I'm getting into two new areas of publishing at the moment, intellectual property rights and also setting up a small press, so I'm on a steep learning curve. It's a lot of fun and I keep noticing things that make me want to delve deeper.
In the last few weeks, a whole stack of slim hardback books arrived on the lucrative end tables at Waterstones and other bookstores in the UK. The Famous Five and Ladybird books for adults are also dominating the hardback print charts.
But the Enid Blyton I read as a child (The Faraway Tree stories were my favorite!) would not have written Five on Brexit Island, or Five Go Gluten Free.
So the books raised interesting questions around copyright:
- Enid Blyton clearly didn't write the books, but her name is on the front and her brand is being used to sell them. How is that benefitting the author's estate?
- Her signature is used on the front. How is that protected?
- The books are parody content but the use of the name is not parody – so what is the copyright on using an author's name?
- The Famous Five branding is used, as is the type of story inside and the characters, but it's not for children. How is the world being used?
I checked the interior of one of the books and discovered that Enid Blyton, Enid Blyton's signature and The Famous Five are registered Trademarks of Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. If you look very closely, there is a little black dot under the final ‘n.' That is a tiny R symbol for the Registered Trademark.
The text is by Bruno Vincent but the text copyright is also with Hodder, which implies the author was commissioned to write in the ‘world' of The Famous Five, but the books belong to the publisher.
Publishing houses have whole departments whose job it is to make more of the intellectual property rights they hold, and they have clearly done a sterling job with these. They are selling a truckload, making people happy for the holiday season, and exploiting the IP they own in fantastic ways. These books are the adult coloring equivalent of last Christmas season!
Are these books or products?
As I am currently setting up a small press, I've been thinking a lot more about products that people want to buy, as opposed to books I want to write. This is a mindset shift towards more of a commissioning editor, than an author, and something I want to play with in the coming year. I'll still write the books I want to under J.F.Penn, but I'll also be trying other things.
Interestingly, I'm not even sure these Enid Blyton Christmas books are meant to be read. They are more comedy gifts for bringing a smile to someone's face as they open a present. They are products, merchandise for Christmas, not books to be treasured.
How can we apply these ideas?
Here are my takeaways:
- Over the long term, an author name becomes a brand – but only if they are known for one thing and consistently deliver on the promise to the reader. The author name resonates with readers and they will look at a book with that name associated with it, even when the author is long dead. If you start to think of your author name as a long-term brand, it can be a powerful shift.
- The signature of the author is used on the cover – and has become a trademark in itself. Perhaps instead of using a standard typeface on our book covers, a signature could be used, which in itself could become a trademark/brand in the future. I'm considering this myself, although my actual signature is a mess!
- Consider what people want to buy as well as what you want to write. In 2017, I am intending to get into some interesting print products, like premium journals, since I buy a ton of them and love them as products. There is little point in me trying to get my thrillers into high street bookstores, but I may well try to get gift style books in as that's actually what people buy and can make more money for the bookseller. After all, if you want to get books into bookstores, you have to consider where the money is for the bookstore.
I'll be doing more on intellectual property and small press stuff as I learn more about it. Do you have any other examples of interesting use of author IP or books that are products? Please do share in the comments below and join the conversation.
Carole Tansley says
What a shocking thought about the dilution of the Enid Blyton brand. My grandaughter is 11 and Enid Blyton books are still being read with joy. For the publishers she is their audience. She hasn’t got a clue about Brexit.
On another tack. I would be interested to know more about your ideas regarding your comment ‘I am intending to get into some interesting print products, like premium journals’.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Carole, I’m fascinated that you find it shocking, because presumably at some point, Enid herself, or her heirs and successors, licensed these rights to the publisher, and they have every right to do what they like with it.
I read Enid Blyton books and I think they are aiming those books are my generation – in our 40s, our eyes caught by something familiar and yet with a twist.
On the premium journal idea, I’ll reveal more when I have things set in motion – but I am getting more into print in 2017. Watch this space!
Natasha Boyd says
Great blog post, Jo. Honestly? I’m devastated by this blatant (self-serving?)abuse of an important and culturally significant author’s brand by a publisher. I grew up with Enid Blyton’s works. My kids have some of MY original copies. Obviously, some have questionable references, and my kids and I talk about that as the issues occur (Gollywogs for example (!!) who thought that was okay?!), I digress. The point is, I find it horrifying that a publisher can manipulate an author’s brand how they see fit, ostensibly in perpetuity. If nothing but Five on Brexit island survived an apocalypse, I guess that would be all Enid Blyton was known for. No Secret Seven, no famous five and definitely no Faraway Tree. Frightening.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Natasha and thanks for your thoughts. As per my response to the above comment, I am very interested in your horror about this because presumably at some point, Enid herself, or her heirs and successors, licensed these rights to the publisher, and they have every right to do what they like with it.
Authors have the responsibility to decide what they want for their works and their estate and what they sign with publishers will decide how that company uses the works. I don’t think Enid Blyton has had so many books in the hardback bestseller lists for a long time and perhaps her estate are thrilled to get some revenue so many years after her death.
You mentioned your kids, so perhaps this will give you some ideas as to how you can make sure your author brand persists and pays them out when you’re gone. I am (happily) child-free but I certainly intend to leave a huge estate that will benefit my family, and these books have made me think more about how I can design an author brand that keeps on giving …
Jonathan Gunson says
Extremely envious of Hodder’s ownership of the Blyton brand. Wringing my hands I did not spend the last 10 years since ‘Merlin’ building my own!
Better late then never. Back to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel.
P.S. Clever idea re the ‘signature’.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you appreciated the thoughts, Jonathan. I know you understand brand – and better late than never, right? You could still capitalize on the memory of Merlin I presume – design something that dings the nostalgia bell? Lots to think about …
Mariah Kingdom says
Hi Joanna … great blog post. These contemporary takes on “Enid Blyton” and “Ladybird” seem to be everywhere I turn in at the moment, and I admit I’ve grumbled about them a lot, but your post made me think about the bigger picture.
Yes it saddens me that publishers are having to resort to using brand and marketing techniques with products like this (cos lets face it, these are “products” and not “books” in the true sense?), but can we blame them for doing what they can with the brands they own if it means they can stay afloat commercially and offer a broader range of products?
I’m guessing that they still at times will take a punt on a new author, or maybe a book they believe has potential, which might not be a money-spinner in its early days (if at all!). Is it possible that some of the profit from these “brands” gives them scope to take those risks? If so, then maybe the end justifies the means …
Joanna Penn says
It’s the same as the Hollywood blockbuster approach – just keep using the same IP over and over again. Look at Disney’s next remake of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson or a reboot of the Mummy, or whatever franchise keeps giving … this is the same in publishing. The big houses have huge overheads so they need blockbusters, but they mostly also have little departments for literary works or other books that might not make any money. I think it’s a good model for authors who want to make a living writing – you need something to pay the bills while you work on your passion projects 🙂
Bouchra Rebiai says
As a millennial who enjoyed EB’s books and consumed them voraciously as a child, I find that this usage of Enid Blyton’s brand is … hard to swallow.
As a marketer, I understand the reasons behind this – after all, the words Enid Blyton and Brexit on the same book cover totally disrupted my scrolling through your tweets and got me reading this article! However, I do think that there should be something on the cover that shows that it isn’t an original Blyton, rather just a parody. I think some of the Star Wars books do this really well – they use the official logo but also put the name of the author on the cover. I believe there are some that say “A Star Wars story” too. Making it more about the world/universe would’ve made it easier for hardcore EB fans to swallow.
That said, the avid/voracious reader in me would really love to get her hands on this book. A few years ago, I attempted to write a fanfic in the Famous Five world but never got around to it because of how hard it was to stay true to the original world. I would love to read and compare, especially as this seems to be a version that’s more for adults than for kids!
Thank you for writing about this. I enjoyed learning about this perspective on how one can turn their author brand into something so memorable.
Joanna Penn says
I’m glad it’s made you think a little differently. The author’s name is inside and on the back – but presumably it was work for hire, so the publisher can do what they like. You can order the book from Amazon 🙂
JJ Tonner says
Hi Joanna, Would you recommend registering my author (brand) name as a trade mark? It’s not a signature and could be reproduced (copied) very easily. Is that an important consideration? Thanks. JJ TONER (in italics)
JJ Toner says
PS: There’s only one ‘n’ in my name! 🙂 And I see that my comment was posted at 4:13 am. In reality, it’s 10:15 am here. Where on earth is it 4:15? JJ
Joanna Penn says
Hi JJ, My blog is set to US Eastern time – and of course, it is always a different time elsewhere, 24 hours a day.
In terms of your brand, I can’t offer any recommendations. This is just an interest of mine – you get to choose how to run your author life. That’s the fun of being an indie 🙂
Mark Williams - The International Indie Author says
I consider myself Enid Blyton’s #1 fan – The Magic Faraway Tree right up there alongside the Wishing Chair, but topped by the Book of Brownies and the simply superb The Land of Far Beyond and Tales of Toyland – and if anyone wants to challenge me for the title it will be cream cakes and lashings of ginger beer at dawn.
I’ve been following with interest the Hachette buy-out of the Enid Blyton brand. Hachette (Hodder & Stoughton are part of Hachette, and Hodder was Blyton’s first publisher, way back in the early 20th century) bought the entire works (except Noddy which is owned by HarperCollins) from Chorion in March 2012 and I’m fascinated with what they are doing with it.
And like you, bemused by the reaction of some comments here. Hachette are ingeniously tapping into adults’ memories of their childhood favourite author and almost certainly having those adults going out and buying their own children, grandchildren, nephews, etc, the Blyton “originals”.
Hachette are also honouring the originals (and moving away from the politically correct rewrites that had been previously tried), and I can’t wait to get all the Blyton titles in ebook format.
On product vs book, agree totally. After a summer of disruption I’m way behind with my plans, but have two author signatures ready (one for children’s books, modelled on Blyton’s signature, and a slightly less flourished version for my adult titles).
I posted in the International Indie Author Facebook Group way back in May about the Hachette move with Brexit (planned long before the vote – not sure if they did some last minute updating to account for the result) and about how indie authors could exploit age-group verticals like this (the Hachette announcement on Brexit Blyton came just after the announcement of the YA version of the Da Vinci Code from Dan Brown).
Diversifying away from being “an author” is a great way to future-proof our careers and reduce reliance on a handful of corporate book and ebook retailers.
We have incredible opportunities available to us if we dare to step outside the comfort zone of the “I’m an indie ebook author” box.
Joanna Penn says
I’m glad you appreciate the commercial angle, Mark – and I’ll look forward to seeing the signature. It’s something I’m seriously thinking about too.
Karen Inglis says
Great and very pertinent post, Joanna!
Interesting that Penguin derived its idea for its retro series from Miriam Ella who self-published ‘We Go to the Gallery’ back in 2014 (my all time favourite and not bettered in my view!) As you may know, she used Kickstarter funds to enable her to mimic the initial Ladybird books’ style and format and initially used the Ladybird brand name on the front cover until Penguin objected – see here >> https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/22/the-flyaway-success-of-the-ladybird-art-prank! (Very glad to see they nevertheless lost the right to prevent her parodying the format – and I love her ingenious move to re-brand the new run to the ‘Dung Beetle reading scheme’ 🙂 And it looks as if she has another book based on her experience! – http://miriamelia.co.uk/we-sue-an-artist-and-then-rip-off-her-idea-2015/
Back to the Enid Blyton books, I have to confess to being initially a little bemused to see her name used on the grown-up books with no overt attempt to tag them as ‘prank ‘ (albeit that is evident to we grown-ups from the book titles themselves). I guess my reaction is/as purely for nostalgic reasons around the use of a children’s brand, and on the basis that, when signing away her rights away, she probably assumed it would simply allow others to follow in her footsteps and create similar stories for children going forward… A part of me wonders if it may also confuse the younger end of her (children) readers who will recognise the brand when seeing the books in store but not the content!
The above all said (and having calmed down a bit!), I absolutely see the commercial rationale in putting IP and brand to good use and, yes, it’s definitely something we should all be thinking about 🙂 My signature’s reasonably clear so I now have some food for thought 🙂
As a parting shot, I think we should say thanks to the self-published artist Miriam Elia who kicked this all off before Penguin to start with 🙂 I must track down her ‘We sue an artist and then rip off her idea’ book to buy (if it exists!)
Karen Inglis says
PS Sorry for all those smileys – feel free to edit some out!
Joanna Penn says
As we know, you can’t copyright ideas 🙂 Good on Miriam though, for using parody in the first place. There’s a lot more parody to come based on the political situation …
Megan Cowley says
I was aghast to discover these in Waterstones the other week (on a side note, google Bradford Waterstones. We are blessed to have the most beautiful book shop in the country, I believe!). It is one thing to use IP well, but this is so out of touch with Enid Blyton as a brand, it makes me genuinely angry to see this. To me, this is destructive to the EB brand and another show of trad pub wanting to exploit for profit.
I agree with your general point though. You know me – I have been diversifying what I do with my IP for well over a year now i.e. using art for stationary, colouring books etc. My diaries are doing well again this year, and I have negotiated two local brick and mortar stockists (keep meaning to find more but there’s only so many hours in the day!).
It’s hard finding stockists who are a good fit but worth it when you do. 🙂 Be mindful of their margins. I sell at 40% discounting on books and stationary – they’re happy on those terms and so am I, but I had to stand firm on one occasion.
However, it’s not all plain sailing. I designed a Christmas card range. The markup they want is 235% typically. It wasn’t financially viable – sell a card to a store for £1, that costs me 85p landed (best deal I could find printing a premium product), and the store only wants 10. Well. I would have had to order 100 to get the cost down, made 1.50 profit on those cards, have had 90 to sell still, and wouldn’t have paid for my time designing them… not great!
Very interested to hear where you go with all this next year! 😉
Hi Jo! I never read the original books, so that may be why I have no visceral reaction to the modern, humorous takes on the covers. I find them funny. They remind me of a meme going around of a children’s book cover with the title replaced with things like “This f’er again!?” It is the modern internet sense of humor.
Personally, I love the juxtaposition of the innocent illustrations and all the meaning that an author’s name can convey with the dark humor. The original work still exists untouched. Without it, after all, we would not have the richness this new layer of humor adds to it. But perhaps I’m overanalyzing a marketing gimick! And maybe such things are best left to internet memes. The fact that it is legitimate and legal, not a sly parody on the internet, makes it feel more forced and less interesting.
The signature issue brings to mind the obvious – Walt Disney. But I also thought of many scrapbook product designers who have been using their own handwriting style as part of their brand. Several popular designers have used their own handwriting as part of their brand identity by creating products that are words or phrases in their own handwriting that scrapbookers can use on their pages.
Denise Yoko Berndt says
I saw these books in stores and had no idea they were actual books! I thought they were notebooks with funny covers. Now I feel like buying one just for the fun of it, maybe “Five Go Gluten-Free”.
Muz Murray says
Although I loved the Famous Five books as a kid, I was aghast at some of the stuff in them as an adult. They really could do with a makeover. But far be it from me to tamper with them.
But I do have the temerity to revamp a 1910 beloved American classic in the Public Domain and bring it up a more approachable style for the children of today. I hope I don’t tread on too many cherished toes. But it was a book I loved when I was six and I’d like to make it appreciated by English children.
Although I am trying to adhere to the original stories, using a fair amount of the text, just about every second sentence needs making more ‘read-aloud-able’, so I find I am revising and rewriting a substantial amount. I just wonder if I am okay with the copyright in doing that. What say you, Joanna?
Joanna Penn says
I’m not a copyright lawyer – so you’d better ask someone qualified 🙂
Paul Osborne says
I have just discovered these band wagon “Enid Blyton” books. If the publisher is legitimately allowed to use the brand they own then fine – but it is misrepresentation to explicitly state the author is Enid Blyton. If you look at Amazon’s entires for each of these hack written books it specifically states
“More about the author
› Visit Amazon’s Enid Blyton Page
Enid Blyton’s books have sold over 500 million copies and have been translated into other languages more often than any other children’s author….”
So clearly that is misrepresentation as it states that the text will be of a standard as it was written by Enid Blyton. No where is it stated that there is no content from Enid Blyton and the author’s name on the book is a brand not an author. The added insult is that the books are written by a talentless hack.
Joanna Penn says
The point is that ‘Enid Blyton’ is now a trademark owned by the publishing company, so they have every right to publish books under the brand. The trademark is always on the book if you look closely. We live in interesting times indeed, and this will likely happen with more authors who are big enough to be brand names.
Aðalsteinn Júlíus Magnússon says
Dear Ms Penn,
I have a small library of audiobooks and would like to investigate if I could use /aquire the reight to make an Icelandic audiobook from e.g. The famous Five as I think the ofsprings of the translation are likly to allow me to use the translations, also under IP rights. Cildren read less and less so it is a worthwhile effort to hve Enids books available in Icelandic for kids and make them interested in books before current media eats them. Where should I look? I am a member of the Icelandic Writers Guild but they could not dirrect me to a single entity in the UK for this purpose. Do you know? Best regards, AJM
Joanna Penn says
You would need to license the rights from the estate of Enid Blyton. Go to one of the books and the detail will be under the copyright page.
Hi Joanna, great blog post.
Wondering, what the position would be, ( or if anyone has rewritten / retold EB books to translate ( write out) the racist and sexist and other negative messaging) I’m having to translate as I go for my son.
I’m interested in what would that the allowed, IP wise?
Joanna Penn says
I believe the estate/publisher has done some of that already in re-released editions, but you’d need to check with them.
Mrs. June Garland says
How can you justify the fraudulent manner publishers are now printing books. To me it is no different to someone copying someone elses signature on a cheque. All books should clearly state the author’s name or the name the author decides to call him/herself. If a book is not written by Enid Blyton then her name should not be on it at all! Copyright surely means the product (whether music, books, records, films, furniture, fashions or whatever0 means just that – the right to make copies – no alterations – authentic copies! I think Enid Blyton will be turning in her grave at the exploitation of her name.
Joanna Penn says
It is not fraudulent. The publisher owns the brand of Enid Blyton and her signature as a trademark so they can do whatever they like with it. That’s intellectual property law!