|A small selection of summer specials, this collection ranging from |
1971 to 2004.
It's getting close to summer in the UK, and so it's time to take a look at a decades old tradition - the summer special! Summer specials were once an annual tradition, something that kids would pick up when they went away during their summer holidays. Since most kids weren't travelling overseas characters and strips almost always visited popular and well-known seaside resorts such as Blackpool and Southend as well as common fictional resorts such as Mudpool-on-Sea (often staying in The Seaview Hotel, where the sea can only be viewed through a powerful telescope on the top floor).
However, summer specials are now gone, and for a decade or so had been limping along on their last legs. Since the 1980's there have been fewer and fewer, and here are my thoughts as to where they went.
1. Holidays Abroad
This is perhaps the most obvious one. With it becoming far easier and cheaper to travel abroad more and more people are doing it. It is very hard for publishers to get their specials to countries such as Spain and Portugal, and even if they did they may have to change the language, putting off every one who knows the title.
Even if they did manage to get the comic into the country, in the right language and in time for the summer holidays, you'd have to get them where people would look, in hotels or supermarkets and stores near hotels. All this would cost publishers a fortune and it simply wouldn't be worth it. That said, the 2007 Dandy summer special was available in Spain!
And with less potential readers in the UK, there's less people buying the specials.
2. The Best Of Monthly
We head back to the 80's for this one, and take a look at the Best of Monthly' comics that Fleetway launched for various titles such as Buster, Whoopee and Whizzer and Chips. These comics were just as big as the summer specials and just as good value for money. Also, because they came out monthly there would constantly be another issue for kids to read, instead of having to wait an entire year!
For example, the three Buster comics below are all from summer 1988 - the June 1988 Monthly, the Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Special and the Buster Holiday special. The two holiday specials had 64 pages for 70p, whereas the Buster monthly had 68 pages for 65p. I think it's clear which one would win out.
3. Classics From The Comics/ Big Comic
D C Thomson's Classics from the Comics and Fleetway's Big Comic Fortnightly (later monthly) and other similar titles are a very similar story to the Best Of Monthly comics. These larger collections cost the publishers very little to produce as no new artwork was needed and so were cheaper and better value than the summer specials.
4. Bumper Issues
Another idea is the bumper issues. Although I can't point the finger of blame directly at these as they have been around for a long time, they were slowly becoming more common. When publishers bump up their page size for one issue only either at Christmas or other occasions in the year it makes the larger comics such as summer/holiday specials seem less, well, "special", and more of a occasional treat.
5. Christmas Annuals In Summer
I think the title says it all here. For years the Christmas annuals have been becoming available earlier and earlier. Whereas they used to be a great present on Christmas morning they are now available, as they are this year, as early as July! And with the annuals available so early, they've essentially filled the shoes that the summer special left behind (maybe that means we need a Winter special, something we've seen only a handful of times in the past).
Summer specials are, and always have been, more expensive than the weekly comics of the same name. Maybe any fan of the Beano who gets £5 of pocket money a week would want to buy one Beano, some sweets and a pack of cards, stickers or whatever. Introduce a summer special into the market at £3 and the average person wouldn't have enough to buy both the weekly and the special, along with their sweets or cards.
The last Beano summer special in 2007 cost almost twice as much as the weekly comic, meaning that at the same rate a special today would probably cost around £3.50 - £4.00, which seems like a lot of money for one comic, especially to somebody with only £5 (or less) a week to spend.
7. The Number of Available Copies
Now this one is just a thought, as I have nothing to back it up with. If a comic sold, for example, 10,000 copies a week and publishers decided to publish a summer special, they might only print 10,000 copies, or maybe less even as low as 7,000 - 8,000 knowing that not every reader is going to buy one. This then lowers the amount of copies each store will have and how many will be available in popular seaside resorts. Then, if a kid who doesn't read this comic wants something to read for his holiday, he/she won't see this special and, obviously, wont be buying a copy. If publishers print more copies than they think they'll need but sell them at a price where they will still make a profit if they only sell 60% - 75%, not only does it put both the summer special and the weekly at a wider audience, but will also make the publishers a profit, making them want to do it again next year.
If they don't print enough, the maximum number potential readers shrinks and if they print more than enough it grows to it's full size. Of course, printing 5,000 or so more copies than the publishers think are needed is a big risk, but one that will need to be taken if the summer special is ever to make a comeback.
Basically, the idea here is that publishers aren't selling enough because they aren't making enough.
8. Unwilling Retailers
It's already a well-known fact retailers don't care much about giving comics the space on the shelves that they've paid for. They don't like the idea that one summer special is made to fill up their valuable shelf space for two to three months. I think that as long as the publisher is paying for the space they shouldn't be too worried - the retailer is getting their money and the comic gets its shelf space, and provided the retailer actually decides to give it even a little bit of care it should sell, meaning they get their commision too.
9. Not So Special Anymore
With the summer specials competing with the better value 'Best of Monthly' comics in the 80's, Classics from the Comics and similar titles in the 90's and the Christmas annuals in the 00's they must have started to appear a lot less special. Nowadays each and every Beano is glossy, in full colour and often coming with a free poster, stickers or sweets, and it would be very tricky for a summer special to stand out as anything special.
|Tom Thug seemed to visit |
Blackpool every year!
So, how do we deal with the problem if we want to see them return?
First of all, I'd say target popular holiday destinations in the U.K. Places such as Blackpool, Brighton, Southend and even inland destinations such as London are all good places to start.
Make it special. One of the most important things is making the comic stand out against the already glossy and bright children's comics and magazines, and actually making it a "summer special". One way to do this is to have a large A3 cover (to make it stand above other titles), give it a bright and striking cover image, and have as little writing on the cover as possible (the comics title, the price and the words 'Summer Special' should be enough). Too much writing distracts buyers from the cover image - the selling point of the comic - and make the special less attractive.
Then, make it cheap. Whether this means reprinting some old material or using cheaper paper, it doesn't matter - the cheaper the better.
Hopefully these summer specials will make a return one day in the future, but for now it seems we will have to stick with our weeklies and annuals. There just seems to be no market for them at the moment, they simply don't feel "special" enough in comparsion with what else is on offer (although follow the points above and who knows?!).