Kathy Alpert’s journey into art licensing began when she saw a vintage-style postcard in a card shop. She wondered if she could use the thousands of images she had saved from old magazines, prints, and photography — now in the public domain — put her own twist on them, and license them for use with consumer products.
She launched PostMark Press of Watertown 12 years ago as a stationery wholesaler and then started approaching manufacturers about licensing newly enhanced pictures of ’50s-era housewives, Victorian suffragettes, and ’60s-era office workers, providing witty copy to go with the designs.
What does it mean to license art?
Licensing is a huge marketing tool, the process of leasing a trademarked or copyrighted property such as a design, slogan, name, or logo. It could be licensing a celebrity’s name like Hannah Montana to put on a toy or accessory, or a brand like Harley-Davidson.
What’s your licensing niche?
I create original designs from previously published material and infuse the display with contemporary humor. It might be an old ad from a [Saturday Evening] Post magazine. I’ll remove the words and any distracting background and add some sort of color or subtle pattern then reformat it. My sweet spot is the popular culture of the ’30, ’40s, and ’50s.
How do you make income from licensing?
My income comes from royalties based on sales for each individual design. Some companies provide an advance against royalties. For example, one company pays a $400 advance for each image or design selected, and then after the advance is “earned out,” a quarterly royalty kicks in based on 6 percent of wholesale sales.
How do you deal with copyright?
If you come up with your own spin on a vintage piece of art, then you own that design. Previously, you needed to register for copyright protection, but now this isn’t necessary; any original art is protected. Product lines are looking for exclusivity; they want to be the first person out of the gate selling it.
You have files and files of retro images. How did you start collecting all of these?
My passion for vintage postcards, midcentury magazines, old prints and photography, antique matchbooks, collectible calendars, and other colorful pieces of the past go back to my childhood days at my grandfather’s farm in New Hampshire where he stored all his papers. I spent rainy days exploring old Life magazines, photographs, and postcards, and when he passed away, I pulled up a U-Haul and packed as much as I could into it. Then someone told me about Brimfield Fair, and I discovered postcard dealers. I was hooked.
Cindy Atoji Keene can reached at email@example.com