Publisher Francesca Ash of Total Art Licensing magazine moderated the "Trends in the Art Licensing Business" seminar at Surtex 2011. The panel included Susan January (VP Product Management, Leanin' Tree), Mary Beth Freet (Creative Director, Pink Light Designs), Gus Walbot (Co-owner, Mosaic Licensing), and Francesca Ash. Francesca has graciously agreed to share her thought provoking introductory speech made at the seminar about the inherent complexity in predicting licensing trends. Francesca resides in the U.K., has been involved in licensing since 1978, was an officer of LIMA (Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association) for two years, and presently the publisher of the Total Art Licensing magazine plus other Total Licensing publications.
Predicting Trends in the Licensing Business
by Francesca Ash, publisher of Total Art Licensing
Predicting trends in any business isn't particularly easy. If it was easy, let's face it, we'd all be billionaires! But in the licensing business, somehow, it seems even more difficult. Because the industry covers such a wide spread of product lines, there is so much affects trends in the business. The crossover from art and design to entertainment, fashion and even technology is significant and all this gets put into the trend 'melting pot' from which we make, in theory, rational, measured and sensible decisions. The purpose of this is to set the scene on the business of licensing trends and give you a few personal thoughts on the whole area.
First of all, in my mind, whilst you can be fortunate enough to predict accurately what's coming next, bear in mind that there are always exceptions to the rule! We publish not only Total Art Licensing but also a weekly online newsletter and a mainstream licensing magazine, Total Licensing, which covers the high-profile entertainment and brand industries amongst others. Our readers come from more than 100 countries and so does our editorial input which makes it easy to see how a trend in one territory may absolutely not be a trend in another.
I'll give you an example. Last year, I traveled to two trade fairs within three days of other other. The first was the Children's Book Fair in Bologna in Italy. The second was a licensing forum in Paris. Geographically, according to Google, there is only 675 miles between them. That's quite a lot less than the distance between New York and Chicago. In reality, though, there might as well have been light years. In Italy, colour was everything and specifically lime green and a rich purple. From clothing, to housewares, bedding and home décor and tableware – purple and green ruled. In Paris, three days later, there was absolutely NO purple and green. A lot of black and white and a lot of red but no purple and green. So you can see, if you are trading within the EU for example, it's impossible to generalize across national borders in terms of trends and styles. What trends in one place may well not trend in another.
Another example, this time from the entertainment industry. A few years ago, a property was launched, to great success in the US which was then taken across the Atlantic, stopping first in the UK. The licensor took it around various of the larger agents who turned it down flat. That property was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why did they turn it down? Apparently, because the UK doesn't have turtles (it has terrapins instead), children wouldn't relate to pizza-eating reptiles with Brooklyn accents and, finally, because green wouldn't sell at retail! As you probably all know, the Turtles became one of the biggest licensing successes in decades, generating literally billions of dollars in revenue.
Hopefully from this you can see and will appreciate that there are always exceptions to the rule. But you need to understand and appreciate the rule to realize these exceptions. In our new issue of Total Art Licensing (Summer / Fall 2011), we have more than 140 companies featured, a large number of whom are here at Surtex. To try to understand if the art display in the magazine would give indications of trends in terms of popular subject areas, I did a brief analysis of the content. The results made interesting reading. There are five key themes that really stand out in the magazine this year. Holidays and Christmas (there are images of more than 25 snowmen and over 30 Santas. Another is animals and birds (from fine art depictions to illustrative. Then comes floral and fruit followed by food and drink – specifically coffee and cupcakes. Last but not least, we have teddy bears. None of these sectors are particularly surprising. But isn't that a trend in itself. In the entertainment industry, classic movies and brands predominate. New movies tend to be sequels or prequels. Retailers continue to veer towards the tried and tested rather than risking something new. The same, in many ways, can be said for art. And the traditional sectors that I mentioned, bear out this trend.
Comment by Joan Beiriger
Francesca's viewpoint and observations are made with many years of licensing experience but as stated in the conference program, trends in both art and business can be perceived differently depending on who you are, your strategies, and your specific objectives. That was very apparent during the session as the panelists answered the questions: Can trends be accurately predicted across different product categories? Where can you get trend information? Who is responsible for trend analysis? Is it the licensor? The licensee? Or the retailer? What is more important - color trend or theme? Is there a shift in emphasis towards 'brands' rather than art on product? How is the changing landscape of retail effecting what works or doesn't on product? Will an expansion of on-line retailing affect art licensing trends? Can one actually design for trends predicted out beyond 12 months? Is there classic 'trends' that do not evolve over time? Crystal ball time - Any predictions for content, theme or color for 2012? Do other variables affect trends? Economy? Consumer psychology? Note: I am sorry but the answers for these questions are beyond the scope of this article so they will not be discussed. :(
What was obvious during the seminar is that trends may not be the same in different industries, regions, and countries. Also the importance in following trends may be important in some industries but not in others. So artists need to know the industry and the particular manufacturer they are submitting art to. For instance, Does the manufacturer use trend forward colors and themes or do they use traditional ones. Otherwise, the artist is wasting her or his time as well as the manufacturer if the art submitted is not what the manufacturer is looking for.
I welcome any suggestions and comments. Please write them in the comment section below.