As if psychically answering our call yesterday for solutions instead of salvos, retailer Brian Hibbs confronts the Warlord of Io Situation with a look at every aspect of the comics chain, from publishers on through distributors and why they are unlikely to work.
It’s a sensible, real world-based look at the problem, although Hibbs kinda lost us right at the top with this:
But if you say “I’ll just wait for the trade”, you’re automatically decreasing the size of the audience. Why? Because: x% of you will keep waiting even once the work is out. Another x% of you is going to balk at the prices needed to finance “OGN” work. Another x% of you are going to completely forget that the work is being produced — if LOVE & ROCKETS is produced only once a year, where’s the percentage for the Hernandez Brother’s readership to come in looking for L&R more than once a year? ONCE YOU BREAK THAT PURCHASING HABIT, it is extremely hard to get it going again. If you’re only looking once a year for something, then you’re just as likely to only think of it every 18 months, 24 months, whatever.
Since comics sales have more than quintupled since 2001, blaming graphic novels for a shrinking audience seems…counter-intuitive. In the thought-provoking comment section, Hibbs is repeatedly called on this, but, if you’ve been reading his commentary for even a little while, you know he is a confirmed periodical man, and thinks that the continued emphasis on the comics periodical as the primary exponent of the medium is economically essential for his store.
We don’t have much of a head for numbers, but it seems that higher profit margins on higher priced items might help offset some losses in traffic, but certainly Hibbs has run those numbers and knows how his his shop runs. The above pull quote does seem to controvert the inescapable fact that increased availability of trade paperbacks has increased the audience for comics in America.
But for the indie pamphlet, Hibbs paints a grim picture, and the culprit is standing right there with a smoking gun:
In other words, The Big Four are probably eating up most of Diamond’s “mercy fuck” budget by overproducing a bunch of marginal shit that no one really wants. In a way, I feel like Diamond’s policies are nearly aimed at Marvel and DC, but they contractually CAN’T dictate shit to Marvel and DC, so they have to do it where they’re contractually able to do so.
The one solution that Hibbs paints as even vaguely possible is one where publishers get on the stick a bit more:
Publishers of all shapes and sizes actively promote what they publish, creating consumer pre-order demand for all manner of “non-traditional” works, which spurs retailers to take more chances, and makes it so that Diamond’s benchmarks never even come into play in the first place.
At the same time, publishers take a serious look at their offerings, and knock off all of the crap there really isn’t any audience for (and yes, I’m including shit like DC doing a TP of the most recent EL DIABLO mini-series, which sold all of 4k copies of its last issue, sheesh!)
In other words…let market forces prevail. Which is kinda what is happening.
All of this and more is discussed in the comments thread, with Spurgeon, the author of the original position paper, and Hibbs debating some points.
No one is anywhere near any kind of consensus here, or even agreeing on the problem, but since it’s a rainy day, I’m going to quote Spurge’s response to Hibbs’ response:
My goal Sunday was to use Diamond’s move on a book of obvious merit to throw a spotlight on an unimaginative and potentially self-defeating general approach to an arts market that makes books like Turner’s the victim of reactionary constrictions and systemic malaise, all without a positive formulation to offer up as a counter-value. That’s not a down-slightly strategy, and I think comics can do better than that in one of its core markets. There are no solutions for most of these complicated industry problems in the Encyclopedia Brown sense, although people will keep clamoring for them where comics are concerned. I do think, however, that Diamond and through it the entire Direct Market are systems that can function with greater clarity and purpose and that this would likely benefit everyone.
Although these gadfly type calls to action are a necessary response, at some point, someone has to decide what that action will be. We detect in this a whiff of the “Milk Box Response.” SLG has identified an audience for James Turner and his work — but the comics shop system hasn’t proven an effective way to market a cartoonist with a loyal but small cult. And yet…the exciting thing is that thanks to the internets, you can still read Warlord of Io, right this very minute, for less than a dollar. Is this Diamond’s loss? Of course it is. But they seem to think that it is one they can absorb more easily than the loss of other revenue streams.
Alternate distributors continue to be the “easiest” solution to this problem, but it’s one that is so daunting and scary that no one wants to step into the breach. (If Haven plans to ride to the rescue, now would be a good time to show up.)
Alternative distribution methods, on the other hand, are already being employed.
In Jennifer de Guzman’s report on James Turner’s strong sales on FCBD, one detects a hint of sadness and frustration. Without getting too psychoanalytical, we’re seeing lots of this same wave of sadness and frustration in a lot of places, including Stately Beat Manor. The world’s lowered economic prospects mean that a lot of people are never going to be able to sit back and relax. NO ONE has worked harder to keep the spirit of independent comics publishing alive than Dan Vado, and if anyone deserves to just sit back and watch the money roll in, it’s him. But, sadly, the words “independent publishing” and “watch the money roll in” are rarely synonymous. It’s been a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle. But there are more ways to reach an audience than ever before and more comics are using them right this very minute.