I remember my dad “teaching me to be a man” when I was twelve. It was one part of his methodology in teaching me football, taking me fishing on weekends, and teaching me how to read the daily stock report in the newspaper.
We didn’t talk much about art, though I liked to bring up the subject but his pat answer was, “Really art is good to know about…if you’re a girl.” And the business of art licensing barely existed at that time.
If you are the average collector, like me (or like I once was), you think of a nice rendering in a lovely picture frame that looks nice on the wall and color-coordinated with carpet, furniture, and the like.
I thought that for many years and then I grew “savvy”.
I still love art as much as any art collector; I have some Dali unlimited editions, lots of framed museum poster art and the like. But it wasn’t until I learned about licensed art products that I learned “the real game.”
The bulk of art trade today, is not done on picture frame; but on art collectibles such as tee shirts, mousepads, porcelain plates, sweatshirts, caps, aprons, cutting boards, coasters wall clocks and other such items that all include a the artist’s or cartoonist’s images. When I was in first grade, you could buy a Fun With Dick And Jane lunch box for about 35 cents. That same box today goes for around $200. Similarly, early Peanuts products have brought a $1,000 or more. These are not framed art pieces, but licensed manufactured merchandise.
So what to buy?
Well I always say “buy what you like” because no matter the value, you are going to enjoy owning it. But if you want to “hedge” as they say in the stock market, do a little research and find out who is right on the edge of fame, up-and-coming, etc., and their prices are still low on their manufactured goods. Usually most of these goods from t-shirts to mousepads to tote bags range in the $20-$30 range.
When I first became a cartoonist, in 1997, I had zero knowledge of the art licensing business, much less did I know that it is one of the largest volume businesses in the U.S. With about 40 billion dollars exchanged annually in it. That is no lofty or pie-in-the-sky dreamland industry. It is thriving and performing like a fine-tuned race car.
It was not until almost 10 months ago, when I began licensing my own cartoons onto manufactured products at deep discount rates, did I realize, (and surprisingly how many people were and are buying) that there really are collectors out there who are serious. (I was relatively unknown when the first purchase came in).
So I studied how the “Internet-savvy” investor figured out who was “up and coming” and who was not. There are a number of analytical sites; one owned by Amazon.com called Alexa.com and another called Netcraft.com. Most investors monitor weekly or monthly how their favorite creator is doing. With about 8-10 billion websites on the Internet on any given day, most just look at the top 1 million websites that include, art, cartoons, cartoon merchandise, etc.
Our main cartoon website has now received 7.5 million visitors since 2005 (I can remember when 100 per day was reason to celebrate); now it is more like 4000+ per hour). What was my formula? I wish I could tell you. I did a lot of blogging and article writing (still do) and keep creating.
I can sleep well at night when someone buys one of my cartoon mousepads, or tee shirts, or whatever, not just because it causes laughter which is a good thing, but because we have been scrutinized by the Internet analytical community as “up-and-coming” which means now buyers can buy and begin collecting at a very reasonable price, which, next year, might not be so reasonable; I wish I could control that; I can’t, the manufacturer gets to do that. If it were up to me, I’d sell it for pennies so everyone could enjoy it. But I can’t.
My point (seems like hype, of course) and partly it is. But I can only tell you about my own experience (being on the verge of being well-known, not quite there, I’d say); I can still walk around town and nobody raises an eyebrow. These days, unlike the days of old, “celebrities” are not necessarily flesh that talk seen on celluloid (aka Hollywood); many “celebrities” of today are common everyday people who took the time to study various marketing techniques of the Internet and made it work for them.
I did a Google search once and found my name and email address on numerous “Celebrity Autograph” websites. I knew instinctively, “Ahhh, now I’m a celebrity. My images are worth more.” And they were, simply because in the public’s psyche, with my name right there with Elton John, Robert Redford, and Reese Witherspoon, my “stock went up”.
Whether you buy and sell licensed art goods, pure art, electronics or anything else, the same principals apply on the Internet that do in a department store. Except the Internet can be even more brutal. Word of mouth gets around lightening fast and if you make a mistake, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people can know about it within hours if not minutes. On the other hand if you do something right, the same principal applies. Not to worry, you *will* make mistakes and most people can accept them. The issue is not if you make one or not, but if you learn from it. I don’t always, but I do try my best, and I can honestly say I make a lot less of them today than I did a decade ago when starting.
Does that make me an guru? I have some bad news. There ARE no gurus, and frankly I am not so certain there are gurus in any field, though, there are some who know a bit more than others and are generous enough to teach it. The Internet is for everyone. It has leveled the business playing field. Information that used to be available just to large corporations are now available to all of us. It is how we use it that matters.
I would never teach you all I know even if I could for a variety of reasons. One being, it might not be your style. You might not have the slightest interest in buying and selling licensed image collectibles. You might, but mine might not be your taste. You may love mine, but my style is different than yours. A lot of paths lead to that Internet pot of gold. You may like blogging more than article marketing. Social networking might be your thing. You might be a whiz at ppc marketing. I try to learn a little about each and interconnect it all with incoming links. That seems to keep my sites ratings high. I still have much to learn, but so do the “so called gurus” who taught me.
If you still think there are “gurus”, think about this. If Albert Einstein came back from the dead and was to be thrown into the workplace, he’d probably be fired immediately (he wouldn’t even know what the Internet was much less how to send an email. So even the guru that he was, gurus are here today and gone tomorrow as information changes. The secret, I think, is to keep up with that ever changing information and become flexible. Some information is right on target and some people who claim to be gurus don’t have a clue.
Can you imagine the Dali Lama telling you “Hey, I’m a guru. Look at me!” Nope. Too humble; and probably the closest thing to one. So if someone is hyping him/herself or another as a guru, don’t walk, but run the other way. That is what I do and I make a lot more money, as do my associates by taking that posture. We all have the “guru within”.
In any case, the bottom line is not just to research but have fun; don’t buy just to “sell at a profit”; not that that is a bad thing, it is not;l but buy what you enjoy, and you will (usually) find someone else enjoys it just as much if not more, and is willing to double or even quadruple your profit within a few years.
Though I don’t exclusively collect my own licensed art products, I do collect them along with Simpsons, Peanuts, Southpark, and a number of older products that I find at various websites (and Ebay) of cartoon images on products from way back. They are not only a joy to own and share, they continue to beat the stock market each year by over 14%, yet a very small percentage of the population is even aware the business exists.