And with another “where are we at now” the revamped Trouble with Comics (or “Middle Aged White (mostly) Men on Comics”) looks at the state of the pamphlet, or periodical comic, as we like to call it here at Stately Beat Manner. The question, McLaughlin Group style, is
Is the floppy, monthly comic book still a viable standalone product in today’s comics market? Is it a loss leader for collected editions, a great and viable medium all on its own, a lost cause, an impediment to progress, or something else?
and while individual readers may have drifted away from the format, there’s no denying its place in the comics money chain, as Christopher Allen writes:
If you keep that in mind, the perpetuation of the floppy makes a lot more sense. It’s not a loss-leader. They know how to make a profit on these things. It’s after the initial printing that the fun really begins: all the work that gets produced on a monthly basis gets put in the backlist. The way comics are sold these days, first printings of floppies are only the tip of the iceberg. With their aggressive (if spotty) trade program and fast adoption of the online business model, the backlist is only going to become more and more important as the years go by. If all of your stock is already 100% completely paid for – save for minor ongoing expenses such as royalties – then every repackaging of that stock is going to represent a significant profit. That’s how Comixology can have incredible deals and monthly subscription rates – Marvel can afford to charge pennies on the dollar if they want because they have millions of pages of backlist that represents almost pure profit for them.
Jason Marcy notes that periodical comics are not as welcoming as they once may have been for new readers:
Monthly books no longer seem to be the gateway to comics. For the most part I feel a lot of cartoons get some people into comic shops. And few of these readers are children per se, but rather preteens or teenagers and again most are buying collected works of stuff they might be into, be it Adventure Time or even the odd superhero thing. Most young readers get comics from major bookstore chains where Bone thrives, or the Smile graphic novels.
I think this comment overlooks Adventure Time comics—there are a lot of kids comics out there that seem to be doing okay and while kids GNs are the biggest growth category in the industry, kids periodicals seem t be holding their own at least.
Retailer Mike Sterling gives us the long picture:
I’ve been in this business long enough to have heard, multiple times from multiple sources, “the comic book as we know it will be over and done with in….” followed by a predicted time frame just near enough in the future to supposedly pose an immediate threat, but far enough away that when the time comes and goes, no one will remember to go back and tell that comic book Cassandra he or she was wrong. “Five years” is the period usually suggested.
Yeah gotta plead guilty to that one. I’ve been calling for the death of the floppy for a decade but here it is, still going strong. Cheap serialization is a important revenue model for stores, publishers and creators alike and it seems to be one that readers like as well.
That said, it’s a fair question to ask how much of the current periodical market is being held up by variant covers. In a little noted story, Torsten Adair added up the number of variants a single month and it was hundreds. (I don’t think even Torsten could count them all up.) Retailers don’t think the current variant market is an overall danger, as it’s only one piece of the sales pie, unlike when the crushed everything in the 90s. However, it would be interesting to see how long several companies on the charts would last with only a single cover each for their pamphlets.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.