Comics aren’t dying, but they are changing – and that’s got people scared

Date:

Comic Book Cover For Adventures into the Unknown #46 | Scary comics, Golden age comics, Horror comics

It’s been a pretty wild week in comics – the kind of wild that only anxiety and fear can bring about. After years of steady sales growth, comics retail – and most US retail – has hit a rough patch. The signs are everywhere, but getting accurate information without getting into a lot of drama has been especially tough this week. So I’m just going to lay out some links and some quotes and try to paint a picture as best I can.

But before I start, here’s a quote from Comics Scene magazine in 1983 from Joe Simon, courtesy of Brigid Alverson

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“Comic books as we know them have run their course,” said Simon, the co-creator of Captain America and one of the most successful and prolific of Golden Age creators. “When you’re only printing 250,000 copies of Superman, you have to see the handwriting on the wall.”

As the quote acknowledges, Superman once sold 1.2 million copies a month. Comichron has known listings from the 60s on, but not this gaudy number, which was most likely from the 40s, a period when comics routinely sold a million copies a month. It was also a time when there was no internet, barely any TV, and banana was an exotic vegetable, so there’s no comparing that number to today’s sales.

What does the quote tell us? That the “comics are dying” narrative is persistent and has a long history. It also tells us that overall periodical comics sales have been declining for a long time since their peak in the 40s and 50s (pre Fredric Wertham) with occasional bursts of million sellers since then. (UPDATE: I’m told to take this last link with the salt grain, but they give you some idea of what has sold.) 

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The “comics are dying” story has also been a sales pitch for various independent creators for more than five years. The above graphic, from Milton Griepp’s presentation at NYCC 2023, has been much quoted to show that comics objectively were not dying for the last five years. 

OH BUT WHAT ABOUT THE COMICS PERIODICALS??? you are asking right now. WELL, it isn’t as easy to get the numbers on that but a chart from the same presentation shows the orange bar representing periodicals sales levels fluctuating over the last period, while graphic novels sales (including manga) soared.

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John Jackson Miller has estimates for the entire market that go to 2021, when the addition of new distributors (Lunar, PRH) made getting numbers harder. I’ve added in Griepp’s 2022 estimate of $435 million in periodical comics sales and made this little chart:

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No matter what people have been telling you, periodical comics sales weren’t dying during the pandemic. They were definitely declining BEFORE the pandemic, but not crashing cataclysmically.

But that was then and this is 2023, a time when inflation, economic uncertainty, and companies that cut thousands of jobs just so they can, have made discretionary spending a lot harder. Rising rents have squeezed out not just independent stores, but large retail chains. It’s a mess out there. Despite that, Americans love to buy things, and holiday spending seems to be trending upwards. 

All of which is to add some context, because none of this happens in a vacuum. So what do we know about 2023 comics sales? They are definitely down, and estimates seem to be hover around 20%. At the ICv2 White Paper in October, Griepp listed some sales data for 2023:

• 2023 YTD graphic novel sales in book channel down 19% in units, per Circana
• Manga in book channel down 27%
• 2023 YTD graphic novel dollar sales in comic stores down 7%
• 2023 YTD comic sales down 7%

As you can see from the above, sales slipped even more in bookstores than in comics shops! But we hear about distressed comics shops a lot more, especially in this fourth quarter. Even sales titans like Dog Man and Wimpy Kid are down. I’m sure Circana’s Kristen McLean has a better way to put things, but it seems that people just bought a lot of books during the pandemic and now they are buying other things – and the economy in general is just weak.

So what’s really going on out there? To find that out, we should hear from retailers, so here’s a round-up of the most talked about essays:

Of course there’s Phil Boyle’s piece that kicked most of this talk off. I talked about that here. Boyle had some very well expressed concerns that unfortunately were derailed by a few culture war comments (a lesson he learned well, as we’ll see below), and sparked much more discourse.

A few days later, Griepp himself weighed in with a piece called “Can Comics Be Saved?” Based on his many years in the business, Griepp identified a culprit that many have pointed out: poor quality comics.

I think there’s a very general reason why Marvels and DCs aren’t selling: they aren’t very good.

I had a rule when I was in distribution, and it was “good is as good sells.”  That means the definition of a good product is that when you expose it to an audience it sells.  That’s not happening with Marvels and DCs, so by definition, they’re not very good.

The “why” is a bigger question, with a lot of theories.  First of all, it’s hard to produce great comics, or any kind of great entertainment.  If it were easy, they’d all be great, and we’d all be rich.  There are some periods when the industry is on fire, with creativity pouring out of every pore (see “Why 1986 Stands Out as a High Water Mark for the Direct Market Era“).  At other times, even though everybody’s trying, the results are poor.  So one theory is that we’re just in a weak period creatively, for reasons that we’ll never understand.

As another veteran comics reader, I don’t find much of interest in today’s superhero comics, but others strongly disagree.  [UPDATE: I had originally linked here to the Beat’s Wednesday comics review column, forgetting that it specifically reviews indie (non Big Two) comics. Whether comics periodical from publishers who are not Marvel of Dc are selling well is a question that no one has addressed to my satisfaction in all of this discourse. To be continued.]

Another industry veteran, Chuck Rozanski, who often has a gloomy outlook on sales, offered his own take on whether comics could be saved or not a few days later.  Rozanski’s culprit was simple demographics:

In some regards, I believe that this trend of declining periodical comic books interest is irreversible, merely reflecting the slow death of our core constituency (males born 1940-1970) from the ravages of time.  As secondary market reseller, I cannot begin to relate just how many large collections of prior periodical releases that I have been offered over the past three years from either the widows and orphans of lifelong comics fans, or from those aging fans themselves as they come to the bitter realization that their days of indulging their four color passions have finally come to an end.  To be specific, I have personally turned down offers to purchase back issues collections that (in total) exceeded one million individual issues during each of the past three years.  Given that we are (at most) 1% of the national market for back issues, that statistic, alone, should provide significant insight into the current and ongoing comic book malaise.

The obvious solution to this aging out dilemma is that we need to have a new generation of reader/collectors to emerge.  In my opinion, however, that is highly unlikely to occur.  The economics of this inexorable decline are relatively simple to understand.  As our Baby Boomer generation steadily leaves us, and our replacement population of new collectors is much smaller, print runs are in steady decline.  For the creation of comics to then make economic sense for the publishers, cover prices must rise.  With each cover price increase, however, another stratum of potential new customers are priced out of the new comics market.  That being the case, I see no rational conclusion but to believe that the Direct Market periodical business is in a death spiral right now, one for which I see no obvious remedy.

I thought this was an elegiac and well expressed take but not everyone agreed with it. The “high prices” argument is one you hear often, but some retailers think it doesn’t make a difference if a book is $3.99 or $2.99. Later on Rozanski advocated product diversification for comics shops, “I have been beating the drum for nearly a decade now, passionately imploring my fellow comics retailers to stop thinking of themselves as primarily periodical outlets, and to instead think of themselves as Pop Culture resellers.”

But a lot of retailers don’t like selling Funkos!

It’s worth noting that a few days ago Rozanski, a prolific and entertaining Facebook poster, noted that he had just gone off on one of his legendary comics buying trips, and ran into some bad weather in a van. Why the risk? Well, he had experienced an unexpected sales bump.

Because we had a great weekend of online comic book sales, which unexpectedly provided me with the working capital needed to take yet another trip (my 3rd in thirty days) to buy Manga and Anime’ merchandise at the world-famous LA toy market. Those first two vanloads that I purchased have reenergized our Jason St. Mega-Store holiday results, boosting our sales by 18% over the same early-December period if 2022. I could have waited to go on this latest trip until after my big holiday comics and toys auction on Saturday, but that would have meant missing a week of potential holiday sales. So, I quickly packed up my old van in the late afternoon yesterday, and headed west.

Now, I do realize that an 18% gain in revenues over last year might not sound like much to you, but it is important to recognize that a substantial number of American consumers have been cutting back on nonessentials this year, with the net result being that many comics and games retailers are currently experiencing steep sales declines. Truly, we are among the very best of a truly bad lot right now, but only because I have been blessed with the vision to see ways out of seemingly inescapable conundrums, and to then (somehow) summon the intestinal fortitude follow through upon my conclusions, even when following those paths may seem exceptionally risky. It a nutshell, that is one way that you can build your own company from the nothingness and despair of abject poverty, and then keep it alive for 54 years.
In case you missed that nut stat there, Rozanski’s sales were up 18% year to year in early December. So not everything is bad news!
 

Along those lines, Conan Saunders of My Comic Shop, one of the biggest online retailers out there, noted that their annual Booksgiving sale was wildly successful this year: “2022’s Booksgiving was previously our biggest single day sale ever, but 2023 said “hold my beer.” We broke all of last year’s records by big margins: over 3000 orders totaling almost half a million dollars, total sales up 40%, and number of items shipped up almost 45% above last year, all in a single 24 hour period.We gave away over 14,000 free comics and graphic novels, and sold another 21,000 steeply discounted items at just $1.00 each!”

Mail order seems to be doing well for these two retailers, at least in the early holiday period.

As we’ve noted here a few times, comics creator Mark Millar has been wading into the retailing discourse fray like he’s Drew McIntyre giving Jey Uso a superkick.  I’m going to leave out all the Glenn O’Leary stuff that has become an exercise in drama that Bravo would love to air, but Millar got so much attention from his first retailer interview that he decided to sit down with three retailers to see what what going on in their stores (or chains): Phil Boyle, owner of the 10 store Coliseum Comics chain, John Robinson of Graham Crackers, a 13 chain store, and Ryan Seymore from Comic Town, an indie store in Ohio.

This was a great, informative conversation with three smart retailers, and it’s a shame there isn’t a transcript out there, because I think it captures a lot of the challenges (and many strengths) better than a lot of the hand wringing essays. Although Millar seems intent on painting a picture of an industry on its death bed, all three retailer refute that while being frank and honest.

 

A couple of things from the chat:

• Boyle notes that in his stores, “DC sales from 2022 to 2023 have dropped 14%. Marvel has dropped 8%. That may not sound terrible, but if we take out the ratio variants, which means the actual comics people are reading, DC is down 17%. Across my chain, Marvel is down 24%. Boom is down 73%.”

Those are the kind of numbers that will definitely cause alarm bells to ring.

• Boyle also notes (somewhat to Millar’s surprise) that they sell a lot of Dog Man and manga in the store – and along the lines of what Rozanski was suggesting, they sell a lot of Funkos, games and toys, with comics periodicals being between 18 to 22% of their overall sales. Games and toy sales are also down of late, however. (Boyle observed that bringing politics into this discussion was counterproductive and all three avoided it.)

• Robinson noted that the rise of the mini series has made selling comics harder. “We need consistent long term runs and books. We need people that stick with the title, and I need publishers to stick with the title. Publishers don’t realize how much time it takes to sell a single customer on signing up for a four issue miniseries.” Every final issues is a jumping off point, he noted.

• In a metaphor that I will use form now on, Boyle said the industry lacks a parking lot book: “A parking lot book is  where somebody buys the comic and they sit in their car and have to read it.”

• The drop in Saga sales after their three year hiatus (as mentioned by JHU’s Ron Hill here) is definitely a thing that isn’t great for anybody. Top creators leaving for Hollywood or video games or just…other things, is a talent drain that has left fewer must reads out in the parking lot.

• On cover prices, Robinson didn’t feel a dollar made much difference. “If Spawn was $3.99 instead of $2.99 would you not still sell the same quantity?” Boyle noted that first issues that cost $6.99 are “a barrier to entry. And as we all know, number two has a significant drop from number one. So if number one is already stymied by the price point,  all you’re doing is shooting yourself in the foot.”

• Why is everyone so worried about Marvel and DC anyway? Seymore noted that they are the anchors for regular traffic in his store, “in weeks where there’s a really low [number of] Marvel titles or really low DC titles, there’s also a significant drop in traffic.”

There’s a lot more to the conversation, but as I said, the whole thing is one of the best looks inside the current retailer situation that’s come out of this.

To try to summarize the underlying issue, however, it does seem to be one of quality, or at least excitement. I well recall going to my first comics shop, Quality Comics in Somerville, New Jersey, and eagerly tearing Howard the Duck from the bag and reading it in the car while my grandma was in Foodtown.  I don’t know if ANYTHING gets me that excited now,  and that creates the same kind of circular argument that seems to underlie many of these discussions. We need great content but the creators of that content we once enjoyed don’t move the needle as much any more. (Millar keeps going on about bringing back vets like John Byrne or Chris Claremont, but you could look up the sales on their pre-pandemic titles, and they weren’t chart toppers most of the time.)

To be brutally honest, the olden days were better because we were younger and more easily excited. In 2023, Daniel Warren Johnson sold 150,000 copies of his first Transformers issue, and people are genuinely excited about those Hasbro books from Skybound. They don’t excite me as much as Gene Colan did but that’s perfectly fine. It’s called life.

Some of the WORST takes about all this (and there have been some truly awful ones) are various conspiracy theories (which Millar seems to be edging towards with some of his questioning) that a certain group of comics creators and even publishers want the direct market to die. I hate to dignify this idea with a mention, but…that idea is batshit crazy. We’re not living in a scorpion and frog scenario here. All the level headed people in the comics business want multiple sale channels to be successful, and to think otherwise is just exhausting and tedious. I’ll have some more quotes on that soon.

But, once again, fear and anxiety breed more fear and more anxiety. David Harper’s “Off Panel” podcast at SKTCHD has several really great conversation of late that have a lot of bearing on the current discourse. Here’s one with Skybound’s Brand Manager – Editorial Morgan Perry, who I think everyone agrees is a rising star in the industry,  and she has a lot of smart things to say about marketing and sales. (It’s too bad these are podcasts only and no transcripts for those like me, who like big blocks of text.)

The next episode features Bruno Batista from Dublin’s Big Bang Comics and it covers “staying ahead of trends, the year in the shop, working with libraries, their product mix, changing customer behavior, quality as a sales point, Transformers and the Energon Universe, Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel, Dawn of DC post Knight Terrors, single issues, manga’s performance, the larger direct market conversation, maintaining motivation, and more” – in other words all the things we’ve been talking about.

This week’s podcast has two smart folks bracketing blabberings by your humble narrator. Retailer Katie Pryde of Books with Pictures in Portland talks about the current retail environment, and creator Jamal Igle talks about “The fear of the unknown” in comics….(I covered the challenges of marketing in this day and age) and they both talk a lot about the bad sales gripping the industry. Pryde is one of the most energetic and positive people I know in this business, and when she said that a several stores might not make it in ’24 if the holiday shopping season wasn’t strong and things didn’t pick up, I took it seriously.

Harper and Igle noted that “fear of the unknown” is really “fear of change” and that’s what we are going through right now. Harper also made a very insightful point: a lot of the sales trends we were seeing in 2019 were headed for trouble, and the pandemic sales surge just masked those.  As we enter 2024, we’re seeing the results of variant covers, mini-series and a lack of star power coming home to roost.

The biggest elephant in the room is definitely the quality of the comics. That’s a huge topic and one I’ll have to address in a separate post because this one is getting long.

There has been a lot of wild talk this week, a lot of tediously stupid discourse and some real humdingers of not-so-hidden agendas. But one thing Boyle said stuck with me. In all the hubbub and nonsense, “We [retailers] want people having discussions about the actual industry and the things that are impacting it.” In another conversation on Facebook, another retailer noted that “there are significant industry problems, those problems are being addressed collaboratively by all levels of the industry.” I think it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more forums where fans, creators and retailers can interact in a peaceful productive way, because Boyle is right. We need that dialog now.

But I think a reader should have the final say here, namely a twitter thread by Crushing Krisis, who has an entire website made up of really useful reading guides that has been running since 2000! She wrote:

There’s some comics discourse right now about retailers. As always, I cannot help but look on with bemusement.

My 10YO blithely walked by a comic shop last weekend. They don’t carry her YA OGNs; what she’d spend on a few floppies covers a month of Marvel Unlimited + DC Infinite It’s absurd to me to listen to an aging group of fans and creators talk about what comics must do to stay afloat.

Comics are everywhere. I’ve never seen so many kids reading comics in my life. When Marvel & DC make comics for kids (as OGNs) they reap that. Stores can, too. Kids are comics fluent. They’re abuzz when a new Dog Man or Amulet drops. They love adaptations of books like Percy Jackson. They dig multiple Spider-People.

A LCS should be as exciting to a kid as a candy shop or a LEGO store.

LCS shouldn’t be museums for the middle-aged.

Anyone complaining about how newer, younger, more diverse and socially-aware creators are ruining comics isn’t talking about comics. They’re talking about a middle-aged museum. News flash: the stuff ACTUAL kids ACTUALLY read is OFTEN more diverse and aware than Big Two comics.

Ultimately, LCS are speciality book shops. It’s hard for book shops. I’m already lost to them. I have full shelves, a library card, a credit card, and the internet. But there’s a generation of readers who want to see themselves and their friends in books. They’re not lost. Yet

I don’t know much about retail. I’m also not saying that all comics should be written for kids. Oh, and I’m one of these middle-aged folks, too. What I do know from being at both failed and successful businesses is that you ignore the next generation of consumers at your peril

I was at a US health insurer when individual plans hit. I was at an analytics start-up when business intelligence hit. I’ve seen businesses catch a wave or be swept under. You must plan for FUTURE buyers. That’s what I think about when folks demand comics regress in any way.

PS: I don’t know retail, but it’s worth mentioning: I run a site that has helped to sell millions of dollars of Marvel/DC collected editions (and I see data that comes with that). I read >50% of all US floppies from 2016-2021 (really, I measured), including ALL of DC & Marvel.

Neither of those things makes me superior or more right than anyone else in this discourse. I’m just letting you know that I’m not cherry picking examples here and I’m not speaking 100% anecdotally, based on the sample size of my 10YO walking past one comic shop on one Saturday.

I’m not much interested in framing this is a generation gap, but comics shops should NOT be “museums for the middle aged.” Phil Boyle, John Robinson and Ryan Seymore don’t want that. None of the retailers or creators I’ve talked about here want that. The alternative to a museum is a little scarier, a little harder to imagine, but we need to build it together, on common ground. 

This post has been updated to correct some typoes and clarify the focus of our Wednesday comics reviews. 

The Art of Classic Comics Unknown The Fabulous 1950s Postcard 2012 | eBay

Heidi MacDonald
Heidi MacDonaldhttps://www.comicsbeat.com/
Heidi MacDonald is the editor-in-chief of The Beat and an award winning author and editor. She is the co-author of The Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master.

12 COMMENTS

  1. WONDERFUL write up Heidi! I miss coming to this site more often and commenting.

    This is a tale almost as old as comics themselves. As a dad of a 6-year-old girl, I find it hard to get her into comics. Why? There’s little that’s fun and exciting – and age appropriate – for her. I got her a Disney Princess comic book, which she loves. She also loves Jeff the Land Shark. I also got her into Tiny Titans and the original DC Superhero Girls books (which were excellent). The problem is those books are either out of print or rarely published. I agree with the retailers saying comic stores shouldn’t just be for middle aged guys. They should be for all ages, especially kids! While my daughter likes the Harley Quinn and Beast Boy in DC Superhero Girls, I won’t buy her the latest Harley book or Titans book. I’m grateful to be an informed consumer, because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t get her any comics at all. And if we’re not getting kids excited about comics and reading, that will cause the comic book (floppy) industry to collapse.

    I also agree with Marvel and DC getting past making all their books 4 issue limited series. I loved the Silver Surfer book from the 80s/90s, and it’s been great seeing Ron Marz and Ron Lim bring characters back from that era. But it’s actually a little hard to follow, since there was Warlock mini, a Legacy mini, a Silver Surfer mini, and so on, but it’s all one story! And what will be next after the next issue of Silver Surfer Rebirth Legacy? Likely some other mini. But they final issue of any of them provide a great jumping off point.

    Again, great article Heidi.

  2. Being a lifelong Marvel (primarily) and DC fan mainstream fan, the quality of the big two is definitely in a lull. I would agree that it’s not necessarily the creators themselves, but here are some attributing factors IMO:

    Marvel and DC are always trying to out-do themselves with the next biggest catastrophic event. Maybe historical sales justifies big event arcs, but it is fatiguing to see year after year when in general the quality of big events is mediocre at best.
    Focus more on self-contained quality writing for each title. Art is not a problem most of the time, but writing quality is not great right now. While I don’t think the writing on Fantastic Four is superb, I do like the approach of small story arcs with a broader event in the background that gets teased little by little. Reminds me of the old days. Or the current Spider-Man arc of Gang War. Remains to be seen if the entire story will be good, but this is smaller scale event instead of the next monthly universal catastrophe that threatens to blow the Earth to dust.
    Quit hiring book authors. Works out okay occasionally, but I don’t think the transition from writing novels to comic book writing carries over well. It’s different if an established comic book writer wants to dabble in novels within their career, but these novel writers have not invigorated the market. Go find some new, raw talent and let someone else earn a paycheck in life instead of feeding writers who already have a career in book fiction.

    While there are plenty of titles I purchase of the big two, I do find independent titles have been much more enjoyable the last decade or so.

  3. Thank you, Heidi. This is a good, thoughtful writeup. But I think the generation gap is important, mostly because of how/what people and are used to. I mean those of us who are over 30 grew up with newspapers, magazines comics, print everywhere. Kids today, not so much. Newsstands are gone. Newspapers are struggling (at best). Magazines are going under every week it seems. In that context, comics are doing great! I’m mocking, but it’s true. Of course it means something different for comics, but what it means as far as the change in print and reading habits over time is something worth considering. Also if we’re thinking about future buyers, thinking about what’s happened to print is worth examining. (and will the end of comixology change things)

    I do think it’s odd that all these conspiracy theories are about how a handful of creatives are trying to destroy the direct market / comics/ companies. It’s never the companies fault. Never the fault of owners and investors and their business plans. Never their short term thinking or jumping on bandwagons or dumb pandering ideas. No. The companies and a handful of older white editors are great lovers of comics. The problem is always these young people who aren’t white men who are destroying everything.

    (Kind of like how the critique is about creators inserting themselves into characters. But that never gets levied against Tom King, who repeatedly and very blatantly uses characters to write about himself…I can’t quite put my finger on why he never gets criticized by those folks…)

  4. Out of all the local comic shops in Columbus, I personally wouldn’t have picked Comic Town. The two best and healthy shops locally are the Laughing Ogre and Packrat Comics. Comic Town catered to a certain type of fan. Packrat is in the comfortable middle. I wish all comic shops were like the Laughing Ogre.

  5. The reason for all the relaunches is simple: The direct market is structured so ongoing series tail off quickly to an unprofitable level. This isn’t anybody’s fault or any company’s conspiracy; it’s the result of SO MUCH entertainment being available on so many platforms. TV series don’t run as long as they used to, either. So many of the the comics industry’s problems are common to the entertainment industry at large.

  6. No one is scared. We moved on to Independent Comics. The Western & Main Stream Comics are dead. The Western & Main Stream Comics did change. The audience moved on & left the Western & Main Stream Comics behind. No one is scared we are happy not giving you Woke Lunatics our time & money

  7. For me it does come down to quality. DC has a higher floor for me, with me still quite a few of the books they put out, but they (IMO) absolutely shot themselves in the foot by interrupting the “Dawn of DC” relaunch after 2-3 issues for the Knight Terrors event. Just stupid, poor planning by DC editorial and/or the bean counters at Discovery WB.

    Marvel…oof, Marvel is just not good right now. I’ll pick up the Hickman books, but beyond that it is hard to get excited for anything they are doing. The X-Men line desperately needs a refresh as they have wrung as much juice as they can out of the HoX/PoX era. I’m not convinced Tom Brevoort is the guy to do that though. The Avengers line lost all momentum with Aarons mediocre run lasting too long. Zeb Wells on Spider-Man doesn’t seem to be generating any excitement from anyone.

    And Marvel, unlike DC, seems unable or unwilling to even do the “Black Label” style books, where even if you can’t convince someone to pick up “Amazing Spider-Man #37”, you can get them to pick up Jeff Lemire doing a mini or something.

    On the plus side, I do think it is better for the industry to have Image and the like doing well. I personally don’t trust WBD or Disney not to just wake up one day and say “we done” with comics. If David Zazlav ever learns of a tax break connected to shutting down publishing line – watch out.

  8. Excellent article Heidi.
    I suspect (and maybe others can chime in if I’m wrong) is that the costs of bringing in periodicals have gone up which is also hurting comic retailers. More labour hours are needed in ordering and managing the incoming books between multiple distributors and there is potentially a reduction of profit margin depending on what publisher sells better in their stores.

  9. The decline that comics retailer is facing isn’t a direct market retailer issue, it’s a direct market publisher issue (Marvel, DC, Image, Boom). The sales of the direct market is very much correlated with the sales of the direct market graphic novels in the book channel. You published that infographic showing graphic novels increasing over the past few years. Except that’s an extremely surface level view. During that same period (2016-2019) the direct market publishers were facing a decline in their graphic novel sales in both the direct market and the book market. Marvel went from selling 1.2M in 2016 to 970 K in 2022 in the bookstore. This is even less than they were selling pre-pandemic during 2019 when they sold 1 M books. DC went from selling 2.3 M in 2016 to 1.5M in 2022. Image fared the worst. They went from selling 1.2 M in 2016 to nearly half at 620K in 2022. The only two publishers who seemed to have fared better were Darkhorse and IDW. IDW has had a host of issues with major concerns that they were facing with from their parent company and have been in the red for the past several years even with the increase in book market sales. Darkhorse meanwhile had plateaued at 2016-2019 with only the pandemic boosting them. They are now also facing a sales decline.

    All the major publishers (with the exception of Dynamite and IDW, the former being a relatively no-name seller in the book market) faced significant declines last year even as graphic novels as a whole sold more in the book market (almost entirely due to manga, Manga as a section grew by 6% in 2022, meanwhile western publishers as a whole (including YA publishers such as Scholastic and Hachette, along with traditional direct market publishers) declined by 4.5%). DC dropped by 10% in sales, Darkhorse by 18%, Image by 12%, Boom by 22% and Marvel by 10%. From ICV2 numbers and direct market store reports the decline probably continued this year as well.

    I also find the pushback against Phil Boyle calling out mantle swaps to be ridiculous. They were replacing decades old characters with major name recognition with either new or minor characters. Of course, that would have a major impact on sales. You could replace Steve Rogers with John Davids, the whitest, straightest, most macho man in fiction and you’d still likely face a huge decline. People aren’t reading the stories for Captain America or Iron Man, they’re reading for Stever Rodgers as Captain America and Tony Stark as Iron Man. A person who got interested in Dr. Strange from MoM and wanted to start reading their comics would get turned off when they pick up the Dr. Strange comics and find Clea Strange. That isn’t because she’s a woman. That’s because she’s not who they picked up the book for (nevermind that she had only appeared for a minute in the MCU).

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