Sigh…why was this so predictable?
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that an announcement like this would actually dissapoint me, compared to how excited I was for them as a kid. Because the sadly inevitable announcement is here: a 13th Diary of a Wimpy Kid book has been confirmed.
And it’s worse than I expected. In a departure from other book announcements, Abrams, Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s publisher, was a bit more involved, and none of the news they had to say was great. First off, instead of releasing the book on the first week of November as has been done with every book since Hard Luck (and every November since The Ugly Truth), Abrams and Kinney are actually releasing this book a week earlier, on October 30. If somehow you didn’t believe me before that this series is declining in quality, you’re definitely going to believe it now. Because releasing your book even earlier than you have been releasing them is a clear sign that you’re rushing things out, so that alone is a red alarm.
Secondly, Abrams also stated that the books have officially sold 200 million copies worldwide. And while that’s a cause for celebration (it’s now close to if not on the list of the top ten bestselling book series of all time), it’s some fact to state right now given the current state of the series. With this timing, it ended up not being as exciting as it could’ve been, being a shame that the milestone and book announcement happened at the same time.
Thirdly, in honor of the achievement, Kinney and Abrams president and CEO Michael Jacobs will be heading to Worzalla, the U.S. printing plant of the books, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, which has been printing the books there since Greg’s 2007 debut. And here’s what perplexes me: Kinney is willing to journey across entire states for things relating to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but he can’t take the one and a half hour car trip from where he lives in Plainville, Massachusetts, to Boston, where StoryArc Media and Poptropica HQ reside, to fix his game?!?
It’s just getting out of hand. I understand that he’d want to take this trip because again, it’s just bad timing and it is a grand achievement. But still…something just feels wrong with the whole picture. I never thought it would come to this, but Kinney has let me down too much to the point that this may very well be the first book I will not buy on the release date, possibly ever. Heck, I still didn’t pick up The Getaway since I wrote my previous Diary of a Wimpy Fall post. And while that’s partly due to the business of college life, this whole thing is an undeniable factor in that. Who knows, I might think it’s marginally better than Double Down once I do go back to and finish reading it, but that’s it for me and this series until things change.
And things can change, right?
Just How Long Can Diary of a Wimpy Kid Go On?
Had I remembered this, I would’ve put in my previous Diary of a Wimpy Fall post, but now couldn’t be a better time to talk about it. For those of you who are wondering how the heck this series is making books at the rate it’s making them given how big they are, you’ll be surprised to learn just how capable it is of continuing on. And the answer to this is actually rooted in the origin of the series. According to The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary and Who Is Jeff Kinney?, what would become Diary of a Wimpy Kid was initially written down in a sketch pad that took four years to fill with ideas, after Kinney remembered the words of Mrs. Norton, one of his elementary school teachers, to come up with a plan before starting a project. The pages were initially filled as any sketch pad would be filled with ideas, but as Kinney went into the pages, the ideas ended up becoming more condensed on the page, to the point that there was almost more black space on the page than white space.
Kinney had figured that the book would total out to anywhere from 700-1,300 pages, taking another four years to type up all of the ideas into a single story. The end result was indeed a 1,300-page book that became the initial online version of the book on Funbrain.com, but that’s not even the craziest part. What’s mind-boggling is one particular statement made in The Movie Diary: that more than 90% of the material written in the sketch pad didn’t make the final cut. This shocked me even when I read it as a kid, before I would learn how relevant this fact would become today.
During the early years of the series, it was stated that the content from the online version would make up the first three books. I also remember that Kinney initially had plans to release a total of five books in the series before ending it, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid website even had a page showing each of the five books in silhouette or not, which indicated whether or not that book was released or announced yet. I hoped to find it using Wayback Machine, and much to my nostalgia, I did.
I actually didn’t mind that the series would end at five books even then; I was just excited to see what all five books would look like. And that’s when things changed: oddly enough, The Ugly Truth never really ended up filling in its spot on the above page. And with little to no explanation, Cabin Fever was announced as the sixth book in the series. While it was cool to see that the series wasn’t ending after all, as well as the fact that it managed to put out another pretty solid five books, it put forth that question as to when the series would truly end. And Kinney does in fact say in this video that he has no idea.
And boy, is it capable of going on. If we look at all the numbers and prior history and do some calculations, the number of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books that could potentially be made are astounding. If approximately 90% of the material in the sketch pad didn’t make the cut for the online version, we’re talking 13,000 pages of content that Kinney could’ve written. Divide that by 224, the number of pages each book has (and assuming that number continues to stay the same), and you get 58 books in total.
It’s true that many other book series have actually surpassed this number – including supplements, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, Animorphs, Goosebumps and Magic Tree House have all done it. But consider the circumstances in which they did: although they are often released at an even faster rate than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, aside from Goosebumps and Magic Tree House, they all get help from ghostwriters (I don’t know how Stine and Osborne do it), and they also usually have fewer pages than the Wimpy Kid books. (By the way, I’d like to thank Slanted Fish from the Poptropica Help Blog for letting me know that the number of pages in the books are more of Abrams’s doing than Kinney’s).
If you can’t believe that number, you’re not alone – for I hardly believe it myself. I went back to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but all I got from it was not only confirmation, but insight into the declining quality of the series. All that content in the sketch pad didn’t make the cut for a reason. And while 2,240 pages of the 13,000 have shown to work, the remaining 10,760 pages clearly need revisions. And knowing that 672 of those 10,670 pages weren’t given that chance to improve, with nothing suggesting that the same won’t happen to the remaining 9,998, is not that reassuring.
But Something’s Got To Give, Right?
Assuming Wimpy Kid books keep getting released by one book a year, we can only hope that the Diary of a Wimpy Fall doesn’t end with Kinney finally ending the series with the 58th book in 2064, or at least sometime before that probably, before finally going back to Poptropica. But with the current state of affairs with both franchises, there’s now a chance this distant future could happen. I’m increasingly getting curious as to whether or not Kinney is even aware of Flash’s plans to terminate much of the idea he came up with one day while mowing his lawn by 2020, or worse, doesn’t care much about it and is really willing to abandon this part of his legacy.
Whether or not he cares, the fanbase still cares (aside from a few who’ve already lost hope). The former developers that got laid off still care. Parents still care, aware of Poptropica’s importance to children and how it relates to what the future has in store for them. I still care.
If Kinney indeed stays intent on running Diary of a Wimpy Kid into the ground while letting Poptropica follow suit, I began entertaining the possibility of Poptropica somehow continuing without him. And I came to the conclusion that it can’t, at least for the foreseeable future. Recently, former social media manager Jessica Devine had thoughts to say regarding her time working at Poptropica, in which the game grew so popular that employees were eventually unable to meet up with fan demand and had to leave as a result, a sentiment Mitch Krpata agreed with. I’m going to go farther with that and suggest that this specifically started happening when Kinney left, marking the official start of the Fall.
Poptropica Worlds was announced in April 2016 and was supposed to be released later that year, but ended up being released in May 2017. Double Down was announced in March 2016, but was released in November of the same year. Ideally, Kinney should’ve taken his break on the series as early as then to oversee the development of Worlds. But not only did he choose to write a new book instead, he chose to write more at Poptropica’s expense, to the point that the franchise has been held back from fulfilling the clear vision it has for its future, with the people who could’ve taken his place being denied their right to do so.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kinney needs to consolidate all of his intellectual property into StoryArc Media. It’s a company that is screaming for influence and impact in the entertainment industry through the ownership of multiple IP’s like Poptropica, Galactic Hot Dogs, Funbrain and Adventure Pig. But the fact of the matter is that none of them are capable of carrying out this goal even as a unit, because they don’t have the money to keep the people around that are capable of doing so.
Greg Heffley needs to be alongside the likes of Cosmoe, Oliver Hartman, Mighty Guy, and Adventure Pig. His journals need to be alongside Cosmoe, Humphree and Princess Dagger’s spacefaring and Oliver, Jorge and Mya’s antics. According to Owler, Poptropica’s revenue is approximately $1.8 million, compared to Jeff Kinney’s net worth of $70 million by comparison. Given the huge difference in money streams, I’m willing to bet that StoryArc could become a true force to be reckoned with in an instant and it wouldn’t even have much of an impact on Kinney’s own money. These properties would be able to fully realize the great potential that they possess, while Greg would have new and interesting avenues to explore instead of failing to make a movie, going on another vacation, or…um…getting snowed in.
In the video I linked to above, Kinney actually talks about how Greg’s world is its own thing and can’t see crossovers with other fictional universes. But here’s the thing: by the time that video was uploaded, both Wimpy Wonderland and Wimpy Boardwalk Island had already been out for two years. When asked about how many books he’d write, he also talked about how as Greg is more of a cartoon character than a literary character, he will live on forever, which is all the more reason why Greg’s misadventures don’t always have to stay confined to books.
Imagine the possibilities: a Greg/Mighty Guy crossover, which practically writes itself. Or Wimpy Wonderland or Wimpy Boardwalk Island appearing in a potential Poptropica movie or TV show without having to get any permission from the creator (though I’m sure he’d let them anyway, assuming this doesn’t happen). How about setting the animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid films I talked about in the same continuity as the Poptropica movie or TV show, and establishing a two-way crossover? And what about the possibility of a Galactic Hot Dogs movie? (I get that Poptropica fans are apathetic against those characters due to the negative reception of Galactic Hot Dogs Island, but that was a fluke. Make no mistake, the books are great.)
This is the ideal solution to the Diary of a Wimpy Fall, but it’s sadly not the only way. This could easily go the opposite route of Kinney abandoning Poptropica and StoryArc for good, but regardless, Poptropica has made it clear that it is willing to abandon him, too, not going down without a fight come the 2020 demise of the original game:
We think Poptropica is an entire ecosystem. It comprises games, including Poptropica Original, Poptropica Worlds, our Mystery of the Map Books, our comics, and more. Poptropica is a world. It’s an idea. Poptropica is anywhere kids go for great stories, incredible art, and a heckuva fun time. If that’s the web, or mobile, or somewhere else entirely, we’ll be there.
Assuming that this is what happens, there is one candidate for replacing Kinney in the long run: Bhav Singh, the founder and CEO of Sandbox Networks.
There is a reason why Singh was so interested in the Family Education Network before he brought it out and changed its name to StoryArc Media: because he clearly sees the potential in the half of Kinney’s empire that he keeps holding back:
Engaging digital media and informal learning for kids are spaces we are hugely passionate about, so FEN was a clear choice. There is massive potential in the kids’ edutainment space, especially in game-based learning, and we’re excited about growing FEN together with Jeff Kinney’s creative guidance and Jess Brallier’s leadership, and helping to bring the brands to new markets.
Of course, things have changed since then, so at this point I’d imagine that Singh is secretly waiting things out to see if Kinney really is not coming back, before he takes matters into his own hands. In fact, Abhi Arya, Singh’s closest partner, is already the president at StoryArc Media, so he could practically kick-start things at any moment. The only reason why he hasn’t yet, is because like I said before, he is also aware that the ideal solution to the issue is if Kinney stayed at the helm, and wants to make sure he is making the right decision for the company. Now with the 13th book announcement, it’s something that Singh is really taking into account. With the laying off of Poptropica developers, Poptropica’s mass unfollowing of accounts on social media, and being the time of year new Wimpy Kid books are announced, it couldn’t have been a better time for Kinney to make a powerful statement for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Poptropica and the rest of StoryArc’s IP’s and finally turn things around for his career and his empire. He blew it.
And What Should We Make of All This?
Trust me, it breaks my heart to criticize my idol like this, but Jeff Kinney has given me no choice at this point, and in all honesty, what I say is the truth. Little to nothing can be done about the 13th book’s existence at this point, but now it’s gotten to the possibility of at least saving Poptropica if Diary of a Wimpy Kid won’t be left alone. As I’ve said before, it’s not like I want Kinney to stop writing, but he needs to take a step back for a minute and realize what is happening with his writing. Those remaining 9,998 pages need work, and while taking a break from the series, he can analyze those pages, see what works and what doesn’t, and still take Greg places at StoryArc until he goes back to writing. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, from Sandbox and Amulet to Kinney and the fans. But right now, it’s only a win for Kinney and Amulet, a win that’s not going to last.
The fact that I put this post out on April 1st is not a coincidence: it’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘s birthday, giving me the chance to make a statement in and of itself. 200 million copies sold is such an accomplishment, but the 13th book announcement was not the way to celebrate. Enough books have been sold and enough installments have been made to the point that the number can keep climbing without any new additions. The impact has already been made, it was just a matter of celebrating that impact by coming up with new plans to take new directions, as Mrs. Norton would say. Everyone knows who Greg Heffley is, we just need to be truly reminded of why. And with the 13th book now on the horizon, it sadly won’t be for at least another year. And how many more years will it be until things take the ideal route is anyone’s guess.
Regardless, even though I’m mostly done with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I’m not done with everything else, and I will never forget how Jeff Kinney’s works have impacted my life. I will always have a place in my heart for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Poptropica, whether both fall, one falls, or both stay alive. Regardless of what the future will look like for these properties, I’m ready to accept it. I just hope that whatever it is I’m accepting, it’s better than what we have now.
Stay enlightened, educated and entertained folks.