The intersection of licensing and publishing is important all around the world. Book-based characters, brands, and images extend into licensed products, while, conversely, licensed properties such as TV shows, films, and digital games are featured in books, comics, and e-books.
This connection is particularly strong in Asia. Properties emanating from Western children’s books and Japanese manga are among the top-selling licensed merchandise programs in Japan and the surrounding countries. And Western licensors often use books to help establish their properties in China and elsewhere in Asia.
Licensed properties with roots in literature were clearly prominent at the recent Hong Kong Licensing Show and Asian Licensing Conference, which took place January 6–8. Western properties displayed on the show floor included Miffy, the Little Prince, Moomin, Mr. Men and Little Miss, Gaspard and Lisa, and Thomas the Tank Engine.
As that list suggests, European book characters tend to be strong licenses. “As has been the larger trend for the past 10-plus years, European properties continue to do better [in Japan] than those out of the U.S., due to local preferences,” said David Buckley, president of Copyrights Asia Ltd., which represents several book-based properties, including Paddington Bear and Peter Rabbit, in Japan. “TV-based properties are often seen as being short-term in their appeal, and have a harder time being merchandised than do publishing-based characters,” he added.
Meanwhile, Western properties face significant competition from Asian licenses. Characters with roots in manga and anime—such as Doraemon, One Piece, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Gundam—have long emerged as successful licensed properties in Japan and across the region, for example.
Despite the increasing strength of Asian licenses, however, children’s book characters from the West remain a force. “Foreign characters have been losing ground to Japanese characters in all categories,” Buckley noted. “However, for publishing-based characters, we feel that those from Europe are still holding their own against Japanese book-based characters.”
“When you have a world-renowned publishing property, there is a greater interest in licensing programs and a stronger likelihood for success in launching those licensed products into the marketplace [in Asia],” said Cynthia Money, president and founder of Global Pursuit, a licensing agency that recently began representing Dr. Seuss in the region.
Publishing also plays a key role in helping to launch Western properties in Asia. One area of interest is educational publishing—particularly licensed books that are used to teach the English language. “In Greater China and Japan, where so many are interested in learning to speak English, many times books published in English, as a second-language learning tool, can help drive brand awareness, especially if the brand is seen as a current trend in popular culture,” said Money. “The bilingual titles tend to perform the best for the [Dr. Seuss] brand.”
Hasbro has developed a publishing program in Asia, especially for Transformers and, more recently, My Little Pony, with China and South Korea its primary markets. While storybooks and activity books are Hasbro’s strongest formats, the company is starting to see growth in comic books as well. “As an entertainment company, Hasbro views publishing as one of the key elements of our storytelling strategy, and it is generally one of the first categories we seek to place [in any territory],” said Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s director of global publishing.
Many local Asian properties, including a growing number coming from Greater China, also rely on publishing to become established as licenses. Ali the Fox, a social-media-driven mainland Chinese property, has three illustrated storybooks on the market with a total of two million copies sold, according to creator Figo Yu, CEO of Beijing Dream Castle Culture Co., a speaker at the Asian Licensing Conference. Similarly, the animated TV/film property Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, licensed by Toon Express and Creative Power Entertaining, has been used in a variety of picture books and story books.
Buckley points out that book sales have been weak worldwide, and Asia is no exception, as print competes with digital content. “Children’s books [in Japan] are suffering as well, but seem to be a little more stable than other publishing categories [there],” he said. “For properties aiming at a long life cycle, we still see publishing as a very key element to any [licensing] program.”