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World Book Day and high profile anniversaries… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at how World Book Day has had an impact on the wider licensing business this week.

Judging by the posts on my social media accounts World Book Day seems to be ever popular. I have seen lots of charming photos of children dressed up as their favourite book character.

World Book Day activity obviously filters through to retail, and I have seen the World Book Day FSDUs in lots of retailers filled with this year’s range of £1 books. Retailers which have the branded FSDUS include Asda, Blackwell’s, The Works, Waterstones, WH Smith, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco. The books in the £1 range are a blend of titles across ages and formats to ensure the books hold wide appeal and inclusive.

LL4Well-known authors and illustrators such as Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart feature with their You Choose Your Adventure book, while there is a Spider-Man title with The Amazing Pocket Guide in the mix. There is also a place for ‘celebrity authors’ reflecting the trend for publishers to work with celebrities to develop children’s books. Joe Wicks and Lenny Henry both have titles in the collection.

It was good to see the FSDUs prominently displayed at retail and also good to see them being shopped – on more than one occasion I saw books being bought and the ‘free book tokens’ being used. Given the focus on giving the opportunity for children to buy a book, own a book and read it was good to see this happening. World Book Day is, of course, a useful retail driver across the retail estate, but my sense is that it is very welcomed by independent retailers as it provides them a focused way of engaging with their local community. It is, of course, an event that is also useful for authors and illustrators generally as it shines a light on children’s books.

It has also had a knock on benefit to the wider licensing industry and in particular categories like dress-up. Children are encouraged to go to school as their favourite book characters. Naturally some parents opt to create their own costumes for their children, while others like the convenience of buying a ready to wear costume off the peg. Retailers have embraced this opportunity well.

LL1I saw a very well sign posted and presented display of costumes in Sainsbury’s all sitting under a World Book Day banner. Featured characters and costumes included Peter Rabbit, Horrid Henry, Dr Seuss and a whole range of superhero characters including Spider-Man (a nice fit with the £1 book). I was also pleased to see and encouraged that Sainsbury’s had a poster stating ‘Don’t Forget Your Books’. A good reminder that books and reading are at the heart of World Book Day.

The day is clearly a great opportunity for dress-up, apparel and accessories licensees. It is good to see how they have been able to leverage the opportunity, but I think it is also important that the core World Book Day purpose isn’t forgotten.

LL5Events are definitely a feature of licensing these days and, as well as World Book Day, I have seen a lot of retail activity around Easter and Mother’s Day recently. Sainsbury’s has an Easter card FSDU which included Peter Rabbit.

Peter Rabbit is a natural fit for Easter and I noticed that Sainsbury’s is also stocking Cadbury Dairy Milk Easter Eggs featuring Peter Rabbit including a format that has a plush Peter Rabbit toy with it. This seems to be a partnership that is thriving as it has been running for a few years now.

It is also interesting to see how licensing is embracing anniversary events.


This week I noticed that the Royal Mint had issued a £2 coin featuring the legendary locomotive The Flying Scotsman which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The Royal Mint has developed a design that features colour on this coin which is relatively unusual for a £2 coin. The design is really effective and the coin is a fitting tribute to the Flying Scotsman.

Organisations like the Royal Mint and the Royal Mail are really effective at nurturing anniversaries and using them as a way of engaging with consumers. These kind of releases also attract wide PR and publicity which helps promote the idea of buying collectables like coins and stamps to the general public.

This week The Royal Mail announced a 12 stamp collection to celebrate the Flying Scotsman’s anniversary as well. This will go on sale from 9 March. The collection will be the final one to feature the late Queen’s silhouette. These collections are also picked up by specialist mail order companies, giving the Royal Mail and the Royal Mint to a broad range of direct marketing platforms.

LL22023 is also the 100th anniversary of artist and illustrator Norman Thelwell’s birth. Well known for his illustrations of ponies and country scenes Thelwell worked closely over his career with the likes of Punch magazine. Thelwell and his illustrious career are being celebrated by the National Trust in an exhibition at Mottisfont.

‘100 Years of Thelwell’ uses Thelwell’s autobiography, Wrestling with a Pencil, as the backdrop for the exhibition. It provides a wonderful insight into Thelwell and his work. Features include the desk he worked at and also some of his watercolours of the countryside near to Mottisfont. Thelwell lived near Mottisfont in Hampshire hence the location of the exhibition. This is a really good example of a rights owner working collaboratively with an organisation like the National Trust to create and curate an exhibition that is relevant to a specific location. It has generated significant publicity regionally and really engages well with the local community.

It also creates a worthwhile platform for the wider licensing programme, plus offers a retail outlet for licensed products. The Mottisfont shop was well stocked with Thelwell merchandise including prints and greetings cards. There were really good displays of products and it is a reminder that events can create momentum for merchandise sales. It is great to see a talent like Thelwell being celebrated in this way.

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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