Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Comic Cuts: British Comics' Circulations Charts

Circulation figures for the first six months of 2008 have just been released by ABC, so here's our bi-annual round-up. (See here for the March 2008 round-up.)


The latest circulation figures show what is becoming a predictable steadily declining set of figures with only one or two launches. Why should this be?

I believe it's down to the fact that most comics/pre-school magazines are based on licensed material. The initial hype surrounding a new series will give a new title a solid launch—In the Night Garden being a prime example from 2007. Sales will, naturally, decline once the first set of free gifts has run out but remain bolstered by continual appearances on television over the next couple of years.

However, the pre-school market has a very narrow age range and young children will grow out of watching a show fairly quickly, starting a decline in sales which is never bolstered completely by the arrival of new readers. New shows take over the most popular viewing slots, relegating a show to a less popular time slot, losing viewers in the process, especially once there are no new episodes to watch.

All of this means that a popular magazine will have a high sale for a couple of years followed by a sharp fall from grace. A good example of this is Teletubbies which, in 2002, was selling over 100,000 copies per issue but has since declined to its current figure of just over 30,000. A similar pattern can be seen in the sales of Tweenies, Balamory and the now-defunct Fimbles, all CBeebies regulars. Even the CBeebies anthology magazines, Toybox and CBeebies Weekly, which feature many of the same characters, are showing signs of decline.

For the six months covered, Teletubbies was the biggest loser, down 11,300 sales per issue, followed by Toybox (down 9,300), Balamory (down 7,700), Noddy Magazine (down 7,600), In the Night Garden (down 6,700, although this is a settle down figure following its launch) and Fun to LearnFavourites (down 5,300).

The year-on-year (y/y) figures show an even sharper decline for some magazines: y/y, Teletubbies is down 23,500 sales per issue (42.7%), Toybox is down 19, 100 sales per issue (20.7%), Charlie & Lola down 16,400 (24.2%), Balamory down 14,900 (34.1%), Bob the Builder down 13,500 (19.8%), Noddy Magazine down 9,600 (29.8%), Disney and Me down 8,400 (15.3%), Tweenies down 8,200 (21.2%) and CBeebies Weekly down 8,200 (11.8%).

The only magazine that seems to be bucking the trend is Redan's Fun to LearnFriends, which has added 11,300 sales y/y (up 15%), perhaps at the expense of its companion Fun to LearnFavourites which has lost 16,600 sales in the same period (down 24.6%).

Cancelled titles in the last six months include Fi-Fi Magazine, Learn with Bob the Builder, Fimbles Magazine, Me Too and Underground Ernie, all published by BBC Worldwide. In addition, BBC Worldwide folded Disney Witch Magazine (aimed at a slightly older age range) but noted only in their annual review for 2007-08 that "Six small children’s titles were closed as part of the continuous review of the overall portfolio."


The big surprise to most people will be the sharp fall in sales of Doctor Who Adventures from BBC Worldwide which had a steady sale of around 155,000 in 2007 but shed over a third of its readership in the first half of 2008—during which period the BBC were broadcasting the fourth season of the show. Sales fell by 61,000 per issue (down nearly 40%), the fall almost certainly caused by the change in schedule from fortnightly to weekly in January 2008, three months ahead of the new series launch. It would be interesting to know what was happening in the same period with Panini's Dr Who Magazine but its circulation isn't audited by ABC.

The Simpsons Comics from Titan shed 21,000 readers although this is only a 7,700 (6.4%) drop y/y. Simpsons Comics Presents also fell by 15,400, a fall of 5,400 (6.8%) y/y. Both titles showed particularly good second half sales for 2007 which is why the drop appears so dramatic. Simpson's Treasure Trove was cancelled during this period.

Beano took a substantial loss of 12,500 (16.8%) and Dandy took a similar percentage loss (16.4%) but, starting from a far lower figure this meant a circulation drop of only 4,700 copies per issue. BeanoMax held fairly steady, down only 6%. Another popular D. C. Thomson title, Bratz, shed 11,000 copies per issues, perhaps indicating that the Bratz craze is at an end.

Other falling circulations were recorded for Panini's Scooby Doo (7,600) and Spectacular Spiderman (5,600), and Titan's Spongebob Squarepants (5,000) and Transformers (6,400).

The biggest rise in sales was for BBC Worldwide's Go Girl which increased its sales by nearly 5,000 copies per issue, a 15,500 increase y/y.

Disney High School Musical debuted from Panini UK in September 2007 at the same time the second HSM movie was released. One would expect the title to continue to do well in the second half of 2008 with the release of the third movie.

The Chart

Please note that the chart only covers titles where circulation figures are available and there are probably twice as many comics and children's magazines available on the newsagents shelves.

(* High School Musical The Official Magazine © Panini UK; In the Night Garden and Doctor Who Adventures © BBC Worldwide.)


  1. It's my understanding that some titles have recovered since these ABCs were compiled, Steve, although overall sales are, as in other sectors, well down.
    I agree with you: I suspect that licensing is an issue -- and, perhaps, titles like Doctor Who Adventures are suffering from overkill on the shelves -- you've got Doctor Who Magazine, Torchwood, Battles in Time and as I've mentioned on my blog, there's talk of a Doctor Who DVD Files in the offing from Fabbri. That's a bubble that was bound to burst. Lew Stringer has posited an interesting practical reason for sales decline -- all those free gifts, cluttering up the shelves and making it impossible to find what you might be looking for as a result. It's an interesting take and there may well be some truth to it!
    The danger for comics of course is that there's no chance a licensed title can turn itself into a 'brand' like the lad magazines have done such as Nuts or Zoo, and exploit their potential audience online or on TV. The Beano has done that to some extent but not many other titles have.

  2. John,

    I agree that Doctor Who has suffered from overkill. The audience who want to know more about the Doctor's adventures -- background on the current series, extra stories, the history of the show -- is large but still limited. Doctor Who Magazine, Doctor Who Adventures, Torchwood and Battle in Time add up to over £12, too much if it's your parents who are paying for copies.

    The other licensed titles focus too much on their given subject: features, games, strips, etc. but all based around the one set of characters. Licensed comics sell well -- they often launch at over 100,000 sales per issue -- but they have a limited time-span and last only as long as the programme they're based on is high profile.

    I think they need more variety in their contents, like the old anthology titles. Mind you, I'm sure someone has done the maths and probably found that it is no longer financially viable to license six or seven different shows for a single title and rotate the contents, introducing new shows as the old ones fade away.

    Lew makes a very valid point... displays of comics in newsagents nowadays are a mess (I made a similar point a week or so ago when discussing the soon-to-be-launched Classics Illustrated).

    Is there a way out of this mess? I like the current 2000AD model, keeping old material in print to feed readers back into the weekly comic. 2000AD might not be the best example as it has a 30-year history behind it. As you say, it's already a 'brand'. The DFC will be an interesting test case. I suspect that subscription levels are still low but may pick up once the collections start to appear. The real test would be a newsstand magazine but I can't see anyone taking the risk in the current climate. Chances are the industry will never recover enough for anyone to take the risk on an old-style, newsstand anthology comic... unless J. K. Rowling is reading this and lets me license Harry Potter for a modest fee. I think I could get a publisher or two interested then...

  3. Could the decline in the young children's market simply have to do with the UK's sharply declining demographics for young English-speaking children?

  4. Could well be. Although the population of children in the UK remained roughly the same between 1991 and 2001 (when census records were taken), the number of children under the age of 5 fell. If this trend has continued (and I don't see why it wouldn't have) there are nowadays less pre-school and primary school-aged children than ever before. Lower population, lower sales.

    Another factor could be that young parents (born in the 1980s) didn't read comics themselves and therefore don't buy comics for their kids.

    If it's that kind of cultural shift and parents just aren't buying comics I think that's a shame. I learned a lot from reading comics and I still believe comics are a good way to introduce children to reading.

    On a related topic, something I was thinking about last night: comics almost certainly where I picked up the habit of using ellipses and em dashes, a habit I now can't break, although I do try not to overuse exclamation marks. So tempting to put one in there...

  5. Declining numbers of kids is of course going to be a factor but we all know they are still reading comics, just not in the traditional way. Manga sales in bookshops are still strong, there are hundreds of webcomics out there (it's just finding the good ones that's hard!).

    The comment about reduced numbers of "young English-speaking children" strikes me as implying that non-English residents of the UK don't read comics. That's errant nonsense. In fact that sector of the UK population is probably more likely to read comics as a way of learning English if they need to.

    Declining comic sales is not just a problem in the UK: it's a problem even in "comic friendly" countries like France. But there isn't a reduction in the number of people reading comics, if anything there are more opportunities now to read comics than ever before - on the web, on mobile, as graphic novels. The whole magazine and newspaper sector is suffering a decline in sales as other medium move in.

  6. Support 2000AD! Tharg needs us.

    2000AD - best British comic ever. Who needs Doctor Who when you got Judge Dredd.:)



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