Yup, that’s right, Mr. Lysol strolled the Javits Center June 21-23, one of several seemingly incomprehensible brands (think RotoRooter) that are — or hope to be — turned into licenses.
Welcome to the 25th Annual Licensing Show, where 20,000 attendees gazed at the wares of 525 exhibitors, showcasing 5,700 properties — essentially on par with last year. In fact, comparisons with previous years were hard not to make, especially as retro-mania blanketed the halls (and in some places, literally carpeted the floors). The NYT termed it “throwback marketing” in their coverage of the show. Indeed, everyone from Mr. Magoo to dead singers were on display everywhere — hey Janis! Jimi! Elvis! Liberace!
At Disney’s big Consumer Products pitch, even Chairman Andy Mooney remarked on the Beatles’ soundtrack that greeted the two hundred invited guests. Speaking of retro, one of Disney’s biggest movies is CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, the boxed set of which HarperCollins has been selling in the trade paperback edition, with the tie-in coming in November to coincide with the December 9 premiere. Actually, books were definitely on Mooney’s agenda, as Gayle Carson Levine‘s book FAIRY DUST AND THE QUEST FOR THE EGG (a riveting story about Tinker Bell) has sold more than a million copies in 41 countries, before its US publication in September.
But books were in scant supply elsewhere in Javits — what a difference three weeks can make! Scholastic Point was there and actually had a small contest for its Philip Pullman books, and the Dutch were making a big deal out of Miffy‘s 50th birthday (Big Tent is her US publisher), while Thomas the Tank Engine celebrated his 60th. Wiley had a small Dummies booth as usual, and a bunch of cows reminded fairgoers of the glories of the Cow Parade (which books Workman publishes). The only other “books” that were prominent were endless magazines about branding, promotions, and of course licensing. Even Ira Mayer, publisher of the venerable newsletter, The Licensing Letter, had a hard time keeping them straight. But he shared with PT his take on this year’s show: “slow and steady.”
“Classics and evergreens,” he said, pointing across the aisle to two icons, Baby Gund and The Saturday Evening Post. He suggested that the result of this move away from the short-lived hit-driven products has been an increase in the general professionalism of the business, perhaps at the expense of the old-style razzle dazzle.
Still two big themes emerged from the dusting of nostalgia. One was kids’ everything — Nickelodeon, Ragdoll (with a curiously bland booth with barely a Teletubby or Boohbah in sight), ToddWorld (books published by Little, Brown), Barbie (paired with the retailer Benetton) — the list goes on and on; and Asian-created and inspired products. Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong and Taiwan each had “Development” areas, and Asian businessmen would pose in front of them, snapping digital cameras. The Japanese booth has a depressing chart which showed book sales plummeting over 10 years, from 1 trillion yen, to .91 trillion in 2003, and magazines downshifting from 1.49 trillion to 1.32 trillion. Animation in movies and on TV, meanwhile, had the reverse trend, and now tops 2.135 trillion yen. And then there were the myriad manga publishers like Tokyopop and Viz, publishers, licensors and licensees of books, videos, and games (the total manga market is estimated at $5.2 billion). You know you’ve arrived when — as Tokyopop does on their site — you offer CliffsNotes-style anime guides and newsletters for librarians.