THE BIG INTERVIEW: Mel Beer, Head of Licensing & Content Development, HarperCollins

Books are certainly not dead, says the new queen of licensed publishing.
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“Unlike entertainment brands that are reliant upon scheduling, ratings or box office receipts, publishing brands are generally timeless,” Mel Beer explains to Licensing.biz.

Beer has plenty of experience within the entertainment licensing sector, kicking off her career at BBC Worldwide where she spent ten years doing a variety of jobs, including booking/contracting for The Archers, business affairs, rights and acquisitions, before managing the Teletubbies licensing programme in 1997. After a brief spell at Benetton F1, she moved to head up toys, gifts and stationery at Warner Bros (working on Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo, The Powerpuff Girls and Looney Tunes).
Stints at balloon and party licensee Amscan, plus Jetix/Disney (where she handled Pucca and Classic Sonic among other brands) and ITV (Coronation Street, Thunderbirds, Bella Sara, Numberjacks) followed, before she arrived at HarperCollins in December 2008.

It’s a packed CV and Beer is the first to admit that her remit at HarperCollins gives her the opportunity to combine all the skills she has learnt over the past 21 years into one role: “That’s a pretty unique position to fill and ensures that every day is different.”

Officially, Beer is in charge of maximising revenue and brand awareness of HarperCollins’ content through the licensing out of film/TV, stage, radio and merchandising rights across the UK portfolio.

“Our merchandising portfolio consists of brands that are either British classics – such as Collins Gem (dictionaries), Collins Geo (maps), Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea – or are new titles with artwork that lends itself to consumer products irrespective of whether or not they are on screen, for example I Love Ollie, Watch Out Arthur and Lola Love,” Beer explains. “In contrast, whilst we hold merchandising rights to all the titles in our film/TV portfolio, a lot of these would need a television series (or movie) to maximise consumer awareness before we were able to secure shelf space for a licensed consumer products programme.”

Beer has mainly spent 2010 focusing on film/TV and stage options, as well as getting gift, stationery and greetings card licensees in place across Collins Gem and Geo, retro and HarperCollins Children’s brands. These include Woodmansterne, Bluebird Brands, That Company Called If, Kissmekwik, Maverick Arts, Art You Grew Up With, Bold Creative, Museums & Galleries, McLaggan Smith Mugs, Arnold Wills, Green Board Games, Raking Light and Half Moon Bay. “We’ve also got lots of new deals in the pipeline, including an exciting DTR for one of our HarperCollins Children’s brands,” Beer teases.

New children’s content is also being lined up for 2011 – including Oliver Jeffers and Emma Chichester Clark – with the main launches being planned for Bologna Book Fair and MipTV for film/TV, stage and radio, and Licensing International in Las Vegas for merchandising.

“There’s no room for label slapping when licensing out publishing brands,” Beer continues. “You have to think more cleverly about product development to ensure the range is brand-relevant, beautifully designed and good quality.

“Also, some people say it’s a challenge but we call it an opportunity that consumers are accessing content in an increasing number of ways. Books are certainly not dead and we think they will continue to thrive in the digital world, but we are also working hard on generating revenue streams from other sources, to extend our content to consumers through all possible media, including licensing and merchandising. In HarperCollins Children’s, we’ve already launched two Jez Alborough Duck in a Truck titles for the iPhone/iPad and have an amazing new Oliver Jeffers Heart and the Bottle app coming out in these formats for Christmas 2010, with lots more titles in development.”

Looking ahead, and Beer is keen to see one of the 30 titles for film/TV that she’s optioned be green lit for production by the end of HarperCollins’ fiscal year in June 2011. And how about longer term plans?

“I’d like to see HarperCollins acting as a licensing agent, as well as publisher, for third party brands,” Beer states. “And, as such, we’re now on the lookout for potential new acquisitions…”

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