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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Shelf life

It strikes me that British comics might stand a better chance of attracting new readers if they were displayed more attractively in shops. Take a look at this picture I took the other day at a local town centre newsagent. Comics are shoved into the display rack, spilling out in some cases, or upside down or with titles obscured. It looks a bloody mess quite frankly. Partly the fault of publishers taping or bagging bulky free gifts with the comics, partly the fault of uncaring shop staff. Who wants to pay £2 or more for a comic that already looks like it's ready for the recycle bin?

And this was one of the neater displays! Don't even get me started on WH Smith!

Flashback to 40 years ago and comics were displayed flat, masthead logos prominent, on a newsagent's counter. A perfect "impulse purchase" as they now call items next to the checkout.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that shoddy displays are the main reason for falling sales today, but I'm sure they have some small impact. Admittedly with the huge number of titles out there (and those damned bulky gifts) comics can't be displayed flat now, but some sort of neater shelving system (and attentive staff) might help. It's all very well having shelves that show the full cover, but the comics are so flimsy that they often roll over with the weight of the gifts! Not only that, but the garish colours and "busy" cover design of all the titles gives the impact of a technicolour nightmare. No wonder I get migraines... ;-)


Anonymous said...

As Kev Sutherland said to me, "I work for a comic company where occasionally they may just give away a comic with their toy." Quite true, eh?

Ken Davidson said...

The trouble is that most of these comics do not deserve to be called comics. My three year old is regularly treated to these things, and I note the content is recycled pap: captioned stills from telly, or puzzle page no.153 with character-specific masthead. Creation costs are minimal. The market is low-content, high-style, smaller print runs, large number titles. I won't allow any more of the darn things into the house, and treated the lad to a box of 50 second-hand 80s Beano digests last week. Splendid. Now all I have to do is wait a few more years before I can start feeding him my 2000ad collection with a clear(er) conscience ;)

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, "activity magazines" have sadly replaced nursery comics, but there are still comics available for older readers: Wallace & Gromit, Transformers, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beano, Beano Max, Toxic, Simpsons, Tom & Jerry, Scooby Doo... etc.


Tim Perkins said...

You know Lew, when guys like us working from within the industry find ourselves faced with wading through, as you say, upside down, curled over, creased beyond saleability, sub standard, fare, then it's hardly any wonder why the general public don't think they are worth the money.

The photo is a belter and I agree I too have seen worse in WHS and the like, although I looked a few weeks ago in Woolworths of all places here in the home town and found them all sitting upright, despite the heavy toys. The shelving containing them is a little taller and tighter and so holds the comics/magazines better.

Plus like you I feel the staff there must be made more aware of the fact that folks will only buy goods of a saleable standard.

To quote Ken's earlier piece, the content on most of them is, in the eyes of the buying public, not value for money, and this has gone on for years, from back in the late eighties - early nineties, when things weren't as bad as they are today, with the public expressing these same concerns.

I agree this isn't the sole reason for sales declining, but they are part of a growing tendency towards complacency within the marketplace with distributors, retailers and even some publishers.

These un-business-like failings seriously need to be fixed and soon or things will only get worse.

That said my recent return to the world of comic books, following my brief hiatus, has seen me aware of a shift in the marketplace and an enthusiasm amongst folks, which I feel is steadily growing the business again despite all of the above.

Maybe it's almost a case of the King is dead, long live the King...time will tell.


Thanks for the comment on my Blog and a great "BIG THANKS" for adding my Blog to your page - yer a gent, mate...

Best Wishes, as always,

Your pal,

Steve Flanagan said...

I actually have a lot of sympathy for those newsagents who do try to keep their displays tidy and attractive: all those toys make it impossible.

Still, the worst I ever saw wasn't a comic: the New Scientist once polybagged a mug with each issue. Try stacking that in any sane way!

Lew Stringer said...

"I feel the staff there must be made more aware of the fact that folks will only buy goods of a saleable standard."

Agreed Tim. Unfortunately it's the usual British attitude to comics; that they're junk. Ever seen how some counter staff treat them as they're looking for the barcode? It's snatch and scan, and shove 'em in a bag, like they're dealing with tins of baked beans.

Steve; I appreciate staff have difficulty arranging comics due to the bulky gifts, but putting them in upside down and back to front, just so they fit, isn't the best business practice in my opinion. ;-)


Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the problem doesn't come from the staff racking the comics badly but from kids/parents picking them up to have a look and being unable to put them back properly because of the bulky gifts.

The real problem I have with them all is the appalling content. Got the new Transformers comic at the weekend - £2.60 for 52 pages. 3 strips not given enough pages to tell a decent story (and a completely bewildering array of different Transformers for kids just coming from the movie), a few movie bits, some 'this week's press releases and tat' pages (the curse of the modern UK comic) and a load of ads for other comics and stuff. Even for a kids comic it was poor.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes parents and kids do often just throw the comics back on the shelf. However I've seen staff in shops often rack comics upside down and back to front (and even sideways on) just so they can fit more issues on the shelf.

Bulky cover mounts are the main problem. At a publisher's meeting a while back several publishers agreed to cut down on gifts (for environmental reasons). One publisher refused and said if others did that they'd put MORE gifts with their comics in order to give them an advantage. Realizing this could cost them sales, the other publishers reconsidered and carried on with their usual practice.

Thing is; that was an opportunity for publishers to regulate themselves, ruined by the greed of one publisher. Their narrow thinking hasn't allowed for the strong possibility that one day soon the government might demand that they cut back on bulky free gifts for environmental reasons. It's always better to self-regulate than have regulations imposed, but that's the way we're heading.


PS: The selfish publisher was not IPC, Emap, Panini, Titan, Toontastic, Viz, Egmont, or DC Thomson by the way. I'll say no more. ;-)

Lew Stringer said...

"Even for a kids comic it was poor."

Standards of kids comics are no lower than those of adult comics. Thing is, "anon", today's kids DO like articles and posters in their comics. Times change.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to leave myself as Mr.Anonymous - slip of the return key finger.

It's not that I don't want articles and posters in comics and I have nothing against them evolving into comiczines (for want of a rubbish term) but I do object to such things being simply used as filler fodder. Maybe Transformers is a bad example but for most other comics it just seems to be endless pages of regurgitated press releases with all the tat collected up for a 'compo' page.

Maybe it's the budgets and lack of staff on these things that mean they can't spend the time and a little thought on coming up with something halfway readable and interesting with the 'magazine' pages but how on earth are we going to educate kids to expect something half decent from anything if we keep serving up this pap all the time. It's like training them up to go onto TV Quick!

Lew Stringer said...

That's probably a closer analogy than you think. Problem is they react to "focus groups" and from those results kids want competitions, posters, game cheats etc.

Publishing is a different world today. The license holders of the various tv shows toys etc have more power and editors can only fill the pages with what they're given. (Hence sometimes repeating the same photos from issue to issue with different captions etc.)

Editors would love to fill the pages with top class comic strips but the budget isn't there. They'd like to make the features more sophisticated but focus group results indicate the kids want a simpler language.


Anonymous said...

If you walked into most english newsagents and wanted a comic, you're limited to reprints and 2000AD. I personally believe that Marvel UK should get a kick up it's spandex clad bottom and start producing original stories with british talent, so we don't have to pray 2000AD like us to get noticed. Unlikely, but y'know...

Lew Stringer said...

Marvel UK (or rather Panini UK as they are now) are producing home grown strips in Action Man A.T.O.M., Spectacular Spider-Man, Doctor Who Magazine, and, until it was canceled, Marvel Rampage.


Anonymous said...

I know, but I mean 'comics', instead of magazines with a strip in them. I recently saw a strip in SSM, they closer resembled detailed storyboards.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the idea of a mag/comic combo (after all it worked for Look-In) and I don't think the mag bits have to necessarily be more sophisticated in their language, just something more than just a reworded press release. I thought the Transformers comic dropped the ball a bit. They could have introduced all the film characters (instead of 1 character profile and a head-to-head) and maybe matched them against their older style counterparts (if they're intending to run non-film design stories). Lord knows what the second strip was about but it should have been something far more straightforward and The Beast Wars strip should have been dropped or their intro much more detailed. I don't think common sense and a bit of imagination are budget related.

At least the (rubbish) dog tags didn't bulk it out too much. See, back on topic!

Lew Stringer said...

Regarding Transformers, the second story was probably confusing because it's only part of an American reprint. (It's being serialized into chunks, which disturbs the flow of the story somewhat.) Only the lead strip is brand new.

The comic is pitched mainly at new readers who are into Transformers through the film, so features on the movie versions will dominate. It does seem a bit of a mixed bag with Beast Wars in there as well though.


Anonymous said...

If the comic is pitched at new fans (as I imagine it is) then:
The Beast Wars strip should have been dropped.
The second strip should have been better introduced.
The features should have profiled all the main characters (robots and humans) and maybe had a interview or something with one of the stars at the very least.

and that's only thinking about it for a few seconds! But this lack of care and attention for the mag/comic/whatever is what I'm really on about. I worked on games mags designing, illustrating and writing for about seven years and I bust a gut to try and make things interesting and involve the reader as much as possible. It doesn't take a massive budget, just a desire to do things well.

Sorry, no more ranting.

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