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Q&A with Eric Huang, IP Acquisitions at Penguin Books

Alex Peake-Tomkinson caught up with Eric Huang: Director, New Business & IP Acquisitions at Penguin Books, to chat ebooks, digital storytellers, and Peppa Pig…

What does your job title mean, and what is an average working day like for you?

My very long title means I look after many of our acquisitions that involve merchandise and TV/film rights. I also look for partnerships with other companies and people to create/launch new intellectual property, which could mean TV or gaming co-productions for example. When I’m in the office, the average day is about sifting through loads of ideas, and meeting new people. I’ll have a chat with anyone really! But I do spend a lot of time out and about, in London and overseas, too.

Are you working on any projects that have evolved in an unusual way?

Every one of the IP projects has come about in a different way, and the business models are so different for each one. I suppose what’s unusual is that the ideas generated – and our partners – are coming from people and companies that aren’t part of the traditional publishing machine. Many have a background in gaming, TV, or art – or all the above! – and don’t know much about publishing, though they all love books and are storytellers at heart.

What brands are you most excited to be working on at the moment?

I’m very excited about Whale Trail, a mobile/tablet game created by London-based digital design studio, ustwo. We’ve partnered with ustwo to create a backstory for the main character in the game, Willow the Whale. It’s a picture book and an enhanced ebook. This is our first ebook-first launch. And we are working with ustwo to build Whale Trail into an entertainment brand.

Has collaborating with other industries been interesting?

It’s been very interesting seeing how writers from sister media industries approach storytelling. Games writers are really skilled at story maps that lay out all the possibilities a player will see or encounter in a game, which is often not linear at all. TV writers are so prolific. Rather than narrow down a big story world into a book or three, they expand ideas into 13 or 52 stories and often write as teams! Obviously, visuals are very important for both game and TV writers, and both think a lot about the balance between what is told via dialog or narration versus shown.

Funnily, digital storytellers all love books and respect physical objects. Whilst we are all scrambling to publish digital stories, all gaming companies want is for their digital character to become a physical toy and a physical storybook.

We look a lot at other entertainment brands and review them as case studies – and we also look at our own history and experiences. I honestly feel there is no formula for success. You can’t guarantee a runaway hit, you can only prevent a hit from happening, if that makes sense?  You just have to be ready to act when signs show that a new story, a new brand is sticking and is about to tip.

Lastly, I have a toddler I need to buy a Christmas present for – any suggestions?

Anything Peppa Pig for younger toddlers – Moshi for older ones! The books are the best, of course.

Further Reading: Find out more about the business of centralised intellectual property in this piece by Helen Bagnall – Ip Ip Hooray.

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