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Art Licensing Up 1.6%; Commercial Growth Steady

Sales of licensed art merchandise grew 1.6% from $5.67 to $5.75 billion in 2016, according to The Licensing Letter’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. While 2015 was a bright spot with 2.1% growth from 2014—after years of sluggish or flat growth—this year’s sales were slower. The sector’s steady growth was largely thanks to strong performance of commercial art properties, with a small boost from museum licensing programs.

Compared to the industry-wide growth rate of 3.2%, sales of art-based merchandise were sluggish. All told, art properties accounted for 5.4% of the total licensing business in 2016, down one-tenths of a percentage point from 2015. The sector continues to have its share eroded by other property types like entertainment/character, sports, and corporate trademark/brands.

The share of retail sales from art and artist properties (approximately 75% of all art-based retail sales) relative to museum properties (25%) continues to hold steady. Following a years-long trend, retail sales of museum-licensed merchandise exhibited stronger growth than products tied to artists and their works (2.7% vs. 1.9% in 2015, compared to 1.0% vs. -2.5% growth in 2014).

Not all museum merchandise is licensed; some is sourced by the museum for sale in its own and other retail channels. But Survey respondents attributed the increase to a handful of museums with robust licensing programs that are bulking up their commercialization game in the face of funding cuts and increased tourism from Asia.

Retail Sales of Art-Licensed Merchandise, U.S./Canada, 2015–2016
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Product Category Retail Sales, 2016 Retail Sales, 2015 Change, 2015–2016 Share of Market, 2016
Art and Artists $4,289 $4,226 1.5% 74.6%
Museums $1,464 $1,438 1.8% 25.4%
Total Art $5,753 $5,665 1.6% 100.0%

Product Category Trends

Every product category in the sector beat out the overall art-based licensing growth rate of 1.6%—with the exception of gifts/novelties, declining 6.0% and $69 million in value. Because the category is the second-largest, at 18.9% share of all art-licensed merchandise sales, it singlehandedly sunk performace for the sector.

Overall, sales of gifts/novelties declined 2.9% in 2016. Losses were offset by growth in entertainment/character, sports, and other assorted property types that took over art’s market share.

The number one category by share, at 24.6%, was stationery/paper. Growing 2.7% from $1.38 to $1.41 billion in 2016, stationery/paper is a steady revenue stream. While demand for quality greeting cards, calendars and stationery remains stable, printing costs are declining.

Publishing rounds out the top three with 15.7% market share (up three-tenths of a percentage point). The category grew 3.6% in 2016, slowing down from 4.3% growth in 2015 after the adult coloring book trend became less prominent.

Furniture/home furnishings (up 4.7%), domestics (3.6%), and housewares (4.3%) represent a strong growth area, especially for commercial artists. While royalty rates are flat and competition is intensifying, retail sales are brisk as consumers increasingly demand more variety and style in designs.

Retail Sales of Art-licensed Merchandise, by Product Category, 2015–2016
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Product Category Retail Sales, 2016 Retail Sales, 2015 Change, 2015–2016 Share of Market, 2016
Accessories $318 $305 4.2% 5.5%
Apparel $223 $212 5.2% 3.9%
Domestics $419 $404 3.6% 7.3%
Furniture/Home Furnishings $259 $247 4.7% 4.5%
Gifts/Novelties $1,087 $1,156 -6.0% 18.9%
Housewares $586 $562 4.3% 10.2%
Infant Products $457 $445 2.6% 7.9%
Publishing $904 $873 3.6% 15.7%
Stationery/Paper $1,414 $1,377 2.7% 24.6%
Other $87 $84 4.1% 1.5%
Total $5,753 $5,665 1.6% 100.0%

Sales by Distribution Channel

As always, the bulk of sales emerge from specialty stores (35.2%; down five-tenths of a percentage point from 2016) and discounters (34.8%; up one-tenth). Although growth in the department store channel (15.7%) was flat, e-commerce (11.8%) has gradually increased its share as retailers seek out new merchandise to differentiate themselves from the competition and keep stock fresh. Dollar, drug, and grocery (1.2%) continues to remain a destination for licensed art as consumers demand more sophisticated design in basic goods.


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