Merch Is an Apostle of the Apocalypse

Yes, clearly the path forward for publishing is to emulate the Hollywood blockbuster model more than ever by trying to merchandise the fuck out of your “properties.” Because we all know that reading and publishing are about getting the little ‘uns hooked on a suite of brand identites that can be monitized across a range of complementary products and platforms well into young adulthood.

Tom Weldon isn’t bullish on publishing. He’s bullish on conglomerated, globalized retailing in which the key piece of intellectual property just happens to come from someone who wrote a book.

But it also means thinking beyond the book: “We might tell our stories many different ways, whether that is books or ebooks, or apps, or toys, or clothes. We are developing a much broader range of intellectual property and exploiting it.”

Weldon says publishers are becoming more like broadcasters, but he could have said impresarios. Caitlin Moran, columnist and author of a very modern feminist manifesto, How To Be A Woman, is going on tour: the publisher sold more than 10,000 tickets for her nine events in three days. Although he stresses he is not becoming a retailer, Penguin Random House is going into “merchandise and branding like never before”.

These developments are most evident in children’s publishing, where much-loved characters, such as Peter Rabbit, the Snowman, and Topsy and Tim, are being made to work much harder. The company has spent almost £10m creating a Peter Rabbit animated series, which it has exported to 15 countries with a wide-range of merchandise tie-ins. In Japan, where Peter Rabbit is a hit among women aged 20 to 40, the radish-stealing rabbit is helping to sell Toyota’s latest family hybrid and adorns Mitsubishi Bank’s cash machines. In the children’s market, Weldon says, animation and products keep children engaged with the printed page when apps, videos and games are vying for their free time. Only a company with Penguin Random House’s heft can move into these areas on such a scale, he says: “Our size gives us an advantage.”

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