The First Licensing of a Literary Character
How Winnie the Pooh launched a billion spin-offs & an industry
January 6, 1930, is the first day a literary character was “licensed” for merchandising. On that day, A.A. Milne (the author) sold the rights to his fictional character (a lovable bear named Winnie the Pooh) to an agent (Stephen Slesinger) for $1000 and 66% of all profits he generated. A year later, Slesinger had earned $50 million for a Pooh doll, record, board game, puzzle, and radio program.
After his death in 1956, Milne’s rights passed to his heirs but by 2001 Disney had purchased all of these from the various parties for a sum close to half a billion dollars. That extraordinary expense seemed warranted a year later when Forbes Magazine deemed Winnie the Pooh the most lucrative fictional character ever: a teddy bear on top of a honey pit generating buckets of cash from five movies, several TV series, countless radio and television specials, and more. By 2005, merchandising — including stuffed toys, games, and other spin-off’s— brought in $6 billion.
Taking a teddy bear into the future
Among the more curious uses of the licensed franchise occurred in April 2010 when Apple launched the iPad. Apple’s ads prominently featured pictures from “Winnie the Pooh” on the tablet’s sample screens and new iPads routinely shipped with a free e-copy of Milne’s beloved classic. Marketers wanted to convey visions of accessibility by linking this cozy childhood story with what was otherwise a cold, brushed-steel, futuristic device. Here was another honey pot.
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