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Partworks, rocking coins and ‘full sales mode’… it’s the first Licensing Lookout of 2023

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes kicks off a new year of ‘looking out’ at retail.

A New Year brings a new partwork. Certain products run to a regular rhythm and partworks – which are collectable magazines – are one of those.

Earlier this week Hachette Partworks launched a new collection featuring the Batmobile. The partwork invites consumers to build their own Batmobile Tumbler. It is typical of a contemporary partwork in that it is based on a strong IP and features a construction kit.


Partworks are traditionally launched at this time of year to take advantage of ‘New Year resolutions’ and to also take advantage of cheaper advertising rates. Generally the publishers are looking to recruit readers in volume and to convert them into committed purchasers.

The part one package is presented on a backing board and includes a magazine and a promotional booster. It stands out at retail as it dominates shelves. For IP owners like Warner Bros. partworks have created a new licensing opportunity and a productive way of using classic IP. Given this partwork is based around model making, it suggests that there is good consumer interest in this activity as a leisure pursuit – indeed this seems to be confirmed by the current success the likes of Airfix are enjoying.

Often partworks are criticised for their lifetime cost – critics compare the total cost to buying a model kit off the shelf, but this criticism misses the point that some consumers enjoy the collecting element of partworks, the editorial support they provide and the sense of enjoying an ongoing project that others are also completing.

LL1Of course, the New Year is also a moment that companies choose to make announcements about new products. In this spirit it was interesting to see The Royal Mint announcing its 2023 special edition launch plans. A couple of the special edition sets are using IP – there is a set celebrating the life and work of JRR Tolkein and another one celebrating the Centenary of the Flying Scotsman.

The Royal Mint has become a regular user of licensed properties not least as they help create interest and momentum in new launches. Of course they also bring a fan base and in the modern age create a platform to build digital marketing campaigns from. The ability to engage with an established consumer audience is a similar driver for partwork publishers and well established IP can deliver this quality.

LL4The Royal Mail is another organisation that has been using well known brands and bands to develop new products with. The Royal Mail is launching a collection featuring rock band Iron Maiden. 12 stamps feature members of the band’s current line-up and their mascot Eddie. They join a select ‘band of bands’ that have featured on UK stamps. Previous collections have featured The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Queen.

It is a badge of honour for Iron Maiden and for the Royal Mail it allows it to reach new consumers, while creating content that shines a positive light on stamps and stamp related products. Iron Maiden will be on tour from May with their The Future Past tour making this a well timed release.

LL2Of course, January is also the season for sales. On a recent visit to Winchester I noticed that retailer Calendar Club was in full sales mode. Not a surprise given the core products are calendars. It was interesting to see the Calendar Club selling other products such as socks, annuals, gift lines and boxed games.

Calendar wise it was interesting to see how different genres are now part of the overall mix – calendars on sale included Warhammer 40,000, Minecraft, Fortnite, Dragonball Z and the England Women’s football team. Calendar Club is effectively a seasonal pop up retailer and it must be quite a challenge for it to get the product mix right. It is an interesting measure of how the licensing landscape has changed and is changing. Calendar Club is also an interesting retail model given its seasonal nature and product focus – licensing seems to fit well into this kind of retailing. It will be interesting to see if other retailers pop up in other categories, not least to take advantage of opportunities on the high street and in shopping centres where there are lots of empty properties at the moment.

Finally, I am sure I am not the only one who has been reading about the scenes of ‘carnage’ in Aldi as shoppers queued to buy the energy drink Prime developed by the influencers KSI and Logan Paul. I am not sure what the ‘commercials’ are behind this deal and if it is a licensed product, but it is a real world and very vivid example of the ‘power’ of influencers. Some of the scenes shown on TV and reported in the press were unseemly, but I guess it also shows that people are prepared to shop and buy when it is something they want.

Perhaps in 10 years time or even sooner KSI and Logan Paul will be featured on Royal Mail stamps and Royal Mint coins…

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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