Licensed publishing: the road ahead!


Imagine a four-year-old child browsing through children’s books in a bookstore. What probably catches his/her attention is a book with his/her favourite character like Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Ben 10, Superman, Dory, etc. That’s the power of the licensed product! Publishers have seen a huge opportunity in this segment and have been really innovative and creative to bring books and other related products featuring these characters. So, how big is this segment and what are the trends within, finds out Varsha Verma.

What is licensing? Licensing is a way to allow others to use an owner’s (licensor) property in their products, while the licensor keeps control of the copyright. A licence is a legal agreement, which allows the licensor of the property to grant the right to use the property on specific products, usually in a defined territory over a defined period of time.

“In licensed publishing, publishers take rights of characters like Disney, Marvel, etc. We have licenses for characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Frozen, Sofia, Cars, Princess, Spiderman, Avengers, Batman, Scooby-Doo, Barbie, Tom & Jerry, Ben 10, Superman, Baby Looney Tunes, Looney Tunes, Hot Wheels, Max Steel and Smurfs. We have been into licensed publishing for the last 10 years, but all these licenses are not for books, but they are used for toys,” explained SK Ghai of Sterling Publishers. “It is a craze for children and publishers offer these products to cater to them.”

Market statistics…

Though it is very difficult to estimate the size and expanse of the market for licensed books in India, due to lack of statistical data, we thought it best to talk to the publishers of licensed books and here’s what they say. “The print market for licensed products would be in the vicinity of Rs 100-200 crore, which is growing at a rate of 15-20%, depending on the character and the licensed product,” shared Sanjiv Beckaya, CEO, Parragon Publishing, which is one of the leading licensed publishers in the world, representing brands such as Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, etc. In India, they started with Disney 10 years back, followed by Barbie and Nickelodeon. More recently, they have come up with Dory books.

While, Neeraj Jain, managing director, Scholastic India, said, “While I can’t comment on the size or rate of its growth, the licensed publishing market in India has been growing steadily. Movies have and continue to be largely based on books. The trend in the past 5-7 years has seen many books being made based on movies. So in that sense there’s an abundance of licensed products.” Scholastic offers a huge range of licensed product. “We have a global partnership with LEGO for books. We also hold the license for Star Wars and Marvel, which are both Disney properties. These are arguably the biggest brands out there when we look from a pop-culture and media consumption perspective,” added Shantanu Duttagupta, marketing head, Scholastic India.

“For Dorling Kindersley Global, the licensing brands and products are massive. The DK Licensing list is made up of an extensive range of internationally recognized and best-selling titles for children and adults, based on films, comics, toys, TV and other popular culture tie-ins. We pride ourselves on creating books that offer comprehensive information presented in highly visual, beautifully designed formats, and we work with leading licensors such as Lucasfilm, LEGO, Marvel Comics, Disney and Warner Bros,” said Aparna Sharma, managing director, Dorling Kindersley India. More recently, DK’s Autumn 2015 Star Wars publications Star Wars The Force Awakens books and Star Wars Absolutely Everything You Need to Know have been shortlisted in the Best Licensed Written, Listening or Learning Range category of the Licensing Awards 2016. While, LEGO Awesome Ideas has been selected for the 2016 ILA (International Literacy Association)-CBC (Children’s. Book Council) Children’s Choices Reading List. They have also come up with some beautiful Finding Dory books.

“Though the licensed products are very popular in US, UK and Europe, it is a definite growth area in India. For DK, traditionally, it was not a big focus area for us, as we were more focused on family learning and references, but we see a real shift now. Even with licensed products, we have come up with books with family learning and values, coupled with the entertainment factor. Since we started participating in Comicon, our books have become quite popular with the masses,” she added.

On Indian licenses…

Though most of the publishers are offering foreign licensed products, they are now looking at Indian licenses as well. DK India has tied-up with Green Gold Animation, an animated content provider and creators of the popular cartoon character Chhota Bheem, to launch a bouquet of print and digital products for children in India. “DK is recognized all over the world for its high quality learning books for children, and we are thrilled to be collaborating with Green Gold Animation to introduce a range of fun yet educational books in DK’s iconic style, specially for the Indian child,” added Aparna. “We would like to explore more and might pick up a few more properties.”

While, Sterling Publishers offers Pepper, their indigenously designed character. “This is very popular and we have given rights to countries like France, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Papua Guinea, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore,” said Ghai.

Before roping in a particular character…

Licenced titles from Scholastic India“The obvious factors while selecting a property are TRPs, product portfolio across categories, and merchandise, if any. These factors help in mapping the strength of the character. Of course, probably the most important thing to keep in mind is the life of the brand/property. Whether it would be sustainable in the long-term is major aspect of creating a publishing program around the said property/character,” said Shantanu.

Similar views were shared by Sanjiv, who added, “Some of the licenses we have, have been there for a very long time, like Disney, Mattel (Barbie, etc). When we select a new license, we see if there are any movies, if it is on the TV channel then on which channel and the consumer products available. That’s the way we would like to work for new license.”

While, Aparna added, “We look at something that has not just a mass appeal but also right value. For example, when we picked up Chhota Bheem, we looked at his personality which has an element of naughtiness and rebellion but has a good character. The character is very influencing for that age group. So, in our series on Chhota Bheem, there is learning and value, besides entertainment of course. These books encourage reading and enhance general knowledge. This was quite different from what we were offering, but this was something which has helped us penetrate further in the Indian market, way beyond the niche market DK currently enjoys. Our workbooks in this series are very popular. They are international quality workbooks at competitive prices. We are going in for a reprint for the first set in Maths and English. We also brought out a journal, which is at a higher price point and is taking little longer to establish itself. Looking ahead, we are planning four story books for Chhota Bheem by the end of this year. And by next year, we plan to come up with a Character Encyclopaedia as well. We have rights to sell these products in the Indian sub-continent initially but we might look at other regions also. We are also in talks to create digital workbooks as well.”

For Ghai, sale is the hardcore criteria for selecting a particular character as royalty depends on that. “Characters like Disney sell more as the reach is more,” he added.

Books and beyond…

Licenced titles from Sterling PublishersWhen it comes to licensed products, publishers do not just offer story books, they go for more. Parragon offers book plus items like stickers, add-ons to the main products, activity books, etc. “Infact, 60% of our licensed products is colour sticker activity books,” shared Sanjiv. “The idea is to add an impulse factor for the parent and the child, so that it is visually appealing for them to pick it up. For Disney alone, we come up with 200 new products in a year. At any point of time, we have an active list of 500-600 titles for Disney alone.”

DK offers encyclopaedias, story books, series of readers, activity books, sticker books, etc. The prices range from Rs 500 to Rs 899. “Since parents are the buyers of these books for children, they wish to have some value to the book. So, we offer different products to cater to them,” added Aparna.

Sterling Publishers offers white board books, wipe and clean books, colouring books, activity books, story books, fun packs, workbooks, My Carry Along Books, sticker books, copy colouring books, paint books, activity books, story books, jigsaw puzzle books, board games etc. “We have 100+ titles in books and 50-60 in toys in this category,” added Ghai.

On bestsellers…

“In India, Marvel is most popular, with Batman and Avengers also topping the list,” said Aparna. “We do Character Encyclopaedias with LEGO, which are again very popular.” While, Sanjiv said, “Some of our bestsellers include Book of Secrets, Stories & Treasures, Magical Story, and library copies of Dory.”

Children and young adults: both love licensed products

So, do licensed products work only with children or with young adults as well? “It most definitely does. I mean, look at some of the major properties out there: DC, Marvel, Disney, Barbie, LEGO, Star Wars. They’re all strong brands that target the children and YA segment,” told Neeraj.

Similar views were shared by Aparna, who said that series like Star Wars is a big hit with young adults. In fact, DK has some amazing licensed books for adults as well, which include the world famous James Bond books.

On print runs…

“Parragon International does 200,000-300,000 copies for each titles, for all offices across. We are sensitive to editorial and production. We choose UK English language for India,” said Sanjiv.

While, Ghai shared that they print approximately 3000-4000 copies initially, which might go higher for certain titles. “For some classic games, the print runs are upto 20,000 copies. The price of our books range from Rs 35 to Rs 1999,” he added.

Distribution channels…

Talking about the distribution set-up, Sanjiv shared that they have multiple distribution channels like trade channel, modern retail, distributors and co-editions with key distributors where they sell bulk quantities. “We are very active on social media and do cross-promotion and other activities. Our books are also available on online platforms like Amazon and Flipkart,” said Pooja Kapoor, assistant manager marketing, Parragon Publishing India.

While, Aparna shares that they use the Penguin Random House distribution network for their products, which in itself is quite huge.

“We have our own sales team and we also sell through online and retail channels. We have our own manufacturing unit as well,” said Tarun Monga, head-sales & marketing, Sterling Publishers.

Business quantum…

On asking about the percentage of the total business of licensed books vs. other products of the publication house, Sanjiv replied that it would be to the tune of 35-40% and they are offering these books for the Indian sub-continent and few licenses in Middle East and North Africa.

Sterling Publishers offers their licensed products in not just India, but certain licensed products are sold in Sri Lanka, Middle East and Africa. “We also do worldwide exports for such products,” added Ghai. “Our licensed products would account for 50% of our total business,” he said.

While, Aparna shared, “In 2015, Licensing accounted for 22% of DK’s global frontlist.”

Print or digital: the verdict is clear

“In our experience of selling licensed products over the past 15 years, we’ve seen that print tends to rule the roost when it comes to TV and movie characters,” told Neeraj.

Similar views were shared by Sanjiv who said that ebooks are not value for money, so print rules in such products.

But, Aparna hopes that digital might work on licensed content also as there is an element of attraction with those characters or properties that children enjoy through games and social media. “But, print works much better for the kind of content we offer. Nevertheless, enhanced epubs of Marvel and LEGO work good,” she says.

But, publishers are working towards e-versions as well.” We are developing the e-version for our indigenous character Pepper,” said Ghai.

On a concluding note…

Aparna shared, “There is definitely a market for licensed products and DK harnesses it very well with learning material for children.”

“I hope everybody like our books and keeps on buying,” told Sanjiv. “Things are dynamic; one has to adapt and look at innovation in production, which is a key to marketing. The touch, feel and smell of the book are important,” concluded Sanjiv.

With so much happening in this industry and with new properties coming out every now and then, this segment in sure to grab eyeballs and come up with really interesting, creative and innovative products.

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