Can you imagine EMI, Warner Music or BMG collaborating in a joint venture with Napster fifteen years ago? No way! Perhaps something really fundamental has changed after all these years. Call it “lessons learned”, call it “the age of Co-“, but that then unthinkable collaboration is quite close to what Hasbro and Shapeways joint venture mean for the currently emerging 3D printing market.
Hasbro and Shapeways announced a year ago a joint website that allow fans to adapt and modify Hasbro brands into new artwork that can be 3D printed and sold via this marketplace. The new site, called SuperFanArt, debuted with pop culture phenomenon My Little Pony and five artists whose work was available for order online and printed in a colorful plastic polymer.
Recently, Hasbro and Shapeways expanded the partnership. The quick success of the pilot program has led to a rapid expansion to include art based on many other Hasbro properties, including Transformers, G.I. Joe, Monopoly, Scrabble, and more. Meanwhile, they’re also opening the program to additional artists and the website is able to output creations in materials that include full-color plastic, ceramic, and precious metals. The companies would split the revenue from art sales based on these properties.
This joint venture deserve a special mention here for more reasons that being a type of collaboration difficult to imagine between a strong incumbent company and a new player that could easily be perceived as a dangerous killer of existing traditional and lucrative business models. The decision to license out intellectual property by a major brand is impressive despite it being under relatively close control, and offers some interesting paths for other brands to consider. 3D printing allows you to print on demand versus holding inventory. Digital inventory, as Amazon has proved with many products, notably its print on demand of physical books, is relatively inexpensive and quick to ship.
As Blair Baumwell, head of communications at Shapeways, puts it…
“There is no need to make products in the thousands or millions in order to be successful – or even exist. They can just exist digitally. Brands (and now artists) can therefore make as many digital products as they want and are not limited by manufacturing restraints or shelf space. This perspective is a major shift in how a brand thinks about its IP. In the past, it was standard to hold IP close. With new technology, like Shapeways, becoming available that directly services the design community, it’s going to be harder and harder to control IP. Fans are passionate about the things they love, and they are going to find creative ways to consume them. Brands, like Hasbro, that realize this early on and proactively engage are going to flourish, and those that don’t will be left behind.”