With a reported £1 – 1.5 million spent on the launch of each collection, it hardly comes as a surprise to find the partworks industry keeps its cards very close to its chest.
Despite a reluctance to divulge much information about the industry, we managed to talk to both partwork publisher, DeAgostini and packager of content, John Brown Media, about the current trends in the industry, challenges it is facing, how they keep things fresh and successful and what’s next.
Partworks appear to be continuing in their success. In fact one publisher estimated the global partworks market at €1.15 billion in 2009.
Unfortunately the publications don’t tend to have official circulation figures, but as an idea of their popularity, when the Gogo’s Crazy Bones partwork launched in December 2009, Eaglemoss publishing expected a massive circulation of over 500,000.
Alex Neal, UK sales and marketing manager for Eaglemoss, said of the launch: “We are… confident of a massive sale having seen the buzz and hype around the Gogo’s brand. To date, Gogo’s have sold over 35m units so there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the success will be transferred to partworks.”
Strong licences are key for the success of children’s partworks, it would seem. A point that is echoed by Sara Lynn, creative director at John Brown Media.
She says: “Partworks in the kids arena are predominantly licence-led, so they have a ready made market with an established fan base who are keen to collect anything associated with their favourite character, show or brand.
“The perceived value of the collectable item goes a long way towards ensuring loyalty – i.e to complete the set.”
Isabelle Giggins, global rights and licensing director at DeAgostini, confirms the industry is still going strong: “We have had many successes in 2009 from local and global products. In the UK, Peppa Pig performed particularly well and we are now working closely with E1 for the best timing for the international roll-out of the collection.
“At an international level, So Hannah Montana and Star Wars Vehicle Collection performed well across many markets. Over the last five years, our most successful licensed partwork has been Harry Potter Chess, which has been launched in 27 territories and sold over 23 million copies.”
This international success seems to be the avenue that most publishers are focusing their attention on. Having conquered the majority of its audiences and established a strong marketing strategy, Eaglemoss is also now looking further afield.
The firm is expanding its operations into many new markets from Russia to Japan. Its Eastern European office is based in Warsaw and there is also an office in Paris. Most other language versions are managed from the UK office, from Russian, Finnish, German and Hungarian, to Italian, Spanish and Greek.
Eaglemoss publishes in around 17 territories and is hoping to further expand. The firm hopes that this will help it to overcome the economic crisis and also plans to look into new routes to market to keep it in a strong position during the recession. Aside from the obvious collectable value of the partworks, it is important to get the content right in order to both engage and sustain the audience.
Lynn explains how John Brown keeps kids interested in the series: “[By] offering them information that they might not find elsewhere about the licence but also a mix of editorial – fun, on the page activities, larger projects which take you off the page, practical activities such as crafts and cooking, puzzles and educational information presented in an accessible way – all delivered via the licence they are already fans of.”
Research with target groups is also key in planning a publication. Giggins explains: “In terms of product development, we invest on market research and work very closely with the licensor. We will, for example, shortly carry out various focus groups in Romania, Russia, France, UK and Greece on Scooby Doo to identify, in collaboration with WBCP, the best partwork collection.”
Once the content and possible gifts/collectables have been decided on, the publisher needs again to work alongside the licensor on the timing of the launch.
Giggins continues: “Partwork development is a lengthy and slow process which needs careful planning to provide the best product proposition at the right time. In terms of timing, every licence will therefore be managed differently.
“In the case of Peppa Pig, we started with the UK and will wait until other territories are ready to proceed starting with Poland. For Hannah Montana, where we knew the window would be relatively short, we launched the product in ten territories in less than a year.”
In a digital age, most traditional publishing sectors are having to adapt their product to remain desirable.
Partworks are no exception, as Lynn explains: “What we will see now is partwork developers incorporating digital content as part of the partwork offering, channelling their investment (whether in the printed product or the collectable) into a website offering that evolves and updates content regularly – extending the opportunity to learn and interact with the brand.”
DeAgostini has already begun to do this and is working on evolving its marketing campaign from the traditional TV advertising route to a more modern plan.
Giggins explains: “We are continuously reviewing the way we market our collections for the critical launch period. The focus over the last six months has been on redefining media campaigns, focusing on digital application and opening new channels of distribution.
“On the media side, we appointed CARAT as our media partner in Europe. On the digital side, we are building strong communities online as an integral part of our product proposition and will soon provide digital content to complement our products.”
So despite a changing environment, it seems that as long as there a strong licensed brands and publishers who are willing to evolve, the partwork industry will continue to grow.
What remains to be seen though, is whether its reputation as a niche product for an unfashionable audience will ever catch up with its actual status as a growing, modern, successful industry.