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How to make licensing work for you

What makes a book ideal for licensing? Kelvyn Gardner, Managing Director of LIMA UK, the trade association for the licensing and merchandising industry, has this advice.

In my role at LIMA I get to mix with numerous business sectors involved in licensing, but it is publishing that resonates most strongly with licensing professionals. The whole business of ‘rights’ was more-or-less invented by the book industry and a number of licensing agreements remain, based around legal concepts first explored in publishing many decades ago. Furthermore, IP owners from other media such as TV look to license books and magazines as early on as possible, so important is the written word in spreading and cementing awareness among consumers.

Many years ago I worked in book distribution, and have fond memories of representing the Mr Men titles to the UK book trade of the 1980s. The Mr Men have gone on to become a huge licensing hit, both with their original early-readers market among kids, and latterly as part of a ‘nostalgia boom’ gracing the chests of many a teenager, male and female. I also represented The Munch Bunch, which began life as small-format paperbacks in the Mr Men mould and now live on as successful yoghurts, though the books have long gone.

Licensing represents a fantastic opportunity for publishers looking to expand their business. Publishers can exploit licensing from both sides by ‘licensing out’ – opening their own copyright works to third party consumer goods companies; and ‘licensing in’, whereby they acquire licensing rights to publish books (and more) based on IP from TV, film, sports, brands and many other sources. Some large publishers such as Penguin and HarperCollins do both very successfully.

Children’s publishing has traditionally exploited licensing fantastically well from Winnie the Pooh to The Gruffalo, Harry Potter and teen hit Twilight. Adult titles can fare well too as evidenced by the success of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and Wylie’s ‘For Dummies’ series, which spawned numerous consumer product licenses in the USA above all. Here’s one that perhaps will surprise you: Fifty Shades of Grey has licensing agency representation on both side of the Atlantic and the first half-dozen licenses for have been signed already.

So just what makes a desirable copyright? If you are starting with your own published output you need a solid level of sales to prove sufficient consumer awareness to draw interest from manufacturers of other consumer goods. If you have this, then you have a fighting chance of entering the market.

When it comes to ‘licensing in’ Penguin are past-masters amongst publishers and are as up-to-date with licensing trends as any toy company. Their extensive range for Moshi Monsters, for instance, includes smart-phone and tablet apps alongside printed books, and demonstrates how publishers can use their creativity to widen their product range when exploiting licensing. You may not be the size of Penguin, but many more modest TV characters and film franchises would welcome a tight range of books and you may be surprised at the warm welcome you would receive as a publisher from the licensing community.

Publishers keen to find out more about licensing can book a free place at the Licensing Academy

where Kelvyn will be giving a daily morning introduction to licensing. Or you can catch him at
Frankfurt Bookfair
where he will be moderating a licensing forum on 12th October 2012.

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