The Phoenix Comic: Marketing in Children’s Publishing

The Phoenix is a new weekly comic for children, it was launched in January 2012 and finds its home in Oxford. Its origins lie with The DFC, a comic from David Fickling which is no longer being published, but the creative team still exist (at the heart of The Phoenix).

We were joined by Ross Fraser, a fairly recent OICPS alumni, who is now Head Marketing Manager at The Phoenix Comic – a fact which, in itself, is comforting; he was in our figurative shoes about two years ago. Ross talked us through The Phoenix, what it is, the magazine and how they market the comic itself. Each issue contains serialised stories (like the popular The Pirates of Pangaea storyline); recurring stories, which do not necessarily follow a set storyline (like Bunny vs. Monkey); Phoenix features, stand-alone story specials (Ghost Ant, The Princess and the Peanut Butter Sandwich); puzzles; and non-fiction (like Corpse Talk, which Ross described as ‘in a nutshell Horrible Histories crossed with Parkinson’ much to the amusement of the class).

He split the current children’s magazine market into negatives, which included

  • cultural belief that comics are inherently worthless and carry with them stigma of geekery
  • lots of competition
  • effects of global recession still being felt
  • phenomenon of children getting older younger
  • high churn rates

and positives

  • the current trend for comic book related movies internationally
  • increase in the perception of literary value in comics
  • increase in sales via subscription models
  • 8-12 year-olds are on the whole too young to move to other forms of entertainment
  • increased recognition for ‘visual literacy’ in both schools and libraries nationally

Going on to talk about the challenge faced by The Phoenix to create a culture of comics in the UK, while countries like the US and France already have considerable weight placed on comic books the same cannot be said about the UK. To enable them to do this, he explained, they had to look at their existing platforms and how they could improve them – what else could they do. Brand loyalty is important for such an endeavour, especially when it comes to comics. We were led through the various things The Phoenix does to encourage brand loyalty in both its readers and their parents (including the successful Phoenix competitions which always receive many entries).

The comic is distributed through various channels; he mentioned an event at the Oxford branch of Waterstone’s back in November, I remember seeing the vibrant window displays and wishing I had time to go and have a look – I was either going to or coming from my internship at Berghahn. I was interested to learn that the digital version of the comic is created in Tokyo by a company that has not before dealt with fiction.  A lot of emphasis was placed on the nurturing of independent bookshops, their integration with the community is paramount to the success of The Phoenix.

Finally, before taking questions, he explained why The Phoenix do what they do: passion and a love of stories; he said something very poetic about story culture and how stories are inherent in everything, which I wish I had written down.

We have a lot of speakers at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and they are all incredibly interesting, I was much impressed by the design of the slides in today’s talk, most speakers come with standard slides from their company (which is brilliant for the purpose) but the slides from The Phoenix were all uniquely designed and laid out much like their website (with little hints to what awaits in the comics). A thoroughly enjoyed and engaging talk.

Tomorrow in #DLL13 we are being joined by Mark Rogerson from Electronic Enlightenment. Keep an eye on the blog for a write-up.

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