The Licensing Lookout: A right page turner

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes spots some interesting publishing formats this week.

One question I get asked a lot is how did you start in licensing. Despite licensing gaining in recognition, it is still to an extent a hidden industry career wise. I think most licensing professionals stumbled over into the industry.

I was no exception. I moved into licensing via the advertising and publishing industries. I spent time in a book packager coming up with new ideas for books and in the marketing team at a partwork publisher making sure consumers saw our TV adverts on the hour every hour. This was called clockhouring – a turn of phrase that seems very old fashioned now.

So with my publishing background I am always drawn to book shops and seeing what is happening licensing wise in them. I try to look beyond the front of store blockbusters and explore the store. This was rewarded this week by spotting some interesting publishing formats. Certainly ones I would have been very happy to present when I was looking for new ideas.

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Iconic artist Beryl Cook has a very distinctive art style featuring fully figure ladies often in the bare minimum of clothing. The paintings are vibrant, bold and funny. They have obvious potential in lots of product areas, but publishing doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

However, and bearing in mind the subject matter and consumer appeal, a really smart bit of creative thinking has resulted in the splendidly titled 30 Cakes to Eat Naked which features illustrations from Beryl Cook. It is a fun gift book and one that has potential to stay in distribution for a long time. A very clever use of an art licence.

I also spotted a couple of books in the arts and craft section of Foyles book shop. These were crochet your own character books featuring Winnie the Pooh and Star Wars. Both very ‘giftable’ formats and tapping into a craft trend in a fun way. Another example of using licensing creatively in publishing. The licence helps the product stand out and brings in new consumers to the category.

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My book shop tour also reminded me that publishing is a category which allows different types of brands to flourish. Publishing thrives on good and often plentiful content coupled with a need to be able to appeal to a specific audience in a new way.

Quiz books are a traditional publishing format, but one that is well supplied and competitive. Licensing can make a difference in categories like this but generally when a well chosen and well targeted licence is deployed.

A really good example of this was the Radio 4 Today programme Quiz Book. A broadcast brand with a very distinct audience and credibility. For a publisher it offers a clear point of difference in a crowded category and is a brand that will appeal to a broad church of retailers including non traditional bookshops. It is also a brand and format that will work well in gifting.

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It was also good to see the worlds of partwork and licensing crossing over this week. A National Geographic branded partwork focused on Rocks and Minerals was launched with TV advertising and high profile distribution. The first issue is priced at 99p to encourage trial. Using a trusted brand such as National Geographic to brand a partwork that is featuring a relatively standard subject in partwork terms immediately lifts it to another level and adds a degree of authority.

I imagine it also opens up promotional opportunities that will allow the publisher to reach consumers in new ways and connect with new to partwork consumers. It is certainly a move on from clockhouring!

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I was also pleased to see a non-traditional book retailer like HMV give so much space to books and graphic novels in particular. It has recognised that there is a sizeable consumer audience who are buying products like graphic novels and stocking them helps build the notion that it is a destination store for pop culture.

I think other retailers might find that stocking licensed books like graphic novels or gift books is worthwhile.

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Finally, I can confirm that you can become a little one track in your thinking. This week I spotted an estate agents sign in The Borough. It was promoting Character Offices.

I immediately wondered which characters are based there but quickly remembered character can have other meanings. I am off to a book shop to buy a thesaurus.

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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