Andersen Press publishes one-off children’s books with strong artwork and original stories, and as such, many of its books do not lend themselves to licensing, as they are not series and are therefore not on TV.
However one of its brands changed all that and propelled the firm into the licensing sphere. Elmer the Patchwork Elephant turned from a one-off book into a series, and the iconic look of the elephant and the variety of other characters and scenery from the Elmer books made it ideal for licensing.
Some licences for the patchwork elephant were sold in the UK by popular demand, and Elmer was then spotted by Petit Jour, Paris and Tuttle Mori, Japan.
Sarah Pakenham, rights director at Andersen explains: “These firms quickly developed or licensed many more items for their markets, and Elmer is now catching on in other countries such as Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Scandinavia, USA.”
Andersen was founded by Klaus Flugge in 1976 and quickly established itself as one of the UK’s foremost independent children’s book publishers. The publisher now has a backlist of 1,500 titles and regularly sells co-editions and rights all around the world.
Pakenham says: “Two of our biggest, recent series have been animated: Little Princess and Frog and Friends distributed by TV Loonland and Telescreen, but in the case of Elmer we have followed the author’s wish and refused all offers of animation so far – that’s why we hold merchandising rights.”
With its focus solely on Elmer, the firm is looking to licence the brand into broader areas in the future. Pakenham continues: “We would love to sell more licences in the UK such as bedding and clothes. For this market, compared to TV characters, Elmer is a gentler character and tends to attract mothers with babies.
“Ceramics and household goods would also be great with Elmer because Elmer is a design led character that appeals to boys and girls, kids and adults, and his patchwork pattern inspired by Paul Klee appeals to art lovers.”
In terms of current licences, the firm is currently working with Rainbow Designs to expand their Elmer range. The plush has sold well and the company has come up with a variety of designs to suit every outlet. Pakenham adds: “Their quality is excellent and they understand Elmer and how to place him in the market.
” Such partnerships appear to be working for Andersen as sales overall for the last 12 months have been slightly down in line with most book publishing businesses, while Elmer licensing and book sales have increased both in the UK and abroad. An impressive result for a children’s property without the support of any TV series.
Pakenham agrees: “It’s hard to compete with TV coverage, but we can compensate with the quality of our artwork and stories. All Elmer books are created by David McKee who usually brings out a new title every year.
"Each book is a unique event and is bought by families, schools and libraries all over the world (in nearly 50 languages in the case of Elmer) who keep the books in their collections for decades.
“Several million copies worldwide that are not throwaway items, and an instantly recognisable and colourful character mean that almost all families know Elmer and like having him around.”
Innovative marketing techniques also make for a strong licensing campaign. For example, 100,000 board books were recently given away free to new mothers as part of the Bookstart project. The firm has also allowed schools to paint their own murals of Elmer and use the character for learning activities (materials licensed via Scholastic).
Pakenham continues: “Our website has an Elmer section with downloadable activities and this year party packs were distributed all round the country so people could hold their own local Elmer parties. There is also a costume that can be hired for events courtesy of Rainbow Productions.”
Outside the world of Elmer, the company has plans to continue to nurture new talent in the publishing sector. Pakenham concludes: “As a publisher, we believe in supporting new and upcoming picture book creators and novelists – and you never know where and when the next successful brand will develop.
“We are proud to be publishing picture books by three first time artists in 2010, and we continue to publish Frog books and Little Princess books both as new originals by Tony Ross and tie-ins based on the TV series.“