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Why the annuals category continues to be big business

Egmont UK’s John Packard on why annuals are a critical part of many retailers’ Christmas offer.

Annuals are as much a part of Christmas in the UK as giant tins of sweets and tangerine stuffed stockings. Most kids at some point will be gifted a book in this traditional format and for any character, computer game, or film franchise, the annual will often be the biggest volume seller in books. Its performance is often a really good barometer of a brand’s health.

Annuals are a critical part of the overall Christmas offer for many retailers: 20 of the top 100 titles for kids in December 2018 were published in the format, according to Bookscan. The category was worth c£6.6million in 2019, with the top 30 titles achieving £4.9million or 74% of retail sales value, underlining how those bigger titles drive the market performance, and how those bestsellers are still delivering strong market share for retailers.

But Bookscan is only part of the story – depending on the title, as much as 50% of an annual’s sale can go through non-polling accounts such as toy and non-traditional book retailers. Uniquely, there is a significant consumer demand across all markets: value, grocers, online, through to traditional booksellers.

That said, there are significant pressures on the category. Annuals are in some respects a microcosm for the broader licensed book space: each year range is squeezed, each year buying becomes more risk averse, each year the cut through of new properties is severely challenged. The mantra ‘fewer, bigger, better’ definitely applies here. Choosing the right things to publish or promote are critical as the sales window is short and space is at a premium.

Within the category there have been some really interesting trends over the years with preschool titles in general being tougher, whereas gaming and older brands have fared better. In 2018, eight of the top ten annuals were geared towards (generally speaking) boys 6-10: gaming, football etc.

One really robust area to highlight are traditional annuals: here I’d include the Beano, the Broons (which I was raised on), and our own Rupert. Across the UK there is obviously a real nostalgia and demand for classic properties in classic formats. Many of these titles are in growth year on year, which has contributed to the rise in the average selling price in 2018.

Sell through on annuals doesn’t really kick in until post October half term, but I’m sure this year we’ll continue to see the pattern we’ve seen before: a challenged long tail, only a couple of new properties surfacing in the top 20, and solid sales on the more tried and tested titles. The fact the format is still relevant for kids today and has continued cross generational appeal with gifters shows how robust the annuals category is.

John Packard is publishing director for brands at Egmont UK. Egmont had a 22% share of the annuals market in 2018, and for the past five years has been in the top two publishers for the category. Last year Egmont published seven of the top 20 annuals. Egmont works with a wide range of partners on annuals, including Disney, Hasbro, Mattel, Minecraft, Pokemon, Roblox and Universal. (All figures in the above article are based on Bookscan).

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