Trends in licensed publishing are similar in the U.K. and the U.S. in many ways. “The market has changed with the recession,” explained David Riley, managing director of Egmont U.K. “Retailers are more conservative, smaller amounts of money are changing hands in the acquisition of licenses, and there are probably fewer licenses available.”
These challenges can have a greater impact in the U.K. than in the U.S. “The market is smaller, so any changes affect us more,” said Eric Huang, development director at Made in Me, a U.K.-based digital developer that distributes e-book apps, including licensed titles tied to properties such as Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola. “There’s probably less variety in licensing in the U.K., due to its smaller size and the fact that there’s not as much differentiation between retail channels. Tesco and Waterstones carry the same books, and Moshi Monsters and Peppa Pig are dominant everywhere. In the U.S., Disney books dominate en masse, and bookshops have other properties. There are more niches.” Huang noted that the appetite for TV tie-ins is much bigger in the U.S. “The licenses that work in publishing in the U.K. are a bit more traditional in terms of their feel and storytelling,” he said.
One area in which U.K. publishers have been more active, in general, than their U.S. counterparts is digital-origin properties, such as mobile apps and virtual worlds. Penguin U.K. publishes titles tied to Disney Infinity, Skylanders, Club Penguin, and Angry Birds, for example, while Egmont holds rights for Minecraft, Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, MovieStarPlanet, Miniclip, and, most recently, My Singing Monsters.
“In the last few years there’s been a real shift in the sources of IP [intellectual property] coming into the marketplace in the U.K.,” said Riley, who will continue to work on U.K. and international licensing projects as he transitions to a consultant role with the company, which is combining its licensing and fiction operations as part of a reorganization announced November 20. Three to five years ago, book, movie, and TV properties dominated, but digital brands have been on the rise since 2011, he said.
Sales of titles licensed from digital properties show an ongoing demand for physical books. “The fans in the online universe want books, they want products, they want the physical manifestation of what they love online,” Riley explained. “With online IP, you have a group of consumers, millions strong, who talk to each other and communicate with the IP owner. You can point them to new products and they instantly want those products.”
The rise of digital-origin properties in the U.K. has helped mitigate another trend—namely the decline of movie licensing. “Movie tie-ins have really fallen,” said Huang. “They used to [bring in] £1 million, guaranteed, and that’s not the case at all now.”
As is the case in the U.S., U.K. publishing houses are increasingly active in taking their intellectual property and extending it into entertainment and consumer products. For example, Walker Entertainment (known as Candlewick Entertainment in the U.S.) is a group-wide media tie-in imprint of Walker Books that is launching globally with the spring 2014 list. It reports to the new global Rights and Development division, which is home to the company's media content development arm, Walker Productions. Tilly and Friends is Walker’s first television launch, supported by apparel, toys, greeting cards, and apps, as well as a series of six books. “This is the first brand of ours that is hitting every note,” said Julia Posen, executive v-p and commercial director, group rights and development.
Walker is also licensing Guess How Much I Love You?, Maisy, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and recently started a line of pajama-and-book sets tied to sleep-themed titles, starting with Polly’s Pink Pyjamas, Good Night Harry, and Guess How Much I Love You? The program is exclusive to BHS and was initiated by the retailer. “We’re building enough of a reputation that retailers are starting to come to us,” noted Anna Hewitt, head of licensing at Walker.
Similarly, Random House Enterprises was set up about a year ago to seek multiplatform opportunities, including television, licensing, gaming, and live events, for its book properties. Its first TV production is Wanda and the Alien, which has been sold to Channel 5 in the U.K. and to Nickelodeon in 70 other territories (excluding the U.S.). The third book in the underlying publishing series is coming out in January, and TV tie-ins will follow after the show is on the air, according to Jo Edwards, head of licensing and brand development.
Other Random House properties newly available for licensing include Alfie by Shirley Hughes, Swallows and Amazons, Princess Poppy, and Fairies of Blossom Bakery.
Penguin U.K. also licenses its properties for merchandise, and, like Random House, took a booth at the Brand Licensing Europe show in London for the first time this October.
Susan Bolsover, Penguin U.K.’s head of licensing and consumer products, explained that while the company’s inbound licensing efforts focus on hot new properties, “we’re more about our heritage brands.” One key initiative is Ladybird Books, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015. Ladybird is well known in the U.K. for its minihardbacks, which were discontinued in the 1970s but still spur fond memories and are of interest to collectors, Bolsover said. Penguin is also touting new artwork for its Flower Fairies series, which has been modernized as a fashion program for kids, teens, and adults.
The inbound and outbound licensing teams at publishing houses in the U.K. and stateside are increasingly working together to acquire licenses for global publishing programs and to see which of their respective properties would work on merchandise in both territories.
“We collaborate constantly,” said Lori Burke, Penguin’s North American director of licensing and consumer products. Speaking of herself and counterpart Richard Haines in the U.K. (along with Troy Lewis in Australia), she said that “we collectively look at what licenses are coming up and review them to see if they would work on a global level.” The company officially debuted its multi-territory consumer products and licensing structure in June 2012, but has been acquiring licenses across all markets for the past three years.
In some cases, the three regions work together to acquire a property for all markets, as was the case with Activision’s Skylanders. “We saw it at the [Las Vegas] Licensing Show two years ago and thought it would work in all territories, and that it filled needs in all of our portfolios,” Burke said. “It’s been very successful, from mass market to trade bookstores, in every market.”
In other instances, one of Penguin’s territories will take the lead, as happened with Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, The Regular Show, and The Amazing World of Gumball, for which the U.S. spearheaded publishing. “As Cartoon Network builds a worldwide following, we can facilitate introductions with our counterparts so they can start conversations in their regions,” said Burke. Penguin U.K. will roll out Cartoon Network books in the spring. Penguin’s U.K. and U.S. arms also team up on some outbound licensing. “We work closely if we have brands we do share,” said Bolsover, citing Flower Fairies as an example.
Meanwhile, Walker Books Group’s new licensing and TV development structure is set up to operate worldwide. “We have a global vision and are building a closer relationship [between Walker and Candlewick],” said Helen McAleer, chief global development officer. “We have lots of very exciting plans coming.”
Random House’s U.K. and U.S. inbound and outbound licensing efforts are handled separately, and remain distinct from those of new sister company Penguin. “We are talking with [Random House U.S.] as to how we can collaborate more going forward,” said Edwards.
In addition to developing an increasing number of global licensing programs for internal properties and acquiring licenses for publishing programs in multiple markets, publishers in the U.S. and U.K. plan to maintain open lines of communication when it comes to licensing. As Burke pointed out, “Our colleagues have different ideas and takes based on their markets, and that’s really useful for us.”