Do we devalue comics and is change needed?

In a recent online discussion it came up in conversation that if a comics sales dropped below 200,000 copies in the 70’s and 80’s it was deemed unprofitable and was immediately hatched, matched and dispatched into another title.

Today 200,000 copies would be regarded as record breaking sales for a comic, so how on earth could that be? That couldn’t be right surely. I thought I might try and work it out.

According to the office of National Statistics 8p (the cost of 2000AD in 1977) would be the equivalent of 50p in 2020. At that time I would buy ten comics a week with £1 (plus enough for two US Comics that were available in my local newsagent). These days it would cost me £30 to £40 – but it should surely be an affordable fiver!

However 50p is not the cost of the Prog today which retails at approximately £3 an issue. Supply and demand being the main factor determining price.

Let’s take 200,000 sales at 50p in 2020. That would give the publisher (after half is taken by distribution costs) approximately £50,000 of income.

To meet the print numbers required to sell 200,000 we’ve made it 500,000 print copies – approximately £80,000 to print.

Each Prog costs about £8000 to produce – and a loss of £38,000 an issue without reprint and international rights sales.

An immediate dispatch?

Of course sales over the years have dwindled. At even 50p a copy the Prog would be unlikely to sell 200,000 copies!

So let’s say in 2020 we have 3500 sales at £3. The Prog now makes through retail £10,500. The cost of distribution and retailer cut bringing that to £5,250 (actually more to be listed, but let’s pass on that complication just now!)

It costs £2500 to print and still £8000 to produce. A loss of £5250. That’s why subscriptions are becoming so important to the like of the Prog, Viz, Beano, Commando et al. Poor sales on the high street aren’t just impacting on Comics. The loss of SFX and Q this year are evidence of that. Magazine sales in WHSmith are down year on year and footfall in the High Street continues to decrease. So a subscription works well for the publisher, cutting out the costs of newsagent distribution, which are slowly becoming too expensive to justify. We know the Beano sells 14,000 on newsstand and about 28,000 copies via subscription. The Phoenix newsstand sales are nowhere near its subscription sales. Both Commando and 2000AD subscriptions are, we are led to understand, increasing.

As you can imagine the figures I present here are back of a fag packet stuff. To be profitable today on newsagent sales alone the Prog should be probably about £8 an issue. Or £1.25 in 1977.

So did and do we undervalue comics?

The new version of Battle from Rebellion is out this week. It costs £8 for 100 pages. 3 and a bit more times that the Prog costs. Obviously it could double the sale of the Prog, so hopefully the price is pitched just right. It’s certainly cheaper than the £14.99 for a coloured reprint of Ramsey’s Raiders from DCThomson. Was Ramsey’s Raiders pitched too high or were the production values worth it? Are you likely to see moans that a comic costs £8! Surely it should be that price if creators are to remain being paid a decent wage?

In Europe Battle may have been presented as a 56 page hardback book costing about £15. Collectable and perhaps a little more longevity than a ‘floppy’. Available in newsagents, bookshops and supermarkets. Would the dedicated comic fan and pubic in the UK and Ireland prefer that? Or can’t we get past the idea that a comic should cost 50p in today’s money?

Perhaps U.K. and American comic books have the right idea. Perhaps the floppies are just a loss leader – and the money is in the collections of a title or story. After all our hard earned cash has paid for the work to be done for the weeklys / monthly’s and the high value book collections involve only a small reprint payment and royalty to the creators. DC Comics recently announced they make more money/sales from their $1 reprint comics than new titles. No wonder, then, they seem to be making moves to capitalise further on their back catalogue with high end books and mid range comics being sold not just in comic shops.

Books seem to be the way forward for comics, however they are put together. We are already seeing comics taking the top 5 places in the New York Times book list before Christmas last year with 5,000,000 print run and Manga collections are on the rise ahead of superheroes (given twice as much shelf space in WHSmith). Even ComicScene are getting into the act, bringing together several characters from successful indie comics in brand new stories in one hardback covered book – catch the kickstarter here.

These books, if reprint or new material, don’t tend to be cheap. Although in our minds we think they should be. It’s clear that the 8p a comic business model from 1977 was flawed and unsustainable. Or perhaps it was a clever ploy all along to capitalise on a future and somewhat lucrative retro market!

What’s interesting is Kickstarter. The ‘average’ first time novel would hope to sell 1000 copies over three months. On Kickstarter you could get 100-500 sales – with most people spending up to £25 on book and ‘extras’ like sketches, art, script pages or previous books. So quite a chunk of money for anyone to spend – and a direct benefit to the creator.

An average kids picture book might sell 5000 copies. Yet books like The Killing Joke have been selling that and more each year since it’s original publication. And for a premium price too!

Of course there are superstar novelists but there are many that sell 10,000 to 25,000 books a year (with a much wider distribution than comics). 15,000 sales may lead to a second book! Comics do sell more – but production is higher for writer/artist/colourist/letterers. So a sustainable price has to be a factor that doesn’t easily lend itself to 2 for £7 offers we find in supermarkets.

In the end you pay what it’s worth to you. When it comes to comics, that may be priceless.

Tony Foster

See also Can You Make Money From Making Comics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s