Last week’s Tilting at Windmills by Brian Hibbs was a particularly meaty one as he delved once more into the periodical vs trade debate currently going on, and even questioned if TOO MUCH product was going out:

One of the tests that I think should be put into place is “When volume 1 (or 2 or 3) goes out of stock, will it be reprinted?” If not, then, most likely, the work shouldn’t be collected in the first place, other wise we’re just creating more “orphans” clogging up the system and the shelves – and we have far too many of those as it already is.

But let’s say that you’re a publisher and you’re willing to make a serious commitment to keeping a work in print and available, what then? How do you handle both the serialization and the eventual collection?


Hibbs also discusses why Vertigo’s sales are going steadily down for quite some time. I talked a little bit last week on the difficulty of launching new characters, but the figures from this month’s sales charts state the case even more starkly. (Those who point out that these figures are low — add +/- 15% and you have more accurate final sell-in, and just as dismal a picture.)


Marvel doesn’t really launch new characters any more, but they still repackage and spinoff:

127. LONERS
04/07 Loners #1 of 6 – 24,377
05/07 Loners #2 of 6 – 18,901 (-22.5%)
06/07 Loners #3 of 6 – 17,351 ( -8.2%)
07/07 Loners #4 of 6 – 15,650 ( -9.8%)
08/07 —
09/07 Loners #4 of 6 – 15,561 ( -0.6%)

136. TERROR, INC.
08/07 Terror Inc. #1 of 5 – 18,025
09/07 Terror Inc. #2 of 5 – 14,496 (-19.6%)


DC keeps trying, despite the odds, although again, there are few characters who are actually new, strictly speaking. New take is more accurate:

101 – METAL MEN
08/2007: Metal Men #1 of 8 — 30,454
09/2007: Metal Men #2 of 8 — 23,658 (-22.3%)

171 – THE UN-MEN (Vertigo)
08/2007: The Un-Men #1 — 11,868
09/2007: The Un-Men #2 — 8,758 (-26.2%)

176 – THE PROGRAMME (WildStorm)
07/2007: The Programme #1 of 12 — 14,293
08/2007: The Programme #2 of 12 — 9,412 (-34.2%)
09/2007: The Programme #3 of 12 — 8,545 (- 9.2%)

184 – FAKER (Vertigo)
07/2007: Faker #1 of 6 — 11,461
08/2007: Faker #2 of 6 — 8,735 (-23.8%)
09/2007: Faker #3 of 6 — 7,913 (- 9.4%)

DC’s number are even worse than Marvel’s when you look at which books have increased in sales over the last year and two year period. Two years out, there are 8, including two from the ultra-low selling kid’s line.

2-YEAR COMPARISONS
+ 58.1%: Justice Society of America
+ 30.2%: Justice League of America
+ 27.6%: Detective Comics
+ 25.9%: Flash
+ 11.4%: Batman
+ 3.1%: Looney Tunes
+ 1.2%: Fables
+ 0.9%: Cartoon Network Block Party

But one year out, the comparisons are nearly chilling:

1-YEAR COMPARISONS
+ 1.7%: Looney Tunes
+ 1.3%: Green Lantern
+ 0.4%: Scooby-Doo


The kid’s line numbers are so low (sub 3000) that a mere 15 copies make up the sales rise on Looney Tunes. The numbers at the low end of the chart are so small that tiny fluctuations can look like a rise or fall, but anyway you slice it, even factoring in an extra 15%, the numbers for DC’s imprints are bad.

Hibbs argues that the main reason is that, in the case of Vertigo at least, readers know that the trade will be out days after the last collected issue hits stands and have no vested interest in collecting floppies any more. So we’re back to the old trade or floppy debate, which is covered in depth at a lengthy thread at Panels and Pixels, reminiscent of threads on such topics from the Engine and the WEF. As always, no conclusions are reached — Hibbs is a dyed in the wool floppy man, and it’s easy to understand why getting regular customers into a store every week is an important sales tool.

One intriguing fact is brought up: the increasing secondary market for the REPRINT volumes:

A quick search on ebay shows that early Absolute Editions (Planetary, Danger Girl, Authority) are all fetching $200.00 each, the ANNIHILATION Volume 1 Hardcover sells for $75.00, etc. The Barnes and Noble exclusive Ultimate Spider-Man omnibus hardcover and early Ennis Punisher collections are seeing similar action. And don’t even get me started on the aftermarket prices of early Marvel Masterworks volumes.


Luckily I have a lot of those in storage, so Christmas may just be coming early at SBM.

Why is the market so hostile to new properties from Marvel and DC? A book would always sell less coming from Vertigo, but now it’s gotten to levels of shocking indifference — 10K or less for books by creators like Rick Veitch? I worked at Vertigo 5 years ago and such numbers were never touched.

Many wonder how can Vertigo survive on such numbers? The common wisdom is that books must be selling in such numbers in bookstores that they break even that way. Is that really true? The answer may surprise you. But that is a tale for next time.

1 COMMENT

  1. Apples and oranges, perhaps, but … I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking at the old pulp magazines, and what contributed to their demise. The parallels between monthly comics vs. trades and manga are sorta similar to the “pulps vs. paperbacks” debate.

    Pulp fans have wondered for decades if paperbacks didn’t ultimately slay the beast … with longer stories, less censorship (freed from newsstands and second class mailing permits), higher cover prices, longer on-sale dates … and (perhaps) a less crooked distribution system?

    Maybe the monthly format is just not considered convenient any longer. Although last night I did purchase a Justice League Adventures. Never pass up a comic with Giganta in it!

  2. I can only speak to my current buying habits.

    I buy every trade of Vertigo material that comes out. I’m a huge fan of the imprint.

    Back when the issues had letter columns, I treasured the individual issues. The Preacher lettercol taught me new curse words. The Morrison Invisible columns? Amazing stuff.

    But now that lettercols and text pages are no more, why buy the individual issues? I can get the trades with a sturdy cover and a nice intro (usually) for a hefty Amazon (or MailOrderComics.com) discount. To me, the debut of the trade is where I get started, not the issues.

    I do think that the bigger issue for Vertigo is the quality of the current materials. I don’t sense any excitement about any of the current batch of Vertigo ongoings. The brand has lost the mystique.

    What I find interesting is that, while Vertigo continues to get writers with some cache, there’s very little “name” artistic talent. Remember that a lot of fantastic artists got their start in the American market through Vertigo- Bachalo, Dillon, Darick Robertson, Sean Phillips, etc. I can name the writers of all of the new Vertigo titles, but the artists? I have to look them up. It seems every new Vertigo book features an artist I haven’t heard of before, or an artist who I’ve seen less-than-stellar work from in the past (Liam Sharp, for example). I’m not criticizing the work that they turn in, but there’s very little promotion of the artists at Vertigo, and I think in the past they succeeded despite this, not because of it.

  3. Your mention of big artists getting their start with Vertigo, but now attracting no-names doesn’t really make sense. If five years from now these artists are still doing no-names it will be more valid.

  4. The best solution for all of this in my opinion is to release all new properties online as a webcomic and test the waters for the new character and rely on advertsing for the site with older trades and books from the said company. Why pay top buck for a series of 8 comics and then in two months later have the series collected as a book. Makes no sense. Set greed aside and give the public something new. The internet can be a perfect tool to help many industries. Seems the music, movie, and book business still want to grab more from our pockets.

  5. “Set greed aside and give the public something new. The internet can be a perfect tool to help many industries. Seems the music, movie, and book business still want to grab more from our pockets.”

    Well, these businesses are in business to make money, after all. And I see nothing wrong with that.

  6. Are the first issues of periodicals spiking and then dropping off because people are reading the first issue, deciding it’s good, but also deciding to wait for the trade? How many people are hearing good things about a book and not buying it at all because they’re waiting for the trade? “Waiting for the trade” is such an oft-heard refrain that someone has to measure how often it occurs and what it really means for the current publishing model. I hope someone is researching this.

  7. I do most of my shopping in Toledo, Ohio. Another book store is having a going out of business sale. It is the last independent book store in town. It was in business for about 20 years. Last year, the only other independent book store in town went out of business. I’m pretty sure it had been open for nearly 30 years. It was located less than a mile from the University of Toledo. The only independent book stores left in town are the used book stores—until Barnes and Noble figures out how to make a profit on used books.

    As I drove through a neighboring town this morning, I see that another gas station has closed. Now, all gas stations that are left are Meijer, Wal-Mart, Speedway, and BP. No more independent gas stations.

    Support your local comic book stores or lose them. After they are gone, all that will be left is Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. And after that, when they figure out they can make 0.0012% more profit selling cat calendars over comic book trades………

  8. I dunno, reading the comments on the “Tilting At Windmills” column feels like reading the doom-filled writing on the wall. The only people buying the periodicals are doing it “to support the book” and “to support their shop”. But how many conscientious consumers are there out there who buy things at a place in order to support them? Sadly, very few.

  9. Brian is conflating a whole bunch of things, and winding up a bit muddled, IMHO.

    First thing: only a total nerd would care tuppence about the imprint. I don’t run to the Random House rack because they once published James Joyce. Why should I care about Vertigo?

    Second, most of Vertigo’s product — and by god do I mean product — smells distinctly second hand. Nine thousand Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman knock-offs later, and who cares any more? Vinyl Undergound? Liked it better when it was Revolver, wasn’t murkily coloured, and drawn to look like Philip Bond did it. And [email protected], bless its cotton socks, looks like someone called Rick up and said “can’t you please come up with something for us to do?” — and it suffers from the usual Vertigo disease: a slight and trashy underground conceit with production values that prog rock it into the ground.

    Third thing: you walk into a comics shop with 100 bucks in your pocket to spend. Oh look, I can get me 7 complete stories for that that are actually good, and I can sell on when I’m done. Or, I can buy a dodgy story I’ve got no guarantee will ever even finish, or I’ll have to wait at least six months to see the end of, in an ugly format that depreciates 100% the moment I put my money down. Hmm. Decisions decisions.

    Strangely, I don’t see regular bookstores having a fit about the fact that customers don’t buy Asimov’s, but drop 50 bucks a pop on a couple of hard cover novels instead. What the hell’s wrong with them? Don’t they understand that preserving an archaic distribution system is more important than offering value for money?

  10. I buy what i like and only look at which company is putting it out later. Swear to god, I try to look at each title each week on the rack and see what interests me. I dont buy everything from any single imprint ever and never will…unless they put out a bunch of books I like…but thats next to impossible in my eyes.

    As far as trades, same thing. Last trade I bought was Paul Chadwicks
    “the world below” because I enjoy the creators work. Also picked up that new Paul Pope book.

    Personally I agree that Brian always talks a lot of doom and gloom, but maybe thats the case where he sits. I am not one to judge. I wish a lot of my books were doing better, but am glad the company gives them a chance and continues to put them out. Its all hit or miss. If people are really interested…I mean a good amount of people …the book will sell. It’s the breakeven point of each book that determines what is what and how long it will be around.

    jimmy

  11. “How many people are hearing good things about a book and not buying it at all because they’re waiting for the trade?”

    That’s me. I have zero interest in picking up pamphlet form comics at this point (with a narrow window for people at APE and in the Small Press section of the San Diego Comic Con). Trades give me larger doses of story in a shelve-able, survivable format (with, incidentally, greater resale value at my local used bookstore, should I decide not to keep them). If I look specifically at a contemporary DC or Marvel book, buying it in the monthly format also gives me the opportunity to have the story broken up by ads spread throughout the book. So far, the trades group their ads (when they’re present) toward the back of the book, and I’m happy with that arrangement.

    I’m a little concerned that if I don’t throw money at a book while it’s in pamphlet form that it’ll just go away rather than making it long enough to be a trade. That said, I’d rather just see the business transition into making the trade a sure thing instead of burning some of my cash to keep the pamphlet practice on life support.

    As a final point, a lot of the indy comics I read (say, Jim Ottoviani’s books, like _Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards_) are published first and only in trade format. I’ve spoken with a number of these creators at conventions and several have told me they very intentionally abandoned the loss-leader model that pamphlets have become, preferring to rely entirely on sales from the trade.

    And hey, you can sell trades in bookstores and via Amazon, and libraries will stock them. That can only help.

  12. I’d like to add that I eagerly go into my local comics shop (currently Lee’s) most weeks to see what the new trades are, and I look in Previews for upcoming trades and trades I might want to order as well. There’s still new stuff each week, even though I don’t buy traditional comics.

  13. Ace:

    “Hibbs is a dyed in the wool floppy man”

    Not really, no — I, too, prefer trades to floppies, and only personally purchase floppies I don’t think will come in TP.

    Paul:

    “First thing: only a total nerd would care tuppence about the imprint”

    I would agree.

    I only used Vertigo as an example because they’re the most visible publisher with an (albeit unstated) “We WILL do a TP” process.

    -B

  14. maija Says: “Are the first issues of periodicals spiking and then dropping off because people are reading the first issue, deciding it’s good, but also deciding to wait for the trade?”

    While I don’t doubt that’s a factor as I’ve “sampled” series in the same effort (although if I like it I tend to keep buying the monthly since now I’ve already invested in that format), those drop offs are created by the retailer who is forced to order a couple months in advance anticipating a drop, despite the fact that demand may actually increase or at least remain steady. I’m not blaming then since this is based on observed buying patterns. It’s a structural problem in the floppy market because Diamond orders for the second issue are due before a retailer even knows what the sales on #1 are and it’s a fact that often seems to be ignored or not understood by people commenting on sales- including the analysis seen here every month.

  15. >>>Now, all gas stations that are left are Meijer, Wal-Mart, Speedway, and BP.

    You forgot Kroger… And, to be fair, a lot of those gas stations with the big names are franchises (or even just a mom and pop) – owned and operated locally. (And Speedway’s owned by Marathon, which is an Ohio-based company at least.)

    But, yeah, it’s too bad about the old Little Professor.

  16. “It’s a structural problem in the floppy market because Diamond orders for the second issue are due before a retailer even knows what the sales on #1 are”

    Technically true, but (at least for) Marvel & DC books, rendered largely irrelevant by FOC, which is usually set 3 weeks after issue #1 ships, giving you at least 1st week sales figures.

    -B

  17. With sales for second issues consistently dropping off each month (and it’s definitely consistent — that’s the important point) there’s clearly a measurable pattern of behavior among comic shop customers. It can only be one of two things.

    Either:

    a) Comic book publishers are making terrible comics so no one likes what they see in the first issues

    Or:

    b) Many people sample a first issue to see if they like the story enough to buy the trade collection

    It’s pretty obvious from looking at each of our own buying habits that it must be the latter. I’m not sure why this topic still mystifies.

    What the industry does in response is a whole other matter, but if a business wants to survive it should respond to its customer’s needs and desires rather than trying to get the customers to simply support the business on general moral principle.

  18. And one other thing, in Heidi’s post she said that DC’s kids line is a low-seller. That got me wondering why we put so much stock in sales figures that only measure one type of retail outlet.

    Though I don’t know for sure myself, I’m willing to bet that newsstand sales and subscriptions boost the viability of those comics way more than we give them credit for. Not many people go to comic book stores after all (if you compare the total customer base to the population at large) so it stands to reason that Marvel’s flip-book versions of its kids comics sell a LOT more at the checkout of any given 7-11 than the regular versions do on the bottom shelves of out-of-the-way comic book stores.

    It would be nice to have a more total analysis of comic book sales in the US to get a better picture of what the market likes, and where that market is. Again, just by gut instinct, I’m willing to bet that cheap, kid-targeted, done-in-one superhero floppies are plenty viable.

  19. “First thing: only a total nerd would care tuppence about the imprint. I don’t run to the Random House rack because they once published James Joyce. Why should I care about Vertigo?”

    I don’t think there are many Vertigo completists who buy everything just because it’s Vertigo. But if a brand is kept strong, then people become more likely to at least TRY something because it’s Vertigo, simply because they have a degree of confidence in the editorial judgment. Vertigo is a sub-imprint within DC, so the analogy to Random House doesn’t really hold – besides which, mainstream books have never been branded in quite the same way. A better analogy is TV networks or (smaller) record labels; HBO has built up enough goodwill that viewers are more likely to give their new shows a chance.

  20. How about c) Many people try a first issue because it’s something new, and there’s a dropoff after that becuase a new book naturally won’t turn out to be to everyone’s taste? This has been true throughout the direct market’s history — it has nothing to do with trade paperbacks.

    Brian: Interesting point about FOC. I wonder how many retailers take full advantage of it…really go in close to the cutoff date and cut or increase orders. I ask because the overall final order patterns don’t seem to have changed all that much since it was implemented at DC.

  21. “How about c) Many people try a first issue because it’s something new, and there’s a dropoff after that becuase a new book naturally won’t turn out to be to everyone’s taste?”

    Yes — perfectly sensible, though that is what I was snarkily trying to say with, “a) Comic book publishers are making terrible comics so no one likes what they see in the first issues.”

    The reason for the snark is that I don’t think it’s as prevalent as the “waiting for the trade” phenomenon. I could be wrong since I’m just guessing based on anecdotal evidence, but regardless, it’s definitely not correct to say that sales drop-offs have “nothing to do with trade paperbacks.” They surely have at least something to do with trade paperbacks, if not everything, as I was implying.

    Though people have always bought first issues to see if they like it throughout the history of the Direct Market, we didn’t have as robust a trade collection program in previous years. The very existence of that shift has to affect buying habits somehow. It would be nice to actually measure that one day instead of guessing.

  22. To add some anecdotal weight to the kids’ comics thing: My 6 year old son has a subscription to Marvel Adventures: Spider Man and we sometimes buy the MA: FF comics or Power Pack flip books at a local video store (which also sells New & Astonishing X-Men as well as a “regular” Spider Man comic, Bat-Man, Superman and, surprisingly- at least to me, Superman Confidential) so neither one of these regular sales would show up on these DM-exclusive charts. My 7 year old nephew has a subscription to MA: FF- both kids’ subs were bought through a school fund-raising program selling magazine subscriptions which probably account for more sales than all the direct market outlets in regards to Johnny DC and Marvel Adventure books.

  23. In the past, higher sales of first issues were also due to collectors buying multiple copies. I’d be interested to know how much of that still goes on today.

  24. 1. Bookstore customers do follow imprints. Random House owns both The Everyman’s Library (started to help newly educated readers discover good literature) and the Modern Library. The Library Of America is another popular series, and Amazon offers the black Penguin Classics as a complete set.
    2. The history of comics parallels the history of science fiction, about 30 years later. There are about five magazines which publish science fiction stories. Everyone else gets discovered in trade anthologies, zines, and online. (rumor: one comics writer was discovered via Literotica)
    How many romance novels are published every year? How many comics?
    3. I wait for the trade. Then I read it at work, or the library. A few I buy unseen because I’m hooked, or it’s a significant work. I personally am waiting for the deluxe hardcover edition. The heirloom, legacy, library special collections edition.

  25. Stuart asked:

    “I wonder how many retailers take full advantage of it…really go in close to the cutoff date and cut or increase orders. I ask because the overall final order patterns don’t seem to have changed all that much since it was implemented at DC.”

    I can only speak for myself, but I find that FOC changes are generally just tweaks here and there… usually just tightening numbers, nothing drastic.

  26. >> Bookstore customers do follow imprints.>>

    Indeed. I just bought a book that I liked, noticed it was from Night Shade Books, realized that I’d tried and liked several Night Shade releases of late, so I went and checked their website, and it turns out they also published a book I just reserved at the library, because it looked interesting.

    That’s enough to make me say, “Hmm, maybe the Night Shade editors buy and publish stuff I stand a good chance of liking.” And since they put the books out in really nice-looking packages, I’m going to keep an eye on them and what they bring out from here on, in hopes of finding more.

    Call me a nerd, I guess. Imprints don’t guarantee a sale, but they can make me far more open to trying something — or far less, in the case of imprints where they seem to lean toward stuff I don’t care for.

    kdb

  27. Stuart:

    “I wonder how many retailers take full advantage of it…really go in close to the cutoff date and cut or increase orders. I ask because the overall final order patterns don’t seem to have changed all that much since it was implemented at DC.”

    I’d suggest that this is the best evidence that retailers HAVE been, historically, ordering “right” — that there IS a 2nd (and 3rd) issue drop off, and its not merely that retailers are a Cowardly and Superstitious Lot.

    Given that this pattern can be observed going back as long as there have ever BEEN sales charts — which absolutely and emphatically predates even the CONCEPT of “waiting for the trade” — this would suggest that Jesse’s analysis is incorrect.

    -B

  28. Call me a nerd, I guess. Imprints don’t guarantee a sale, but they can make me far more open to trying something — or far less, in the case of imprints where they seem to lean toward stuff I don’t care for.

    Put me on that list as well..

    I bought every book in the “Vintage Crime” library, and I am inclined to check out anything by McSweeny’s, or Picador, and a few others…

  29. “Given that this pattern can be observed going back as long as there have ever BEEN sales charts — which absolutely and emphatically predates even the CONCEPT of “waiting for the trade” — this would suggest that Jesse’s analysis is incorrect.”

    It’s not in dispute that many comic book readers buy first issues, don’t like them, and stop. I certainly got rid of all my Image #1s real quick way back when.

    My point is simply that the advent of the trade paperback explosion has to have changed the buying habits of comics book readers en masse, otherwise the experiment would not be a success. This effect should be measured by retailers and publishers if they want to keep up with the demands of their customers.

    But all of this is beside the main point Heidi raises, which is that sales seem strikingly abysmal for pamphlet comics. I already wondered if part of this is poor/incomplete sales tracking, or if another part of this is comparatively better trade paperback sales. Another answer may be that comics are extraordinarily specialized. With only a few titles every month breaking the 100K mark, the industry clearly needs to be reaching out to more people in other places besides the Direct Market boutiques that serve us aficionados so well.

  30. “My point is simply that the advent of the trade paperback explosion has to have changed the buying habits of comics book readers en masse, otherwise the experiment would not be a success.”

    It hasn’t been until really recently that the TP explosion has started to cause buying habits to change — for the first decade and a half of their rise those sales were additive, not subtractive (and I mean in terms of breadth of audience, not “someone buying it again”, though certainly that is an impact as well); and I absolutely believe that a significant chunk of that change in behavior is because the PUBLISHERS have made the format moot — not because of any inherent mass-audience bias against serialization.

    “But all of this is beside the main point Heidi raises, which is that sales seem strikingly abysmal for pamphlet comics.”

    I actually thought her point was that generating new IP is a really hard thing to do, and the Direct Market used to be an extremely easy way to do so, but it isn’t any longer.

    And if that wasn’t her point, it should have been! Heh.

    “or if another part of this is comparatively better trade paperback sales.”

    Ace hinted there at the end that the answer may surprise you, and I hope she writes that follow-up piece, because my limited-to-what-people-leak-to-me understanding of BookScan sales data shows that really that isn’t the case. Something may have changed in the last 10 months since I’ve seen a report, of course, but I’d lay low odds on it.

    “With only a few titles every month breaking the 100K mark, the industry clearly needs to be reaching out to more people in other places besides the Direct Market boutiques that serve us aficionados so well.”

    As a DM retailer, I am absolutely supportive of anything that gets comics into more generalist venues. Because I know a specialty shop can service the audience much better. The problem isn’t, and has never been that comics can’t potentially reach a “truly” Mass Audience, it is that there aren’t enough venues to purchase comics in the first place. You have to actively look for them. Even in a bookstore.

    So, yeah, if someone can figure out a way to bring back the Newstand, I’m ALL for it.

    Ultimately I think that we should pro-actively find ways to help the serialized format (and especially try very hard not to actively work against it!), because its a great cheap testing bed to see what can work and what can’t when you’re talking about something other than A-List properties.

    -B

  31. I’m eagerly awaiting Heidi’s comments on Vertigo trade sales figures. This should be interesting.

    On the issue of Vertigo’s current line up, I think it’s as good as it’s ever been in terms of quality & diversity. DMZ, Exterminators, 100 Bullets, Fables, Loveless, [email protected] are all great reads. Exterminators in particular is fantastic and unique.

    I’m completely mystified as to what’s up with Absolute editions. DC has more than enough high quality material to grow this line. A couple of selective House of Mystery etc. volumes reprinting stories by the masters, Kaluta, Wrightson, Toth, Adams, Nino, Kane, and Wood would surely sell to those of us with the disposable income. How about Marshall Roger’s Batman work or a Sienkiewicz volume?

    I’d also like to see more artist based collections as has been done with Neil Adam’s work. A Walt Simonson collection would be great. Howard Chaykin’s work in the 70’s and 80’s was groundbreaking but his reputation suffers with nothing from his early career currently in print. Surely it shouldn’t be too hard to get rights to reprint his Cody Starbuck stories, or his work with Samuel Delaney? The Library and old farts market should be able to support these types of collections.

    The recent The Question volume was a great start but why so thin?

    Best,
    Tim

  32. “I actually thought her point was that generating new IP is a really hard thing to do, and the Direct Market used to be an extremely easy way to do so, but it isn’t any longer.”

    Ah yes, of course, I stand corrected — I should have said that that was a larger point I thought dovetailed with the main point about launching new characters. In other words, a sensible tangent might be, “But OF COURSE no new characters can be launched in this market — look at how low the sales numbers are across the board!” When established characters don’t sell much better than those new ones Heidi cited I think that’s the state we’re in.

    I agree that there is no inherent reader bias against the form. Most people I know do read serialized comics, but only if that story makes sense in the form, meaning in the old sense of adventure/fantasy comics when the plot was wrapped up in that chapter but the larger story continued on in successive chapters. No one I know would ever buy all four issues of a limited series — they’ll buy the eventual trade collection three months later that has no ads, some nice “DVD extras” and is a few dollars cheaper, to boot.

    In the ’70s and ’80s, the single issues themselves were full of “DVD extras” like letter columns, editorials, back-up stories, and pin-ups, all surrounding a story that was more or less “done-in-one.” Not so anymore. Publishers have changed tactics and stories are now designed to be longer, book-length, single-volume affairs. We should respond to that new state of affairs rather than keep trying and failing with the old way just because that’s how it always has been done.

    Of course, I’m reading “failure” into those sales figures and I may be wrong. If those numbers are enough for DC and Marvel to keep those stories and their trade collections in print than nothing should change at all.

    A low-cost (or free and ad-supported) subscription service for downloadable chapters may be the way to keep the benefits of serialization without the negatives. I’m sure many thousands more readers will pay $1 or less for “Metal Men #1” online than the 30,000 who bought the hard copy for $3.

  33. “The problem isn’t, and has never been that comics can’t potentially reach a “truly” Mass Audience, it is that there aren’t enough venues to purchase comics in the first place. You have to actively look for them. Even in a bookstore.”

    Agreed 100% — this is what must change if we ever want to see true growth and stability in comics as a business (not as an art form — the art form is cruising along quite nicely). But I think it’s up to publishers and their marketing teams to break that wall and get comics out into the world outside of the DM. I agree with you — if people can find them, they will buy them. That’s kind of what I was saying with that 7-11 hypothesis above — I don’t know what the sales numbers are there but I bet they’re pretty high.

    That kind of aggressive opening up of retail outlets is exactly how the newsstand will be brought back. It’s not dead and gone — newsstands are alive with product, just not so many comics.

    In my “Disney Adventures” days we were always very happy with sales (a below-100K month was VERY rare) and it seemed pretty clear that the numbers were so high because of placement. Kids and their parents did buy our comics — thousands and thousands per month — because it was right there at the supermarket, where the audience actually spent significant time.

  34. “No one I know would ever buy all four issues of a limited series — they’ll buy the eventual trade collection three months later that has no ads, some nice “DVD extras” and is a few dollars cheaper, to boot.”

    Its probably worthwhile to separate behaviors into “What One Will Say” and “What One Will Do”, because there is often a gulf between them.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that if you ask random people “OK, you have a choice of 1) making 4 trips to the store to get four different chapters, with ads, no extra features (not even a letter’s page), printed on cheaper paper, and, probably, slightly more expensive in the aggregate; or 2) Make 1 trip to the store to purchase a complete collection, no ads, extra features, better paper, and cheaper” and virtually any person is going to line up behind #2.

    THE *real* QUESTION is DO THEY then do that or not? And there’s enough evidence to suggest that, no, they don’t actually go and pick up the eventual collection in the end — at least not in great enough quantities to offset the loss of income from the serialization.

    I can relate it to my own behavior — I’ve stopped going to the movies almost completely. Why? Crowds, boorish behavior, sticky floors, 20 minutes of commercials before the feature, overpriced concessions, and so on. The fact of the matter is that if you have two adults going to the theater, once you calculate travel and parking and food and maybe money for the sitter and whatever, it is almost always cheaper to just buy the DVD, and then you OWN it, and can watch it 100 times if you like.

    But do I actually buy more DVDs? If there’s some fancy-pants boxed set or something that I really want, then some years, sure, I approach the amount of money that I used to spend on going to the movies, but most years? Not even CLOSE. I “wait for the trade”, then I never actually “BUY the trade” when it is out.

    “Agreed 100% — this is what must change if we ever want to see true growth and stability in comics as a business (not as an art form — the art form is cruising along quite nicely). But I think it’s up to publishers and their marketing teams to break that wall and get comics out into the world outside of the DM.”

    Whereas I believe that publishers should invest more IN the DM, and encourage more stores to open, especially because the specialist will have more moxie and passion and loyalty then a generalist, in virtually all cases. Invest where your strengths are, not your weaknesses. May be a po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe kind of thing though.

    “In my “Disney Adventures” days we were always very happy with sales (a below-100K month was VERY rare) and it seemed pretty clear that the numbers were so high because of placement.”

    That supermarket rack placement cost many many thousands of dollars however, didn’t it? Further, there are a limited amount of “pockets” available in the first place, so this can’t be universally replicated across all publisher’s entire lines…

    -B

  35. I went to look at Marvel’s public figures (since they’re publicly traded, and have to report such things), in order to try and calculate how much of their sales are DM vs anything else, but the press releases (like this one: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=111833) only seem to refer to NET sales, not gross. Does anyone know where or if gross sales are publicly stated?

    Using John Jackson Miller’s figure here (http://www.cbgxtra.com/Default.aspx?tabid=1857), we can calculate that Marvel, through Diamond US, sold $41.43 million in books and comics through DM channels in first quarter of 2007

    (Jan 2007 Marvel took 39.78% of an estimated $33.71 million, or $13.41 million
    Feb 2007 Marvel took 42.35% of an estimated $32.16 million, or $13.62 million
    Mar 2007 Marvel took 43.09% of an estimated $33.43 million, or $14.40 million)

    Problem is, the Q1 financials talk about net sales, and it is $27.5 million is Q1 2007.

    If someone can either apply a reasonable calculation to the DM gross figures to get them to net (no idea on my part), or turn up the overall gross figures, then we could have a snapshot at at least one publisher.

    $41.43 gross in the DM vs $27.5 net in Publishing, overall does seem to suggest that the name of the game is still the DM though, yes?

    (for Marvel, obviously)

    -B

  36. Kurt —

    NightShade is indeed an excellent publisher, probably because it’s a one man show, and Jeremy knows what he’s doing. But still, just because I like M. John Harrison is no guarantee I’ll like Kage Baker (I think Jeremy published Kage Baker). In fact, it’s almost certain that nobody has both on their shelves.

    I don’t think it’s so much that I’d be loyal to NightShade as that nobody else will publish the short story collections because mainstream publishers suck big red rocks.

    In any case, Vertigo’s far past that point. Everyone else wants the same creators — ooh, say, Avatar — and the creators probably won’t be messed around with as much by the parent company.

  37. Brian —

    “THE *real* QUESTION is DO THEY then do that or not? And there’s enough evidence to suggest that, no, they don’t actually go and pick up the eventual collection in the end — at least not in great enough quantities to offset the loss of income from the serialization.”

    Of course not.

    They’ve read the reviews on Savage Critic, and now they know better.

  38. Regarding use of FOC: I always use the FOC function. While true, most often only for minor tweaks here and there, I do believe it’s saved me more than once from being way over demand on second and third issues . I usually order heavily on first issues since I’m a firm believer of the “you can’t sell the second issue if you don’t have any of the first to sell” theory – therefore I use the FOC quite a bit to correct numbers on later issues. Most retailers I know do likewise.

    Regarding VERTIGO sales numbers: It is truly are to believe how low they have sunk. I’m willing to share my numbers here. Most of the new titles sell less than 5 copies in my store. For comparison sake, the top Vertigo sellers in my store, Y The Last Man, and Fables, sell in the upper 20s, and while even those numbers are way down from a couple of years ago, I still think they’re reasonable. Most first issues of VERTIGO titles sell under 10 copies, so people really aren’t even sampling these titles. And my store is in a town with two colleges in it.

    And for those who think that it’s simply a matter of converting to all graphic novels, –with only a handful of exceptions (PRIDE OF BAGDAD), most VERTIGO OGNs sell less than 5 copies, often more in the 2-3 copies range. I really doubt that sales in B&N and Borders are all that much better either. I frequent several of the big chain bookstores on a near weekly basis, and at least here in JERSEY, they get no where near the number or the quantity of GNs I get. There is no strong VERTIGO presence in any of them. Rarely do they get any of the VERTIGO OGNs unless they’re proven winners.

    The danger here, of course, is what many of us retailers have been saying all along. Don’t support the floppy, the floppy goes away, then there is no product to produce the trade. No new floppy product, then where will the next Sandman or Preacher, or Fables come from? No amount of B&N or Borders, or AMAZON sales are going to make up for getting this stuff into the hands of the comic selling professionals. We can sell this. The others only “carry” it.

    I agree with what I think Hibbs was saying in his column. DC/VERTIGO (and Marvel, for that matter) needs to delay, or at least stagger, collecting many of their series. Publishing a trade should not be an automatic process. There are way too many trades coming out these days. Too many series that really don’t deserve collecting are being collected. Not every mini series needs to be collected. Too many series are getting hardcover/softcover collections. Too many minor series are being collected. My sales on the secondary titles collected by both MARVEL and DC have really dropped over the last few years. It seems to me that MARVEL and DC are playing the old rack space game where they really don’t care about sales of a particular book, only that by publishing so many titles they’re pushing some other titles off the rack. Retailers only have so much space. Marvel publishes 4 or 5 volumes, either hardcover or softcover, EACH WEEK! DC nearly as many. There is no way this market can support that number of trades each week.

    BTW, I very much agree with those who miss the “extras” that floppies used to provide: a lively and robust letter column, interesting preview pages, and interaction with editorial made you feel like you were getting more than just a small portion of a larger story. You were being entertained, and that what you thought had value.

    Radio Nowhere. Is there anybody out there?

    Dan
    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison, NJ

  39. Dan Veltre Says:

    “Don’t support the floppy, the floppy goes away, then there is no product to produce the trade. No new floppy product, then where will the next Sandman or Preacher, or Fables come from?”

    Could online distribution of individual chapters replace the floppy? I loved Seth’s comic that was serialized in the New York Times Magazine (which I read for free online, with ads). And now I can’t wait for the printed version so I can buy it and have it on my coffee table at home. I don’t know if there will be a print version but there should be.

    Also, I think it should be emphasized that the floppy as a format does not need to go away if it is, in fact, a viable business for publishers. In my view, consistent 10K to 30K monthly sales translates as a failure but I am just an editor and not a publisher, so I have no idea if I’m right.

    If it is, in fact, a failure and not the preferred format for customers then it’s high time to change gears, streamline the operation, and increase profits and sales. Most of this thread has been devoted to tossing around ways that that can happen which is, in my view, very productive. We shouldn’t just axe the floppy, but neither should we keep it around as the default way to publish a comic book story if it’s not necessarily the best way.

    Brian’s thoughts on reader behavior are very intriguing — are you saying that most TPB sales are from “new” readers (in other words, people that are neither waiting for the trade nor buying singles every week)? I’m curious because I’ve never spoken to a retailer about this and I always assumed that the same 300,000 or so (high estimate!) DM customers throughout the country were accounting for all sales, regardless of format, every month.

  40. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “That supermarket rack placement cost many many thousands of dollars however, didn’t it? Further, there are a limited amount of “pockets” available in the first place, so this can’t be universally replicated across all publisher’s entire lines…”

    Well, the “Disney Adventures” pockets are now up for grabs, unfortunately! :)

    And yeah, they are expensive, but that’s why big-gun publishers like DC and Marvel could potentially tackle those. But I wasn’t suggesting anyone should exactly follow the Disney/Archie model, just illustrating a point about wide audience access.

    Wide visibility = wide sales. I was talking to a friend of mine today who still hasn’t picked up the last two comics I worked on. She said, “I don’t even know where a comic book store is. That’s why I wait for you to send me these things so I can read them.”

    That may read as ignorance (and it is), but really, putting this stuff in front of more people so they CAN’T ignore it can only ever be a good thing.

  41. Jesse, I’m glad to see the lesson of Disney Adventures have been impressed on another generation. If I’m reading your posts correctly, the comics-only specials also sold around 100Km meaning they would have charted well on the periodical lists. Of course that front of the store pocket was very expensive. I’m not sure that this can be applied to any other mags — do Archie’s digests ever have postal circ figures? My gut level feeling is that a digest of kid friendly Spider-man or Batman comics racked next to the candy bars and recipe books would sell well, but I doubt Marvel or DC would ever make the front pocket investment for their own kids digests, so we will probably never know.

  42. “Brian’s thoughts on reader behavior are very intriguing — are you saying that most TPB sales are from “new” readers (in other words, people that are neither waiting for the trade nor buying singles every week)?”

    There was a point, roughly 5 years ago or so, where yeah, that was pretty much true — “trade waiting” in a phenomenon of the last half decade, really.

    Today, I’d say something approaching half of my “book” sales are to people who come into a DM once a year or less. That’s a guess, however, I haven’t done any rigorous analysis of it!

    (and half of my sales in general are books — thus about a quarter of my sales are from “civilians”)

    “I always assumed that the same 300,000 or so (high estimate!) DM customers throughout the country were accounting for all sales, regardless of format, every month.”

    There HAVE to be way more than 300k DM customers. In my estimation, even something as widely popular as CIVIL WAR only sold to a small percentage (10-25%-ish) of the DM readership; I’d put the DM client base at no less than a million readers, personally.

    -B

  43. >> NightShade is indeed an excellent publisher, probably because it’s a one man show, and Jeremy knows what he’s doing. But still, just because I like M. John Harrison is no guarantee I’ll like Kage Baker (I think Jeremy published Kage Baker).>>

    Of course. But there’s a large gulf between “imprints mean nothing,” which was the original claim, and “imprints aren’t a guarantee.”

    The usefulness of imprints can comfortably fall between the two, with varying results depending on how strong the imprint identity is, and how well it matches a reader’s tastes.

    kdb

  44. The Beat Says:

    “Jesse, I’m glad to see the lesson of Disney Adventures have been impressed on another generation. If I’m reading your posts correctly, the comics-only specials also sold around 100Km meaning they would have charted well on the periodical lists.”

    Yes — many lessons to be gleaned from that, indeed! “Comic Zone” (the comics-only quarterly) actually sold much more than that — the average was around 200,000, give or take 20,000. Regular “Disney Adventures,” which had a comics section, ranged between 100K and 200K. If our comics were ballyhooed on the cover than sales went up, as they did if Zac Effron or Johnny Depp were on the cover (yes — 75% of the readership were girls!). And none of that includes the 1.3 million subscribers.

    “Of course that front of the store pocket was very expensive. I’m not sure that this can be applied to any other mags — do Archie’s digests ever have postal circ figures?”

    Yeah, they must — all subscription magazines have to have a Statement of Ownership once a year. I think they also lump all the titles under one code so you can’t distinguish between sales of “Betty and Veronica” or “Jughead.” Maybe if Fred Mausser is reading this he can chime in!

    But I don’t think the pockets themselves are the whole of the point. Granted, this certainly provides an “impulse buy” boost to sales, but the point is that the comics are there — right out in the open, where regular people shop. They can be on the mainline newsstands, spinner racks, whatever.

    “My gut level feeling is that a digest of kid friendly Spider-man or Batman comics racked next to the candy bars and recipe books would sell well”

    That’s been my secret wish for many years now! ;) I can’t think of anything else that would make more of an immediate, positive impact on the comics business.

  45. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “Today, I’d say something approaching half of my “book” sales are to people who come into a DM once a year or less. That’s a guess, however, I haven’t done any rigorous analysis of it!”

    For the other half, the regular customers, I wonder if they have “rules” about trades vs. floppies.

    “There HAVE to be way more than 300k DM customers. In my estimation, even something as widely popular as CIVIL WAR only sold to a small percentage (10-25%-ish) of the DM readership; I’d put the DM client base at no less than a million readers, personally.”

    Yes! Now we’re talking turkey. See, my thinking on the total readership was that if sales on something like “Civil War” represented a book that almost all regular customers wanted to buy, and it sold 200,000, than estimating up to 300,000 is more than fair (since it’s silly to think that EVERY comic book fan bought “Civil War”).

    I’m still guessing, just like you are, but if no comic ever breaks that sales point then the ceiling has to be hovering around there. “Regular books” have sales ceilings as well, which is what makes something like “Harry Potter” so impressive (since those books MUST be bringing in people that don’t regularly visit book stores).

    Lest it seem like thread drift, I should say that my reason for lingering on this point is that I feel the Direct Market, though vital and necessary, is but a small percentage of the potential customers comics COULD be reaching, and that floppy buyers may represent a small percentage of the customers comics are ALREADY reaching.

  46. It seems to me we’re zeroing in on something: This is a weird area where the interests of the retailer and the interests of the reader don’t necessarily match up. (There aren’t really all that many in this field.) Of course the retailer wants time to sell through single issues before a trade comes out; and of course a reader who prefers the trade paperback format wants that book to come out as soon as possible. Both parties (rightly) express their preferences and concerns to the publisher, and the publisher has to balance out the needs of each as they apply to each specific project.

  47. >> I’m still guessing, just like you are, but if no comic ever breaks that sales point then the ceiling has to be hovering around there.>>

    No, it doesn’t. That assumes that the entire audience is all interested enough in the same thing to buy whatever the top-selling book is.

    But there’s a large section of the audience that isn’t going to buy a mainstream superhero event, whatever it is, just as there’s a large segment that isn’t going to buy PERSEPOLIS, regardless of how it does beyond the Direct Market.

    And then there’s people like me, who buy a ton of superhero stuff, but are nonetheless more likely to buy PERSEPOLIS than CIVIL WAR.

    There’s a huge audience out there for SANDMAN. They don’t all buy WORLD WAR HULK, so they’re not a subset of the WWH audience. There’s some overlap, but not to the point that you can assume the entire market is about the size of the audience for the bestselling books.

    It works that way in other bookstores, too. The audience for Stephen King is not a subset of the audience for Christian self-help books, and vice versa. And the overlap of either of those groups with the audience for cookbooks will not be a majority, either.

    kdb

  48. Brian:

    “I only used Vertigo as an example because they’re the most visible publisher with an (albeit unstated) ‘We WILL do a TP’ process.”

    Unstated because it’s not true. TPs of “The Dreaming” just stopped, and there is still no trade of “The Girl Who Would Be Death.” I’m sure there are others that have fallen through the cracks.

  49. Stuart said:

    “It seems to me we’re zeroing in on something: This is a weird area where the interests of the retailer and the interests of the reader don’t necessarily match up. (There aren’t really all that many in this field.) Of course the retailer wants time to sell through single issues before a trade comes out; and of course a reader who prefers the trade paperback format wants that book to come out as soon as possible. Both parties (rightly) express their preferences and concerns to the publisher, and the publisher has to balance out the needs of each as they apply to each specific project.”

    I’m not sure how true that is. I mean, sure, the retailer doesn’t want to be left holding the bag; then again, the retailer gets to sell a copy of Watchmen a week. And a bloody great Absolute Sandman. And so on.

    If Brian’s right, and there are significant cash flow problems associated with the death of pamphlets, then the direct market’s just going to die, and that’s that.

    But delaying the trade just means putting off the day you’ll get my money. And I’m not sure how that helps the cash flow any.

  50. “It works that way in other bookstores, too. The audience for Stephen King is not a subset of the audience for Christian self-help books, and vice versa. And the overlap of either of those groups with the audience for cookbooks will not be a majority, either.”

    Of course not.

    Because Stephen King fans have no taste.

    HA HA HA Ha Ha Ha ha ha eugh.

    Sorry.

  51. “No, it doesn’t. That assumes that the entire audience is all interested enough in the same thing to buy whatever the top-selling book is.”

    Well, I was estimating UP from those top-selling numbers, since it’s clear that not every single customer will ever buy the same book.

    My point is more along the lines of some mathematical probability (which I’m crap at by the way!). If the total regular readership of pamphlet comics is in the area of a million as Brian suggests, then the top-selling comics with mainstream appeal like “Civil War” or “Sandman” or “Buffy” should sell more than 100K or 200K, yes?

    Or maybe not, but the fact that no comic can ever break that mark is impressive to me and I think it says something about the size of that audience — an audience that needs serving with the same focus and attention it is now, but not at the expense of customers outside the DM.

  52. >> Well, I was estimating UP from those top-selling numbers, since it’s clear that not every single customer will ever buy the same book.

    Yeah, but you’re assuming that MOST customers will buy the same book, and that’s not really a supportable assumption.

    >> If the total regular readership of pamphlet comics is in the area of a million as Brian suggests, then the top-selling comics with mainstream appeal like “Civil War” or “Sandman” or “Buffy” should sell more than 100K or 200K, yes? >>

    Not necessarily, no.

    The movie audience is way larger than the attendance of the top hits. The TV audience is way larger than the audience for the top shows. And so on through books, magazines and more. There’s no reason to assume comics are unusual in that respect, and that the people out there buying NARUTO and SANDMAN are FABLES and ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY are predominantly also buying WORLD WAR HULK.

    >> Or maybe not, but the fact that no comic can ever break that mark is impressive to me>>

    Comics have broken that mark before and will doubtless do so again. But the aggregate comics-buying audience simply isn’t all (or event mostly) made up of people who want to read a BUFFY comic any more than the aggregate book-buying audience are mostly out this week buying PLAYING FOR PIZZA by John Grisham (to pick the current NYT bestseller).

    Audiences just aren’t that monolithic in their tastes.

    kdb