Thanks to the Brexit result, the British pound has taken a hammering and unfortunately this mean that in the UK, comics are going to go up in price. It sucks but it’s inevitable. For the UK comics retail industry to survive, and possibly even thrive, there are going to be a few changes. I work in a comic shop that I’m not going to mention, for reasons that should become obvious but I wanted to give some more insight into what’s happening behind the scenes.
I imagine that the same thing is happening all over the country. Comic retailers are trying to remain positive and continue to look after their customers but are worried how the price hike on floppies and trade paperbacks will affect sales. Let’s look at single issues first. Because Diamond have a monopoly on single issue retailers can only bite the bullet on this one and spend more money to get the books in. Unfortunately, this means that the prices have to increase by at least as much Diamond increased the price if stores want to maintain their already thin margins. And that’s only if customer behaviour remains the same. For a whole bunch of people, this might be the time they jump to TPB or get out of comics altogether. It’s completely understandable, particularly for those that pick up a huge amount of comics every week. Given that, some stores may increase their prices a little further to battle the loss of sales, but this will probably be a reflexive response to the first month or so of sales . Cheap back issues will also likely be going up in price everywhere as most stores sell back issues at a loss. Retailers want to be able to give customers value for money, but they also have a responsibility to the people they employ to stay open.
TPBs are slightly different. There do exist some independent suppliers of American books and indeed Panini reprint certain publishers. These have always been cheaper than their American cousins but the issue here is reliability. These secondary suppliers might not get the book out on established release dates and may only get limited quantity. They may not have access to them at all. This isn’t a price issue it does become a customer service issue. The casual fan will quickly turn to an online retail if they feel they are waiting around for books. The books not available to secondary retailers will be facing a £1.50-£3 increase. Not all that much but for publishers like Image that offer cheaper vol 1s it will reduce the “taster” factor. So many new readers will see an Image volume 1 and pick it up for around £7.50 because it doesn’t feel like that much of a financial risk. If it’s rubbish, so what, no big deal. When this price gets to closer to a tenner, could really put a potential new reader off.
As previously pointed out this isn’t all “doom and gloom”. There are a whole bunch of scenarios that can possibly change the UK scene. Brexit might reverse… ahem, or much more likely we could have an industrial response. A British publisher might pay Diamond for the rights to reprint single issues in the UK and distribute them locally and to Europe. It would mean that with no shipping cost comics would actually be cheaper to buy for retailers. Alternative the publishers could keep the price the same as before the change and use what was shipping costs to offset the license costs. The publisher could further offset the cost by having UK oriented adverts instead of largely useless US ads. I’m not going to write the whole business plan for them but some should Imagine a 2000AD format DC comic or the return of Marvel UK.
Likewise, we’ve a bunch of great indie publishers in the UK and retailers will certainly try to push these titles harder. That said a lot of these titles don’t cater to a superhero audience. Whether you like it or not, superheroes power the engine of industry. They have the largest exposure, they attract new, younger readers and they have committed older readers. There are plenty of UK superheroes living out there in the small press just waiting to be on shelves every month. The difficulty has always been the fact that there is no money in self-publishing. Now might be the time for some savvy comics’ entrepreneurs to start up a new UK comics publisher and get recruiting.
So what can your average comics reader do to help this situation? Alas, the most answers involve spending. If you’re looking to start a TPB series, do it now before the price increase. If you have a subscription or standing order, pick it up more regularly. Spending money on comics before the price increase will help small shops buffer themselves and might be the key to saving them. We just don’t know how hard we’re going to be hit yet. Setting up and regularly collecting subscriptions means that retailers can monitor the sales of each title and adjust them more rapidly. This means they waste less money on buying titles customers don’t want to read. Aside from spending money the best thing you can do is remember to give your store a break. There is a very real chance that this could affect stores and we know it sucks to be spending more money on comics. We appreciate how irritating it can be when titles sell out and that we might not get books on release dates but bear with us. We’re trying our best to figure this one out and as soon as it’s all sorted we can get back to be the business of providing everyone with their weekly dose of escapism.