Regular readers of downthetubes already know the British comics industry is far from dead, but now that gut feeling is backed by new figures which reveal sales are booming, up more than 70 per cent in the past five years.
While the boost in sales is largely the result of sales of licensed titles, most inspired by TV series such as Doctor Who and The Night Garden, the figures suggest children’s comics are seeing off competition from more advanced playthings. Market research company Mintel reports comic sales are up by more than 72 per cent in five years since 2003, while sales of teenage magazines have fallen by 61 per cent in the same period.
The UK market now worth £136 million, up from £79 million in 2003, and is predicted to increase by a further 21 per cent to reach £165 million by 2013.
“It seems that the humble comic is standing the test of time and even today they provide an ideal treat for children,” feels Mintel senior analyst Mark Brecchin. “The market for this traditional favourite has gone from strength to strength due to a host of new launches, price rises and the fact that publishers now bring out more issues per title each month.
“The popularity of these comics is an impressive feat for traditional media among 21st-century kids, who are increasingly technology-savvy. Sales of comics have flourished despite the wide variety of media and other forms of digital entertainment now aimed at pre-teens.”
Commenting on the report, Toni Round, managing director for youth and children’s magazines, BBC Worldwide, whose Doctor Who Adventures magazine had a top of the chart circulation of 155,000 in 2007 (although that has since declined), told the The Herald TV tie-ins had allowed publishers to tap into the pre-teen market, resulting in a surge in sales.
“Primetime shows like Doctor Who are watched by children across the country,” she said. BBC Magazines sells an average of one million pre-school magazines a month and CBeebies Animals, which launched this year, has sold 58,558.
“Tie-ins have swelled interest and pushed up sales,” says Round, “and branding has been the key element in the recipe for success.
“The magazine published in conjunction with In the Night Garden is an example of a refreshed brand that has responded to what kids are interested in at the time. It’s a cyclical branding process.”
While TV and licensed-inspired comics such as Titan’s Simpsons Comics make up the bulk of high sales, traditional titles such as the Beano continue to fare well according to publisher DC Thomson, although in its report the Daily Telegraph notes that Beano has declined from a six-figure circ five years ago to a mere 64,000 today. The monthly Beano Max has been doing well, selling 51,000 copies an issue.
Former Dandy editor Morris Heggie told The Scotsman he feels the increase in popularity was down to the range available. “In the past, comics were either nursery, adventure, or funnies, but today there is such a great range of subjects, with lifestyle comics following television programmes, films, games, and even sports.
“There are more niche markets today with a huge variety of TV shows having their own comics and even every English and Scottish premiership football team now has their own comic and annual.
“Also there are lots of different comics coming in from abroad with a huge range of Japanese Manga and the graphic novels selling strongly.”
Publisher David Fickling said that the subscription-only weekly title The DFC has also been able to carve a god market itself since its launch in June and blames businesses that thought that taking out comics were not profitable for killing the trade in the past, insisting that children had always wanted them.
“After a long time people have realised that children – and adults – really like the comic form,” he said.
Michael Rosen, the Children’s Laureate, welcomed the rise of comics as “terrific”, arguing that children enjoyed reading comics as “an artform in themselves.
“I don’t know how it is they came to be regarded as simple in this country,” he told the Telegraph. “They are very complex.”
Morris Heggie feels the current economic climate would only boost comic book sales. “In times of depression book sales generally do well as they are a cheap alternative to buying more expensive presents,” he told The Scotsman. “Comics today only cost about £2 and you get a lot of value for money. They have also always been popular in promoting children to read and this has helped sales.”
Despite the impressive figures, some industry figures such as writer Steve Holland remain guarded in their optimism for the comics market. “The figures for 2008 did get a nice boost from the launch of High School Musical, based on the Disney TV movie series (which will almost certainly sustain its circulation in the latter half of 2008 thanks to the theatrical release of High School Movie 3),” he notes, “but I’m still unsure where the optimism comes from that makes (unnamed) “experts” predict that sales of comics are set to increase a further 21 per cent to reach £165 million by 2013.
“A launch like High School Musical may boost overall sales figures up by 100,000+ copies but, at the same time, sales on other titles are falling away: Teletubbies, Toybox, Balamory, Noddy Magazine, In the Night Garden and Fun to Learn – Favourites between them sold 50,000 less per issue in the same period that High School Musical launched.
“Add the falls in sales of other titles and that cancels out the success of any major launch leaving a roughly static market.”