The pandemic is just a memory now, a wonderful time of people staying at home and buying things, lots and lots of things. Now they are out and about and screaming at each other while robot dogs shooting flames wander the land.

filip-sablikComics sales are either “returning to normal” or plummeting depending on who you ask. We’ve entered a whole new phase of the comics industry…maybe this is the SIXTH disruption, according to Milton Griepp’s chronology. All the way back in 2016, at his annual White Paper, Griepp said there has been four comics industry disruptions and we were headed for a fifth, as we reported at the time::

All of these disruptions arose from new retail opportunities appearing as market challenges forced the comics industry to change. Griepp speculated that a potential fifth disruption could develop out of the growing audiences for comics that are demanding a more diverse product and format (graphic novels), as opposed to the traditional superhero periodicals that have long kept the industry afloat.

Let’s be honest, given all the changes in distribution and crowdfunding and everything else, we’re probably up to seven or EIGHT disruptions by now.

But anyway, what’s the status of this one? Griepp recently sat down with Boom! Studios President of Publishing and Marketing Filip Sablik for one of their regular chats, and it’s one of the first interviews I’ve come across that lays out the state of the industry in a semi-candid way. Sablik was the one who mentioned the times of  “uncertainty and chaos” we were going through back at the ComicsPRO meeting in 2022….and things haven’t gotten any less chaotic or uncertain since then.

As I’ve noted before, at retailer meetings (what few there are) Sablik is usually in the anchor position with his meticulously planned slideshows. Although he’s always promoting Boom, he’s also become something of an industry spokesperson. You really should just go read it the whole interview – its in two parts, Part 1 and Part 2 – because it touches on many topics, and I could probably do commentary on everything he says, but I’ll just call out a few things.

In part 1, Sablik talks about the post pandemic return to normalcy:

Let’s talk about the market then.  You said you’re focused on the direct market.  What do you evaluate as the condition of the direct market?
Everyone at all levels of the market is reckoning with the fact that we are now in the stage where we’re dealing with aftershocks of the pandemic era. We’re returning to something that more closely resembles a pre‑pandemic marketplace.

My read of it is that, in general, the market seems to be returning to something that resembles 2019 more closely than 2020 through 2022. We’re seeing that in our business.

We had the good fortune that the pandemic era was really an era of growth for us. We’ve certainly come down from the peak in 2021, which would have been where BOOM! peaked, but we’re still well above 2019. I think the thing that we have to balance that with is that the difference between 2019 and 2024 is just the complexity, the fracturing of distribution, the complexity that has been added to virtually every layer of bringing product to market.

I think that’s where, if I’m seeing pain points, it’s in the amount of effort or work that’s having to go in to generate similar results.

This is something I’m hearing more and more of: for retailers, it’s not just the hassle of ordering from different distributors, it’s publishers cutting back on overprints and incentive programs, for publishers there are so many different channels to keep track of, cutting through the noise to build awareness, an oversaturated market and on and on.

Sablik also addresses their mix of how their products are sold:

Right now, in terms of channel mix, we are probably at about 45 to 50 percent direct market and then another 20 percent book market. Direct to consumer, right now, is in the 10 to 15 percent range. Then the balance of the pie is a combination of digital, foreign, and some other smaller channels. 

Very different than in 2016. And more of a lift in more and more ways.

In Part 2, Sablik talks about relaunching Boom Box, but in a sort of nostalgic way:

Beginning in the last half of last year, and this year, we’re referring to it as BOOM! Box 2.0, a new wave of series that we feel are a great mix of high concept, and a lot of those relationship and vibe elements that make BOOM! Box iconic. Titles like ZAWA, I Heart Skull-Crusher, which has really done well for us, and a couple other titles that are coming later this year are really setting that foundation of what we think BOOM! Box will be going forward. On that end, we’re trying to essentially create material that appeals to those original BOOM! Box fans, which started 10 years ago. There are kids that picked up their first BOOM! Box book 10 years ago, and they were 10 years old, and now they’re 20 years old or 22 years old, depending on where they started. We’re really firmly planting that imprint in a YA space so that we can capture both audiences.

And finally, the bane of so many, variant covers:

One remaining question on the periodical business: we took a look at your April solicits for June.  Pretty much every issue has two to three to five variants.  Is that just the way the periodical business has to be done now in order to be successful?
The short answer is yes. Not to say that you can’t find success with one cover, but I think it is very difficult. If you look at the current market and the titles that are really finding engagement with customers, they tend to be licensed, they tend to have a lot of covers.

Sablik covers a lot more in the interview, and it isn’t gloomy or doomy by any means, but it isn’t a “Wow things are great!” talk either.

It’s an interesting perspective…..and we’ll be seeing more perspectives like this in the coming weeks, I’m sure.

Photo: Xmatter