Monday, February 4, 2019

Newton Comics: Considering the December 1975-January 1976 period

In his article Harken To Me Faithful Ones! Robert Thomas says:

After a few months sales had dropped to 6,000-8,000 per issue. It soon became apparent that sales projections were grossly overestimated, with print runs being too high and returns from newsagents being substantial. Marty Dougherty returned from the 1975 Christmas holiday break to find Maxwell Newton had closed the venture down during his absence. Dougherty persuaded Newton to resume publishing with a revamp of titles and schedules. In a move designed to save on printing costs, the fortnightly schedule was changed to monthly and the free colour posters dropped from many titles, New titles Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Monsters Unleashed, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor and Submariner were added to the publishing schedule. Existing titles Planet of the Apes, Conan and Dracula increased in size to eighty-four pages for 75c.

This is obviously a key chapter in the Newton Comics story and we have Robert to thank for unearthing it in his research. I have some points to raise in relation to this story based on my recent research.

The following advertisement appeared in the Sunday Observer 30 November 1975:

The Avengers Annual #1 gets the lion's share of the advertising space but also included in the ad are the covers to Dracula #10, Planet of the Apes #14, The Avengers #12 and The Fantastic Four #12. All of these issues are cover-dated December 1975.

Of particular note for our purposes is that Planet of the Apes #14 is already a New Giant Size Monthly  Edition with a $0.75 cover price.

In fact, the new monthly edition of the title is advertised alongside other new monthly editions on the subscription page found in issues cover-dated December 1975: 

The other monthly 84-page issues on this subscription ad are Conan, Dracula, Kung Fu and Monsters Unleashed.

New series Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor and  Submariner (sic) are also listed as monthly titles in this advertisement. These new titles would not appear until the new year despite being advertised in December 1975.  

Indeed publication dates for the new monthly titles were published in a letter column in December 1975 issues:

Clearly the changes to the titles, format, pricing and scheduling ascribed to Daugherty's intervention post-Christmas break 1975 were already a part of Newton's planning pre-Christmas 1975, and in the particular case of Planet of the Apes #14, in play at least as early as November 1975.

So if the revamping of titles and formats was already happening, on what basis did Daugherty manage to persuade Newton to resume publication of the comics?

I brought up this point with John Corneille, and in his email he replied: 

In fact Marty hadn't returned to find out the comics had been cancelled - he got told while on holiday and cut his holiday short to come back to convince Newton management to keep them going because without the comics he would have been out of a job. He called me up and asked me to come in and we started up where we left off. 

Corneille doesn't address any particular strategy or argument mounted by Daugherty, but picking up where they left off certainly seems to be the primary thing they did. Presumably part of Daugherty's argument was that the changes already in place in December 1975 needed time to kick in before paying dividends.

Another factor in this period was the stockpile of returns Newton had received over the preceding six months. As Thomas relates, Ash Long was employed to deal with "about 500,000 unsold comics returned by the newsagents...dumped in a tin shed at the old Richmond Bitter brewery grounds opposite the Sunday Observer offices." The effort to redistribute these rebranded Heritage Series comics began in February 1976, but it is possible this was an element in Dougherty's master plan to resuscitate the comics post-Christmas 1975.

The overstock was evident in December 1975 when the following offer was made to Newton Comics readers:

The list of overstocked issues virtually amounts to a full run of the entire Newton Comics output to that point. Indeed, some of the issues listed had not even been printed yet!

As Thomas says, printing costs were a factor in the price rises, and issues with the printers was the reason Corneille offered readers in the letter column when apologising for delays. However Corneille offered me another insight into the reasons for the format changes in this period:

Early sales of the comics were promising - I think they ran 20,000 copies of Spider-Man #1 and most sold. However after a while I got the feeling there was a limited overall market approaching 20,000 copies per week total. So when we had 2 issues in one week we would sell approximately 10,000 of each and when we had four we would sell no more than 5,000 of each etc.

Considering the first issues launched by Newton Comics in late May/June 1975 were published in weekly increments without having to cannibalise one another, it is no surprise that the initial sales figures set up unrealistic projections when the fortnightly schedule was introduced and the number of titles increased. Thomas records figures per Corneille of "sales up to 30,000...for the first issues, dropping to around 20,000 for the second and third issues". Although the figures for the initial sales  differ in the two testimonies, the trajectory and algorithm referenced by Corneille is clear and emphatic and, along with the printing costs, appear to be the driving impulse towards the changes in price, format and publication frequency instituted c.December 1975.

1 comment:

Robert Thomas said...

Wonderful research! Really fleshing out the bare bones of event sequences here. Looking forward to continued updates and re-evaluation of previously assumed dating order of publishing. In particular the, Sunday Observer ads are a joy to finally see. I had seen some of them in 2003 at the National Library but without good digital camera technology or sufficient time to make many usable copies. I resorted to the Library photocopier to at least take a few snapshot copies of some of the major full page ads. Checking my scribble paper notes, I did actually page number document many of the Sunday Observer newspapers with a view to returning one day. That day, like FOOM, never happened but overjoyed to see these page number notes now fully realised as actual pics in the pages of Notes From The Junkyard!