“The real opportunity, I think, is in trying to build longer arcs.”
– Seth Godin
Yesterday’s blog post by Seth (here) accurately hits a message we have been pushing to our artists for the last couple of years. The design cycle (time on market) has shortened while at the same time the number of competitors trying to place designs has increased. It may seem that a shorter use cycle would provide MORE opportunities to license, which is in some ways true, however winning the prize ain’t what it used to be. Shorter cycles also mean smaller sku quantities (no time to build a line) and less royalties (no time to build those either). And I would venture to say that any increase in need is being dwarfed by the increase in available art for licensing, so no help there. To succeed in this churn requires a steady supply of new, new, and new. You need to turn into a design machine and keep turning out more. This is one of the reasons that agencies do well – they can consistently offer a bigger selection of new designs, often in a variety of styles, in one sitting. It’s difficult to compete with that scenario but certainly not impossible, there are plenty of single artists who do quite well.
Another way to win in this game is to not play it anymore.
Jump off of the hamster wheel and try to look at the bigger picture – what sets the big names apart? WHY do you continue to see their art on products everywhere? What is unique about their style (Kelly Rae Roberts), or message (Suzy Toronto), skill level (Susan Winget) or concept (our own Paw Palettes)? Why is it when you look at a Britto design you know it’s his? How does Life Is Good sell 100 million dollars in T-shirts, one of the most difficult categories around? People on every side of this business spend a lot of time asking and analyzing these kinds of questions, and if you want to compete at that level you should be too.
Get out of the soul-sucking Single Snowman business and get into the (insert Your Name here) business. No doubt this is a risk. It’s difficult. You need to reach deep and find something in yourself that no one else has, and then you need to have it connect to a fickle market. It is also a journey, not an event – many times the first, second or third iteration of your concept doesn’t work, but the fourth might. And sometimes things don’t work at all, and you need to go back and start anew, but hopefully now you’re smarter, and better, so not all was lost. In fact, you may be surprised what you’ve found.