurence.

‘A More Modern Way of Thinking’
“I do think that publishers could be looking more into developing brands, out of the things that they see resonating really well.”Laura Nevanlinna

“I think that publishing is a way of sharing stories that a lot of brands haven’t thought about,” she tells Publishing Perspectives. “Of course, there’s the sort of consumer-product side of publishing, where you’re doing some sort of licensing as a brand.

“But there’s the fact that more brands are looking into sharing their stories. And the fact that publishers can sometimes create that story for them.” She uses the example of, say, “a very techie company that might not have the storytellers” necessary to develop and deliver the kind of story that their own IP may encapsulate. Certainly in the Rovio example, this could be a gaming company.

“What that techie company then needs is another company with storytelling capabilities. And of course publishers have vast networks of storytellers to tap into. They work with authors every day. They work with fantastic storytellers. So I think the combination is a very interesting one.

“And that’s of course what we do. We have storytellers in-house and we get to work with third parties and develop their ideas into different types of storytelling.”

The stumbling block for publishers at this stage, she says, is that “they may not be inclined to take it beyond their own” familiar channels of books and traditionally associated merchandise.

“That’s fully understandable,” she adds quickly. “You do what you’re best at and you need to concentrate on your core business. And in this day and age, when the competition is so fierce, it’s clear that you can’t go everywhere.

“But I do think that publishers could be looking more into developing brands, out of the things that they see resonating really well. And also developing brands in areas where there’s a strong demand for something.” By this, she clarifies, she means a case in which a particular audience is eager to have more content of a given kind, “and developing that content with authors in such a way that it can go into” a wider array of media than might have been typically common.

Below is a promotional video Kaiken has made with author Matthew Laurence on his Freya series, in which the Norse goddess is found in a mental institution—in Orlando.

‘Finding Those Right Partners’
“You don’t have to do everything yourself. But you do have to find the right partners.”Laura Nevanlinna

One place you can see this happening, of course, is at Toronto’s Wattpad, which in July 15 launched its Brand Stories initiative and has gone on to roll out other initiatives that reach across companies and media, most recently Ashleigh Gardner’s Hachette Audiobooks: Powered by Wattpad partnership under the aegis of Aron Levitz’s Wattpad Studios program.

“S0me publishers are certainly doing this,” Nevanlinna says, describing a kind of thinking from the outside in, looking for what a brand might need in a storytelling partner. “But I’d say it’s still at an early stage. It’s more than likely companies like us,” Kaiken, “where you take something and develop it in as many media as possible.”

So in a sense, Nevanlinna and her colleagues are specialized for recognizing the potential in something to work in “full 360” and for knowing the pathway toward that virtuous circle of revenue-generating media channels.

On the Kaiken site now, under “Brands,” you’ll find not only licensing partners—those colorful birds and piggies chief among them, of course—but also a set of four current IP projects the company is working on developing. There’s The Bird Circle series by Elina Rouhianen; Storm Sisters by Mintie Das; the Freya series in which “the gods are real, all of them” by designer-writer Matthew Lawrence; and The Mascoteers by Rollo de Walden, shortlisted this year at Frankfurt Book Fair’s Books at Berlinale.

Kaiken Entertainment is off to one fast start: earlier this month at London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards, it won the Brand Licensing prize.

And what Nevanlinna is saying to all who’ll listen is that there’s real value in the idea of partnering.

“It’s the idea of everybody not having to do everything,” she says, which can be stultifying to publishers contemplating working their way into media they don’t know well. “Finding those right partners. You might have an author, you might have a wonderful illustrator, a graphic artist—these people come together to create something special. A world. You then leverage the partnership of them working together.

“That’s a more modern way of thinking of this.

“You don’t have to do everything yourself,” says Laura Nevanlinna. “But you do have to find the right partners.”

Laura Nevanlinna speaks at 11:30 a.m. on April 24 at Publishers’ Forum in Berlin’s DBB Forum. More information is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.