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An annual event… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at how different retailers are building licensed annuals into their offer this Christmas.

One of the interesting features of the Christmas product mix is the release of annuals by publishers. As the name suggests, annuals appear every year – they are full colour hardback books generally around 64 pages full of features, stories and often comic strip focused on a specific topic or theme.

These days most annuals are licensed titles. Years ago, annuals featured the ‘best of’ comic titles and were almost entirely focused on comic titles rather than licensed properties. The Beano and The Dandy are survivors of that style of annual and are still part of the annual mix but generally annuals are now dominated by licensing. It is a category a number of retailers support and feature. It seems to be a category that is price driven and competitive, with retailers looking to find an edge.

One thing to note is that as annuals are targeted at the Christmas gifting market retailers are keen to see them sell-through before Christmas, otherwise they have to move to price discounting post Christmas. It is also a category that is hard to manage as orders have to be placed a far way in advance so it can be difficult to predict which titles will be most in demand.

Due to print locations, timings and deadlines it is difficult to top up orders and buy more stock so buyers (and publishers) have to be careful with their forecasts.

LL2WH Smith is a big supporter of annuals, dedicating a fair amount of space including a dedicated fixture. Licensed titles in the fixture included Minecraft, Fortnite and Pokémon – a clear indication of the popularity of gaming properties. Interestingly, football is a strong theme in the category – WH Smith had the Match of the Day annual on sale, while it also sells the Match annual. A further footballing title is the Topps Match Attax Annual. These titles are often competing with club specific titles as well.

LEGO is also a strong force in annuals. The official LEGO Annual comes with a LEGO figurine, while there is a co-branded Harry Potter title. For younger readers brands such as Disney and Peppa Pig are in the mix. One point to note is that annuals are generally bought as gifts so brand recognition and cover imagery is important. In this context added value titles like the LEGO one probably score well.

LL7Other retailers such as Waterstones and Foyles give annuals a significant presence as well. Foyles in Charing Cross Road gives a lot of space to annuals and make it a real feature in the children’s book department. It also seems to be well stocked. Most titles are the same as those featured in WH Smith, but I did notice some different titles including a Natural History Museum Dinosaurs title.

Interestingly, Foyles also carries a big selection of Christmas-themed children’s books including picture books and junior novels. A lot of these were author driven titles such as David Baddiel’s Virtually Christmas. I can’t quite remember so many Christmas-themed titles before. Christmas wasn’t the only theme on show in Foyles as it also had a number of Halloween-themed titles including Peppa Pig’s Peppa’s Happy Halloween.

LL6Turning back to Christmas, I thought a really interesting title was a picture story book, The Christmas Doll based on the BBC series The Repair Shop. The book and illustrations looked charming and it represents a very interesting move for The Repair Shop.

As noted, Waterstones also stocks annuals and gives dedicated space to them in the children’s department. Price is a key consideration in the category, but I am guessing availability will be a factor as well as Christmas gets closer – the ‘hot’ titles will be in demand. I think annuals are also a category where there is a real value to ‘official’ status and in a number of cases titles carry the ‘official’ wording while conversely some others declare that they are ‘unofficial’.

LL5The Forbidden Planet superstore in Shaftesbury Avenue also sells annuals and give them space throughout the store. Interestingly it carried a full range of LEGO-themed titles including Harry Potter, Star Wars and the LEGO Annual itself, but had blended these with other LEGO titles such as Jurassic World in a dedicated space.

Forbidden Planet also blended in titles such as Dr Who into the themed Dr Who area in store. Dr Who has an official 60th anniversary title and you can see a title of this kind having broad appeal among Whovians, hence its presence in the Dr Who bay in-store.

It was also interesting to see how Forbidden Planet was selling big format books like a Yellow Submarine Box Set which is limited to an edition of 1968 copies. The box set includes a graphic novel, art cards, badges and lobby cards. It is a real fan fest item and is targeting the Christmas gifting market. In many ways it is the adult version of an annual.

LL4Rymans has taken a slightly different approach to Christmas books and publishing. In the branch I visited I couldn’t see any annuals, but it did have a range of Advent Calendar and Storybook giftpacks. Displayed in a FSDU at the front of store, there was a Marvel version and a Disney Princess version. Selling at £9.99 and marked as half price, these are definitely items created for the Christmas market but also marketed to sell through quickly.

The Marvel pack was marked as having ‘new content’ – a reminder that items like this and annuals benefit from having fresh content. Rymans had also given a lot of space to a range of Disney Encanto products. This range included books, jigsaw puzzles and games.

LL3Outside the world of annuals and books it was interesting to see that Coca-Cola has a branded store in Covent Garden at the moment. The store was selling a mix of licensed products with store special items including London-themed items. There was a focus on Christmas and products that dialled up Coca-Cola’s Christmas heritage. There was a café bar selling items like Coke Floats and also an opportunity to buy some personalised products that were printed on site while you wait.

A core part of the product offer was a capsule range of apparel designed by the Clothsurgeon and based on the Coca-Cola sign that used to be in Piccadilly Circus. A real nod to the brand’s heritage, but also a nod to London’s history. A really nice use of an archive asset and a good way of delivering some engaging content in store. It is interesting to see more brands using themed stores as part of their marketing activities and, in turn, licensing playing a part in this. I expect to see more activations like this from brand owners not just when ‘the holidays are coming’.

LL1Finally, I popped down to Brighton at the weekend. One feature of Brighton is that it has a lot of street art including some which has been commissioned for shop fronts and shutters. There are some very talented street artists at work in Brighton and, as reported before, street artists often lean on well known characters for inspiration. A meeting of pop culture minds.

One stand out example was on the sea front – Beadazzle has a wonderful street art shutter featuring the Pink Panther. A great character well captured and one well suited to the Brighton beach life.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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