Saturday, February 03, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #3: Optimising Profits

When the Judge Dredd film was released in summer 1995, it created a brief sales spike for 2000 AD and related titles. But as the film faded from memory, so did the House of Tharg suffer, with several titles threatening to lapse into a terminal decline. During 1996 I was given the task of looking for ways to optimise profitability across the range. This was called Project 2000, as the goal was to keep 2000 AD going until at least the year 2000. [The comic's still going now in the year 2007, but that's due to the work of many, many people, not just this one project.] Everything was up for grabs, there were no sacred cows, so some of the solutions suggested were never put into practise, I'm happy to say. Anyway, here are the problems I identified and the solutions I proposed eleven years ago...


1. Declining sales, which have been accepted as the norm. Title treated as a cash cow, but danger of over-milking. Three new spin-off titles in five years have hurt sales. Solution: Halt the decline before it is too late. Set an average sales target of 46,500 for 1996, then grow the title to 50,000 in 1997 and beyond. Recognise the asset and strive to protect it! Cut deadwood titles which are sapping the strength of core product. [Reality: we did cut back on reprint titles and 2000 AD's sales decline slowed, but it couldn't be reversed.]

2. Lack of investment in the marketing of title - up to 30 issues (7 months) between promotions. Inconcsistend marketing and four different publishers in four years. Solution: Begin real investment in future of title through four-month PR campaign to raise public profile of the title, especially in the ket target audience of 11-16 males. Title should have a two-issue promotion at least every 13 issues (three months). Adopt a five year marketing plan, take advantage of 2000 AD title opportunity as year 2000 nears. Less short-termism, more forward planning. [Reality: short-termism continued to be Egmont's way, and marketing efforts were fitful at best. Chasing free PR coverage led to mis-steps like the Space Girls and B.L.A.I.R. 1 that got media coverage while alienating regular readers.]

3. Price rises too frequent and too large. Cover price has risen 250% since 1990, while Meg has risen 33% and EMAP's Empire magazine has risen only 56%. Solution: No price rise in 1996. All future price rises to be limited, not more than 10% in a single year, and only one rise in a year. [Reality: this was adopted, after a disastrous double price rise in 1995. Rebellion did even better when it took over, keeping the cover price remarkably stable for long periods.]

4. Poor, inconsistent editorial content damaging loyalty of most valuable asset - readers! Challenge from competitive fad products, e.g. The X Files. Solution: Demand higher standard of material. Find and foster new creative talent. Create criteria for all future content. All commissioning to be in the hands of FEL employees. Challenge editorial status quo. Establish closer ties with key US publishers (e.g. Dark Horse) to identify new trends and tailor editorial if needed. [Reality: I'd like to think editorial content got better and more consistent during my time as editor in the second of the 1990s, but that may be self delusion. Certainly 2000 AD became much more welcoming to new talent, which helped keep costs down. I can't remember why the line about all commissioning had to be in-house is there. The comic certainly challenged its own editorial status quo in 1996 and 1997 [dumping Tharg for 18 issues is one example], with mixed results. Not sure we got far cosying up to US publishers.]

5. High editorial contributor costs - £9650 per issue. Outside lettering alone costs title £600 per issue - over £31,000 a year. Solution: Lower base rates for contributors. Use less expensive artists. Replace one page of strip per issue with relevant, no-cost feature. Consider taking lettering of strps in-house. [Reality: we didn't bring lettering in-house, but it did go digital within a few years and that brough savings. More expensive creators were phased out or had reduced the amount of work they could get on 2000 AD in a single year.]

6. Increased paper costs a major expenditure burden. Solution: Make title A4 size, saving 5% on all paper costs without devaluing product quality to the readers while streamlining editorial processes. [Reality: Going A4 saved a surprising amount of money and was well worth doing.]

7. What do we call 2000 AD in the year 2000? Solution: Turn dilemma into asset via PR drive. Get readers and media excited about title change. Secure 3000 AD trademark by publishing a 3000 AS one-off or special. [Reality: We did the 3000 AD special around the time of the 20th anniversary issue, but turning our dilemma into a PR asset never happened - surprise, surprise. The name remained the same, obviously.]


The proposed changes to 2000 AD have little effect on profitability in the short term i.e. the 1996 financial year, simply because the weekly anthology nature of the title makes change slow to effect. However, these proposals would yield cost savings of at least £110,000 in 1997, equivalent to nearly a 10% cut in the title's editorial and production costs. This would transform profitability, without taking account of any increased revenue from increased sales targets.

[Reality: Egmont expected 2000 AD to contribute £200,000-250,000 gross profits each year. It did manage to achieve this most years while I was editor, but it required scrimping and saving efforts, pinching the pennies every year to find new ways of maintaining that number. Still, the comic is still going today, so I guess it worked.]

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