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Sunday, 12 June 2011

How Much Is The UK Comics Industry Worth?

The question has arisen several times over the last year regarding the commercial value of the UK comics industry.

There are factors that prevent any real analysis and these are:

1)  IPC Media hoards any and all images it can and claims copyright but does not publish comics.  So, even licensing characters it cannot be considered as contributing to the value of the UK comics industry.

2)  D. C. Thomson will not divulge what it makes from its comics, annuals and merchandise.

3)  the person I was put through to at Panini when I asked this question seemed very -very- offended that I should have the front to ask such a question.  However, it does publish Marvel, DC and so on under license -though this is all material regular comic fans buy in speciality stores.

4)  the chap at Egmont was as defensive as the one at Panini but ended the brief chat with “that really is none of your business”  Fair enough.

I have asked Independent publishers over the last ten years what they actually make in the way of profit.  Responses can involve expletives or simply “**** off that’s our business!” or the friendlier but still “We aint saying” responses.

Comic shops. Nope. To quote someone: “I refer my Right Honourable colleague to the answers I gave earlier”

Dealers at the Bristol Expo or who attend other conventions.  First thing I learned is that the majority of these do not have web sites or any other form of online or even shop presence.  Most will tell you “Its just a hobby”.  End of story.  However, 10 out of the 12 dealers I spoke to said they attended all the conventions throughout the year. In one half hour period I noticed one dealer taking £125.  He was quite busy that day. At another while ‘browsing’ £400 was spent by comic buyers (I later asked how things were going and was told “Very slow. No one’s really buying.”  I wish I had his sort of “no one’s really buying” custom!

Dealers tend to be very secretive. one who used to be a regular at the Expo wasn’t there this year but in conversations I learnt that he and other dealers “all do this as a, uh, ‘hobby’” and when I jokingly asked if he paid tax based on the money he earned at events the response was a jovial “like **** do I! None of us do!”
There are private mail order services in the UK.

No one wants to give any definitive response -or any response really.  Not surprising since it is how the comic industry has always been run.  Amalgamated Press/Fleetway/IPC/Maxwell Pergamon Publishing -all sold comic strips under license around the world but this was all done “on the quiet” and IPC/Fleetway certainly never declared all of its overseas earnings and, as we know via cases such as that of Don Lawrence, the company was making a lot of money but not paying creators.  This continued on into the 1990s -flouting all the creators rights laws.

Even comic artists when asked how much they earn a year from comic work get very defensive.  That said, in the UK, no worker likes to reveal how much they earn -even if it’s standard pay.

In 2010 I contacted the Department of Trade and asked whether they had any  figures?  I got passed to two different people, neither of whom had any ideas and told me such a breakdown was not possible.

I tried the Inland Revenue. I assumed that there must be some breakdown  -I mean, this was the flippin’ tax office.  Apparently not. “We don’t do that sort of thing and the Data Protection Act means even if we did we couldn’t help you.”  To this was added: “You could try getting your MP to ask a question in the House…?”
This all took me back to a time…let’s call it 2000 (because it was actually the year 2000 and I’d just put on a purple suit and danced like it was 1999).  At that time I, and some university people who were involved in studying the comics industry, came up with a figure for the total value of the UK comics industry.
£26 million.

This was taking into account what people were paying at conventions for tables, what organisers paid for venues, a rough guesstimate of money made by traders (we sneakily watched transactions while, uh, ‘browsing’).  We also knew roughly what some stores were spending per month on stock and quite a few other trends.

But that was eleven years ago.  Costs of comics, etc., have risen and despite what some may tell you, the current “recession” has not really affected comic sales. In fact, comics were a stable seller during previous recessions.  We also know that Cinebook The 9th Art, which did not exist last time around, has seen an increase in its US and UK sales in the first quarter of this year, whereas Marvel and DC have seen sales drop (and you cannot blame that on the recession!).

Because there is no way of knowing the true figure, the best guesstimate of the value of the UK comics industry in 2011 is around -/+£30 million.

It seems a fantastic figure but you have to remember that writers/artists are paid to draw strips, printers are paid to print comics, distributors get paid –there is more to it than just a comic company and shops.  And there is W. H. Smith the news agency chain to take into account and sales from them.  So there are many permutations in working a total value out.

Now, if someone can come up with a better figure…I’m here!

There is money in comics!

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