The Real Opportunity

“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.

Hey Pal, Can You Spare a Nanosecond?

I was directed to an interesting article recently about the rise of robotics; it made a valid case for grouping modern robotics with past life changing developments like gunpowder, the steam engine, and the computer. There can be no doubt this is game-changing technology that has a growing impact at every level of our society. Cars brake automatically to avoid collisions, correct lane wandering and even park themselves. Vacuums wander around the house unaided. Just tell your phone where you want to go and it will talk you through the route. There’s so much more, but what I find fascinating is that we no longer marvel at this technology because it is already so integrated in our lives.
If you think about it, you have an army of robots working for you now, and they have revolutionized our business of art licensing. Granted they have simpler programming than R2D2, but they are getting smarter by the day. Every time you pick up that Wacom pen you are operating a little interactive robot. Or when you load a pencil sketch in your scanner and tell it to take a picture, convert it to data and display it on a screen for editing – why, thank you little robot. Another one is posing as your website. It performs functions we previously had to do in person – answers the incoming inquiry, dispenses basic information about you, displays some samples and then gathers information for follow up. Some sites (like ours) also allow the client to search a library by subject and assemble a “portfolio” of selections for review and download. All while you’re in the shower. Ya gotta love it.
The web is becoming more visual by the day. If an art director needs some Christmas, what do they do? They send the Google bots out to scour the internet for Christmas art, currently by keyword but how long do you think it will be before an analytical visual search engine is viable? The need is here now: 300 million images are uploaded to Facebook every day, sites like Instagram hit billion dollar valuations, You Tube has played over a trillion videos, and making a video presentation is a possibility for anyone with a smartphone or pad. Content needs to be more than good, it needs to be SEEN. Companies are employing “visual curators” to analyze and improve their presence on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr and various social networks. The full global design market is still a fledgling, but as it matures and becomes readily accessible the impact on our business will be disruptive in ways we cannot predict.
Try picturing this: thousands of Net bots sifting through millions of images worldwide to pick designs. It could be any day now – have you thought about what your strategy will be to keep yourself visible in that scenario? Might be a good time to start.