The always-excellent blog Bear Alley by comics expert / writer Steve Holland today features an item on the current circulation figures of British comics. The results make for depressing reading, with practically every title having a drop in sales. The Dandy, revamped as Dandy Xtreme last year in an attempt to ward off the decline, is now down 5,000 copies to 23,869. Even the high sellers Simpsons Comics and Doctor Who Adventures are down, with the latter suffering a massive drop from 154,989 to 93,791 in the last six months.
What are the causes for this continued decline in comics and magazine sales? Falling levels of literacy? The recession? Boredom? High cover prices? Or perhaps our climate of fear, where kids are no longer being allowed to go out and buy comics on their own, is responsible?
All valid reasons perhaps. Comics are considerably different to how they were 40 years ago, - and that's to be expected. British comics have always evolved with the times. Perhaps it's time they evolved again?
The current mixture of strips and lightweight articles / activities has been around for several years now. Perhaps this generation wants something new? Perhaps a generation in tune with soaps and reality shows wants more depth to the characters? More excitement and unpredictability to the stories? Perhaps they're bored with bagged free gifts and posters?
However, a comic can have as many revamps as it chooses, but if the kids can't see the finished product it's not going to attract them. Comics are gaudier, glossier, and bulkier (with gifts) than ever before, but when crammed into the shelf display of supermarkets and newsagents it's hard for individual titles to stand out. The displays often soon become untidy, with comics sprawling in all directions and even spilling onto the floor. Unless one is looking for a specific title it's very difficult for a comic to uniquely grab the attention of a passing customer. How is a child expected to discover The Beano or Toxic for the first time when comics are rammed into displays that are so overwhelming and unkempt? As retail giants charge a premium for front-of-shelf displays most titles are stuck at the back, in darkness in some cases! (See photo.)
(Interestingly, Viz, and 2000AD, which are displayed on other shelves, free from the clutter of the children's section, have stable circulations. However that could simply be because their readers are older and more inclined to buy out of habit.)
The DFC has made moves in a direction of a story-led comic, and is bypassing the retail trade by being subscription-only, but it's unlikely its sales are anything to shout about just yet. However, if it does build into a big success perhaps more established titles may follow the subscription-only route? The current downward circulation trend would suggest they may have nothing to lose by trying.