Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The latest circulation figures for comics and magazines make for grim reading. Many magazines have suffered falling sales but the real shocker was The Dandy apparently falling from around 15,000 readers to around 7,448 readers since its revamp last October, a loss of 48% of its readership.
I'm no expert in how statistics are worked out but this seems a little suspicious to me. Of course, some might say I'm biased because I contribute to The Dandy, and perhaps I am. However, it seems bizarre that when The Dandy increased its frequency from fortnightly to weekly it should suddenly lose half of its readership! Not only that, but this also coincided with the comic significantly dropping its price to £1.50 (from £2.50), increasing the strip content, and vastly improving its distribution. Yet allegedly it still lost half its readers?
People were swift to point the finger of blame, and there's already a Facebook group calling for the abolition of celebrity-based strips such as Harry Hill, despite the celeb content only being a small part of the comic. Truth be told, readers have actually reacted well to the celebrity spoofs and recently The Dandy has revamped its cover to parody celebrity magazines.
No doubt the big relaunch last October, which saw practically all of the old strips and features replaced by new characters, did cause some readers to abandon the comic. Some people don't like change, even when it's for the better. (Reprints and articles replaced by brand new strips, for a lower cover price? A no-brainer... one would have thought!)
Some older readers have expressed dislike of the modern cartoon style used by some of the new artists, as is their prerogative of course, but similar modern styles have proven to be very popular in childrens books so why not in comics?
Perhaps some children were confused by the satire of the celeb strips? (As we learned on Oink! years ago, kids can only understand satire if they're familiar with the subject being parodied.) However, The Dandy carefully parodies people that most children will be aware of, such as Ant and Dec, Cheryl Cole, Jamie Oliver etc. although Jeremy Clarkson might be a bit of a stretch. (Wouldn't young kids find Top Gear a "Dad's show"?) Even so, most of The Dandy's strips are not celebrity based. Perhaps the lack of free gifts put kids off? Are today's children simply not interested in comics anymore, only the plastic toy?
However, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, it's not only The Dandy that has suffered falling sales. Personally I'm putting a lot of the blame on the retail giants. Yes, I know I've banged this drum before, but things are not improving in that area. Shelf space is often too small for the number of comics and childrens' magazines out there and staff often shove them in upside down or back to front. Here's a photo I took at a local supermarket a few years ago. The situation is no better today...
How on Earth is a child or a parent supposed to find a comic in that mess? You can't even see the comics lurking in the dark at the back of the "display". More likely they'll just choose one from the front, and what comics are always at the front in most of these shops? Nursery titles and girls' magazines, which funnily enough are the two categories which are still doing quite well.
A few years ago WH Smith decided to stack comics in a display that was too high for children to reach! Again, nursery and girls' titles were lower and easier to get to:
At least Toxic is still doing well, with sales of 40,000. A case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" perhaps?
I know there are some who think that publishers should simply launch more comics. They argue that as comics are popular in Europe and Japan, they should also work here. Sadly it's not that simple. Unlike those countries, the British have always regarded comics as throwaway childish junk. As each generation reads less and less comics, respect and interest for comics inevitably diminishes. Some may argue that publishers should try anyway, but the resistance from the trade to non-licensed comics, and the high prices retail giants charge just for stocking a title every issue, make it virtually impossible. Let's hope forthcoming comics Strip Magazine and The Phoenix can pave the way for a new era. Perhaps publishers should look towards other outlets, focusing on book shops with more albums such as Garen Ewing's The Rainbow Orchid (published by Egmont), or try to get their comics into shops that kids actually go into these days (computer game stores for example).
British comics have taken a bloody nose so far this century but they're not out yet. Show your support if you can, and buy The Dandy, The Beano, Toxic, 2000AD and others to keep the industry alive.
Those that claim some strips in The Dandy are poorly drawn, or look like they're done by children, are not only being insulting to the creators but they're also completely wrong. One might not like the styles, but a simpler or more abstract approach does not mean it's below professional standard. In fact there is nothing in The Dandy that could be classed as "poorly drawn". The aim isn't to draw realistically, and if one looks at the artwork thoroughly there's a sound structure and consistency to each style. Complaining that the modern style isn't "as good" as, say, The Dandy of 1970, is as off-target as saying The Dandy of 1970 wasn't as well drawn as Ally Sloper's Half Holiday.
Thanks to Mike in the comments for reminding me that if you subscribe to The Dandy it's a mere £15 for 15 issues! Only £1 an issue, far cheaper than in the shops! Go to: http://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/Group-Dandy.aspx