This year's edition of Licensing Expo International attracted fewer exhibitors and fewer attendees than in past years—many publishers brought smaller teams than usual—due to a combination of the poor economy, a tough licensing landscape and the show's move to Las Vegas from its longtime New York home. But most attendees and exhibitors said they were happy with the level of business and the quality of contacts, especially given low expectations.
There was no blockbuster announcement coming out of the show. Reflecting the nature of licensing these days, most of the highlighted properties and deals were extensions of existing programs rather than new initiatives. Retailers and licensees are leery of risk taking, preferring the tried and true. Given the environment, book properties—whether as the basis of entertainment such as films or television series, or on their own—tend to be attractive. While they often do not have the same kind of marketing behind them that a wide-release film or popular TV series would have, they do boast a built-in fan base and a track record of success.
“They engage the consumer for so much longer,” said Marsha Armitage-Bristow, executive v-p, licensing, at Dimensional Branding, an agency that represents book properties from Quirk and Chronicle. “But the difference is in the marketing. It's really about educating the retailers at this point. It's a tough world out there. Everybody's risk averse.”
Several agencies launched licensing efforts tied to book properties for adults. Dimensional is licensing Seth Grahame Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk); Suppertime Entertainment is representing Marci Shimoff's Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out (Free Press); and 360ep is pitching author and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow for health and wellness products and services.
With the licensing and publishing businesses alike going through difficult times, both are looking for new ways to integrate licensed properties into innovative formats to attract attention and spur sales. For example, CBS Consumer Products' publishing consultant Risa Kessler reports that CBS has authorized U.K.-based technical publisher Haines for a book of detailed schematic diagrams for Star Trek, Quirk for an interactive mystery based on CSI and Wiley for a nonfiction title tied to Criminal Minds that examines the process of a profiler, using real-life case studies.
Both publishers and licensors also are looking for new distribution channels, and sometimes a licensing alliance can open doors. Wiley's extensive For Dummies licensing program recently signed Karadeci Group as its licensee for a Wine Selections kiosk program that recommends wines from various vineyards and is supported by signage, tips and other For Dummies content. The kiosks will offer the opportunity to bring Dummies books and other products into specialty grocery channels.
As expected, interactive properties and the integration of interactive elements into licensing programs were a prominent theme at the show. The Joester-Loria Group, licensing agency for Discovery Networks, is pitching to publishers a 25th anniversary coffee-table photo book with archival and new photos; Discovery photographers supplying new images for the book will blog about their expeditions in the months leading up to publication. The agency and cable network also are looking at online and print-on-demand formats for a series of travel guides being developed tied to the new Discovery Adventures travel tour business.
Disney's Fairies franchise, which has its roots in publishing (with Random House and Disney), generates over $2 billion in global annual retail sales of consumer products after just two years, said Jessi Dunne, Disney's executive v-p, global consumer products. “It may be the tiniest in stature, but it is on its way to becoming our fastest-growing business in 2009,” Dunne said.