Kibbles ‘n’ BIts 8/31/16: Comics industry is in its death throes

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§ The aptly named Jude Terror of The Outhouse stunned the comics world yesterday with a piece called Die, Industry, Die! (Or Why Letting Comics Fail is the “Real” Only Way to Save the Industry) which took off from the suggestions that the well-regarded comic Nighthawk could have been saved from cancellation if more people had preordered it. This was, by his own admission, a rant, but it struck a nerve with a lot of people, and that nerve was the vaguely unsatisfied one that a lot of comics readers have.

And that brings us back to the original point of all this, which is the idea that it’s your job, as a reader, to save comics from cancellation. That if you don’t buy a Previews catalog, research all of the comics coming out two months from now, and then tell your retailer you want to buy one so that your retailer can purchase an extra copy from Marvel that month and Marvel can brag about it in a press release, it’s your fault when the comic is canceled.

I propose a different hypothesis: it’s Marvel’s fucking fault when Marvel doesn’t sell enough comics. It’s Marvel’s fault they didn’t promote Nighthawk well enough to get retailers to buy enough copies of it. It’s Marvel’s fucking fault specialty shops are the only stores that buy Nighthawk comics in the first place. It’s Marvel’s fucking fault that instead of millions of people reading comics, there are less than 100,000. All of this is Marvel’s fault, not yours or mine, and the propensity of comic book creators to guilt trip fans about preordering has to be classified as some kind of weird version of Stockholm syndrome.


This call to arms was preceded by a history of the direct sales market that was alarming in its complete lack of accuracy. (Terror went back in and fixed the worst errors, but just in case you think Marvel or Diamond invented the direct sales system, they didn’t – it was a bunch of retailers led by Phil Seuling.) The analysis of how we got to 2016 was so wobbly that it pretty much would have made me disregard everything else that Terror wrote, but I can’t ignore the angry mob of readers and creators who have taken up its call. I took off my headphones and I listened.

And yet…poor sales are to blame for the failure of products in every industry. Consumer indifference is mostly because of…consumers. The whole preorder idea is an awful way to run a publishing industry — the idea that consumers need to wade through a 300 page catalog meant for retailers in order to save a book they like is ludicrous and when I see creators like Gillen and McKelvie pushing it, I just feel awful.

That said…ultimately there are three things that make a comic (or any artistic endeavor) successful: good creative, good marketing and good readers. Once, just the idea of a comics starring a black hero, written by a black man, drawn by a Latino man, with covers by a black man and colors by a trans woman would be cool in and of itself. Throw in that the book is about racial issues and gang violence in a real place, and it sounds like a pretty bold experiment for a company that also publishes books based on stackable Chinese toys.

So why did it fail? Maybe it didn’t succeed because it wasn’t very good. (Confession: I haven’t read it, but I like the work of everyone involved so I’ll take the good reviews at face value.) Maybe the subject matter was too raw for Marvel. Maybe it was too dark for retailers. Maybe readers are racists. Maybe no one likes Nighthawk. Maybe Marvel took a chance on the book but didn’t have the marketing resources to make it go past 6 issues.

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I, personally, think we shouldn’t destroy everything in comics just yet. I’ve been making a study of sales and the direct market for a long time, and I can say with some confidence that there are more distribution channels for comics than ever. They aren’t all entirely healthy (Google recent Barnes & Noble news if you dare) but publishers are pretty confident that they can survive the loss of one, and stores feel confident they can survive if a publisher or two goes tits up. Because history can be a surprising thing, I’d also like to flash back to this piece I wrote about 80s comics sales, and this Capital Comics sales charts from 1984, where comics sold in numbers pretty similar to today’s market…but remember these are just sales from ONE DISTRIBUTOR. The early years of the direct sales market were actually focused on INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS, like Pacific, Eclipse and Capital. Marvel and DC came along slowly, because they had no choice; newsstands were dying.

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In the 80s direct market every magazine sized issue of Love & Rockets sold 50K copies. Awful black and white comics you never heard of sold 50K copies for a while, until the black and white glut of the late 80s. Things went great until the mid 90s, when a spectacular boom — the greatest sales since the pre Wertham days — was followed by a crash and the number of comics shops in America went from as many as 8000 stores to the 2000-3000 we have now. A lot of people with long memories blame Image and their associated companies for this and have never forgiven them for it. Marvel, far from benefitting exponentially from the DM, was in such bad straits in the 90s that they went bankrupt and laid off more than 100 employees. (To be fair, this was mostly because then owner Ronald Perelman was an ass and had wasted money buying a lot of peripheral businesses like Panini and Fleer and then got into a pissing contest with rival Carl Icahn. There’s a book about all this.) Comics languished for a few years until Manga took off, and bookstores expanded their graphic novel sections in the early 2000s. The rise of the internet led to the long tail system we have now.

And what does all this history have to do with today’s current comics market?

FUCKING NOTHING. If there’s one thing I detest hearing in a a meeting it’s “We tried that 15 years ago and it didn’t work!” And yes, I have actually heard that. If your business model hasn’t changed in 15 years, you have a shitty business model.

You may feel differently, but I feel that destroying the DM as it stands without a substitute model in place would led to many good men, women and non binary creators losing their livelihoods. I think we have a new generation of readers who prefer graphic novels, and the periodical is in the process of becoming less crucial to the industry as a whole. I believe this because the dollar value of graphic novels in both the DM and bookstores is more than the dollar value of periodical sales. DC now makes more from GNs than from periodicals, and Marvel’s GN sales are rising as well. They are not denying the existence of this trend.

In a lot of ways, The Terror Manifesto reminds me of when I used to read the show reports from the Attitude Era of the WWE in the late 90s. This was a time when there were two thriving wrestling promotions, and live wrestling on almost every night of the week. HHH, Chyna, Steve Austin, The Rock, the Undertaker, and Mick Foley cavorted on every edition of Raw, and legendary catchphrases were born every night in a savage war with Mr. McMahon. It was, we now know, the pinnacle of the wrestling business. Yet to read the contemporary show reports you would have thought this was the worst shit ever. NOthing but complaints about the booking and the “workrate.” Granted, it’s hard to know you’re having a golden era while you’re IN a golden era. That’s where perspective comes in.

Comics are almost certainly in a golden era right now…if you don’t care about Marvel and DC, something that is very easy at Stately Beat Manor. There are so may great comics coming out from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, Dynamite, First Second, Self Made Hero, Abrams, Retrofit, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Koyama Press, Uncivilized, Peow and dozens of other publishers. There are so many good comics to read stacked up by my desk and clogging my dropbox that I feel depressed about ever finding time to read them. 



I get that people who want superhero comics to be the kind of comics that they want, don’t want to read comics by Ron Wimberly, Isabel Greenberg, Box Brown and Gene Luen Yang instead. One is not a substitute for the other. But I would also submit that as you get older your tastes change, and periodical superhero comics, with their neverending storylines and repetitive melodrama, are a medium best suited to youthful readers who then age into some other format. I’ve seen plenty of onion-belted readers reacting to the Terror Manifesto with a “Hell yeah, I’ve been reading comics for 30 years and they DO suck now!” Hopefully, we’re not going to succumb to a “Make Comics Great Again!” movement.

Admittedly, burning down the industry is a more revolutionary vision, and I’m past my revolutionary days. The ideas for an improved industry that I had 30 years ago are now mostly accomplished; it would be a great time to retire, actually. I’ll let the youngs figure out the next thing. But I’ll leave you with this: man, if you don’t like Marvel now, the Bill Jemas era would have made your head explode.

OOPS, it seems this edition of Kibbles ‘n’ Bits never got past the first link! I’m off to the Diamond Retailer Summit where my indoctrination into industry dogma will be refreshed. More later.

Comments

  1. says

    Speaking of inaccuracy, I didn’t change or “fix” anything about what I said about the direct market in that article; perhaps you simply read something that wasn’t there the first time. Nor was it meant to be an in-depth history of how the direct market was created (and framing it as if it were is pedantry). The point was that Marvel would rather sell few comics at high prices with high margins to a small audience than sell many comics with low margins to a broad audience, and that while this may make Marvel profitable in the short term, it has lead to the slow, painful death of superhero comics and their audience.

    But thanks for the lecture, mom! :P

  2. Eddie says

    “There are so many good comics to read stacked up by my desk and clogging my dropbox that I feel depressed about ever finding time to read them. 

”

    OK, so what to read then? I love Hellboy (and everything related), read Harrow County (nice but no masterpiece), read Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man (started well, ended meh), loved the first volume of The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage (hated the second volume), loved Saga (and Y The Last Man and Pride of Baghdad) but hated Paper Girls…

    Could you create a list of, I don’t know, “top 100 comics you should be reading right now” with emphasis on NON-DC and Marvel comics? Pretty please with sugar on top?:

    Many thanks!

  3. says

    “when I see creators like Gillen and McKelvie pushing it, I just feel awful.”

    I see Bendis doing it all the time, too. BENDIS.

    The system sucks.

    Not that there’s a better one, but it does suck.

  4. James Schee says

    While I agree with the rant that it isn’t up to us to save the industry with preordering. Heck I haven’t preordered a comic in nearly a decade now. Shops were not very good in my area, I grew tired of preordering books, and when I got them they stunk, etc.

    Perhaps the reason a book like Nighthawk, which is a book I never even knew existed, is canceled because there are already more than enough superhero books out there. Especially from the big 2! You can make the best new candy bar ever, but if I see it next to Hershey bar, a Milky Way, Three Musketeer etc. I’ll go with one of those. Same with superhero comics, from big 2 especially, if I want to read one I’ll probably try familiar name first.

    Now if you want to tap into a different genre I’ll be a lot more willing to give the new a try.

  5. Glenn Simpson says

    Regardless of whether the intent was there, the story implies that Marvel chose to leave the newsstands, when that is patently untrue. The newsstands didn’t want comic books because they couldn’t make enough money off of them. The direct market was very much a second choice and the only way to keep them around.

    In hindsight, maybe they could have changed comics into nothing but 200-page anthologies that could have a high enough pricetag to make the newsstands happy, but without being an industry insider I couldn’t say whether that would have been feasible or not.

    The Direct Market may or may not be killing comics now, but they were the only thing that saved it back in the day.

  6. Robert Stanley Martin says

    Where are you getting these sales numbers for ’80s independents? As I recall, per the introduction to the late-’80s Hernandez Brothers interview in TCJ, the sales for the magazine were 19,000 per issue. My impression that was as high as the sales had gotten. Dave Sim printed Cerebus circulation numbers in the comic. It peaked at about 32,000 during the same period. Not counting #1’s and perhaps the Ninja Turtles, the top-selling independent titles were Jon Sable and American Flagg! The Audit Bureau Statement of Ownership filings say their unit sales peaked in the mid-to-high 40s.

  7. jon says

    Wow, he’s obviously super knowledgeable! Just look at that cheer section of a dozen or so cheap, whiny malcontents in the comments who’d love a return to rushed art and writing and hoping your local “newsstand” happens to have copies of the books you want to read. Since magazines and newspapers are such huge sellers, who can’t take ten steps without passing a newsstand? Ignoring that incredibly lucrative market is obviously a huge mistake on the part of publishers. Wouldn’t it be nice to stand in a line of ten people buying medicine at CVS than having a chance to talk comics with other fans every Wednesday? I’m sure most of them probably aren’t that contagious. I know saving thirty-six cents per issue at Walmart would make me feel better than spending my money at a locally owned business.. That’d solve ALL the industry’s problems!

  8. comicsatemybrain says

    Here is something about 1984 that might be relevant today: how many different comics did each of the top five companies put out each month that year? And how many different comics do each of today’s top five companies put out? There is a reason that we see a Top 100 chart from 1984 but look at Top 300 list today.

    The sheer volume of product makes it difficult for the consumer to find things like Nighthawk because the signal/noise ratio is so crazy compared to 1984. To know what is out there, you *do* need to go through the catalog. Just going through *either* the Marvel or DC listings alone takes time if you’re really serious about it.

    So the publishers put out lots of press releases, posts on facetweet and instatumblr, etc. That has now become more noise than signal now as well, requiring commitment on the part of the consumer to go through it all if they are going to find something like Nighthawk. Today’s society has a shorter attention span as compared to 1984 and many many more distractions placed in front of us all of the time.

    Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not saying that the market is necessarily oversaturated. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t… look at how tastes in music are much more diffuse now as compared to 1984 when radio pre-sifted a lot of that product for us. I think that people consume comics now in a manner that is more similar to the diffuse model (and the causes of that are numerous and not necessarily the same as for music). If this is true, it is one more reason why it is becoming less reasonable to expect comics consumers to plow through a fat catalog each month. Who here goes through the iTunes or Amazon list of new releases **in its entirety** each month?

    And I’m also not saying that the quantity/breadth of product is the only reason that it is difficult for titles like Nighthawk to become big sellers. But I would suggest that it is a contributing factor to why it gets lost. Marvel (and the same can be said for DC) puts out so much stuff each month that it is impossible for them to get our attention on every book in a way that gets the sales needle to move. In an effort to dominate the marketshares they covet/require, Marvel (and DC) end up competing with **their own books** for attention at the same time the consumer attention span is declining.

    My long-winded $0.02

  9. Nathan Aaron says

    The art on Nighthawk was, IMHO, bad. That’s what kept me from buying that book. Honestly, the same thing with Vision. = The art. It doesn’t matter to many, but to me it’s very, very important. And Marvel has lost most of their A-level art talent to indie books. They’re stuck in “indie/manga style land” and that’s just not for me.

  10. Eric says

    I have to agree with that bit about the pre-ordering. Basing the life and death of a series on how many people know of, want, and are willing to drop money on an unknown is really bad business. It’s not up to people pre-ordering to save a series. It’s up to the creators and fans to try and keep a series alive. Then again, I’ve always seen pre-orders as a variant of the special order: something done to get your hands on an item the retailer would not normally carry. I’ve only pre-ordered issues from one series (Sunstone) and that’s because the retailer I go to will never carry that series for general sale (despite carrying Sex Criminals).

  11. Steven Simmons says

    For me, Marvel just seems to be too worried about filling most of their comics with social justice messaging AND weak art…and the weak art is the important part to focus on as that’s what keeps me from pulling a book for #3.99+ monthly. I’ve moved to other books from publishers like Valiant and I’ve moved far away from Marvel, which really saddens me. They’re too worried about, seemingly, giving the reigns to people like Bendis who comes off as either overworked or that he just doesn’t care anymore.

    Sad that I feel I get a better representation of Marvel from the MCU (Agents of SHIELD excluded) films and shows than I do the comics.

  12. Tim says

    I remember when Fraction was this blustery…that’s where the likeness ends.

    Regardless how he got there, Mr. Terror does seem to offer some sound Crowleyan advice in the summary: Do What Thou Wilt?

    “only buy comics you want to read, buy them in the format you prefer (trade paperback, digital, discounted back issue), and make the decision to buy them whenever you feel like, not based on Diamond’s final order cut off.”

    To that I say, “Amen, Bubba.”

  13. says

    One problem Nighthawk had was that along with Hyperion, it launched as the second and third books of a franchise that didn’t exist yet. It’s something you see a lot recently, not just at Marvel. They launched Squadron Supreme, and it never got a chance to get up and running or find an audience before its members suddenly had solo books. If Marvel had waited until Squadron was better established as a book, secondary titles might have fared better. (Or never have happened, based on the sales of SS.)

    Of course Nighthawk may be completely different from its parent book, but I’ll wager that for many people “spin-off of book I’m not reading” is all they saw. That left the people who came for the specific concept of the creators, who just weren’t enough.

    (Yeah yeah, comments about franchise expansion from an X-Men fan are funny if not plain suspect, but the growth of the X-line started slow and steady.)

  14. Gumball says

    I believe it is first up to comic shops to actually give a crap about their customers. I have tried preordering books but they failed no matter what shop I tried. They would either not order my books, order the wrong books, give me variants instead of regular covers, or just give me damaged books passing them off. Thank goodness for eBay. That’s the ONLY way to get exactly what you want. I would love to find a real comic book store but I’m convinced they don’t exist anymore.

  15. comicsatemybrain says

    “DC now makes more from GNs than from periodicals”

    Link for this? (thanks in advance)

  16. Mark says

    Yeah, life’s too short to bother with pre-ordering, sorry. If the comics industry can’t come up with a workable economic model I’ll just spend my money on something else.

  17. says

    I’ll tell you why *I* didn’t read Nighthawk: because I didn’t hear anything about it until it was canceled. I’m in the shop most Wednesdays, I read a handful of comics sites, but I didn’t really notice the critical acclaim until the cancelation.

    I can certainly understand frustration that good books get canceled; Dial H was fantastic. And I recognize that there are very real problems with both the industry and the fandom. But I also think that it’s a better time to be a comics fan than ever. The sheer amount of quality books, new and reprinted, dead tree and digital, is unprecedented. There’s room for improvement, but things are actually pretty fucking great.

  18. says

    Yeah, Heidi, same thing, there are so many great things at others publishers than Marvel and Dc right now, way more affrodable, then crying over one risky ongoing serie which will be cancelled at Marvel shortly seems like overreacting.
    There were 3 (three!) serie starring Squadron Supreme characters launched! If I would have bought anything, I woud have tried first Squadron Supreme (out of nostalgia of the good old maxi-serie Squadron Supreme of the 80’s), then Hyperion (the concept seems original) and last Nigthawk, who seemed no to be the same character than the one I know since the 80’s, nad seemed to have the less original approach (vigilante in Chicago?).
    Marvel is launching a lot of original daring ongoing series, it’s actually quite good that some of them really found their audience. Nightawk isn’t one of them, sorry for the artists involved butthey were probably prepared for that, the surprise would have been for it to last to reach 10 issues.

  19. allen says

    Retailers did order the 1st issue heavy nobody bought it so they kept dropping the amount they ordered each month trying to match the #’s of copies sold. If people where buying it shops would have not dropped their orders each and every month. Stop Blaming stores for not odering what customers are not buyin

  20. Michael P says

    Frankly, I think the jump from “pre-order a book if you want it to succeed” to “you MUST buy Previews and read EVERY page” is a strawman. One certainly didn’t have to buy Previews at all to know Nighthawk was out there; Marvel’s solicits are published every month on numerous websites, there was a big press push for the wave of launches of which it was part, previews of each issue went up the Friday before release, etc., etc. Every company out there, small press operations included, sends out press releases about new books that, again, get picked up by dozens of sites. Creators pimp their stuff relentlessly on social media. Previews itself is as much a relic as the phone book (dozens of copies of which are stacked up outside my apartment building).

  21. dioessn says

    Michael P
    Yeap total strawman soem people just cant accept no matter what was done Nighthawk getting canceled was no one things fault. The Art was horrible unless you like someones political views to be jammed right down your throat you the book was not going to appeal you. It I wanted policitical views cheaper to change tv to any of the many TV News networks, Go online and search it out lot cheaper than spending $3.99 per issue

  22. Brett Bydairk says

    I disagree with one of her statements: “The whole preorder idea is an awful way to run a publishing industry — the idea that consumers need to wade through a 300 page catalog meant for retailers in order to save a book they like is ludicrous and when I see creators like Gillen and McKelvie pushing it, I just feel awful.”

    I gladly spend the few bucks a month it costs to get Previews, and I gladly spend the hour and a half it takes to go through each issue, because otherwise there are many comics that I would never know about and not get, because my LCS is small and concentrates on back issues rather than new releases. The best way for a retailer to make sure he can sell what he orders is to order what the customer wants. I know there are readers who, once they find a title they like, just get it month after month (or whatever the publishing schedule is) no matter who the creative team is, but I have grown away from that; I prefer stories with a beginning, middle and end. A lot of other readers do, too, hence the rise in GNs over continuing series.

    He also writes, “there are three things that make a comic (or any artistic endeavor) successful: good creative, good marketing and good readers.”
    The first point is obvious, and I believe publications like Previews is a good example of the second; otherwise, what should a publisher do, throw a bunch of titles onto the market and hope some of it sells? Advertise? Straight advertising is designed to sell product, and can be misleading. Putting a title in Previews is more akin to “Here’s what we offer, here’s the creative team, this is the story line”, and sometimes “here’s what the art looks like.”
    And as for good readers, they hunt down titles/writers/artists they like, and a great way to find out new stuff by one’s favorites is through ” a 300 page catalog meant for retailers.” And good readers *is* what saves some titles.

  23. Brett Bydairk says

    Ooooops! My last paragraph should start with “She also writes…”
    Mea culpa, insufficient proofing.

  24. Michael P says

    Also, it’s not an either/or between Marvel/DC and Everybody Else. It’s quite possible to like stuff coming out from a wide swathe of companies, *including* the Big Two. Pretending there’s some irreconcilable dichotomy between the two is just as onion-belted, to borrow a term, as stamping your foot because Avengers isn’t like it was when Roger Stern was writing it.

  25. Michael P says

    I’ll also say that I didn’t read Nighthawk, but I don’t have a problem with a comic having an overtly political tone and message.

  26. R.D. says

    So after 20+ years of predicting the death of the Direct Market will be happening Any Minute Now, the People Who Talk Loudly About Comics have got fed up with being repeatedly wrong and moved on to *demanding* it die, just to prove them right. Classy.

  27. Al@ says

    Jude Terror’s rant may BE a rant, but I agree with SO many of his points! My LCS is one of the stereotypical shops where employees never greet customers, you feel like a fool asking questions, and most new comics never appear on their shelves at all.

    I used to see the same apathy to comic buyers back in the ‘gas station/drugstore/grocery store’ days, but I kind of expected it then. Back then, theguy opening the bundle of comics with his jacknife was also pumping gas, or stocking shelves with soup cans, etc.

    I get tired of being the one who accepts all the risk in preordering. What a weird business. I don’t need to buy any OTHER product 2 months in advance, except for maybe concert tickets. If Previews and its 800 new monthly titles is the only way to find new comics, then Previews should be online. And free. FREE. It’s a catalog for goodness sake!

    Thanks for the great article Jude, and Heidi, great analysis of it!

  28. Chris Hero says

    Pre-ordering is the stupidest thing in the world.

    I would be totally ok with the direct market dying. I just go to stores to buy trades of weird indie stuff, but without DM stores, I could buy it on Etsy. Between Tumblr and Etsy, I don’t even need to go to comic stores anymore.

  29. Simon says

    Still, I think Jude is right in spirit.

    (It’s inconsequential to his argument, but to me his minor error is to always claim in his posts there’s “less than 100,000” readers. Considering there’s now about 2500 comics stores, and an average of 100 customers per store, doesn’t it feel more reasonable to guesstimate 250,000 to 300,000 customers? And considering about 100,000 buyers of Batman, plus 100,000 buyers of Spider-Man, plus 50,000 to 100,000 buyers of neither, you’d get the same ballpark. Your Hibbs may vary!)

    Also, there’s less and less reasons to preorder on first solicit, because publishers have been playing bait-and-switch on prices and specs like crazy, aided and abetted by Diamond turning a blind eye. I know that once a pub does that, or abuses Diamond’s “C: x-1-z” mousetrap, I stop preordering from them and wait for their books to be relisted or go into the Star backlist, once their actual specs are known. I can wait and see.

    Even such pubs as Fanta (now rid of Kim Thompson), D&Q (now rid of Chris Oliveros), Dover (now rid of Drew Ford), or Self Made Hero (did they get rid of someone?) have been lying in solicits and cheating the preorder system for years, so I’ve stopped preordering sight-unseen from them. I prefer my dignity to “saving the industry”.

    A system that comes down to this can die. People using “creators” as human shields can go the way of Saddam for all I care. Creators that have never unionized can suffer or go work some time in commercial art. Less dishonest pubs may pick up the IP from bankruptcy proceedings. Amazon and Comixology (and Tor) will be happy to help. They may not be better, but “the devil we know” is a devil’s argument.

    > Hopefully, we’re not going to succumb to a “Make Comics Great Again!” movement.

    Sorry, but I think it’s precisely such attitudes of denial that have led to populists being on the brink of election everywhere. More denial won’t help. Especially as people are fed up and have stopped listening. But isn’t it rather telling how Rich Johnston and Jude Terror seem the “least worst” of the comic “press”?

  30. Chris Hero says

    “2500 comics stores, and an average of 100 customers per store, doesn’t it feel more reasonable to guesstimate 250,000 to 300,000 customers? And considering about 100,000 buyers of Batman, plus 100,000 buyers of Spider-Man, plus 50,000 to 100,000 buyers of neither, you’d get the same ballpark. Your Hibbs may vary!)”

    I don’t agree. There are about 2500 Diamond accounts, not actual stores. The number of comic stores would be less than that.

    Also, the 100,000 buyers of Batman and Spider-man are retailers, not readers.

    My guess is the actual number of floppy readers is somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000. There are also trade readers, too.

  31. MikeyD says

    I’m shocked that people are shocked that Nightwing was cancelled. I mean, it’s *Nightwing*. I actually read it, and I’m not surprised it was cancelled. Seriously – you’re a creator pitching a Nightwing comic, do you really expect that you’re going to be launching a 300 issue run?

  32. Bux112 says

    The future of comics should be trade paperbacks. Release 5-6 issues or a full arc in one book at the very beginning. Trades are the Netflix of the industry. Stop trying to get people to come in each month and keep up with a run of books that may end up sucking. Trades should be the only thing that’s released. Kill the individual books. Fuck collectors too. Start focusing on content instead of variant covers and shit to get fans to pay $50 for a single issue to stock away.

  33. Mr L says

    If they’ll stop pushing politically correct bullshit and retreads of old material on us then I’ll start buying again. I don’t have a “duty” to do anything. I already served my country. If comics are going to continue to turn on it’s original fanbase and give us the finger then they deserve the slow death they have coming.

  34. says

    I realize I’m mostly out of the comics industry and have no stake in it anymore, but I love your point of view on this.
    I’ve been in and around the comics biz since the early 80’s and I found myself nodding in agreement with so many things you said, especially from a historical perspective. The link popped up in my feed this morning and caught my attention since I remember the whole “Comics are doomed” era of the seventies.
    Comics used to be the most important thing in my life, both my vocation and avocation. Now I read so few and often regret the waste of time and money when I pick up a “new, hot” one. Clearly I’m missing out on the good stuff. My faves have always been independent comics (like Love and Rockets) even though I worked for Marvel and DC in the beginning. Indies are still what I am drawn toward. Maybe I need to look through your blog for suggestions.

  35. Chaos McKenzie says

    Sometimes it’s just a sisyphean task to move the product, even when it’s awesome. I hand sold sooooooo many copies of Mockingbird, but I knew the book was going down because it was a c-lister, despite the book being total aces creatively to me (seriously, Mockingbird was awesome). I almost shed a tear when I realized the book was getting canned… It’s like one person making sales isn’t enough. It’s like everyone has to support every book to succeed at all.

  36. Chris Hero says

    JayJay Jackson! The best colorist of all time! *squee*

    Chaos, everyone has to support every book because Marvel and DC don’t know how to market outside of getting CBR and Newsarama to run press releases as news stories and then attack the consumer every time a book doesn’t sell enough.

    Netflix turned Jessica Jones into a household IP. There’s no reason Marvel can’t do the same.

  37. says

    The nexus origin of the Direct Market as we grew to know it participating in its growth is when Moe Moskowitz of Moe’s Books fronted $20,000 to his friends Don & Alice Shenker and Bob & Peggy Rita of Print Mint summer 1968 to take Zap Comics #2 national along with expanded Crumb page counts for improved editions of Zap #1 and #0.

    With Zap #2 bringing together Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, S Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez and Robert Williams the roots of comics fandom, alternative comix from the “underground” of then unfolding boomer popular culture, a huge rock was thrown in to the proverbial lake which attracted many hundreds of us to work within an expanding system which did not see Code comics enter until late 1973 as Phil Seuling & Jonni Levas added them in to an already well established foundation system.

    Course there are many more thousands of myriad paths and tunnels the comics world took to grow and evolve what became a way of life for so many of us.

  38. Blue Saint says

    Why was this book in the Direct Market anyway? I like that Marvel is trying reach a wider range of readers, but it seems weird to target them through the DM though. It could just be my imagination but it seems like Marvel is just churning out these titles that fail in the DM. Just throwing good money after bad, when maybe investing that into opening up new avenues would pay off in the long run.

    I mean right now Marvel is pushing the Champions like crazy, wanting it to top the sales chart. I can see that working for them, just like it did with X-Men vol. 3 (with similar long term results). It just seems like a waste. I am not saying it would work but what if all that effort was put towards making and getting the books for kids. Apparently Marvel has been seeing some good returns with Scholastic, so why not make the book for that market. The same could be done with some other upcoming launches. Riri Williams/Ironheart probably won’t make a huge splash in the Direct Market but I could see kids especially young girls loving her

  39. Craig says

    There are a number of things at play, especially when compared to 30 years ago.

    One big thing is that NOTHING ships on a regular schedule anymore. Back in the day, you knew that the first week of the month, you’d get your Web of Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, stuff like that. The next week, Amazing Spider-Man, Third week, Avengers. Fourth week, Spectacular Spider-Man. It was like clockwork, and you wouldn’t get weeks with, say, four X-Men titles on the same day.

    Now, if someone has only enough money to buy three comics and three comics related to their favorite come out that Wednesday, the new stuff, like Nighthawk, gets overlooked. And that sucks.

    Nighthawk also launched at an unfortunate time; it seemed tied to that not-so-popular Squadron Supreme book and the oh-so-unnecessary Hyperion. It’s a shame, too.

    But at the end of the day, Marvel is doing so many new #1’s and relaunches that who even notices when something truly good comes out? Don’t mind me, though. I’m the fuddy-duddy who remembers six new #1’s a year and that was IT.

  40. George says

    I suspect a lot of old characters (and titles) are being revived to hold onto copyrights, not because there’s an actual audience clamoring for them.

    I agree with comments that the direct market may have saved comics in the ’80s, but it also hurt them by making the industry ever more dependent on superheroes — because most of the people who shopped at comic book stores were superhero fans and collectors. I’ve heard the shops referred to as “superhero convenience stores,” and that’s about right.

    Of course, a large comic shop in a big city could be paradise, with graphic novels, reprints of classic newspaper strips, indies and the whole world beyond Marvel and DC pamphlets.

  41. says

    I haven’t read Jude’s post yet, but I agree with everything in that quote from it that Heidi provided. And that’s speaking as a marketing professional in the comics industry. It’s true that a comic gets canceled when not enough customers pre-order it, I suppose, but in the same sense that a pedestrian gets hit by a car because they didn’t jump out of the way; there was a long chain of publishing events that led to the title’s fate, and a customer deciding not to (or simply forgetting or not knowing how) to preorder is really the least of it.

    To Heidi’s larger point (which I also agree with), in order for a comic to succeed it has to be good, promoted, and purchased. And to that I would add that it must also be merchandised/sold well and published well (which is more complex and crucial than simply promotion). To publish a book well you have to make precision-correct decisions about timing, format, price, page count, creative team, and sales, in addition to promotion which is the only part of this that we see so it gets most of our criticism. But in this sequence — creative, publishing, promotion, merchandising, and purchasing — customers bear the least responsibility. We are providing something to them and they’re paying us for it. They get to decide what that is and if it works for them. If it’s not what they want, at a price they can afford, presented in an appealing way, in a shop they like to shop in, at a time that’s convenient for them, then they are under no obligation to buy it. We’re far too quick to blame customers for these things in comics. It’s a cheap and easy way out of your vast responsibilities as a publisher or retailer.

    There may be a side point to this, that the product is fine, it’s promoted well, and customers want it, but this ridiculous preorder thing is preventing them from doing it. Maybe so, but that’s also not the fault of customers, nor does it require any change in the DM to fix. Evey retail business is built on a system of retailer confidence and evident preceding consumer interest. Comics aren’t unique from books, or stationery, or toys. The art of retail is this ability to read the tea leaves through vendor marketing efforts, advance press, etc., plus your innate ability to know what’s likely to sell for you. Preordering? Yeah. That’s nice, but people don’t preorder things. If it’s something likely to sell out, maybe (a new Harry Potter, for instance, or tickets to see Star Wars). But if you ask any other type of retailer if they use preorders as the only means of deciding what to stock they’ll laugh at you. We’re relying on customers to tell us in advance what they want instead of intelligently predicting what they might like should they discover it, along with things they are most likely to have heard about by the time they’re on sale, which is what every other retail business has been doing since they invented stores. So we don’t need to change the DM to stop relying on preorders — all we have to do is stop relying on preorders.

    The DM and the comics fans who fuel it are the best artistic commercial engine I’ve ever worked with. You can break out a new idea, new title, new creative team in the DM because comics people will actually try it. Not so easy in books, music, and the rest. But we definitely have to stop this flogging the customer, the only part of the whole chain who actually contributes money to it. We do what they say, not the other way around.

  42. says

    Also, I just read through the comments here, and this is a surprisingly insightful and not-so inflammatory discussion going on. Everyone on the business side of comics would do well to absorb some of these observations, especially from Craig, Al@, Thad, Eric, James Schee, and Comicsatemybrain.

  43. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    “And what does all this history have to do with today’s current comics market?

    FUCKING NOTHING. ”

    Heidi. What’s up with the swearing? Are you making a rational argument
    or are you having a hizzy fit?

    If there’s one thing I detest hearing in a a meeting it’s “We tried that 15 years ago and it didn’t work!”

    It seems like what you’re saying is that your feelings are more important than other people’s experiences, which you discredit without using examples.

    ” If your business model hasn’t changed in 15 years, you have a shitty business model. ”
    This idea assumes that change for the sake of change is ALWAYS good, and that growth is desirable or sustainable.
    If something is working, why change it?

    Viable business models adapt to constantly changing market conditions but they don’t radically change from year to year. Most businesses that survive over a period of time have something they do well and stick to it.

    “destroying the DM as it stands without a substitute model in place would led to many good men, women and non binary creators losing their livelihoods. I think we have a new generation of readers who prefer graphic novels, and the periodical is in the process of becoming less crucial to the industry as a whole.”

    You contradict yourself completely in this statement.
    If there IS a ” a new generation of readers who prefer graphic novels” then the “substitute model” is there. If these readers exist and will buy graphic novels in places outside of comic shops in sufficient numbers, then the Direct Market can slowly be abandoned. If you are exaggerating about the new generation of readers and their purchasing power,..then the Direct Market is critical to publishers who depend on the Direct Market to survive.

    If the profit margin for comics aimed at this ” new generation of readers who prefer graphic novels,” is so high, then why are comics aimed at new readers released as monthly periodicals in a market aimed at old readers?

    “Comics are almost certainly in a golden era right now…if you don’t care about Marvel and DC, something that is very easy at Stately Beat Manor. There are so may great comics coming out from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, Dynamite, First Second, Self Made Hero, Abrams, Retrofit, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Koyama Press, Uncivilized, Peow and dozens of other publishers. There are so many good comics to read stacked up by my desk and clogging my dropbox that I feel depressed about ever finding time to read them. 

”

    For the sake of an objective argument, I’m going to define “Golden Age” by number sales.

    How many of these publishes listed in your quote above are making the bulk of their profit from the ” new generation of readers who prefer graphic novels,”? If they are, or if they do well outside of the Direct Market , then why do some of them release periodicals at all–if there is an audience who will buy a graphic novel off the bat? The sales for most of their titles in the Direct Market are abysmal. Why do some of them, BOOM in particular, throw money away in the Direct Market?

    As usual, there’s more to the story then the narrow confines of your narrative, Heidi.

  44. Simon says

    Emma Houxbois gets it right (and not just in calling The Outhouse, “the comic press’ fifth estate”, heh):


      The biggest problem with Bendis banging the pre-order drum is that he’s only speaking to and about people already reading comics, with no eye towards building the market to a scale that could support a book like Nighthawk. […] Marvel putting such a tremendous amount of their resources behind blanketing stores with copies of Black Panther far beyond demand means withholding those same resources from the rest of the line. A red carpet was rolled out for Black Panther that included a shock and awe campaign beginning with the announcement of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in the pages of the New York Times. On the surface, it looked like a bold move on Marvel’s part that sought to redefine their image in the public eye, but when taken against the reality of how comics are bought and sold, looks a lot more like empty posturing.

      The New York Times is a massive platform to launch a comic from that will attract an incredible amount of attention, but that attention begins to wane once people realize what it takes to actually find a place where they can buy it. Imagine if Bendis had appeared on Conan the night following the Coates announcement to explain to a national audience that they would have to hunt down a comic book store two months before the first issue’s release date and give a code to the clerk to reserve their copy and to either place a standing order there or repeat the process ad nauseum just to keep it from disappearing into the ether?

      No one at Marvel is kidding themselves that Black Panther’s monthly sales matter as anything more than a cudgel to bleed numbers from marquee DC titles. The real, actual money from the Coates/Stelfreeze/Martin run is going to come from trade sales, when the outside world can walk into a bookstore or get a copy with a couple clicks on Amazon. […] The biggest way, from my perspective, that Nighthawk was robbed by its cancellation at five issues is that it was never given the chance to prove itself in that market.

    This and MORE SHOCKING TRUTHS REVEALED (guest-starring Batman!) at https://londongraphicnovelnetwork.com/2016/09/02/crown-on-the-ground-good-kid-m-a-a-d-distribution/

  45. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says

    ” The New York Times is a massive platform to launch a comic from that will attract an incredible amount of attention”
    I
    It’s not a massive platform. It’s a well-known newspaper but I;m almost certain that a lot of people don’t read it. For those who do read the NYT, I’m sure that no one is talking about this comic based on what they have heard in NYT with friends like they talk about sports, movies, or tv shows. Marvel probably did not make the case for why anyone should buy the comic, the way a movie trailer does or a novel excerpt because the goal of the article is NOT to get people to read the comic. The goal of the article and the comic is that they are marketing for the MOVIE. If they wanted people to buy the comic, they would have released the new BP series as an original graphic novel.

    “, but that attention begins to wane once people realize what it takes to actually find a place where they can buy it. ” The attention will wane because the timing of the article, the release of the tpb, and the movie release date are too far apart for any synergy, plus there’s nothing to get excited about unless you don’t pay money to watch Marvel movies because there aren’t enough black people in them and you read the NYT. What’s the size of that audience?

  46. David says

    If Marvel think it wise to publish so many monthly titles, they are fools. People have budgets. They cannot buy everything. They go for what they think or know they will enjoy. The rest will be ignored and many titles will be cancelled.

    Furthermore, this craze for “diversity” is ridiculous. Why should I – a white man – buy a comic where I will be preached at about racism and how bad white people are? I won’t. I don’t care if a character is black. I don’t care if the author or artist are black or latino. I am not intererested in liberal propaganda. All I want are good stories, good characters, good art and no preaching.

    I am also sick of events, cross overs, characters changing race and gender. short runs, constant reboots and no. 1 issues.

    Marvel seem to have forgotten what they are about, and as a result I am only buying one title from them at present.

  47. Simon says

    Hilariously perceptive comment from “Jack Charlemagne”:

    I’m starting to believe that “selling comics” is nowhere to be found in the job descriptions of the people running Marvel or DC anymore, period. What they do now is more like the groundskeepers of a cemetery that’s run out of (the other kind of) plots. If anyone stops by for a visit, that’s nice and all, but they’ve honestly nothing left for paying customers or anybody else. But please, stop by anyhow, reminisce, etc. They run a memorial. They caretake over the graves of past accomplishments. Their only responsibility is throwing out the flowers that start to turn, to keep everything as photogenic as possible for mourners.

    (Nicked from http://www.theouthousers.com/forum/post10796278.html#p10796278 )

    Aren’t Disney-Warner Comics kinda like PET SEMATARY, where your fav characters go to die before coming back… changed?

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  50. Sherrie says

    You’re absolutely right. We need a restructuring of the current business model. It isn’t working well. Series don’t usually have a chance to get off the ground if they don’t have enough good marketing to establish pre-orders. It feels like the industry is shooting themselves in the foot.

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