“Annuals are very important to our business,” confirms John-Paul Murphy, brands marketing manager for consumer entertainment at DC Thomson. “We have printed over 1.5 million units as part of our annuals and calendars 2011 range.”
You may not think it when some of the most wanted presents for this Christmas are the iPhone, iPad, Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect, but annuals and calendars are still booming sectors, as Murphy’s quoted figure clearly shows. Top sellers in the annual category this year are likely to include The X Factor, Peppa Pig, Ben 10, WWE, The Beano and Doctor Who among others, while calendars featuring Cheryl Cole, JLS, Top Gear, Justin Bieber, Cliff Richard and Manchester United should be under a multitude of Christmas trees.
So, in an increasingly interactive world, why are these sectors still booming? “There is absolutely still a place for annuals – it’s a traditional British format that is still incredibly popular,” states Susan Bolsover, category director at CPLG. “They have the advantage of offering fans all the best bits from the year, which is very appealing, and reading an annual can make consumers feel like they have a real connection with a brand, almost like being in a fan club. It’s actually a very buoyant time for annuals, as the sector has very much held its own and even grown.”
Calendars and diaries, too, are performing well, as Danilo’s Trevor Jones explains: “Sales are very healthy at present, as our product, being strongly branded, has good perceived value. Calendars and diaries are a combination of regular self-purchase by fans and an inexpensive functional gift. The main sales period runs from August through to December each year.”
Key selling time for annuals too is limited; it can begin as early as August and run through until Christmas Eve, although by mid-January any stock remaining is heavily discounted at retail. “Annuals are certainly a gift purchase, but the kids will make sure that the grown ups know which brands will be well received,” says Gillian Laskier, sales director at Egmont UK. “Annuals are as much a part of Christmas as the tree. Everyone expects to see them in store. The main challenge is keeping the right range of titles. Many retailers have only limited space and some of the smaller titles may struggle to get distribution. I think this represents an opportunity for those retailers who do not want to enter into battle with the larger supermarkets and bookstores. They can take the titles that others do not and present a different kind of offering to their customers.”
DC Thomson’s Murphy believes that parents and grandparents remember many of the annual titles from their own childhood, therefore seeing them as good value stocking fillers. Key retail targets include WH Smith, Waterstones and all the main supermarkets, plus this year’s success story, Argos. However, while the sector may be booming currently, Murphy is well aware of the challenges it faces and what DC has to do to overcome them.
“The decline in the sale of children’s magazines and similar, but lesser decline, in women’s magazine sales will have a potential impact on future annuals sales, as will a general decline in children’s reading habits,” he comments. “Greater emphasis on computer games by children and/or e-cook reading by adults will all impact on potential sales, as will decline in the number of specialist bookshops in the UK.
“We are working to publish new titles that will continue to excite potential buyers; for example, the Jacqueline Wilson and Shout annuals this year, and we are investing increasing resources in Consumer Insight Research to identify potential future titles and formats needed to remain competitive. In that regard, we have a number of new launches in the children’s magazine sector coming up in 2011, which will also lead to annuals. We are also investing in digitising content of our comics and magazines so that we can remain as relevant as possible. Our content, in whatever form, is still widely sought and respected.”
Social media, of course, is also a challenge, but as Egmont’s Laskier points out: “Will your social networking annual wrap up nicely? Will it look good under the tree? Of course, there is still a place for annuals.”
Meanwhile, CPLG’s Bolsover believes there is a chance to incorporate both ‘new’ and ‘old’ publishing techniques. “I think there are lots of options to extend annual content into a year-round offering actually using social media. After all, an annual is a kind of reference work and one way publishers in that sector have been able to survive the market is to offer core content in the physical book and additional value added material online. This may be a model that annuals could follow.”
Back to calendars, and Danilo’s Jones is also confident that new features can be included going forward: “I see the future for licensed calendars as very buoyant, I’m pleased to say. Formats may change with features such as personalisation coming through, but the main gift market will be there for a few years yet.”
The final word goes to DC’s Murphy, however: “We are confident that in the future the annuals market will remain robust, despite the many challenges it faces, and we as a company are continuing to invest resources in promoting our annuals range, refreshing it by introducing new titles and by using innovative marketing to drive sales forward.”