Licensing deals have always been popular with publishers. As Publishing Technology COO Randy Petway astutely pointed out in his recent Publishing Perspectives article, “When sales are not something that can be planned for or predicted, publishers rely heavily on brand awareness through licensing deals, both to sell books and open new markets for intellectual property.” Since the digital revolution, start-ups have taken to buying up licensed properties to give them a jump-start in the market – to such a degree that some people are wondering if a start-up needs licensed content in order to succeed.
It’s not shocking to hear that licensed products are dominating the children’s market, but the actual numbers and statistics are surprising. The 2014 Nielsen Children’s Book Industry Report noted that “the largest brands tend[ed] to center around a specific author, especially those with movies attached to their properties.” Of the top 20 titles sold from the third quarter of 2013 through the fourth quarter of 2014, 18 of them were attached to a movie, video game, or personality. The other two titles, If I Stay and Paper Towns, have since been made into movies.
More recently, Publishers Weekly reported that “global retail sales of licensed products saw a rise of 2% in 2015, to $158.8 billion.” Nielsen’s 2015 Book Market Report stated that 17 of the top 20 children’s bestsellers had some attachment to a movie, video game, or radio personality. The three exceptions were two Dr. Seuss titles and the board book Little Blue Truck.
It’s long been understood that blockbuster books can turn into movies. The obverse is also the case, with movies, games, and personalities becoming books. This trend accounts for almost half of the top 20 bestseller lists in Nielsen’s 2014 and 2015 reports. This is especially evident with the sale of Frozen titles in 2015: the top 50 tie-ins in 2015 sold a total of 4,733,677 copies and of those top 50, 73% were Frozen titles. The next highest percentage were titles related to the Disney animated show Sofia the First at 3%. Numbers aren’t available for Star Wars licensed materials since the release of Force Awakens, but it seems likely that those numbers will displace Frozen as the highest percentage in 2016.
Almost 85% of the top 50 media-tie ins sold in 2015 were books published by one of the Big 5. That doesn’t mean that smaller publishers and startups aren’t finding their own space in the licensing market too. As Edda USA (a branch of a Nordic publishing company launched in the US in 2014) CEO Jax Olafsson put it, “The market is screaming for coordinated efforts in marketing and selling books supported by movie or brand,” which means there’s plenty of room for many publishers to take advantage.