Accent UK, one of the bastions of the UK indie comics scene, have canceled their long awaited "Victoriana" anthology.
As a veteran of the anthology-space myself, and a contributor to previous Accent UK anthologies including Victoriana, I know just how hard the marketplace can be for anthology books. It has always struck me as strange when the veritable jewel in the crown of UK comics, 2000AD, is a monthly anthology (of sorts) that more comic book stores aren't willing to stock anthologies. However, having sat on the "business" side of the table I can see why they don't.
Why are anthologies dying?
As Dave West sums up - what the customers are looking for are ongoing stories, not short one shots.
Pitching an anthology to a prospective reader is hard.
It's hard because a "good" anthology will mix different styles of writing and different styles of art and not everything will appeal to everyone.
It's hard because you're not offering the reader something that they can latch on to and invest in. It's the comic book equivalent of tapas - it's fun and nice to do with friends, but you are probably going to have to go for a Greggs on the way home.
It's also hard because you can't always answer fundamental questions like "What is it about?" or "Who is the hero?" It's a strange contrast to prose short story anthologies which remain very much alive and kicking. Page count is the enemy here - if you're given 8 pages in an anthology comic then you simply can't overshoot. You have to fit everything into eight pages, and that's sometimes a real challenge. By contrast, the length of a prose short story can vary significantly and a few extra (even thousand) words don't put much of a dent in the page count or the budget.
And, before you scream "but... DIGITAL!"
Anthologies are just as hard to sell, if not harder, in the digital world. Fact.
Over and above the difficulties that transpose from the physical world (above) there are the added difficulties an anthology presents when working digitally. One of the main issues is the way in which the recommendation algorithms for online stores like to latch onto authors/creators. They are very good are recommending that you buy more books from Writer A or featuring Character B if you've shown that you like those things. They are not so good at handling anthologies with lots of different creators, characters, and where they can't see a straight line between your first purchase and the next and it's even harder if those creators don't have their own content out there digitally on the same platform.
This doesn't mean it's impossible, but it is hard - and I can see why the guys at Accent want to focus on building a model that works rather than fight against the tide.
But, yes, I'm a bit sad...
Personally however, I am sad to see Victoriana go and even sadder to see that Accent are unlikely to put out another anthology book in the immediate future. Whilst readers don't like them, I think creators really do. Anthologies are great for bringing creators together who don't normally work together and I've always enjoyed getting my hands on one of Accent's themed books and seeing what other people made alongside my own work. Especially when you're starting out, it somehow legitimizes your own work to see it alongside work from people you admire and respect.
I hope someone comes forward to fill the gap left by Accent UK in putting out a regular anthology of the best UK creators.
Knowing how hard it is to wrangle even a small number of indie creators though? It probably won't be me.