Home Columns Kibbles 'n' Bits Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 1/14/15: There are too many comic books!

Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 1/14/15: There are too many comic books!

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Just a reminder coming on yesterday announcement of ECCC being acquired by ReedPOP, that Special Edition is coming back, the smaller artist focused NYC show. Date is TK.

§ Retailer Brian Hibbs wrote in the other day to chide me and another prominent comics writer for not linking to his latest column for CBR, entitled Too Much Competition. The column features dark warnings as well as a lot of charts. Hibbs’ central thesis is that there are just too many comics books, and the sheer volume is what is driving down sales.

We’ve at very least doubled, and maybe as much as quadrupled, the number of titles produced each month, so it shouldn’t be any major surprise that circulations have dropped by 50-75%. The real answer, most of the time, to “Why didn’t the market support [your favorite comic]?!?” is “There is too much competition!” I’ve been struggling with a way to really drive this message home, because this title growth has kind of been incremental over the life of the Direct Market and so is maybe less obvious than it could be. So, perhaps, the way to discuss it is in terms of consumer behavior, and the ordering mechanism.

Hibbs does the math, offering charts for all publishers that shows how many of their books in November had no order, which had a moderate number of copies ordered, which had a lot, and how subs do or don’t fit in. Hibbs makes a good case that there is too much dross out there—and despite this being a Golden Age of Comics, few would argue that we need a little trim. He also offers a clear explanation of something that every comics creator or publisher I have hung out with for more than 15 minutes has complained about for the last 25 years: that not ordering shelf copies of books means that no one will ever discover them on the shelf. The world of pre-ordering has been criticized here and elsewhere ad nauseum but it’s how things are done.  The economics don’t support a shelf copy, Hibbs says.

You’re going to see a lot of crazy low numbers, so I want to reiterate what I said earlier — retailers are committed to selling as many comics to as many people as possible. I know I am! There are, at least, fifteen publishers of which I try to stock one hundred percent of their new launches until the market shows me that it is futile. We have hundreds of customers coming in each and every month, and more than half the comics coming into my store can not sell three rack copies. That’s pretty sobering. Three copies is an important line because that’s the point where the math against having any unsold copies starts to work against you. Order four, don’t sell one, well, at 75% sell-through you, at least, haven’t lost money. Order three and only sell two? Then you’re probably, after costs, losing a few pennies. You don’t want to lose money on products in retail; that’s not your winning formula.

My little alarm bell went off a bit on this piece when Hibbs referenced Comico, which stopped publishing 25 years ago—NOTHING has the exact same business model as it did 25 years ago!—but it’s a sobering reminder for publishers that a lot of books aren’t ever going to cut it in Brian Hibbs stores, and looking at the numbers, they probably don’t make much money.

In the comments, people ask “Then why to these books get published?” and Hibbs suggest many reasons including market share. I’d also allow that other shops may have oddball customers who happen to like some of the books Hibbs can’t give way.  As long as we’re using the long ago past to reference the present, those who read Krause’s Comics & Games Retailer may recall the monthly retailer surveys that ran in every issue, and how one comic sold here another there. Sure there are Sagas and Harley Quinns that sell everywhere, but marginal titles depend on marginal audiences.

§ A new Teen Boat book is coming from John Green And Dave Roman! Teen Boat! The Race for Boatlantis! Huzzah!

§ Josie Campbell has a fine historical piece here looking at how “Agent Carter”  deals with real world history and the role of women: 

“Agent Carter” is a superhero show about the postwar erasure of women from American culture — which is incredibly fitting, as after World War II the comics industry erased women on the page and behind the scenes. As a comics community, we need to address the fact that women in comics is not a new occurrence. Women have been here since day one, a fact that is often ignored because this postwar erasure of women from our culture worked so well.

I’d agree this aspect of the show is a pleasant surprise.

§ At ScreenCrush, Matt Singer offers The Complete History of Comic-Book Movies, which sounds like a lifetime project, but starts off with the Captain Marvel movie serial. More actual history! Nice.

This Bizarro World is a long way from the 1940s, when comic-book superheroes first transitioned to the big-screen as the subjects of serials. These series of episodic shorts were often cheaply made and sometimes shockingly unfaithful to their source material. Comics were ahead of their time, at least at the movie theater; too adventurous and imaginative to be accurately reproduced with the tools of the day. As technology improved, so did the comic-book movies, leading to a series of watershed films—‘Superman,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘X-Men’—that reshaped the entire industry. How did we get there? All superheroes have an origin story. So do comic-book movies. This column will attempt to find it, one film at a time.

1 COMMENT

  1. Brian said, about the proliferation of low-selling comics: “They are, like for the retailer, marginally profitable, at best — and yet their proliferation makes it so it is significantly harder for anything to stand out and gain traction in a radically oversaturated marketplace.” I couldn’t have summed up my own feelings better.

    When we opened in our current spot just over 5 years ago, I was able to comfortably rack every title we ordered, and that was generally the entire output of Marvel, DC, Image, Boom, IDW, plus all the small press titles we’d carry. We also treat new comics with a longform plan– we try to stock at least the past 6 issues of any series on the new comics racks. I could even spread out storylines or issues from a nice handful of series, showing an entire run was there for the taking, or even rack a paperback volume 1 next to a series to lure in new readers. Now it’s a fight every Wednesday to rack even one new series without losing one first. That’s after finally admitting defeat and creating a short box that hangs out by the new comics labeled “New Comics We Couldn’t Fit on the Shelf,” inhabited by various 1 or 2-copy titles that I don’t want to give the gate to totally, because people do dig through the box and find stuff, so that’s something, but it’s not the ideal way I’d like to sell new comics.

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