If you’ve been reading the Beat regularly, you’ve seen us talking about the growing schism between struggles in monthly periodical sales (floppies if you prefer) and growth in the book market (graphic novels, trade paperback collections and the like). And you’ve heard us wonder when one of the Direct Market-centric publishers was going to take the bull by the horns and just see what they could do in the book trade, since it’s a demonstrably growing market.
So what do we see in the October solicitations, but Batman: The Dark Prince Charming, a two-part original graphic novel in a slightly different format? Go have a look.
That’s European cartoonist Enrico Marini doing a tale about Batman and The Joker, the sort of character power you might want to launch an experiment with a new format. But let’s talk about the format. It’s listed as 64 pages in previews, so we’re talking a 64 page hard cover book for $12.99. Normal ~7″x10″ inch dimensions. And it’s part 1 of 2. All just a little bit different… for the US market, that is.
If this were an oversized 64 page HC, I’d say DC was publishing a traditional European album. Without actually having seen it, I’m merely speculating that this is a traditional European HC shrunk down to sit comfortably on the shelf of your local comics retailer without requiring a lot of re-arrangement. Retailers have built out their shops to accommodate the usual sized comic and can push back quite a bit if it doesn’t fit their display.
So we’re looking at something that’s a little longer than the old “Dark Knight”/Prestige format: 64 pages, instead of 48 pages. Roughly 3 issues worth of material. We’re looking at a format that could, in theory ship 4 times per year, rather than twice a year if you’re doing 120 page/6-issue equivalent books. (Assuming you’re not rotating artists all willy-nilly to double the frequency.) We’re looking at a format that bookstores can handle more easily than monthly comics.
If this experiment flies, it’s an excellent hedge against problems in the Direct Market. It’s a lot easier to switch distribution channels on a book than a magazine.
The biggest question here is how an audience that’s been increasingly price-sensitive is going to react to that $12.99 price tag? That’s not cheap. It also remains to be seen what the softcover strategy is: wait for a 128 page collection or issue the 64 page sets, which would be a lot closer to the old Dark Knight format… yet be smaller than the 80 page giants we see on a semi-regular basis.
This is one to keep an eye on. It might work, it might not. Let’s be clear on one thing though, when the market for monthly comics is struggling to stay even and relying on Fall stunts every year to try and maintain the status quo, while the book market is growing, somebody needed to try something new. I was expecting them to launch the format with a bigger name in the DM, like Scott Snyder, but the game is afoot.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.