THE BIG INTERVIEW: Eric Huang, Category Publisher Brands & Licensing, Penguin

We talk building market share and why digital is key to the future.
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“We’re spending a lot of time fine tuning our licensing strategy,” states Penguin’s Eric Huang, “the marketplace is so competitive – more so every year – that we must ensure we focus on quality rather than quantity.”

The last 12 months have been busy ones, not just in the licensing division at Penguin, but for the company as a whole and the publishing industry at large, especially taking into account the announcement of the iPad and various other digital initiatives which could see the face of the sector change forever.

“Some of the most compelling storytelling comes from interactive/digital platforms,” says Huang, who holds the role of category publisher for brands and licensing at Penguin. “Whilst most cold calls I used to get were from TV production companies, more and more interactive firms are ringing up and wanting to present digital properties that live on the web or in the form of games. Digital properties is my pick for a trend that will grow, and quickly.”

For now though, the big success is being seen with traditional properties, such as E1’s Peppa Pig. “The Peppa Pig programme has continued its runaway success,” offers Huang. “Amazingly, it shows no signs of slowing down and we will be taking her further into learning, digital and pre-school channels this year. We’ve also seen an incredible pick up in our Club Penguin books that tie in to one of the most successful virtual worlds for kids, as these and interactive gaming are an important source of publishing content for us these days.

“We are also one of Lego’s new partners and will be publishing a range of activity books, including an annual, under the Ladybird imprint for a large portion of the world’s English-language market. All books feature Lego brick covermounts. Lego and Ladybird are such a great fit. Both are parent and teacher-trusted brands and both are iconic. The books hit shelves this summer and we’re looking forward to expanding the range in 2011.”

In terms of retail distribution, like most companies Penguin has seen a significant increase from online.

“We’ve seen a shift in consumer behaviour to buying online. Amazon remains the dominant player, but there are other online retailers like Play.com, who are quick to pick up on licensing trends. We’ve definitely seen growth in our business with them.

“Penguin has a very diverse customer base. Both the High Street and the mass market are important for us. Value is always key for consumers and that’s the draw of the mass market, but the High Street can be a surprisingly early adopter of new licences, too.”

Huang is quick to point out that, in many ways, the internet has breathed new life into publishing, and not just from the retail side.

“At Penguin, everyone is talking about the latest digital properties, new channels and platforms to market and new ways to deliver stories to consumers – all offered up by the internet.” It’s not surprising then, that Huang has earmarked properties such as Club Penguin, LittleBigPlanet and Moshi Monsters (the publishing programmes for which launch in time for Christmas) for major growth going forward.

“The main challenge for us – and it’s a really compelling one – is how ebooks will play out in licensed publishing,” he adds. “We have a number of projects underway that will launch this year which will help us gauge next steps. We’re also working to further increase our market share in certain sectors, especially pre-school tie-ins and annuals. This directly affects our acquisitions strategy and informs the editorial decisions we make on formats, number of titles and so on.”

Huang shrugs. “Like I said before, it’s a really exciting time to be in publishing…”

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