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The Licensing Lookout: By the book

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes reaffirms that licensing has a role to play in a variety of retailers.

This week I managed to spend a very worthwhile 30 minutes in two of my favourite London shops. Both are located on Marylebone High Street which I think  is one of London’s most charming and engaging shopping streets. It is a street that is always worth visiting. Retail tenants include The Conran Shop, Emma Bridgewater and Caroline Gardner. One note of caution though, like a lot of Central London it is currently blighted by roadworks. If you decide to visit take some ear defenders. I feel for shopkeepers – times are tough enough without the immediate area around their shops being excavated in a series of works that seems endless.

The two shops I visited were Daunt Books and the Oxfam shop. Both gave me something to lookout on licensing wise and reaffirmed the point that licensing has a role to play in a variety of retailers. Indeed, licensing holds lots of potential and benefits for retailers.

Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street is a wonderful building featuring wood panelling, traditional shelving, lovely skylights, characterful staircases and gallery spaces. It is an Edwardian building and it is said to be the first purpose built bookshop. As a shop it is a fine example of how shops were once presented. It is well stocked and product is displayed in a way that it sells itself. The bookseller recognises that book jacket design, author’s names and well curated departments all help sell product without always resorting to shelf strips and barkers.

It was originally a travel book shop and that legacy remains. Of course, this style of selling wouldn’t work for everyone and is difficult to scale but it is good to know there is still a place for shops like Daunt within the retail landscape. It has a well defined offer and a real personality. Daunt is distinctive and benefits from having an identity. There are lots of reasons to visit it and shop there, not least staff are engaging and welcoming.

Daunt has a strong commitment to children's books.
Daunt has a strong commitment to children's books.

From a licensing point of view Daunt, like many other booksellers, sells a range of non-book products some of which feature licensing. Featured product and brands fit with the overall style of Daunt’s offer. For example it carries a spinner from The Wooden Postcard Company. These products straddle gifting and wall art – I imagine people use them as much for wall art as postcards. Featured brands include vintage London Underground poster art and the lovely bird illustrations from Matt Sewell. The latter links into a book publishing programme. Daunt also carries a good range of greetings cards and giftwrap with suppliers such as Hype featuring. Product tends to be higher spec and featuring brands sourced from areas like publishing, heritage and art.

There are also pick up items such as pencil sets which are located among books that they blend well with. For example LS Lowry pencils from Museum & Galleries feature alongside art books. This encourages consumers to trade up purchasewise and helps create strong display features.

It is easy to overlook the fact that the publishing and licensing worlds are so closely related. Rights flow back and forth between the two. It is also important to remember that books come in a range of formats and styles. There is great scope within book publishing to innovate and create new formats. This can help brands reach new audiences or develop more premium products. Daunt sells a full range of titles across price points including those at the higher end. One example I saw was a large format Art of DC Comics book. This looked like a real labour of love in book terms and a title that would appeal to comic fans. Daunt is able to display titles like this to great effect showing the front cover in full underlying the benefits of Daunt’s shop layout.

Alex T Smith's Claude had a strong presence including recently published TV tie-ins.
Alex T Smith's Claude had a strong presence including recently published TV tie-ins.

Daunt has a strong commitment to children’s books with a large area for the genre including tabletop displays. As you would expect, several stars of licensing featured in this section including Peter Rabbit and Paddington. Both of these included added value book formats underlying a shift in children’s books to embrace products that include elements such as plush toys or play features. As always it is good to spot ‘one of your own’. Alex T Smith’s Claude had a strong presence including recently published TV tie-ins. This underlined the importance of specialist booksellers who are able and prepared to stock ranges in depth which in turn helps authors build a following. This us a vital cog in the publishing wheel.

While Daunt is a great place to visit and browse I should emphasise it is a shop and I did buy a book at the end of my visit.  I would recommend a visit not least to experience a London classic. But try to buy something when you are there.

I left Daunt and popped along to the Oxfam shop. I have been a fan of this shop for many years. It was a good source of ‘old’ books particularly signed copies or early editions plus a great place to buy vinyl (aka records). It is still a good shop for these products but now stocks other secondhand goods. In addition it also sells new products. My Mum works in a charity shop and apparently in the trade new products sold in charity shops are described as BIGS … ‘bought in goods’. Oxfam has been doing this kind of thing for sometime by blending items like fair trade tea and coffee with standard charity shop items.

However things seem to have moved on either further. Oxfam in Marylebone High Street featured a range of Moomins products linked to a special edition book published recently. The link was promoted in-store through posters and product included greetings cards. Further to this there was a range of products such as ceramic birdbaths and bug houses marketed under The Eden Project brand. Oxfam and the Eden Project seem like a good fit and the range fits well into the Oxfam stores.

The Moomins products in Oxfam are linked to a special edition book which was published recently.
The Moomins products in Oxfam are linked to a special edition book which was published recently.

It seems that charity shop retailers are working harder at bringing in new products and bespoke ranges. I guess this allows them to make more of their high street retail space and to develop a more strategic approach to retail. I presume there might be some limits placed on them, as I understand charity shops are treated slightly differently to other retailers in terms of rates and so on.

Charity shops are competitors to other retailers – I remember at a recent Egmont Publishing presentation that charity shops were noted as a destination for parents to buy books for children from. It will be interesting to see how this sector develops.

Barnardo’s stocked a range of Teletubbies products last year in a deal brokered by the Louis Kennedy Partnership so it is a pathway for licensed products that has been opened already. I guess the fact that Oxfam are selling BIGS that are licensed products, albeit with a cause-related element, is further confirmation that the retail landscape is changing and that we have to be open to new opportunities. That said it is rather comforting that you can still browse in an Edwardian bookshop in Central London. Happy shopping!

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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