Just Me! Music has managed to build a thriving business on the notion that there isn’t a child out there who wouldn’t squeal with delight at the sound of their favorite character singing just to them. Its latest release, Sing-a-Long With Elmo, features 30 minutes of the furry red Muppet’s song stylings, which can be custom-tailored to any one of 1,800 names. Just Me! president Paul LaRue notes that royalties for this new and unique product are almost like found revenue for licensors, and the even better news is that the company is looking to expand its licensed business and distribution reach this year.
To date, the Franklin, Tennessee-based company has sold more than 750,000 CDs via its network of stand-alone mall kiosks in the U.S. and its website www.justmemusic.com. The chief appeal of the music disks is that Just Me! gets the original voice talent behind the licensed characters in its portfolio, including Elmo’s Kevin Clash, to go into the studio and speak or sing each name as many as six times. So the recordings sound so natural that it really does seem like the character is speaking one-on-one to little Charlotte or Johnny – there isn’t a whiff of computer-generated or synthesized content.
Although the company started off in 2003 with just the VeggieTales license driving its business, Elmo, Barney and The Wiggles have since joined in. Next up is a trio of titles from Disney – A Princess Tea Party, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy and Pooh & Friends – launching sometime this quarter. LaRue is interested in acquiring more character and/or kids celebrity licenses, and usually cuts property owners a 10% royalty. Depending on who holds the underlying music rights, he’ll license character songs from the original music publisher or get licensors to clear the rights themselves.
As for retail distribution, Just Me! currently has a U.S. network of roughly 300 operators who run the kiosks and burn individual CDs for consumers. But this year, LaRue plans to install small proprietary countertop display units in mall-based toy, stationery and gift shops. Using a touch-screen device, customers will be able to serve themselves. The process should take about five minutes from start to finish, and the consumer will leave with a customized CD that sports a personalized, four-color label with their child’s name on it.
The disks carry an SRP of US$24.95, so LaRue says retailers can make a 40% margin. Just Me! intends to lease the display units to interested outlets for around US$250 a month, and has placed 12 test-phase units already. The ambitious plan involves finding homes for 2,000 self-serve machines over the next two years.