"How much should I charge for my ebook?"—It's the question every new book publisher asks before entering the digital marketplace and one with no easy answer.
While ebooks become more prevalent with mainstream readers, publishers still struggle to find the magic price point that appeals to consumers and generates maximum sales. For new publishers, experts' suggestions range from 99 cents to $9.99 while established publishing houses offer new titles starting at $15.99. And because ebooks can vary in content and quality as much as their print counterparts, there is no "one-size-fits-all" pricing solution. Instead, publishers have to rely on the trial-and-error method. You can simplify your own pricing process by developing a pricing strategy specifically suited to your sales goals and customer behaviour.
To formulate your pricing strategy, first determine your book's value, target audience, and sales goals.
• What is your book's value? Consumers are conditioned to pay more for materials they deem worthwhile to career advancement or self-betterment whereas they're less keen to spend much on ebooks with pure entertainment value. If you're selling a reference guide with specialty content (worksheets, embedded illustrations, tutorials, etc.), you would position your book in a different price range than you would a short book of humourous essays.
• Who is your target audience? Are you targeting a niche market or reaching out to general audience? If you have an established fan base, they may be more willing to pay a little extra for your title because they're already familiar with your work. An unknown author promoting a new novel might have better luck with a lower price point to entice new readers.
• What are your sales goals? Is it more important to maximize profit or broaden your readership? Are you prepared to sell your title at a loss in order to gain prominence in the marketplace? Factor in the expenses involved with the creation and release of your ebook and determine a reasonable time frame in which to recover those costs.
Your actual pricing strategy should include your anchor price—the standard price point at which you plan to list your book—and a flexible timetable for offering discounts and other price modifications. Choose a price range that best reflects your goals and be prepared to experiment with different price points to gauge customer behaviour. Offer your title at the lower end of the range as an introductory price to penetrate the marketplace. If sales performance is strong, you may try raising the price. Take care not to raise or drop prices too sharply or with too much frequency as erratic pricing may scare off potential customers.
Review sales data regularly to identify trends and opportunities and use those reports to inform changes in marketing and pricing strategies. If your title has a seasonal tie-in or is in direct competition with a new release on a similar topic, adjust your sales price to attract new buyers and remain competitive.
The ebook market is still evolving and demands flexibility, patience, and perseverance. A strong pricing strategy will keep your sales goals on track and prolong your book's success in the digital marketplace.
As publishers work tirelessly to release digital versions of titles across the spectrum, Poetry is one genre that continues to be passed over. The dearth of classic poetry eBooks is not to be blamed on cultural limitations, but on technological limitations. Tricky indentations and structured stanzas of most poetry has proven problematic for basic eBook conversion services. Fortunately, we're starting to see more sophisticated eBook tools that can handle complex design needs. Will we start to see more poetry titles emerge as a result?
Poetry has long been plagued by digital format issues, from mangled line breaks in automated eBook conversion to formatting whims of individual eReader devices and reading apps. Because poetry is predominately text, it's easy to assume that converting the text digitally needs no special treatment. Poets experiment with line justifications and complex indentations in word document programs, creating word flow structures with strong visual and literary impact. These tabs and line returns, which seem like rudimentary format options, just don't translate into the eBook's xhtml page coding. Even when automated eBook conversion services can retain a word document's format, other variables can alter the integrity of a poem. Screen sizes and user preferences can impact font styles and sizes resulting in line breaks or white space not originally intended by the author.
The structural flaws have frustrated some poets to the extent where they requested the removal of their digital catalogue. Other poets request disclaimers on their eBooks warning their readers of potential format issues.
Poets and their publishers now have more options when it comes to eBook conversion. Older printed volumes can be scanned and saved as static PDF files to preserve the stanzas and line breaks. PDFs are universal standalone documents that can be read on computers, tablets and smartphones without dedicated eBook applications. The EPUB is a lightweight and widely available format that can retain a book's styles while allowing for user accessibility. however, converting to EPUB is time-consuming as it requires programmers to code individual poems.
With more sensitive technology in place to address the demands of poetry eBook design, are publishers ready to invest in Poetry again? The extensive design needs for individual titles means converting the back catalogue of poetry volumes is a considerable feat for any publishing house. What was already a low-priority genre for publishers may remain as such until consumer demand rises. We may see a slight uptick in the release of classic poetry, although at snail's pace, whilst most poets endure obscurity a while longer.
For emerging and active poets, the technical challenges offer ample creative opportunities. Armed with knowledge of how eBooks work, some poets could experiment with the digital page–perhaps developing an innovative poetry structure that simplifies the back-end for eBook conversion, making the form more attractive to digital publishers. Industrious poets might even consider tackling the conversion themselves and release their eBooks independently.
Improved technology has given poets renewed confidence in digital publication. If this enthusiasm continues to spread, publishers may find themselves amidst a revival of the genre. It's well worth giving poetry eBooks a second glance.
Although eBooks have existed for over 15 years, it took the convenience of ereaders and tablets to bring the format to prominence. As the eBook audience grows, so do eBook sales. Over the past five years, sales have soared to the extent that even The New York Times launched a weekly eBook bestseller list in 2011. With eBooks representing a significant percentage of overall book sales, it's worth considering what qualities make for a bestselling eBook title.
What attracts audiences to particular titles? If Digital Book World's eBook Bestseller list from 2013 is an indication, readers are drawn to stories, not publishers. From DBW's top 20 list—one populated with A-list authors Dan Brown, JK Rowling, Stephen King and John Grisham—three titles were from self-published authors. So, not only are we seeing more eBooks top the bestseller list, we're seeing more independent authors achieve bestseller status. Whether it's Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (Crown Publishing Group) or E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey (originally self-published), readers seek out compelling stories and then share their finds with fellow bibliophiles, propelling even the most unlikely titles onto bestselling lists.
When it comes to choosing reading materials, eBook audiences tend to respond better to ratings, recommendations and reviews rather than clever marketing campaigns. Customer reviews are an effective gauge of a book's quality and readership appeal. Sometimes these ratings generate more than sales; they can encourage the publication of new stories with beloved characters. Hugh Howey's bestselling Wool began as a novelette eBook but Howey expanded the story based on positive reviews and demand via Amazon reviewers.
Most independent titles aren't as fortunate as Gone Girl or 50 Shades to have a movie tie-in to help maintain buzz and bestseller status. What buoys many self-published eBooks is serialsation. It takes time to build an audience and serialised eBooks help in gaining recognition. With each new release, buzz builds and new readers are attracted to the series. These readers return to purchase earlier works, often boosting the original title to chart-topping success. Amanda Hocking made headlines in 2011 with her digital bestseller My Blood Approves when her groundbreaking Y.A. eBook series earned upwards of two-million dollars in sales.
Special price promotions can push titles into the bestseller limelight, but success may be short-lived without reviews and ratings to support the boost. Every eBook retailer has their own bestseller list reporting the day's biggest selling titles, so it remains unclear whether each retailer determines bestseller ranking by units sold or revenue. The self-published titles ranked on DBW's 2013 Bestseller list—including H.M. Ward's long-time chart-topper Damaged—were all priced at £0.77, while titles from more established publishers ranged in price from £1.99 to £12.99.
Because digital publishing has created a level playing field for all publishers, it's readers that now hold more power in determining the next bestselling title. Whether it's a self-contained novel or one volume of an on-going series, publishers of all sizes must focus on delivering quality stories at a reasonable price.
Trip planning is an intensive process for many travelers. Whether planning a vacation for a family of four, a romantic honeymoon or a summer-long cross-country road trip, juggling the different components for traveling can be stressful. In order to take just one trip, a traveler must determine a destination, choose and book transportation and lodging, plan activities and itineraries and pack. While travelers are in the initial planning phase, it may not occur to them to visit travel service providers or booking portals for anything beyond price comparison. Many customers may not visit until they are ready make to reservations and ticket purchases.
Content marketing affords travel brands the opportunity to reach out to customers during the crucial planning phase by offering trip planning resources and relevant travel advice. By investing in a content marketing strategy, companies offering travel services can go beyond the initial sales pitch to enhance branding, become a reliable source and build relationships with customers.
Five Reasons to Invest in Content Marketing
1. Advance the brand message.
Content does more than offset the sales copy—it helps set the tone for a brand. Quality content works to enhance the branding message and improve brand perception. Through content marketing, a travel brand can address the specific needs and concerns of its target demographic. For example, if an individual travel service caters to business travelers, the content would be focused on tips and information relevant to business tourism. The specialized content will draw customers and establish the brand’s position in the travel marketplace.
2. Demonstrate expertise.
For both foreign and domestic trips, customers do lots of vacation research prior to making final purchase decisions. Because content is a reflection of the brand’s knowledge of its niche within the travel industry, a travel brand that understands the customer’s needs and provides support through travel planning assistance and educational resources increases its value to that customer. Using travel experts as part of a strong content marketing strategy, a travel brand positions itself as an authority as it guides customers through the vacation planning process, from exploring possible destinations to finding the right accommodations.
3. Attract new customers.
Compelling content that incorporates long tail keywords will improve search engine ranking and, as a result, increase visibility to customers in the early vacation planning phase. Content such as destination guides and sample itineraries give potential customers much more to consider beyond travel services and package deals. Travel brands that stand out from the competition will sell customers on the fantasy of traveling and then demonstrate how they help to realize those fantasies.
4. Establish a bond with customers.
Over the course of a lifetime, people find assorted reasons to travel. From weekend getaways to overseas holidays, day trips to road trips and holiday family reunions, there are travel arrangements to be made and customer loyalty to be earned. In addition to providing high quality travel services, rewarding customers with trustworthy advice and engaging editorial helps reinforce favorable views of a travel brand. Employing a content marketing strategy across the website and the brand’s digital marketing collateral will offer useful travel information year-round and remind customers of their experience with the brand and keep it top-of-mind when it’s time to book a new trip.
5. Improve social media engagement.
Content marketing—blogs especially—can ease the pressure of generating daily content specifically for social media. Shareable content prevents Twitter and Facebook accounts from turning solely into customer service help lines. Even evergreen content is worth sharing via Twitter if there's a fresh way to present it. Links to destination guides and travel how-to’s along with updates on services and travel offers will provide a healthy balance of content across social media platforms. When followers are engaged, they are more likely to share content with their own networks.
By providing content that addresses concerns, answers questions and alleviates the anxieties of travel planning, travel brands can trade the sales pitch for a subtle call-to-action and integrated sales proposition. For brands that prefer to focus on providing excellent travel services to their customers, Prose Media offers assistance in developing a successful content marketing strategy using professional, knowledgeable travel writers.
Multimedia content has come a long way in the last 10 years. Technological innovations have improved content accessibility and shareability, taking videos and photographs from barely there to everywhere. It is now necessary to include at least one visual element to enhance visibility of text content. This guide offers a crash course in multimedia and how to implement different components to maximize the effectiveness of your online content.
In the early days of the Internet, modems of varying speeds and reliability meant content creators needed to be cautious with employing too much enhanced content on one page. With more reliable connection speeds and the rise in popularity of video and photo sharing services, the Internet has become a multimedia-friendly environment. Multimedia content can now coexist on a single page with minimal impact on page load times. Users now seek out multimedia content that is engaging and interactive.
What is Multimedia Content
Multimedia is a combination of different forms of content, including text, video, still images, slideshows, audio, infographics and interactive forms. Visual content enhances the written word by attracting viewers and keeping them engaged in the story or news item. Multimedia elements should provide content that is useful and complements the main text.
Interactive content drives the web today. Text-only blogs struggle against competition like image-heavy list articles and animated recaps of popular TV programs. Which means adding one or two visual components is vital to content survival. But it's not enough to attach a sensational unrelated photo to a blog post to ignite virality. To capture viewers, content must be legitimately useful, attractive and shareable.
When (and How) to Use Multimedia
Relevance is the key word in choosing multimedia elements to accompany textual content. Visual content must be relevant to and supportive of the text to be truly effective. An unrelated video or misleading image will frustrate viewers and discourage them from sharing content. Combining multiple forms of related media into one post will turn a blog into an evergreen resource.
What is the right balance of multimedia? A good rule of thumb is to use no more than three multimedia elements: text, a static image and a moving image.
Every blog post should have at least one eye-catching image. This image often accompanies the post's headline on linked pages. The still image should be placed within the body of the post, between the headline and the opening paragraph. When the opportunity arises to include multiple images, a slideshow will improve interactivity while cutting down on page size and scrolling. Slideshows are helpful for list articles that contain multiple recipes, travel tips or other short items.
Infographics are a convenient way to convey statistics and lifestyle tips. An illustrated image with valuable content is like a magazine clipping, easy to save and store for future reference as well as easy to share via social media. These images can be very large and may be tricky to fit with other multimedia content as well as lengthy text.
Embedded video needs surrounding text to increase SEO visibility and entice viewers to click play. If the video is the primary feature of the blog post, include a detailed description, if not a full transcript of the video's content. Tutorials offer an opportunity to employ video to demonstrate a project or process. If a video is unavailable, the post should include several step-by-step images to boost effectiveness. A tutorial that shows only a photo of a completed project is less useful than one that includes visuals of each stage of a project.
Don't overwhelm viewers with too much multimedia content. While the Internet may be able to handle serving up content more easily, Internet users cannot be expected to digest content at the same rate.
Presentation matters—a fact that is increasingly important in online content creation. How we present and package content impacts viewer behavior which, in turn, impacts content performance and visibility. Slideshows are a popular method of presenting multimedia content because viewers can interact with the content at their own pace with minimal effort. Enhancing your own content with a slideshow will maximize its overall effectiveness and audience engagement.
Getting Started with Slideshows
A slideshow is a digital presentation comprised of an organized series of images and text to present information. The format condenses image-heavy content into a compact space, reducing the digital footprint of the content and eliminating the need to scroll down multiple web pages. By packaging content in a slideshow, you'll be increasing the visual appeal of your content, making it more easily accessible and boosting its shareability.
To create an effective slideshow, consider the following guidelines:
• Use high-quality still images. Visual appeal is the primary factor in keeping an audience interested in your content, so take time to choose photos and illustrations that are relevant, interesting and sizeable. Some slideshow players allow users to increase the viewing size to full screen, making it necessary to choose or make images that are large in dimension and can scale up or down without losing integrity.
Thumbnails are an essential element in an effective slideshow as they give users a sense of presentation length and allows for quick navigation. With these slide previews, users can skip ahead or refer back to other slides.
• Focus on one topic. Just as an individual blog post, the slideshow should be dedicated to one story or theme. If not serving as a complementary element of a full text story, plan out your slideshow in advance to ensure no superfluous images are included.
• Consider the flow. Depending on the type of content, slideshow presentations should follow a loose narrative. An introductory slide and a summary slide will help tie content together. If part of an article, slides should be placed sequentially in order of mention within body of text. Again, plan your slideshow before importing content into a template to keep your presentation tight and organized.
• Don't forget the meta content. Wherever possible, include keywords/key phrases in titles, tags and descriptions within individual slides to boost visibility of the presentation in search engine crawls.
Seasoned content creators and Powerpoint pros can create presentations and upload completed documents to Slideshare. Use presentation software or page design program to format your multimedia content, save to PDF and upload to the Slideshare site. Like YouTube, Slideshare offers hosting and public access of slideshows while allowing presentations to be embedded in websites and blogs.
When to Use a Slideshow
It's not always appropriate to use a slideshow to display multimedia content. If you are presenting a lengthy report and video tutorial, a slideshow may not be suitable. A slideshow is much better suited for a series of infographics, charts, maps or collection of photographs. If you have a list article on hot travel destinations or easy summertime recipes, a slideshow with thumbnails is an attractive solution for presentation.
Take a look at the following sites for inspiration on how to format your own slideshows:
Escape Module Studio
Slideshows are great for online content because of their versatility — you can use them to supplement other media or stand alone as the main feature, interactivity and shareability across popular social media platforms. The combination of convenience and visual appeal keeps viewers engaged and makes the slideshow one of the most in-demand content displays.
Statistics show that we don't just like visual content, we need it. Multimedia has become essential to content visibility and survival on the Internet. As images and videos continue to be the dominant forces in online traffic generation, content creators must work to combine visual with text to guide and engage viewers. Recent studies have proven that multimedia — even one simple image — is more successful in attracting and engaging web users than text alone.
Why We Need Visual Content
Time is valuable commodity and the average viewer does not want to feel they are wasting it. In 2013,according to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average human attention span was clocked at just eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. The same study found that only 28% of words were read on an average web page. The Poynter Institute's Eyetrack study in 2006 estimated that users read an average of 77% of story text. According to Smashing Magazine, half of the visitors to a web page leave (or bounce) without engaging, while only 25% of the remaining visitors read beyond the mid-point of a typical web article.
Visual content is processed in the brain 60,000 times faster than text. With 90% of the information we encounter being visual, it's no surprise that our brains process it so much faster. But it does mean that visual content is vital for audience engagement. Adding any relevant multimedia will boost views and engagement.
When visuals are incorporated into content, the time users stay on a web page increases. Articles with imagesreceive 94% more views than those without images. Posts containing images, text and video will attract nearly six times more views than plain text. Forty percent of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. A Comscore study found visitors will remain for two minutes longer when they watch a video on a page. Interactive content also retains users and increases the likelihood of shares.
Statistics on Multimedia Use
Images, infographics and video dominate multimedia content because they are memorable, accessible and easy to share across social media platforms. We know how much of a difference a simple image can make on enhancing content. What about infographics and video?
Infographics are a visualization of data designed to convey complex information in a quick and memorable way. Using infographics boosts traffic 12% more than text-only content with the same information. They are also easy to share on social media and therefore can reach a wider audience faster than multimedia that requires more investment.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester Research supposes that a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. SEOMoz found that "posts with videos attract three times more inbound links than plain text posts." Video has the benefit of being more engaging while presenting more information in a shorter span of time than text or a manually-controlled slideshow. The downside to video is that users are unable to share just a portion or screenshot of the media to demonstrate why they are sharing it. When including video as part of your content, choose a short clip, no longer than one to five minutes duration, to encourage content sharing.
How to Boost Visibility of Multimedia Content
Visual content is great for attracting users who are browsing other content, but it can't be picked up by search engines just on its own. Just as visual content enhances text, text boosts visibility of visual content in search engine crawls. When preparing multimedia content for a blog, you'll need to implement SEO elements — titles, keywords, tags and file names — to optimize that content for search rankings.
Understanding why we need to incorporate multimedia into online content will help us implement it efficiently and effectively. When you know which media best serves your text, you can create compelling content that performs well and benefits both publisher and audience.
After a day of play at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, don’t head straight back to the parking lot. There’s more fun to be had at Universal’s CityWalk, the newest nightspot for tourists in Orlando. This 30-acre entertainment complex is a good place to unwind from park hopping or to kick it up after a day of sleeping in at the hotel. From themed bars and restaurants to shops to running through water fountains, there’s a little something for everyone at CityWalk.
In addition to restaurants and clubs, there is always something going on out on the streets. Cooking demonstrations, trivia contests, and local festivals are just some of the events taking place at CityWalk during the year. The small stage next to CityJazz houses live entertainment in 20-minute doses. The water fountain in the middle of the complex is a great place for kids to splash and cool off. Take advantage of photo opportunities in front of the lighted industrial "waterfall."
If you’ve got kids with you, but still want to partake of some adult beverages, send them over to the Universal Loew’s Cineplex. With 20 screens and several snack bars and arcades, your kids will be occupied for hours.
No trip to anywhere in Orlando is complete without paying visits to the gift shops found in every venue. Pick up a shirt or a shot glass from each bar you visit, just in case you don’t remember where you were the next morning.
Enter the world of R&B and soul in the Motown Cafe, located at the entrance of CityWalk. As you enter the restaurant, you’ll find yourself surrounded by memorabilia of Motown’s greatest. Stay downstairs for an American meal amongst the Jackson 5 costumes and wax statues of the Supremes or head up the lighted Stairway of Success to the Promenade dining area and the Big Chill Lounge.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to eat and dance to the singing group Motown Cafe Moments. Featured on the Motortown Revue Stage, this group performs all of Motown’s classic hits during their 20-minute shows.
Karaoke night offers up the opportunity to pretend you’re Diana Ross or Stevie Wonder. Take karaoke a step further upstairs at SuperStar Recording Studio where you can make your own video or CD to take home. If you're not the performing type, sit in a booth with a group of friends and pretend you're Berry Gordy looking for the next big star. Relive your dream of being a Solid Gold dancer out on the dance floor in front of the floor level stage. Regardless of who you are, Motown Cafe is worth a blast to the past.
BOB MARLEY: A TRIBUTE TO FREEDOM
Take a trip down to Jamaica without leaving CityWalk by visiting Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom. The restaurant is a replica of Marley's Kingston home and feels like a home. Smells of authentic Jamaican cuisine and incense fill the open-air restaurant. Live bands play familiar reggae standards from the gazebo stage. The dance floor in the middle of the room allows reveling in the freedom to dance and find your own island groove under the stars. Retreat to the bar upstairs to observe the groove of others.
Celebrate Bob Marley’s spirit and message of One Love through music. Many design details, from the tile roof and green wooden window shutters outside, have been supervised by the Marley family themselves, to ensure accuracy.
Mix the Marley atmosphere with Florida's weather and you'll swear you're jammin' in Jamaica. When you leave, don't forget to thank the host for letting you into his home. Bob Marley can be found in front of the building in bronze statue form.
If reggae and R&B aren't your cup of tea, grab a mug of brew over at Pat O'Briens. While you won't find a dance floor to practice moves from Riverdance, you can do what the Irish are most famous for, drinking. Pat O'Briens in Orlando is an exact replica of the original landmark bar in New Orleans. With three bar rooms and New Orleans style appetizers, you won't mind the lack of authentic Irish music.
The Main Bar contains a large flat screen television for viewing the game du jour and drinking. The Patio Bar is perfect for a romantic and relaxing moment away from the dance crowds. Gaze up at the sky or admire the fountains, which spout water and fire. Stop by the Piano Bar to hear the dueling pianos play all-time favorites and provide lounge style entertainment. While in there, don't forget to look up at the decorative beer steins festooning the ceiling.
Pat O’Briens is a nice bar for sitting all night, chatting up tourists, and getting sloshed. It’s a great way to pretend you’re from Ireland. With security beefed up as much as it is these days, it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with your fellow bar mates. Slainte!
Take your evening down a notch and chill out at CityJazz, one of the more upscale venues at CityWalk. A tour around the place will introduce you to unique memorabilia of the biggest names in jazz. Some examples of the rare personal belongings include Ella Fitzgerald's performance gowns, Dave Brubeck's glasses, and Miles Davis' high school diploma. Behind the bar is an impressive display case full of instruments from Glenn Miller, Sonny Rollins, and Maynard Ferguson.
You can enjoy live music from both the legends of jazz and some of the hottest rising new stars. You can pay tribute to the giants of jazz enshrined in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame®. Pick a table in the back of the room and feast on appetizers including Sevrugs Caviar, assorted sushi, duck potstickers, escargot, and Oysters Rockefeller. Then burn off the calories by getting down on the small dance floor in front of the stage.
CityJazz is a great place to get away from the bustle of the outside entertainment. Enjoy live entertainment and develop a greater appreciation of America’s most important art form.
The Latin Quarter is more than just a hot nightspot. When they open the doors to the general public, the Latin Quarter is a museum, a restaurant, and a dance studio. How convenient! Hop on the Latin culture bandwagon and party like they do.
In search of fine Latin cuisine? This is the right place to go. The dishes are as spicy and hot as the dancers. Delicacies are picked from Central America, South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. If you’re seated near the kitchen, you can watch the chefs prepare your meals. The lighting and ambience gives the feeling less of being in someone’s home and more of being in an upscale eatery.
The stage and dance floor play host to dancers and musicians ranging from Salsa to Merengue to Mariachi. At any time during the course of your meal, a group of dancers put on a brief show to enhance your dining experience. After each performance, the dancers are available for impromptu dance lessons to guests.
Latin Quarter makes for a fine dining experience if you’re not daring enough to shake your maracas in front of strangers. Fans of Latin music will enjoy the spirit of the place.
Wedged between Pat O’Briens and Latin Quarter is CityWalk's only straight up dance club, the groove. The nightclub has an eclectic mix of modern technology and classic decor from five eras. Roaming through the nightclub you'll discover a Vaudeville stage from the 1890s and numerous theatrical posters from that era, you'll find bars reminiscent of a speakeasy from the Roaring '20s, plus posters and theater chairs from the early days of cinema, and you'll encounter furniture and fixtures that take you from a '60s flashback to a '70s discotheque.
The dance floor is the perfect place to show off the moves you learned at the Latin Quarter or invent some steps of your own. Sneak off to the darkened corners and theater chairs for a little action with your date. Take a break from the jumping dance scene in one of the three lounges. Visit the Red Lounge to heat things up, the velvet chairs and flame-covered walls will help. Check out the Blue Lounge if you’re into the high-tech retro feel. Or give peace a chance in the earthy Green Lounge.
the groove is definitely the place in CityWalk to mingle with strangers and make new friends. It’s also conducive to large groups. Just stake out one of the lounges and hang there all night long. Go to the groove and get into your groove.
JIMMY BUFFETT’S MARGARITAVILLE
Overlooking the waterfront is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. The atmosphere here is more laid back and will make you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of his greatest hits album. This isn’t the place to kick up your heels or get your swerve on, but you can definitely see some sights.
Upon entering, the scenery goes from fast-paced entertainment to lazy island fun. Margaritaville is what it must be like to be inside Jimmy Buffett’s head. The walls are filled with nautical decor and Buffett memorabilia. The stage built to look like a rustic island hut, houses classic rock cover bands performing nightly.
If hunger is what ails you, grab a table and order Caribbean, Cajun and fresh Florida fare sampled by Jimmy himself. You may think you’re reading his album cover instead of a menu, but some items are named after his famous songs like Cheeseburger in Paradise. Stick around long enough and watch the volcano atop the Volcano Bar erupt with fresh Margaritas to enjoy.
True Parrotheads will adore this restaurant; others may enjoy it for a while and move on. Don’t worry about that lost shaker of salt, there’s more in the adjoining gift shop.
My Buddy, wherever I go, he goes…
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun, it's a wonderful toy…
Transformers- more than meets the eye…
Ah, the sweet sounds of childhood. Conjure up a few memories from your own and you may be able to recall a few games of tag, cardboard sword fights, and climbing the big oak tree in your backyard. But among those real life memories resides a medley of jingles from toy commercials that we all endured during the breaks between The Banana Splits, Scooby Doo, or Alvin & the Chipmunks. Sitting cross-legged on the floor in footed pajamas, we’d sing along into our cereal spoons. And when 10am rolled around, we hounded our parents to purchase the toys freshly promoted to our impressionable brains.
Without a doubt, advertising has the ability to impact our lives and minds, to drive shopping trends, and often entertain. That holds doubly true for children. Prepubescent minds are sponge-like, soaking up bits of information from all around, especially relevant and appealing information. Ad men picked up on this long ago and began marketing to them specifically.
According to the Canadian Toy Testing Council, advertising will probably be a child’s first introduction to what it means to be a consumer in the global marketplace. Children are the consumers of tomorrow and need to be provided with the necessary skills to enable them to make wise consumer decisions. Today’s children are maturing more rapidly than previous generations and thus require advertising that can keep up with the revolving trends. Which means the toy industry needs creative professionals who are in tune with developments and willing to explore new venues of marketing.
The television commercial is still the preferred method of marketing for those with large budgets and it still proves to be the most effective, but there are many other methods invoked by toy companies to alert kids of all ages to new innovative toys. Forms of toy promotion take place in retail outlets, conventions and trade shows, print and Internet media, and could even be displayed in your own home.
Put on your pajamas and pour yourself a bowl of cereal and take a look at some strategies of the biggest and brightest in the Central Florida toy industry.
Some Assembly Required
Central Florida plays home to many growing companies in the toy industry. Some have been around since the 1930s, others are new to the scene, but all of them are dedicated to promoting quality toys. As high-profile companies such as Hasbro and Mattel continue to dominate the television commercial arena, these Orlando toy makers are putting their names and products into the market with other methods.
The business of marketing a line of toys isn’t limited to consumer audiences. Before a toy even reaches the public eye, manufacturers and distributors must first entice retailers with the new products.
Greg Zesinger of Action Products International, Inc. says, “The best way to promote a toy is to get it in the hands of your retailer so they can see it and touch it for themselves. We achieve this through trade shows such as the American International Toy Fair™ and an excellent network of sales representatives.”
The American International Toy Fair™, held annually in New York, offers the opportunity for over 1500 manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from 30 countries to showcase their toy and entertainment products. Store buyers for toy retailers attend these shows and decide which products will line their shelves. Essentially, the fate of a toy and its company rests in the hands of retailers because if a store doesn’t stock it, the consumer won’t see it. Stores with limited shelf space, large chains such as Target and Wal-Mart, can induce competition among toy companies to develop and present spectacular exhibits, especially when the latter currently controls one-fifth of the traditional toy market.
The purpose of Toy Fair and related trade shows is to give the store buyer a chance to handle the toy, to determine whether it fits their market, and to determine the best way to promote it in the store (i.e. demonstrations, special displays, providing reservations if the toy promises to be hot, etc). But it isn’t the only way toy companies put the word out about their products.
Zapf Creation (U.S.) Inc., the Orlando-based subsidiary of German doll maker, Zapf Creation AG, moved to Orlando to set up Zapf Creation’s North American office in 1999 with relatively no brand awareness. Today, more than 2,000 retailers sell Zapf Creation dolls across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other Latin American countries. It did so through recognizing the importance of establishing strong relationships with top retailers.
Zapf Creation achieves its continued growth goals with an integrated marketing plan. “The process for promoting a toy or a line of toys happens with a strong team of marketers, including a public relations team, advertising team, sales team, point-of-purchase design firm, distribution channel management team and support staff at the Orlando, Florida office, to work in concert to gain recognition and market-share within the $20 billion U.S. toy market, the most competitive and important toy market in the world,” says Brandie Schwartz, Senior Marketing and Sales Specialist of Zapf Creation (U.S.), Inc.
“Everything we do at Zapf Creation goes back to our mission statement of providing safe, quality, nurturing products that inspire imaginative fun to a culturally diverse audience,” adds Schwartz.
In downtown Orlando, Action Products International, Inc. focuses their attention on brand development, e-commerce strategies, and merchandising through retail packaging and point-of-purchase (POP) display systems to provide retailers with tools to efficiently present their product lines to the consumer.
Consumers often overlook packaging as a method of advertising, but industry officials agree that is it the most effective. “Packaging is the strongest form of advertising because it is your best chance to get a potential consumer to pick up your product,” says Zesinger.
Action Products, whose products include educational and non-violent toys such as including Jay Jay the Jet Plane™, Space Voyagers ®, and Climb@Tron ™, and its creative staff are very involved in the package design process. “Packaging should always be interesting to all who see it. The packaging adds value to the product inside simply by its purpose, which is to “show-off” the toy,” says Art Director Sharon Penland.
Penland describes her vision of packaging design as “basically a 3-D billboard for the toy that you’re trying to sell. I liken it to creating a sculpture. With a sculpture, the message must be communicated effectively from every angle possible. The same is true with good packaging design—it must communicate from all sides and angles to give the consumer all the information and motivation they need to buy that product.” She continues, “[It accomplishes this with] interesting features printed on it such as holographic images, die cuts, or textures.”
Penland believes in the power of package design. She states, “Whether it’s about excitement or information, toy packaging is effective in advertising its message.”
Commercials and print advertisements are great baiting tools in toy promotion, but it’s unanimous among consumers, retailers, and toy companies that walking into a store and getting the full effect of a product firsthand is the surefire way to sell a toy.
“For those who sell over the Internet, the world is their marketplace. But nothing beats actually holding a toy in your hands and purchasing it on the spot, then and there,” says Peter Nason of Marz Distribution.
Store placement is a form of toy promotion within the retail walls and often determines how well a toy will sell. Toys displayed on a rack or display near the front of the store, at the check out counter, or being demonstrated by an employee may sell more rapidly than, say an item in the back of the store, buried under a pile of forgotten mute Furbys and a My Pet Monster plush doll left over from 1987.
Store managers or owners ultimately decide where to place their stock on the floor, but display systems are left up to the toy manufacturers and distributors. Companies lacking the in-house capabilities to create complex displays turn to specialists like EBI/Exhibit Builders, a well-rounded promotion firm with expertise in many aspects including themed displays, point of purchase displays, tie in promotions as well as developing corporate toys and gifts.
Penny Morford, the CEO of EBI details the company’s purpose, “Retail outlets expect distributors to provide displays. In most cases we work directly with the distributor or the manufacturer; but remain in the loop with the retailer to determine store requirements for size, quality, receiving specifications and delivery frequency. Chain stores may want the option to co-brand affecting graphic treatment and signage.”
“A successful point-of-purchase (POP) display is an extremely valuable element in the launch of a new product; second only to the product itself. Most toy or novelty purchases are impulse purchases; therefore, the product must be seen. It must be easily accessible and positioned as close to the check out stand as possible. The POP design drives the location and ultimately the sales,” says Morford.
POP displays are commonly cardboard racks with built-in shelves and art of the featured characters and toy specs printed on all sides. Some companies will ship the display with just enough products to fill it, to prevent overstocking.
Even with the displays, some retailers have their own, smaller strategies for promoting the products within the store walls.
Colin Bowman of Notable and Notorious, a collectibles toy store in Lake Buena Vista, says, “The store is laid out so that everything is equally displayed, of course if a manufacturer makes many lines then it will appear as if he has a huge area. Our strategy is to bring other items that relate to the product ... for example, if we have items from a movie, we will have autographs, movie posters, photos etc. also for sale.”
“Our biggest way to promote items is to place it on one of our two feature tables at the front of the store or take it out of the box to let people play with it,” says Lin Hanzelko, President and Owner of Timmy’s Toy Chest in Orlando.
Distributors may encourage certain trendy toys and stores might devise a brilliant display set-up, but whether a toy sells or flops rests entirely on the shoulders of the consumer and his jingle-spouting child in tow. “Desirability comes with the public’s knowledge and recognition of an item. That’s why pop culture-oriented toys—those with a TV or music tie-in- do so well early on,” adds Nason.
As Seen on T.V.
Not every toy on the market is an original, innovative product developed from scratch by manufacturers and not every toy is presented to the consumer in a retail setting.
From cereal boxes and candy packaging to television shows and movies, toys have been used to plug other brands and products and providing incentive for youngsters and their adult counterparts to take part in pop culture trends. The Canadian Toy Testing Council reports that one of the fastest-growing advertising trends has been cross-market merchandising movies, cartoons, television shows, etc, with toys.
We have all, at some point, brought a specially-marked cereal box home, ripped it open, and dumped its contents into a big bowl (or onto the kitchen floor, little brother, and the family dog) to get to the surprise toy at the bottom. Cracker Jack has long been luring kids to its product with a decoder ring or fake tattoo nestled in caramel coated popcorn. And fast food establishments have been the front-runners in marriage of food and toys. In fact, some restaurants are successful in tying together the food, the cartoon/movie du jour, and the company behind the toy all in one promotion. But not all promotional toys are embedded amongst tasty morsels.
In recent years, the toy market has been flooded with products advertising newly released movies and hit television shows. Products run the gamut from action figures to plush dolls, board and video games to consumables. For a fan or avid collector of the show or movie, the selection can be an absolute dream. According to the co-publisher of U.S.-based Toy Wishes magazine, 2002 was a big year for film licensing tie-ins with toys.
When a product is created from a television show, film, comic strip, or beloved character, it is the result of a license (the lease of the right to use a legally protected name, graphic, logo, phrase, or likeness) purchase by a manufacturer. The idea of licensing in the U.S. developed over a century ago from the growth and popularity of comic strips. The first “licensed” comic strip character was Buster Brown in 1902, with his image appearing on games and toys. Following that launch, licensing extended to characters including Betty Boop, Popeye, and Felix the Cat. Before he had his head emblazoned on kitchenware, clothing, buildings, and corporate stationary, Walt Disney sold Mickey Mouse for $300 to appear on a school notebook.
Sometimes promotional toys aren’t related to the entertainment industry at all.
Not Sold in Any Store
Toys can turn up in the most unexpected places. Many corporations lend their logos to toys, tchotkes, knickknacks, and related products. These toys are often filed under the more professional-sounding “promotional products” title.
Pamela Grimes, co-owner and designer at Originality, Inc., a corporate gift design firm, defines the promotional product as “a marketing tool designed to get a message across- whether it be for increasing name recognition, promoting a web site, attracting visitors to a trade show booth, or even to project a certain image.”
These products—mostly common items with logo emblazoned upon them like beverage insulators, key fobs, pens, golf balls, and stress balls—are often used by corporations to promote their business brand or reward employees.
Some companies are not content to simply have their logo printed on a pre-made product and turn to companies like Originality, Inc. or Planned Biz to create specialty gifts, including toys.
“At Originality, Inc. we strive to incorporate creative concepts with our designs so that promotional products make an impact and lasting impression on the recipients,” says Grimes. “Most of the time, we gather information from our clients such as objective, company image, message, demographic information of the recipients, and budget. Based on this information, we then formulate and present several creative concepts which meet these criteria.” She continues, ““If we feel that a promotional toy best suits our clients’ needs and is the best tool to get their message noticed and remembered, we will create them.”
Robert Weiss of Planned Biz, a franchise of Adventures in Advertising shares how his company used toys in a promotional manner. He says, “One of the companies that we represent is a company called Flipdog.com, a subsidiary of Monster.com based out of Provo, Utah. They came to us and said, ‘Look, we’re going to a trade show in New York, our website just won an award from PC magazine, and we want to go to that trade show and make a real splash. Can you come up with a promotional product that we can use for press release purposes and for the trade show?’ We came up with a toy dog that is about 9 inches from nose to tail, 5 inches off the table that barks, walks, sits down, and then it jumps up into the air, does a little flip and lands on its feet. It has a collar around it neck that reads Flipdog.com. We provided about 10,000 of them, which Flipdog handed out at the show and it was one of the most successful promotions they’ve ever had.”
So, what makes a promotional toy an effective marketing tool? “The reason is that promotional products are very targeted, unlike a billboard or print and radio media. Promotional products have an endearing, long-term focus with a lasting quality,” says Weiss.
Collect Them All!
While many toy companies still compete for the attention and imagination of babes, other companies (or sections of companies) have tapped into the adult toy market. And the state of current affairs has us turning to reminders of simpler days in the form of beloved characters and classic toys. This desire to recapture youthful innocence is one of the primary reasons toy collecting became so popular.
“Nostalgia plays a big part in toy collecting. It plays on a person’s desire to remember more halcyon days and touches the hearts of those who grew up with the wonderful playthings… a blast from the past provides good escapist fare,” says Peter Nason, Director of Communications at Marz Distribution.
Marz Distribution, located in Sarasota, FL, has provided worldwide distribution to the toy, hobby and specialty markets for the past two years, carrying a plethora of licensed products from Incredible Hulk action figures to Star Wars prop replicas.
The adult collectible toy market requires an entirely different strategy and is generally accomplished through print media in collector magazines like Toy Shop and Toy Review, conventions, and package design geared to the avid collector. Greg Zesinger makes the point, “Not all toy companies are alike, nor are their target audiences. Adults, teens, and children are all attracted to different things, so you must tailor your message, artwork, and language accordingly.”
Few commercials are geared toward the adult toy collector compared to the slew of campaigns directed to kids. Even films intended for primarily adult or teen audiences (the Reservoir Dogs action figures being one exception) develop television spots depicting 10-year old arms playing with the doll or toy. Instead, adults must rely on other sources such as the specialty magazines and the Internet.
Adults also tap into their dusty memories and seek out the toys of their childhood, toys they either couldn’t afford or lost to mom-conducted garage sales. Enter the toy convention.
Toy conventions offer adults the opportunity to embrace nostalgia and catch up on the latest toy releases. Central Florida hosts several cons every year, providing local enthusiasts with opportunities to find what the retailers no longer carry. MegaCon, FX Show, Tampa Comic and Toy Convention, Orlando’s Comic Book, Toy & Collectible Show are a few of the shows hosted throughout the year.
Conventions, while not used to specifically promote a toy, do promote a sense of community amongst toy and comic collectors. Similar to purchasing a toy in the store rather than online, the personal connection adds to the experience.
“Collectors like to see new things, examine what they might buy. Often my experience is that I will see something I had not known about and this becomes my purchase. Conventions allow for conversations with others who are interested in the same things. There is also a chance to haggle over a price, which you can’t really do on eBay,” says Tim Gordon of the Tampa Comic and Toy Convention.
Nason, who also works with FX Show, adds,” It’s like actually walking into an online auction site and seeing everything offered in one location. Some people look for the hard-to-find item, while others seek out the new hot product that will be the year’s Big Toy.”
How is a toy convention different from the Toy Fair? “The Toy Fair in New York City is where all the manufacturers showcase their upcoming lines, but do not sell anything directly… only toy dealers and distributors can attend,” explains Nason.
We know the cause of collecting, but what makes a toy collectible? Greg Zesinger brings up a recurring factor in the toy industry, “Collectibility is in the eye of the beholder. For some, scarcity and low production runs might make a toy collectible. For others, painstaking attention to detail and superior sculpting/production value could make the toys collectible. It really boils down to what the consumers are looking for personally.”
Get Yours Today
As we heard from several sources, consumer desirability is the key factor in selling a toy. But it is up to the toy companies, their ad agencies, and toy stores to create desire-evoking advertisements. How they do it, though, is a constantly evolving process. “The toy industry is extremely diverse and keeping our options open allows us to accomplish more for our brands,” says Sharon Penland.
We have only pressed our noses against the surface of creative toy promotion. There are numerous tools that toy companies utilize in marketing besides packaging, commercials, and trade shows. Consider other sources of consumer advertising—catalogs, print media, the Internet, television-shopping networks… the marketing possibilities are endless.
Surely, toy marketers have the ideal careers. Even with the stress of keeping up with trends and churning out better, more sophisticated toys, these professionals are in the business of promoting fun, imagination, and youthfulness. And what could be better than getting paid to play with a toy?
Nason sums it up best, “No one has ever complained about being overwhelmed with fun. That’s what separates the toy industry from all the other industries. It’s all about the joy—100% fun.”
originally published in the Summer 2003 issue of Create magazine Central Florida edition
Creative Collector – Lisa Yee
Willy, nilly, and silly—Lisa Yee has almost every piece of Winnie the Pooh memorabilia you could possibly imagine. “It all began with the first Pooh Bear I got when I was seven from Santa Claus,” she reminisces. Thirty-five years later, Yee’s assortment has grown to over 2,000 individual pieces, making it the second largest Pooh collection in the United States.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, so naturally we went to Disneyland at least a couple of times a year. Each time I was allowed to choose one thing, and it was always another Pooh,” says Yee. “I didn’t even know I collected Poohs until one day I looked around and thought ‘Whoa… there are sure a lot of these things!’”
While most collectors may keep their treasures locked away, Yee is open and willing to share her Pooh Bear paraphernalia with interested parties. “Once or twice a year [I open my home to] classes from New School of Orlando or Park Lake Presbyterian Child Care [to] tour the Pooh Room when they study Pooh at school.”
In addition to hosting tours to small children, her collection has been profiled in national and international magazines, and Yee has spoken at a Disneyana convention and written about collecting Poohs for magazines.
Yee claims that her collection is comprised mainly of Pooh Bears, but “ if there is something unique about the other characters, I’ll collect them.” Her prized possession from the collection is an exceptionally rare piece. “My husband, Scott Feldmann, made me a Pooh one year for Christmas. Every time he bought me one, I’d say, ‘I already have that one.’ So he made one [for me]. It’s one of a kind and special because it came from him,” gushes Yee.
What’s the downside to be surrounded by Poohs? Yee admits that they don’t inspire her to get any work done, “It is a distraction because whenever I have writer’s block, I start looking up Poohs on eBay.”
Even with the freshly renovated Pooh Corner store over at Disney’s Marketplace, Lisa Yee has retired from adding any new figures to her collection. If she does acquire a new find, it’s usually an older, more rare piece.
Yee’s future plans for the collection don’t include selling it off. She says, “I intend to keep the collection. However, it is willed to the White River (Ontario) Pooh Museum.” That’s one serious collector.
Winnie the Pooh isn’t the only thing you’ll find in abundance in Yee’s household and office. “I also collect children’s books, snow globes, and other toys and keep them in my office. I’m writing children’s books now and being surrounded by toys keeps me young. Last week, my five year-old Benny said, ‘Mommy, how come my toys always end up in your office?’”
It would be a safe assumption to say that Lisa Yee is an avid supporter of collections in general. “I think it is wonderful and fun! Plus it’s something you can do with your kids!” says Yee.
So, what makes it a collection? Yee states authoritatively, “I think people start out liking something and just start accumulating them. Then when they have more than three, and start really seeking them out, it officially becomes a collection. However, I just made that up.”
Lisa Yee is a Partner of Magic Pencil Studios. Her novel, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, comes out in October from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. The audio book will be released at the same time from Random House/Listening Library.
Creative Collector – Karl Anthony
Not everyone dedicates a collection to one particular character or item. Some collections are based on a show, movie, or genre while others simply have a mish-mash of toys they were fond of as children. The latter group, a nod to the growing wave of nostalgia for classic toys and pop culture, proves how well toy promotion worked in the past. And Karl Anthony is the proof.
For comedian Karl Anthony, collecting toys is much more than a hobby—it’s an addiction. He has a massive collection made up of various pop culture trends. Anthony reveals when his addiction to collecting officially began, “I started collecting back in 1972 with Star Trek and Disney toys and memorabilia. Then during the late 1970's and early 1980's, I began collecting comic book and movie action figures, and in the mid 1990's I took up with pinball games and The Simpsons toys. Right now I have about 1,000 different pieces—mostly Star Trek and Disney.”
The behavior of adults around toys differs greatly from kids. Where children are anxious to rip into the packages and create adventures for their new plastic friends, grown-ups integrate them into the décor. Anthony maintains a shrine to his childhood in his game room, formerly known as the garage, and lined shelves with choice pieces throughout the house. First-time visitors to Anthony’s game room may think they’ve stepped into a toy convention when they see the collections. “People usually can't believe that I have all this stuff. Most reactions range from total disbelief to stunned awe,” he says.
But what spurs a person to take on the task of obtaining so many objects? Anthony chalks it up to his childhood and his personality. “When we were very young my brother and I had a lot of Lost In Space and Major Matt Mason toys. My mom sold them at a garage sale when she thought we were too old for them.” Anthony continues, “Soon after that, I found out how much they were worth on the secondary market and wanted to cry. I've always had an addictive personality and collecting is very, very addictive. I have to ‘score’ the entire line of something. It's worse than drugs sometimes.”
Anthony clearly takes pride in all of his PVC treasures—and the fact that he has every Star Trek figure ever made, but there is an underlying motive for collecting that all collectors face. “Part of the thought of collecting is that one day you will sell some items. For that reason, I try to keep as many in the box. If I really like a piece, I try to buy two-one to open, one to pack away,” he confesses. To collectors intent on using the toy market to make back losses in the stock market, Anthony advises, “I learned this very early on, buy what you like, not what you think will make you money. If you buy for the financial return, you'll probably get burned.”
Like most creative professionals, Karl Anthony puts his knowledge and love of toys to work for him. “As a comedian, I do integrate my somewhat useless knowledge of toys, and the inspirations for them, in my work. On stage at the Comedy Warehouse, I integrate it into scenes as often as possible.”
In addition to promoting creativity and providing an eclectic décor for his home, Anthony views his collections as a Fountain of Youth of sorts. He concludes, “I very much think that toys and collecting them keeps me young. I wanted so much of this stuff when I was a kid, and now that I can afford it on my own, I love it even more. It always reminds me of my childhood. When it stops, I'll stop collecting.”
Behind the Cellophane: Chat with a Package Designer
Santa may deliver the toys, elves may make the cookies, but it’s illustrators like Harry Moore who are responsible for the package artwork we are so quick to toss aside. Moore was launched into the world of toy illustration fresh out of the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, PA 10 years ago. Since his start with Tyco toys, Moore has gone on to illustrate for well-known companies including Keebler Company, Marvel Comics, Disney, Lucasfilm Ltd., and Kellogg Company.
In a brief Q&A session, Moore discusses some of the more interesting points about package design.
What was your first experience with illustrating for toys?
HM: My first toy projects were for Tyco toys, which now a subsidiary of Mattel. I worked on packaging and illustrations for everything from matchbox cars to Looney Tunes action figures.
With an increasing number of collectors who keep their toys in the original boxes, is there an added pressure to design an interesting package?
HM: There is a conscious effort by the client and the artist to design a more interesting package. A few years back I worked on some X-Men boxed sets for Toy-Biz that were definitely geared more toward the collector, I think that packaging was intended to be more of a display piece when you compare them to other X-Men toy products released at that time.
Are there any challenges in constructing designs for a package?
HM: One of the obstacles with packaging is the amount of information that goes on the package itself. You have to be aware of all of the information that goes on packaging and have space available for it in the design. I think of some of the toy and cereal packaging from the 60s and 70s that had less text and let the artwork and the toy sell the item. Today, toy, candy and cereal packaging will usually have a cross-sell (pictures of other items or flavors available in the assortment) along with ingredients or instructions, copyright likes, and sometimes even a story about the item.
Do your clients appreciate and welcome your creativity? Are you able to bring your own style and ideas to the projects you work on?
HM: Usually the client has an idea or initial concept. The client could tell me the Keebler Elves are visiting a haunted house for a Halloween promotion, or this is for a line of “light-up” Spider-Man toys. My job is to then interpret what that might mean, at the same time making it fun and keeping the integrity of the characters intact. The art may also need to be adapted to other items, like coupons or web advertisements.
What are the benefits of working with a licensed character as opposed to creating your own?
HM: I think working with licensed characters on product can be easier in the sense that the client and the artist will have an established look to follow. If I’m creating “new” characters for a project, the development of the characters can be a project in itself, before you even start the actual project. A current example of that is a line of Tootsie Pop valentines that required creating characters that the client was comfortable with incorporating into their “product universe.”
I think one of the best things about what I do is the opportunity to work with and learn about all of the different licensed characters. All of the characters have a story, all of the Keebler Elves have names and personalities, Spider-Man has many friends and foes. You get to learn those things and that makes the product better when you get to know them, and makes it fun.
Q&A with CrossGen Entertainment’s Bill Rosemann
CrossGen Entertainment has accomplished a miraculous feat. After just three years since its initial launch in May 2000, it has become the comic industry's fourth largest publisher. CrossGen, based just outside of Tampa, is represented in 34 countries and 12 languages, and multiple imprints, including CrossGen Publishing, CrossGen Comics, CGE, and Code 6. Bill Rosemann helms the Marketing and Communications department at the company and discusses marketing, the comic audience, and goals for CGE.
Who is your audience?
BR: CrossGen Entertainment's ongoing mission is to deliver high adventure at a low cost to as many people as possible. Thanks to our mix of characters (many of which are female—rather than the stereotypical male hero—as well as of different ages and races), genres (such as Sci-Fi, fantasy, and mystery) and formats (such as our affordable & potable Traveler collections, our traditional graphic novel line, and our monthly comic books) we're popular both amongst younger readers, who are discovering our titles in libraries and bookstores, and adult readers, who make up the majority of the direct market comic book specialty shop audience. We're also reaching a mix of ages through our online comicsontheweb.com, which offers hundreds of issues for only pennies a day at several popular websites, including Lycos, Ifilm, Clear Channel Radio Interactive, ucomics.com, and YOUtopia.com.
Additionally, we're finding a growing audience among female readers. Comics traditionally cater to a male readership, with only about 7% of comics' audience being female. At CrossGen, as much as 35% of our readers are female, and the numbers are still growing.
For years, comics have been making the transition from page to screen. Is CrossGen involved with any future developments?
BR: The company has a long-term exclusive development deal with Branded Entertainment, a film and television production company helmed by long-time Batman film and animated feature executive producer Michael Uslan. Most recently, CrossGen announced film and television deals that will see many of its properties developed over the next few years by such talent as Oscar® winning director Robert Zemeckis, Wes Craven (Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street), Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser, The Scorpion King), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Bob Gale (Back to the Future), Threshold Entertainment (Mortal Kombat) and many others.
Do you see comics as toys or literature?
BR: Comic books, by their very nature, are classified as the melding of literature with art, however our online comicsontheweb.com do feature interactive qualities that toys possess. What the best comics and toys share though, are the ability to entertain, delight, and even challenge their users.
Are toys such as action figures considered a form of advertising to promote a character or line of characters?
BR: The goal for any of CrossGen's creations, be they action figures, video games, comic books, movies or TV programs, is to be authentic and independent inspirations of our characters and stories. Therefore, we see action figures as toys that children of all ages can use to reenact their favorite stories, and even dream up new adventures.
CrossGen recently acquired rights to print Masters of the Universe. How will this affect toy distribution and licensing within the company?
BR: We are very happy that MVCreations has chosen CrossGen's CGE imprint as their partner for publishing comic books and graphic novels, which will not only star characters from the world renowned Masters of the Universe license, but also from Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair and Space Ace properties.
As far as toy distribution, that's a separate license that Mattel currently holds. It's our hope that the comics that CGE publishes will add to the popularity that this worldwide property enjoys.
Do comics sell best in specialty stores, online, or at conventions?
BR: The majority of our sales come through comic book specialty shops, whether they be "brick and mortar" or online stores. These stores sell both new issues, which go on sale every Wednesday, and older issues, also known as "back issues." Additional growing markets include mass-market bookstores such as the Barnes & Noble or Tower chains, which favor our graphic novel format. A third option is comic book conventions, where you can find many retailers selling both new and old issues. To find a comic book specialty shop near them stocking plenty of CrossGen products, readers can go to crossgen.com and click on the Premier Retailer button.
Do you have promotional products available at conventions for potential readers?
BR: New readers and longtime fans are invited to stop by our booth at the major comic book conventions, where they'll find all of their favorite creators signing free posters featuring characters from nearly every series we publish. They can also bring comics for them to sign, and even get the entire artistic team—including penciler, inker and colorist—to draw their favorite character for them for free! This year, in addition to MegaCon, the show we already attended in Orlando, we'll be bringing excitement to Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego!
Is there pressure or desire to sign on comics with marketable characters or potential action figures or do you concentrate on bringing quality stories and characters to audiences, regardless of marketing potential?
BR: Our focus is always on delivering the best stories possible. If you begin with a good story, everything else—if and when the time and fit is right—will follow. So the only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to top what we've done previously and keep our fans entertained.
What types of positions are available for creative professionals who wish to get into toy or comic promotion?
BR: Similar to any creative industry, you'll find jobs in production, editorial, marketing, sales, and manufacturing. Since the industry is rather small, competition is fierce, but talent—backed by a professional attitude and work ethic—always wins out. If you want to join the CrossGen team, you have to be able to work well together in a collaborative environment with colleagues and support staff. Artists need to be at the absolute top of their games, as their contemporaries will be examining—and trying to top—their daily output. You also have to deliver on time, since we don't miss deadlines here (we have a perfect on-time shipping record). So, talent + professionalism = CrossGen success.
sidebars to the feature article Batteries Not Included: The Art of Promoting Playthings originally published in the Summer 2003 Create magazine Central Florida edition
Content on this site was originally written by Katharine Miller between 2000-2015. Many feature articles and interviews were published in print and on websites that no longer exist. Katharine is reproducing her written material here for portfolio and archival purposes only. Links and credits to clients and original publication will be included where possible.