There have been over half a dozen books released in the wake of last year's The Best of Jackie and I thought it might be fun to see how they're doing. So the following Top 8 is compiled from sales rankings at Amazon.co.uk. I've also compiled a quick list for various D. C. Thomson related annuals
Best of Compilations
The Best of Smash Hits (Little, Brown, 12 Oct 2006, ISBN 031602709-X) 118
The Dirty Dozen (Commando) (Carlton Books, 7 Nov 2005, ISBN 184442307-7) 1,454
True Brit (Commando) (Carlton Books, 16 Oct 2006, ISBN 184442121-X) 1,596
The Best of Jackie Annual (Prion Books, 4 Sep 2006, ISBN 185375-608-3) 2,175
The Best of Jackie (Prion Books, 17 Oct 2005, ISBN 185375-586-9) 3,236
The Best of My Guy (Robson Books, 28 Sep 2006, ISBN 186105979-5) 8,458
The Best of Girl (Prion Books, 2 Oct 2006, ISBN 185375-611-3) 10,140
Jackie: Dear Cathy & Claire (Prion Books, 2 Oct 2006 ISBN 185375-603-2) 14,666
The Beano Annual 2007 (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535152-1) 149
The Dandy Annual 2007 (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535151-7) 833
The Broons (Facsimile Edition of the first Broons annual) (Aurum Press, 25 Oct 2006, ISBN 184513214-9) 1,483
Oor Wullie (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535150-9) 1,838
Dennis the Menace & Gnasher Annual 2007 (D . C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535156-8) 2,694
The Dandy Monster Comic (Facsimile of the first Dandy annual) (Aurum Press, 25 Oct 2006, ISBN 184513217-3) 6,736
The Bash Street Kids Annual 2007 (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535160-6) 7,173
Sixty Years of The Beano and The Dandy: The Seventies Selection (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535159-2) 17, 210
The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Early Years 1936-1946 (D. C. Thomson, 6 Sep 2006, ISBN 184535162-2) 27,333
Great British Comics (Aurum Press, 26 Oct 2006, ISBN 184513170-3) 39.019
Annuals have always been major sellers for D. C. Thomson, with The Beano Annual regularly selling a quarter of a million copies. I've not been able to locate precise figures but I do have some (very rough) figures from a few years ago:
2002 (sales to 09 Feb 2002) 205,592 (Beano) 95,700 (Dandy)
2003 (sales to 22 Feb 2003) 256,251 (Beano)
2004 (sales to 13 Dec 2003) 175,942 (Beano) 82,636 (Dandy)
The value of the annuals to the Thomson imprint was put at £2.3 million in 2003 (The Bookseller, 21 March 2003), although that included titles like The Friendship Book and People's Friend. The Annual was seen as pretty much a dead duck a couple of decades ago
and, although the sales are nowhere as great as they used to be, sales are definitely up, with sales in 2004 topping 2 million.
Sam Harrison, Waterstone's children's buyer and analyst, was quoted as saying "The resurgence we have seen in the popularity of annuals in recent years has been due to a shift in the drivers behind the market." (The Guardian, 24 December 2005)
Hate to disagree with Mr. Harrison but the 'drivers' he was referring to were merchandising spin-offs like Bratz Annual and Star Wars Annual which made up the top 3 sellers in 2005 (along with The Beano which still retained its number one position). As any fule kno, spin off annuals were huge sellers in the 1950s and 1960s, with almost every television programme on the box seeming to generate an annual. Things started to die down in the 1970s, although Brown Watson, Granddreams and World International continued to keep the spin-off annual alive. By the 1980s, the kind of annuals we all remembered as kids had pretty much died out.
Why? Well, the traditional annuals (spinning off from weekly comic titles) died out because the comics died out. By 1984, IPC were only publishing a handful of annuals where, twenty years earlier, they were pumping out 50 annuals a year. A comic could have been dead for some years before the annual finally ceased as the company tried to maintain a quota.
As for licensed properties, I can only guess, but that guess would be greed. The success of some annuals probably meant that the expectations of licensers was inflated and they wanted more up front or a higher percentage of the takings. Publishers became more choosy or were forced to spend more on less product. But they never actually died out completely.
Another reason for the diminishing numbers was a change in how annuals were sold. I'm old enough to remember annuals on the shelves of newsagents, which is something you don't see now. Back in the days of massive sales, companies like Fleetway could afford to put out annuals on a sale-or-return (SOR) basis, so newsagents would only pay for copies they sold and unsold copies would be returned. At some point this changed to firm sale. If a newsagent bought 10 annuals and only sold half of them, he was stuck with five annuals he had to pay for, wiping out any profits he made on the other five. So people became more cautious and ordered less copies of fewer titles. That's also why any challenger to the Beano crown is likely to come from a spin-off that happens to be hugely popular that year, be it the Barbie Annual or Bratz.
So, here we are in 2006 (or 2007 if you go by the cover date of this year's annuals). Last year there were at least 35 children's annuals released (and you can find a very good cover gallery for 2006 at Tony's Trading Gallery website) and at least 32 have been released this year. I've only just thought about this so I've not been tracking sales figures. However, I did find The Bookseller Top 50 for 7 October 2006, with The Beano Annual having been on sale for a full month, at it was nestling at #37 (up from #57). Some way ahead was Doctor Who: The Official Annual at #15 (up from #31), published by Penguin. Figures for week ending 14 October still have Doctor Who out front. Cue more articles about this new phenomenon of TV related spin-offs saving the annnuals market?
My favourite bit of news relating to annuals comes care of John Freeman's news column Down the Tubes (22 August 2006): 'Billy the Cat' will be returning in The Beano Annual 2008, written by Kev F. Sutherland and drawn by Nigel Dobbyn. The story was originally intended to appear in the weekly but was expanded to 10 pages and moved to the annual. And Dobbyn is already lined up to do a follow-up featuring a Victorian Billy the Cat for the 2009 edition. It looks like D. C. Thomson are confident that their Beano Annual will continue selling for at least a couple more years.