Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Killed The Summer Specials?

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).

6. Price

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.

And finally, get it in the shops. Get the special in small newsagents just a short walk from the popular beaches, and besides counters in supermarkets. My local supermarket stacks a small selection of comics and magazines by the counter that always looks neat and tidy, and getting a comic in there would make kids want it without them going out of their way looking for it, introducing readers who didn't already know about the comic.

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?!).

9 comments:

Lew Stringer said...

Some valid points there George. I covered this on my old blog a few years ago and the main reasons for their decline are as you said in point 8 (retailers not wanting them to take up shelf space for so long) and that they no longer look special when every comic is now glossy and colour.

Summer Specials were distributed to key holiday destinations abroad for British kids on their hols to buy, although they were a bit more expensive of course due to distribution costs.

In their heyday (1960s) UK holiday spots did have an abundance of the specials. I remember seeing / buying them from Blackpool and they were in every newsagent as well as on magazine stalls along the prom. These days you'd be lucky to find any comic in a Blackpool newsagent other than WH Smith, and the magazine stalls have long since vanished.

Harry Rickard said...

Remember The Beano Summer Annual? God, that was a failure.

I think Summer Specials are sadly a thing of the past. Whilst I think they could easily do a Summer Special - it's definitely a problem that the Summer Special won't be too special. Even the Christmas Specials now have to have £5.00 of gifts inside a bag just to look more "special".

It's very sad. :(

George Shiers said...

I think it all started going downhill for the special when the best of monthlies arrived. The Buster best of monthly shown above cost 65p, 5p cheaper than the Fleetway summer specials and the same price as The Beano and Dandy specials. And seeing as it came out every month, the specials no longer seemed "special".

It's a real shame to hear that no newsagents sell comics anymore in Blackpool. The last time I visited (I went every now and then as that's where my Dad is from) was in 2007, just before I moved to New Zealand. I seem to remember a very good newsagents near where we were staying that sold lots of magazines as well as the Beano and Dandy Xtreme.

There was also a shop round the corner that sold loads of Sci-Fi comics and stuff, and after seeing a load of Dr Who stuff in there we decided to go and see David Tennant switch on the illuminations! That was a great ceremony, the tardis appearing with the daleks - did you see it?

Anyway, I'm going off topic!

I think the main reason for the decline of summer specials was the improvement of the weekly comics. Whilst improving one part of the comic industry, they killed off another.

It's also a shame that D C Thomson's summer annuals didn't catch on, they worked for other titles for a short while. I'm looking through them both right now and they're good, but maybe too similar to the Christmas annuals which were going on sale at the same time.

Lew Stringer said...

I've never been at Blackpool when the lights were switched on. Anyway, the SF shop you mention sounds like Thunderbooks on Lytham Road. That's still there and has a good supply of latest American imports and back issues etc.

Newsagents used to love summer specials because they sold so well, but over the years as sales declined (no doubt due to regular comics becoming glossy and colour) they grew to dislike them, seeing them as a nuisance. That's the main reason they stopped, - just not enough orders to sustain them.

The reason annuals are now published in July is to take advantage of both the summer holiday market and the later Christmas gift potential. Unfortunately, if some bookshops deliberately hold back from displaying them in July/August then it defeats the object.

Paul Daniell said...

I think you have missed one thing.
I remember to summer spacial as a child in the 80's (born 1977) there were loads of them about at the mid to late 1980's be it The Beano,Dandy,Warlord,Eagle even marvel UK got in on the act with Transformers and G.I.Joe (action Force) but most of these were printed by one of two main companies DC Thomson of Fleetway so they all had more then one summer special out at the same time from all the different title so some one was going to be the loser one of these titles were gonna become the one that sold the least and become to expensive to produce.
so with the dwindling sales of British comics through the 90's these companies had to pull more and more comics and summer specials from the shelves.
I don't agree with the point of retails not wanting to hold the stock, Take the last dandy issue my local shops all wanted the comic in stock but were told they could not have it. I have never had to much trouble getting any comic from a news agent if its available for them to order it in. Most people now are scared or can't be bothered to ask if it can be ordered for them.
It is sad that we have no special issue to have through the summer but to be honest which one would they bring back? Like people have said the Beano needs free gifts and gimmicks to keep people interested. The Dandy would be a better idea as it is now only available online but then it vanished from print due to lack of sales in the first place. There is also the fact of you bring one out then why not others for me I would rather see a Warlord or Eagle summer special to a Beano or Dandy and then you are back to square one to many summer specials forcing the loser in sale to be pulled.

Paul Daniell said...

I think you have missed one thing.
I remember to summer spacial as a child in the 80's (born 1977) there were loads of them about at the mid to late 1980's be it The Beano,Dandy,Warlord,Eagle even marvel UK got in on the act with Transformers and G.I.Joe (action Force) but most of these were printed by one of two main companies DC Thomson of Fleetway so they all had more then one summer special out at the same time from all the different title so some one was going to be the loser one of these titles were gonna become the one that sold the least and become to expensive to produce.
so with the dwindling sales of British comics through the 90's these companies had to pull more and more comics and summer specials from the shelves.
I don't agree with the point of retails not wanting to hold the stock, Take the last dandy issue my local shops all wanted the comic in stock but were told they could not have it. I have never had to much trouble getting any comic from a news agent if its available for them to order it in. Most people now are scared or can't be bothered to ask if it can be ordered for them.
It is sad that we have no special issue to have through the summer but to be honest which one would they bring back? Like people have said the Beano needs free gifts and gimmicks to keep people interested. The Dandy would be a better idea as it is now only available online but then it vanished from print due to lack of sales in the first place. There is also the fact of you bring one out then why not others for me I would rather see a Warlord or Eagle summer special to a Beano or Dandy and then you are back to square one to many summer specials forcing the loser in sale to be pulled.

George Shiers said...

Yep - it is Thunderbooks! A nice store.

Paul, I see your pont that in the end Summer Specials became a nuisance to themselves, and agree to a certain extent as it could have stopped one or two specials becoming top sellers, but it wouldn't wipe them out completely.

In the end it all comes down to the retalier. No matter how much effort the publisher puts into the comic to make it cheap and special, if the retailers don't want to stock it, which they don't, it isn't going to sell.

As for the annuals, it is a shame that stores do hold them back. It shouldn't be a personal opinion as to when the books they've been delivered should go on sale. If they've got them they should be on the shelves.

gobshyte said...

i really miss the summer specials.loved them as a kid and have great memories of being in a caravan park in scotland in the summer of 77 with a whole pile of them to read.there was something about the smell of the paper and that sort of glossy look they had to them and the oversized pages in comparison to their weekly versions.i am constantly searching charity shops etc(still havent bought any from e-bay)and comic conventions for them but no one ever seems to have them.evenn the comic and book exchange where you can get some great bargains never has any.i have found some online as pdfs and can read them on my kindle which is a decent substitute but its just not the same.i even used to buy the beano on occasion until they started putting silly free gifts on the cover and upped the price dramatically.hopefully a great newclassic british weekly comic will be launched so that in the next year or two when my daughter becomes interested in reading comics there will be something for her to have treasured memories of when she gets older.anyway mate a great site you have here and i look forward to many hours of happy reading.ive laso added you to my blog list.thanks very much

George Shiers said...

Welcome to the site! I'll hopefully be showing one or two holiday specials throughout the summer, but no full issues. I don't think I have any from 1977, but I'll show one or two from the 70's.

As for a new classic comic, I don't see it happening to be honest. Yes, it would be great but comics are aimed at the current generation of children, not past ones who want to see a nice, cheap comic in a classic style that they remember. But you never know...

I'm glad you like the site, some of the early posts aren't very good - they're riddled with spelling errors - but I am very slowly going through editing them. I publish a new post 3 - 4 times a week, sometimes more, so keep checking back!