Turning the pages of publishing… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes reports back from his visit to last week’s London Book Fair.

My main licensing looking out last week was undertaken at the London Book Fair.

As noted before, licensing and publishing are intrinsically linked with rights flowing backwards and forwards between the two industries. An obvious example of this is how brands like Mr Men, Peter Rabbit and Harry Potter started their lives in the publishing category. Conversely having a strong publishing partner is on most IP owners wish lists and in turn a number of publishers have specialist licensing teams or imprints focused on developing licensed driven book ranges.

The relationship between Hasbro/eOne and Penguin Random House is a good example of how publishing can become a bedrock of a licensing programme. Publishing gives a licensing programme credibility, brings retail visibility and enhances story telling.

Against this backdrop I felt this year there was less evidence of licensing on show at the London Book Fair. Of course that may be a failing on my part – I may well have missed things, but a few people I bumped into in the aisles seemed to think the same. I think this is particularly true when focusing on the children’s market. There was, as always, a dedicated space at the show for children’s publishing but within this area licensing wasn’t as prominent as you might imagine it could be. Of course one explanation is that publishers, particularly independent publishers, are maybe more focused on developing and owning their own IP. This gives them greater control and more lifetime value. The consolidation in publishing is also a factor – a number of publishers and lists have been bought up by other publishers. Some of the bigger publishers have supersized stands at the show which are focused understandably on selling rights across their portfolios and as such licensed titles are not a stand out item.

LL5One thing I did note and was pleased to see at the Book Fair again was an Illustrators Gallery.

It is good to see the Book Fair supporting and recognising the importance of illustration and illustrators in publishing.

In licensing terms an illustrator can help create the style and look of an IP which is an integral part of the process that can lead onto licensing.

LL2Some licensing friendly brands that I did spot on show at the show included Where’s Wally? and Harry Potter. The Harry Potter Wizarding Almanac was being promoted on the Bloomsbury stand with an interactive sign that allowed visitors to ‘spin a wheel’ to find out which character they were. It is also interesting to see how certain authors emerge as brands in the book world – a good example of this is Richard Osman… his book The Last Devil To Die was prominently promoted at the show.

I often wonder if there might be scope for publishers to engage further with licensing and licensees when an author such as Richard Osman achieves the success he has. Likewise Jamie Oliver is very much a brand personality in the publishing world and it is clear that his books are still regarded as major moments in the book world. Big name authors can seemingly make or break a publishers’ year. Authors like Richard Osman and Jamie Oliver are ones that engage a broad range of retailers and allow publishers to sell books beyond the traditional book trade. Hopefully this is beneficial for publishing in general widening the distribution network.

LL3It was also good to see stalwart publisher Titan Books at the show. It is an independent publisher that has supported the licensing industry for many years publishing books based on ‘pop culture’, quite often publishing titles and subjects ignored by other publishers. Its list focuses on categories like TV and film. Titan explores subjects in depth and with the fan market in mind. It also takes a long-term view building the lists with collections of titles and supporting specific franchises. Likewise it was good to see Diamond Comics exhibiting at the show. Its stand presented a mix of comics and merchandise offering retailers a way of building their ‘pop culture’ offer and providing a curated range in genres like manga and anime. It is widely recognised that fan culture is driving certain parts of the licensing market and it is good to know that companies like Diamond are presenting opportunities for retailers to engage with it at shows like the London Book Fair.

Connected to this, printer Imago was at the show. It offers bespoke printing and production services to other publishers specialising in areas like limited editions. For example it worked with Rebellion Publishing to create a limited edition Judge Dredd by Brian Bolland product. It was using this at the London Book Fair to showcase its services. The edition was housed in a slip case and was hand signed by the artist. This kind of bespoke product serves the fan market well and is a good template for publishers to consider when developing products for the fan market.

I was also intrigued by a new title I spotted at the show, I Am Stan – a graphic biography of the Legendary Stan Lee by Tom Scioli. This shows the enduring popularity of Stan Lee and is also a further measure of the ongoing popularity of the comic genre. This book seems to have been developed for the adult fan market and rather like the Brian Bolland example noted earlier, it demonstrates how comic art and artists are valued by fans.

LL1The publishing sector is also very good at unearthing and building opportunities from diverse sources. A good example of this was a range of puzzle books developed under the MENSA brand and licence. Great way to use the MENSA brand and to create a credible point of difference in a competitive publishing sector.

From my own work I was pleased to see Welbeck Publishing showcasing its book Around the World in 80 Pots which has been developed with The Ashmolean Museum. In this example the Ashmolean brought its collection and expertise to the table and allowed Welbeck to create a book that has in built credibility. It is good to see heritage brands engaging with commercial publishers in this way and allowing licensed books to exist alongside their own publishing endeavours.

LL4Arts and crafts was certainly one area of publishing at the show that featured licensing.

Paper Engine was at the show largely to showcase its paper engineering capabilities, think pop up books but it was also good to see the Aardman card construction kits on display. This was a good way of it showing what it can do from a production point of view, but was also a reminder that bookshops don’t just sell books anymore.

Search Press also had a strong presence at the show and its range includes licences from the likes of Aardman, the Royal School of Needlework and Kew Gardens.

LL6Igloo Books – which is part of Bonnier Books – used the London Book Fair to present its range of Disney titles which include a number of arts and crafts titles aka books plus. These included colouring books, colouring pads and crafting books. Books like these have wide retail application stretching into outlets like The Works, garden centres, supermarkets and direct sales channels. In this context licensing brings credibility and instant recognition on shelf. Igloo Books have created a range which is bright, bold and makes good use of their chosen licences. It would be difficult to miss these books in retail – providing they get on shelf.

Talking of getting your products into retail, I attended BLE’s Licensing for Retail day last week. I thought the event was well managed and the day was curated in a focused way. I think any event that brings agents, rights owners, licensees and retail buyers together is to be applauded. It is a great way of breaking down barriers and ‘demystifying’ things on both sides. There were lots of good insights provided and on a personal note I found it a useful way of refreshing my thinking. It is easy to work in a bubble and events are helpful in breaking out of a working routine.

One takeaway I will share is that more than one buyer mentioned to me how important data is to them when making buying decisions. As an industry I think we need to more mindful of this and take a responsible approach to ‘selling in’. Hopefully we can build an ongoing dialogue with buyers as they develop their careers and they grow to trust the licensing industry recognising that licensing can help them achieve their targets and help them develop products that their customers engage with.

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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