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How World Book Day became key for licensing

We find out how the annual retail event has grown in importance for the licensing industry.

Always a significant part of the book publishing calendar, the last few years have seen World Book Day increasing in visibility and importance for the licensing sector, too.

Retailers including Sainsbury’s and George@Asda among others have considerably increased the amount of licensed dress-up on offer during the period, while licensees and licensors across the board have realised the sheer potential that World Book Day offers for brands, with those whose roots lie in publishing notably coming to the fore.

“As the event has grown exponentially bigger over the last few years, Roald Dahl has become a top licence for the event,” Stephanie Griggs, licensing and design director at The Roald Dahl Literary Estate tells The Source. “In 2017 we saw our dress-up costumes – through Smiffys – visible in all of the grocers, with the costumes achieving an incredible sell-through at 90% on most lines.”


The success enjoyed in 2017 has led the Estate to significantly invest in World Book Day 2018, which falls on Thursday March 1.

Stephanie continues: “Following the overwhelming uplift that the Roald Dahl brand has received over the last few World Book Days, more retailers than ever are on board – and it’s become a huge retail event in the calendar. The space that this has opened up promotes and encourages more books than ever to get into little hands, which is really good to see.

“I see World Book Day only continuing to grow over the next few years, as opportunities to highlight the importance of reading become more common and understood as important.”

From a product point of view, Stephanie says Roald Dahl is “going all out” with dress-up this year, with Smiffys expanding the costume offering from four characters in 2017 to 19 in 2018. Aside from dress-up and new publishing, there will also be new launches across nightwear, homewares, greeting cards, games and puzzles, finger and hand puppets and a new Roald Dahl Monopoly, providing a host of cross category opportunities.


Katie Price, licensing director at Hachette Children’s Group, agrees that World Book Day is “a fantastic initiative with a mission to offer every child and young person the opportunity to read and love books”.

Last year marked the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s adventure book series The Famous Five, with Good Old Timmy and Other Stories being one of the £1 World Book Day books.

To celebrate the landmark anniversary, Enid Blyton Entertainment appointed illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson to create new illustrations of The Famous Five characters, featuring first in Good Old Timmy. In May 2017, all 21 books in The Famous Five series were published featuring Laura’s new covers and illustrations.

Alongside this, Hachette Children’s Group organised a theatrical stunt with actors and actresses playing George, Dick, Julian, Anne and Timmy the dog to greet fans as part of World Book Day’s Biggest Book Show on Earth event, which toured the UK.

Katie comments: “Enid Blyton stories and characters are perennially popular with children, parents and teachers in schools across the UK on World Book Day. We are pleased to announce that Enid Blyton Entertainment has licensed the dress-up rights to Smiffys, who are developing a range of fancy dress costumes for a number of Enid Blyton’s best loved characters from The Famous Five, Malory Towers and St Clare’s in time for World Book Day 2018.”

For licensees, World Book Day has also become an important incremental revenue stream.

“World Book Day grows year on year and anything encouraging children to read more books can only be a positive thing,” Tracey Devine, head of licensing and marketing EMEA at Rubie’s Masquerade, says. “2017 saw lots of joint collaborations with retailers around their licensed ranges. Harry Potter, Batman, Harley Quinn and, of course, Disney Princess and Marvel Superheroes are all key licences for World Book Day.


“It is almost as popular for us as a season as Halloween,” Tracey continues. “After of course publishing, dress-up is key to make the event fun for all involved, even the teachers. The event is becoming more and more important at retail and it is great to see licensed books being included in the World Book Day range, giving a legitimate hook.”

For World Book Day 2017, Sainsbury’s increased the size of its children’s dress-up range by 35% over 2016 to keep up with the growing demand for children’s costumes. Popular characters included Harry Potter, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, The Gruffalo and Snow White.

Speaking ahead of the event, Sainsbury’s head of buying and design – childrenswear and menswear, John Carolan, said: “Children’s fancy dress is a growing market and we’re committed to creating the very best products for our customers, whatever their age and right down to the smallest detail. Our World Book Day costumes are a great example of how we’re continuing to invest where it matters most to our customers.”

Roald Dahl’s Stephanie sums it up nicely when she says that World Book Day benefits the wider licensing business because it has opened up a new retail window. She concludes: “Publishing exists across most brands in some form, even if only licences or tie-in publishing, and so the natural elevation that World Book Day brings to the category as a whole will benefit those properties, too.”

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2018 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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