The World Is On Fire

Again. It’s not the first time, certainly we have seen sweeping changes in the way we live and do business, even in our lifetimes. Mechanical transport, electricity, telephones, air travel, radio and television – all these and more rearranged lives and businesses. But they did so at a relatively ordered pace since the infrastructure required to implement and support the advances did not exist, particularly outside of developed countries, and had to be built. Each one would build upon the previous as they progressed throughout the world. But now, as we are in the throes of the information age, or the digital revolution, or whatever you want to call it, the ordered pace of progress has become a firestorm and it is burning across the entire globe almost daily.
This is a key difference in several ways, but don’t miss this word: global.  
The party has gotten much bigger – instead of a few thousand people influencing your life you now have to contend with 7 billion. You needn’t dig very deep to understand how enormous a change that is. The basic methods of doing commerce have and continue to evolve in new and exciting ways, and as a result well-ordered, step by step career plans have also become a casualty. “Build” has been replaced by “pivot” as the new mantra. Pundits and professors alike are talking about business models that are more akin to chaos theory than an old time business plan, and they are not speaking in jest. (The fact that I can call it an “old time business plan” and you didn’t blink should tell you something.)
The intrinsic value of a patent or copyright has gone up in smoke as well.
A disturbing statement for anyone in the licensing business. Oh, the law hasn’t changed, it still grants ownership rights and a registration grants you more rights and some clout, but you know that doesn’t really matter if someone in Ethiopia or Vietnam ignores it. And it increasingly doesn’t seem to matter to 16 year old bloggers, wanna-be artists or the occasional Etsy designer showing off their, or is it your, creativity. Everything you do gets laid out on a worldwide digital stage. There is a school of thought wherein we are moving toward a cloud state where information and knowledge is a commodity owned by all and the concepts of authorship and origin will fade away. It is seductive in some ways to talk of free expression, shared innovation and the freedom to build upon each others ideas. Unless of course that affects how you feed your family, then maybe not so much, but unfortunately no less real.
I don’t have the answers, and even if I did they would only be right for me…for about 10 minutes. It is an exciting time for those who go to bed and wake up thinking about what they could, how they would, maybe they should… and then they do. It is a frightening time for those who look back at how they used to do things and wonder how to bring that about again – a sad waste of talent. You can’t stop a tsunami, sometimes you can’t even swim with it but you can climb above it. Run like the wind. Go!   

Atlanta Tidbits

Normally I would toss these eagerly awaited gems out there and let you digest them as you will, but this collection from the recent Atlanta Gift Market seem to be wrapping around a couple of messages. The first is that the business is back – it was a great market and there are similar reports from those that followed; Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago, LA and the NYIGF all reported significant increases in attendance and sales. For instance:
It’s like the good old days
– a showroom client about the Market
It’s nice to see our customers with their chins off the floor.
– a showroom client
The second point that I see being made is that the days of one-off designs, what I call the single snowman problem, are definitely waning. Yes, I’ve said this before, and yes, there will always be a gift bag here and a paper plate there, however for the first time we are hearing the clients articulate – almost as a group – that they are hunting for something bigger and better. These were all comments from different clients at different times over the six days we were there:
Most anyone can draw a picture, we want more than that.
– a licensee
It’s hard to put a finger on where this market is going so I don’t know what I want.
– a showroom client
We’re really looking for something that’s more than pattern based – everybody can get patterns.
– giftware licensee
We’re looking for properties that we can get behind, develop and sell across a number of categories for the next 2 or 3 years.
– art director of a large multi-category company
No one can afford to do continue doing these novelty collections that are in and out right away, so we want ideas we can carry over to next year and expand upon.
– a giftware manufacturer
And then there are a few random beauties:
This can be a thankless business.
– an agent lamenting the unexpected end of a long term artist relationship
I’m sorry but I just don’t want to be all that helpful.
– a successful artist in a discussion about the social licensing groups
This whole “everybody is an artist” thing makes me want to throw up. It’s just not the case.
– an agent
And of course my favorite:
For God’s sake, how many of these tilty-headed, big-eyed woman designs can this market absorb?
– from an agent walking the show