eb6b268aa792c0089f83ebc58b265280.jpg

So a lot of people are reading Brian Hibb’s yearly BookScan analysis and saying it backs up what we’ve been saying about the change in comics sales patterns. Certainly, the generally healthy sales do back up the idea that comics are not dying.

BUt that doesn’t mean that some distribution channels aren’t in trouble. A week or so ago we kind of goaded Augie De Blieck on Twitter  into writing about this and he obliged with this piece. 

Is the business model for comics about to change again?

In the internet age, everything speeds up.  It’s difficult to keep up with the changes, but if you don’t, you will surely die.

Industries may survive, but often at the cost of large chunks of infrastructure.  You can still buy a movie or an album or a book, but the way you get it today — and the way you WANT to get it today — is vastly different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago.

What makes you think the comic book industry is immune to this?  Why does the Direct Market deserve to live?

Augie runs down all the reasons that the direct channel is not optimized for growth these days – disruption, consumer buying habits changing, and, in general, the decline of people who want to pay $2.99 or more like $3.99 for a small part of a story.

- Advertisement-

It’s sort of what I’ve been saying here…but I’ve also been saying it for 14 years and comics shops are still here. I predict they will still be here in another 14 years, at least a few of them. The periodical has declined but it still has appeal. When I was in Portland a few weeks ago I met an 11 year old boy who owns five short boxes full of periodical comics. most of my friends kids and my relatives kids read comics; most of them are more into graphic novels, however. But,  it’s not impossible for children to get into the buying habit. (I should note that his father is also a casual comics reader and takes his son to the store.)

One kid doesn’t change an industry however.

I don’t disagree with Augie, but the only thing I know is that my crystal ball is very cloudy. I know there will be comics in 5, 10 or 15 years. People will be making them and people will be reading them.

What I do know – and what Augie is saying – is that the direct sales market was created to address a certain problem – the decline of newsstands – and that business model is no longer the solution to a problem. It’s become a problem of its own.

It’s long been said that the surest way to grow comics sales would be to have more outlets. Back in the 80s there were more than 5000 comics shops by some counts. Now there are between 2000-2500. It’s hard enough for anyone to start a small brick and mortar business these days, let alone a comics shop with low, low margins.

Is what we’re seeing a shake-up, a shake-out or an earthquake? What do you think?

 

40 COMMENTS

  1. I think there will always be comics and comic stores, just not as many comic stores unless the Marvel/DC/Diamond thing changes to start working with the stores.

    Also, the price of periodical comics is crazy insane. Why not buy a trade or graphic novel instead? The return on investment is much better.

    I used to think I knew everything about the industry, but I don’t. What I do know is comic store owners are up against hard times and I feel bad for them. They make the whole hobby work.

  2. Change is always constant but not always good. I think today’s generation is missing out on something because they essentially never listen to an entire album, for example. Or take a look at those BookScan numbers. I was struck by how a tiny number of creators completely dominate sales. How many years will it be before creators look back fondly at the days of the Direct Market when so many more people could actually make a living doing comics?

    Mike

  3. This is just the direction things are going. Comics will never vanish, hell, books in general will never vanish, but it’ll also never again be like it used to be. The price point of single issues is a part of the problem, but so is having to order two months in advance (and being ready to pay for it is of course the real problem here…) The world has gotten way to fast for this system to still be viable. Once people realise that every single comic published will eventually wind up in a trade, which they can order anywher at any time, the math becomes easy.
    My personal peeve is creators not sticking to a particular series long enough for the readers to really connect with the identity of the series. I think this is an overlooked aspect of readers dropping series, right up there with spin-off-disease. Marvel of course is spin-off-cross-over-king, ruining my just aquired apreciation of Doctor Strange with this ungainly Secret Empire left-over called Damnation. But, even my appreciation for a series like Black Hammer is also starting to wane, with now the THIRD spinn-off being announced, with just THIRTEEN regular issues published. I haven’t yet read a bad ‘Black Hammer’ related comic, but I just don’t get it. If Black Hammer is a succes (and it appears to be) them you keep on building up Black Hammer by publishing, yes, BLACK HAMMER. That’s how they did it with Saga and Walking Dead. Those Saga TPs keep on selling, because people know, ‘This is Saga, this is good stuff, look at those eight volumes on my shelf, I can’t wait for volume nine.’ A Black Hammer Freak has to content himself after just two volumes with ‘Sherlock Frankenstein’ and ‘ Doctor Star’. Yes, the blurb says: ‘From the world of Black Hammer’ but even from a marketing/sales point of view, that’s just not the same as Black Hammer Vol 03. And I cannot see why the stories in those spin-offs cannot be told in the main series.

  4. The large, well-equipped shops in big cities will probably survive … for a while, at least. I’m less hopeful about the smaller stores that stock little other than Marvel and DC periodicals. I switched to graphic novels and trades some 20 years ago, so the fate of floppies doesn’t matter to me.

    Ironic that this article’s photo is from the newsstand era, when a mass audience of kids (including girls) bought comics in numbers that far surpass the direct market’s sales. Note that the girl in the photo is reading DC’s Girls’ Romances, the kind of book killed by the decline of newsstands and the rise of superhero convenience stores, i.e. comic shops.

  5. The problem was that to get to that mass audience, half the print runs of those books were going into the incinerator, with profit margins so low at every level that newsstand operators were glad to see the comics shoved off in the corner.

    As to the range of material, I largely credit the proliferation of television in the 1950s with forcing publishers to focus on what they felt was their strongest demographic in the 1960s. The Silver Age turned out to be about super-heroes, but there’s a fair chance the genre of choice for the last third of the century was going to be whatever teenage Baby Boomer males were into, whatever it was.

  6. “I switched to graphic novels and trades some 20 years ago, so the fate of floppies doesn’t matter to me.”

    AAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!!! I’ve been making this freakin’ point for those 20 years! All of those trades (and probably some of the things you think are graphic novels) started as “floppies.” It was the monthly comic that paid the initial production cost. It was the regular paycheck from producing the monthly comic that allowed the creators to…you know…CREATE THE BLEEPIN’ COMIC!!!

    Take away the monthly comic and AT MINIMUM the price of trades will go up, possibly by quite a bit. But also take away the income from the monthly comic and it becomes harder for both creators and publishers to produce any work at all. How long does it take to draw 100-150 comics pages? How many people can go without a paycheck for that long? How many publishers can afford to pay out for 100-150 pages and not get any revenue out of it for 6, 8, 12 months or more?

    This is not an attack on reading trades or graphic novels or an argument for serialization, but there are some basic economic realities that need to be understood.

    Mike

  7. “The Silver Age turned out to be about super-heroes, but there’s a fair chance the genre of choice for the last third of the century was going to be whatever teenage Baby Boomer males were into, whatever it was.”

    There was still a lot of variety in genres during the ’60s and ’70s. It was during the Bronze Age, in the ’80s, that everything but superheroes (and occasionally space opera) died out, as far as “mainstream” comics were concerned. “Mainstream” basically meant Marvel and DC by the ’80s. The people who went to comic book stores were overwhelmingly superhero addicts, and they had little interest in anything else.

    I wouldn’t lay it all on teenage Baby Boomer males, because this lust for superheroes was continued by teenage Generation X males and teenage Millennial males.

    “This is not an attack on reading trades or graphic novels or an argument for serialization, but there are some basic economic realities that need to be understood.”

    This is like the movie studios in 1928 deciding that retooling for sound was too expensive, so they were gonna stick with silent movies. Because that had been their business model for a long time, and they’d rather face economic catastrophe than make changes. The comic-book industry is sticking its head in the sand, and has been for a long time.

  8. “This is like the movie studios in 1928 deciding that retooling for sound was too expensive”

    That has literally nothing to do with my point. Let me try again.

    If the Direct Market goes away, so will the vast majority of the comics produced by the Direct Market. THAT INCLUDES TRADES AND GRAPHIC NOVELS. This stuff will not simply be shifted over to the book market or some online market. That work and the people who buy and read it will disappear from the marketplace.

    Will something replace the DM? Probably. Will it produce the same kind of comics or the same amount of work? Almost certainly not. Comics, the art form, will likely outlive the Direct Market. A whole bunch of comics you like won’t.

    Mike

  9. There was some diversity, certainly, but it was waning fast — both by the sales numbers and the number of issues published, the non-super-hero books fell rather rapidly as the 1960s wore on, blips like Archie in 1969 excepted. Westerns and horror were already in collapse, and Marvel, DC, and Charlton refocused existing titles away from them (“Strange Suspense Stories Presents Captain Atom!”); war, romance, and humor hung in a good deal longer, but even those publishers weren’t immune (a shame we never got the SuperRichie/Super Goof crossover. I don’t excuse later generations their superhero obsessions, but that was largely already the business by the time they found it.

    As to Mike’s comment about serialization paying for the work, I wish I had it on a T-shirt because I’ve said something like it often enough myself. A Netflix might be able to pay for an entire season’s production without knowing whether a show will be embraced, but print publishers might find offering a full advance up front chancier, given how many more people are involved in production of a comic than, say, prose — and digital serialization alone generally doesn’t bring in enough money. It might result in fewer publishers, fewer works, and a generally smaller market.

  10. >>>As to Mike’s comment about serialization paying for the work, I wish I had it on a T-shirt because I’ve said something like it often enough myself.

    Absolutely true, but with the distribution model for periodicals dwindling, this becomes more problematic. It’s true that TWO revenue streams are better than one, but one of those streams is having problems.

    I’ve long compared the periodicals to collections models to the episodic tv show to DVD/streaming model, but streaming is making even that comparison trickier. All the distribution models are changing, that’s the reality that needs to be address.

  11. “I’ve long compared the periodicals to collections models to the episodic tv show to DVD/streaming model”

    That is a great analogy on many levels, economically and creatively.

    Mike

  12. “40 years ago, the Direct Market saved comics. It did so at the cost of wider distribution. Sales figures plummeted, but back issue sales were lucrative, and the bigger profit margin made it a workable system.”

    Hmmm. I’m wondering about the cause/effect logic of this passage. Did sales figures in fact plummet because of the DM? Even though, say, DC’s and Marvel’s thorough embrace of the DM was something that only happened gradually, while they were still directing the bulk of their comics to newsstand distribution? That is, did the DM in fact kill wider distribution, or did it simply provide a life raft when that wider distribution began to shrivel up anyway?

    In general, yes, I believe that the DM model is struggling and is unlikely to endure in its present form. But I think there’s a lot of DM-blaming going around that doesn’t acknowledge the profound effects, creative as well as economic, of DM culture—both for better and for worse. The DM enabled and generated a lot of great but newsstand-unfriendly stuff—work that made comics worth sticking around for.

    On another note, I am surprised to find that a great many of my comics students express a strong preference for reading comics on paper, despite the ubiquity of digital reading nowadays. I had thought, as Augie seems to argue, that the transition to digital was inevitable, and that my own resistance to that was just another sign of my fuddy-duddyhood. But instead what I hear very often, even from students who are not comic book collectors, is that they like doing their long-form pleasure reading, and most particularly their comics reading, on paper. That surprised me, a few years ago, and made me think that whatever business model comics needs, it needs it with a robust paper dimension as well as digital.

  13. “If the Direct Market goes away, so will the vast majority of the comics produced by the Direct Market. THAT INCLUDES TRADES AND GRAPHIC NOVELS. This stuff will not simply be shifted over to the book market or some online market. That work and the people who buy and read it will disappear from the marketplace.”

    You mean, like how fiction writers suffered when pulps and genre fiction magazines disappeared from newsstands in the Sixties and Seventies?

    Many of those comic creators are now online, using Patreon to fund the production of their periodical comics.
    They use Instagram and Facebook and Twitter to promote their comics.
    Then they go to Kickstarter to fund the collection.
    Raina Telgemeier went that route… she published webcomics and mini-comics, got a gig with Scholastic, and then hit a homerun with Smile.

    Prose novels are already doing this, mostly via ebooks and print-on-demand services, with everything sold online. YES, POD can handle full-color comics, at a decent price. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel or DC started offering this service soon.

    Comic books… yeah, that model doesn’t really work. Magazines of all sorts are having trouble now, due to the economics of newsstand distribution (print 3 copies, sell 1).

    Comics shops evolved from used bookstores, which stockpiled old comics, Life magazines, lobby cards, and other paper ephemera (usually used books and record albums). They began to specialize in comics and science fiction, and that’s where we are today. Now, they’re evolving into collectibles stores, using sidelines to supplement comics sales. Some are hobby shops, selling games, comics, and other nerdy stuff. Some are evolving into bookstores, selling graphic novels instead of comics.

    Some might make a living as antique stores, selling used books, old toys.

    But I will make this prediction:
    Someone needs to create a service which creates an online store for comics shops.
    Diamond SHOULD be the one to offer this service, but they haven’t.
    Amazon probably will, and when that happens, Diamond is toast. Why? Because Amazon can easily undercut Diamond’s wholesale percentages, and still make money, both by offering back of house services for a store’s e-commerce site, and for distributing merchandise to the store, probably better than Diamond and UPS.
    Of course, those client stores will be able to special order ANY item in Amazon’s warehouse for a customer. Want the latest Stephen King book? A box set of Bob: The Complete Series? Japanese snacks? Lego BB-8? (Yes, a customer could order it directly, but the store could offer a discount over Amazon’s website.)
    …and then there’s Comixology… order it via the store, and you replace periodical comics. No non-returnable stock. No inventory to be taxed. No inventory to manage. It’s in print for years.

  14. Why do we need periodical comics at all? Why can’t something like Saga be produced 3 or 4 times a year as a trade and we just stick with that? I ask because First Second and Top Shelf have been producing original GNs for years for a fair price point and there’s no way 99% of those books sell as much as your average Marvel comic.

  15. John Jackson MIller said: “The problem was that to get to that mass audience, half the print runs of those books were going into the incinerator, with profit margins so low at every level that newsstand operators were glad to see the comics shoved off in the corner.”

    Are things really much better today? Now we have comic-shop owners complaining about being stuck with nonreturnable floppies they can’t sell. They’re piling up in the back rooms, unsold and unread. Maybe they’ll end up in an incinerator, too … though a dumpster is more likely.

  16. “40 years ago, the Direct Market saved comics. It did so at the cost of wider distribution. Sales figures plummeted, but back issue sales were lucrative, and the bigger profit margin made it a workable system.”

    I didn’t remark on that passage, but it’s the “plummeted” part is pretty clearly inaccurate. Known sales generally went up for publishers in the 1980s in the Direct Market, culminating in the biggest volumes in inflation-adjusted dollar terms ever seen. Units were also near historic highs: DM stores ordered 48 million comics in April 1993. Amazing Spider-Man’s peak was double its 1960s high. (Not to mention the thousands of titles the DM provided a mechanism for that would have been flatly rejected by the newsstand gatekeepers.) I don’t contest that volumes are down since, but that’s mostly because of the Distributor War years, which worsened the downturn by cleaving a good 50% or so off volumes, permanently. Since 2000, unit volumes have been relatively stable.

    Chris, the original GN model remains rare because most creators cannot afford to go away and write or draw a complete book without receiving their full rate more or less as they work, and most publishers cannot afford to float advances for the full project when the only expected revenue is from the trade launch. It’s true the creators can self-fund via Patreons and Kickstarters, but a piecemeal approach is unlikely to yield the volume of new publications required to feed a billion-dollar-a-year business. (I grant that, as Heidi suggests, publishers’ arrangements may change; FWIW, the deals I’m offered are still in the traditional mold.)

  17. George, because the DM allows publishers to print more or less to order, the main overages are indeed at the retail level, though sell-throughs there are dramatically higher than the newsstand days. The bigger unsold stock problem of late would seem to result from programs tying the purchase of premium items to volume purchases of others, which isn’t the most efficient use of the system, as retailers who’ve opted out have expressed. I tend to think that sort of thing corrects eventually just via market forces; incentive programs can work, but they have to be designed right.

  18. I don’t seriously expect comics to go back to being the mass medium they were from the late ’30s to the late ’70s. That would require major changes in pricing, distribution and content, which I doubt the industry would undertake (unless it believed it had no choice). And the aging fanboys would probably resist any changes.

    Pricing: Floppies are now too expensive for anyone but the most addicted fans and the wealthiest collectors and speculators. The dwindling sales shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    Distribution: Comics would have to be sold in more places, not just comic shops and the few remaining national bookstore chains.

    Content: The comics would have to be geared for a general audience that likes many genres, not just an inbred nerd audience that only likes superheroes and Star Wars.

    Douglas Wolk has mentioned that mainstream comics have always been genre-oriented. But in the past, there were many MORE genres. He likened the present situation to a movie industry that only makes Westerns and esoteric art films (the comics equivalent being the indie/alternative art comics scene).

    As to Chris Hero’s comment, maybe American publishers should emulate the French-Belgian model, where “comics albums” (not pamphlets) have dominated for the last 70 years.

  19. I will be loading an update in the coming weeks of my Statements of Ownership from 1969 that will more than double the number of titles here: http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/postaldata/1969.html

    Most of the new material is from non-superhero genres, and you’ll see that romance, westerns, and war comics tended toward the bottom of the list. In part, this owes to Charlton, whose distribution was horrible. But it was a great year for humor comics thanks to Archie, which had a TV show and a hit song.

  20. “You mean, like how fiction writers suffered when pulps and genre fiction magazines disappeared from newsstands in the Sixties and Seventies?”

    Yes, that’s exactly the sort of thing I mean and you just demonstrated with that comment how ignorant you are on this subject. The decline of platforms for short stories has absolutely affected both the prevalence of the art form and the ability to make a living at it.

    Seriously, have you ever looked at Previews? Do you think even 30% of that stuff can be shifted into the bookstore/online market? Do you think, for example, that the overwhelming majority of Image books, which sell less than 10,000 copies in the DM, could actually compete at all for shelf or screen space outside of it?

    It’s certainly possible that whatever may replace the DM will be better suited to some people and some comics. The suggestion that nothing of value will be lost when or if the DM goes is just dumb.

    Mike

  21. Comics will survive in some form. It may be floppies, trades, hardbacks, or online comics (all of which exist now). The problem seems to be the delivery system — the antiquated direct market/comic shop model. But comics will go on. People have been telling stories with pictures since the human race began, since they were painting on cave walls, and I don’t see that ending.

    Mike “Mr. Cheerful” Bunge said: “The suggestion that nothing of value will be lost when or if the DM goes is just dumb.”

    A lot of very stupid, unreadable and poorly drawn superhero floppies — the kind that only appeal to hardcore fanboys — will go under when or if the DM tanks. I won’t shed any tears over that “loss.”

  22. I see a lot of the same kind of arguments in this thread that help to prove my point, honestly. If people just want the trade paperbacks and don’t want to go to the comic shop every week to overpay for incomplete fragments of stories, why should they? Why should they pay that tax? Why force them to, or belittle them to?

    If that’s what the customers want, maybe it’s time for the industry to change to give it to them. If the industry doesn’t change, the industry dies.

    This is why I think the Franco-Belgian album model is so interesting. 50 oversized pages for $10 or $12 or so makes for a nice package that’s affordable, offers a complete story, and would be very affordable, especially with an Amazon discount or, perhaps, a pre-order discount from the local comics shop.

  23. “If people just want the trade paperbacks and don’t want to go to the comic shop every week to overpay for incomplete fragments of stories, why should they?”

    One more time…

    YOU CAN’T READ SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T GET CREATED AND IT WON’T GET CREATED IF PEOPLE CAN’T MAKE MONEY CREATING IT.

    This is not an argument for or against serialization. This is about understanding plain economic realities.

    Mike

  24. “A lot of very stupid, unreadable and poorly drawn superhero floppies — the kind that only appeal to hardcore fanboys — will go under when or if the DM tanks.”

    Coming out in the Direct Market this week…

    INCOGNEGRO RENAISSANCE #3 (MR) $3.99
    KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS #4 (OF 6) $3.99
    EXIT STAGE LEFT THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES #4 (OF 6) $3.99
    XERXES FALL OF HOUSE OF DARIUS #1 (OF 5) (MR) $4.99
    SHADE THE CHANGING WOMAN #2 (OF 6) (MR) $3.99
    SWASHBUCKLERS SAGA CONTINUES #1 CVR A GUICE $3.99
    BLACK CLOUD #8 (MR) $3.99
    ELSEWHERE #6 $3.99
    GOD COMPLEX #5 (MR) $3.99
    I HATE FAIRYLAND #18 CVR A YOUNG (MR) $3.99
    MOTOR CRUSH #11 CVR A TARR $3.99
    SEX CRIMINALS #23 (MR) $3.99
    SNOTGIRL #10 $2.99
    WALKING DEAD #178 CVR A ADLARD & STEWART (MR) $3.99
    BRILLIANT TRASH #5 $3.99
    TREMENDOUS TRUMP MAN CHILD COVFEFE ONE SHOT $4.99

    …and a bunch more. Are they all stupid? Unreadable? Poorly drawn?

    Mike

  25. I don’t think trades will necessarily go up. I think they’ll adapt, like some of the indies did with their floppies and go to a strict OGN model or maybe a quarterly. The pricing won’t change much if the big two decide to keep putting out new content and not reprints.

  26. @MBunge – Right. You just need to pay for the material in a different way, or the creators need to find new ways to make money off it. The trades/OGNs are going to cost more, sure. You’ll probably be more selective about the ones you buy. That’s a plain economic reality, as well. It will probably move more people to either digital or Amazon where they can get discounts. Again, this is a problem for the Direct Market.

    Slim profit margins on small dollar items in stores with high rents will only work in volume. The Direct Market is no longer a volume play. Something has to give eventually…

  27. @Tom – I agree. I think that’s why something close to the Franco-Belgian model is more realistic than, say, the manga magazine model people thought the wanted 15 years ago.

  28. The “Why should they pay that tax?” question is somewhat befuddling, as most people understand that if they want to buy a product, they must wait until it is complete. Comics serialization offers the opportunity to subsidize your favorite creators while they work, and to see the work that’s ongoing; the business only needs a certain amount of people willing to do that to make the monthly model work, and as we’re well above the historic monthly lows for periodicals, the “monthly sneak-peek” or “early adopter” model still has gas in it.

    I suspect one of the challenges for the “release-larger-chunks” idea is that it requires the installments to be less frequent, which in American publishing is known (from eons of bimonthlies and quarterlies) to decrease circulations faster from issue to issue. Regularity means familiarity which means repeat business.

    New paradigms, as Thomas Kuhn told us, subsume the previous ones after disrupting them; they are more likely to work when they do everything the previous one did and more, more efficiently. Too many of the “let’s reinvent everything!” plans chuck large portions of the business that stakeholders at multiple levels currently find profitable and that many consumers currently like — and because of that, it’s hard to see exactly how the new paradigm takes root. Not impossible, but not easy.

  29. “Are they all stupid? Unreadable? Poorly drawn?”

    You’re right, Mike. They’re all magnificent works of genius. The world must not be deprived of such cultural landmarks!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Comic Book Plus for another free issue of Blackhawk or Plastic Man from the ’40s, or another free month of Terry and the Pirates, etc.

  30. @MBunge
    You repeat the same thing over and over and you are wrong.
    Augie explained it: in the European market, which is 98% albums (i.e. TPBs and Hardcovers), publishers pay an advance to the creators while they are producing the material and catch up when sales come in. Simple. That is the purpose of the publisher, taking the risk by providing venture capital. And European creators retain most of the rights, to boot.
    We also used to have a few weekly magazines prepublishing a few pages of each series at a time, but those are mostly dead, except for Spirou.
    Creators who don’t want to be tied up to a publisher use crowdfunding.
    I can see why you don’t understand why that might work in the US, where mainstream publishers are greedy as hell.

  31. While I wouldn’t use the same phrasing, JC, your last sentence points to what makes this academic. While advances are built into the American book publishing model; our comics publishers all began as magazine publishers, and I’m not exactly sure what magic wand would suddenly make everyone pay advances for entire works while no revenue is coming in for the early chapters. Certainly no market force is now doing so.

    I think it’s worth noting that the unit sales trendline for the Top 300 comics has been remarkably stable for the last 21 years — the dashed line in top chart here (http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/alltime.html) is basically flat, with most months between 6-8 million copies ordered, between lows of 4.4 million in January 2011 (the month where Diamond’s Tuesday changeover reduced volume) and a high of 9.4 million in August 2016 (Rebirth). The winter months this year have been in the 5.75 to 6 million copy range. It’s this perspective that offers some confidence about the business: through perceived good times and bad, we’ve always managed to maintain enough periodical buyers to support the production of the graphic novels that are now the larger part of the industry’s bottom line.

    That’s part of my rationale for why the production model is less likely to change: it didn’t before, when the market for periodicals was weaker. It looks like the system can function so long as more than a million periodicals are still shipping a week — and as long as that continues to be the case, the case for radical transformation may be tougher to make to those who would ultimately make such decisions.

  32. There is another issue that is completely overlooked here when people talk about changing publishing model. Entire generation of writers (and artists) has grown up that has learned to create single issues for trades.

    Idea that they’ll just manage to simply adapt to another format on a whim is very optimistic. Remember when Ellis did 6 one-shots for Moon Knight and they sold very well and got lots of critical acclaim? Why do you think nobody else really tried to do that later? Because it is not easy, just because you can write decent 6-issues arc doesn’t mean that you will be able to write decent one-shots. Doing good European style books would be even harder for them.

    And there is also big difference between writing single issues that will be collected in trades and writing OGN. Pacing and structure is usually very different.

    And no, I’m not saying that current generation of writers is less skilled or not as talented as previous ones. But when you are used to writing one way you can’t just switch automatically to another format. Some will after some practice, some might be left behind.

  33. @hsssh
    For God’s sake, up to the Bronze Age, competent comics writers and artists used to be able to tell a complete story in 6 to 8 pages!!!! What went wrong is now writers are overgrown fanboys, Waid or Morrison-types, passable dialoguists treated like divas, completely left unchecked by editors; and current artists can sure draw pretty pictures but have zero clue about storytelling, half of them style over substance like Jim Lee and his myriad of clones, the other half photo tracers like Greg Land, Immonen and countless others. You hesitate to say “lack of talent”, I sure don’t. Current comics feel empty and void. The big two only rely on events and “moments” shock value instead of good stories. That’s the Hollywood blockbuster model.

  34. Sadly, Europe is going that way too. Very hard now to find a good story told in a single 50-page book. As soon as something sells, it has to be milked over 10, 12 or 15 volumes. That is very sad. Publishers have their part of the blame for, for enabling.

  35. @JJM
    You say that comics Unit sales trendline has been stable for more than 20 years? I’m confused. How is that possible with a shrinking and aging customer pool? How does that account for truckloads of variants and gimmicks? It would indicate that digital comes on top of it, as a new market? I’m having trouble believing that, frankly. I guess what I’m asking is, are these Diamond-only numbers? Are they in any way verified and/or reliable?

  36. I’m just going to bookmark this page and save this URL in case I need to view it via Archive.org. In ten years, it’ll be interesting to come back to this discussion to see if anything has changed and what assumptions we make today panned out.

    I’ll just say this: There’s not enough money in this industry for it to survive long term the way it is. The margins are way too small and the volume is too small. Can anyone else think of another industry that sells physical goods with such low margins and volumes right now?

    Something has to change.

    Maybe it’s just that the trade and OGN sales take up a larger percentage of the sales, with their bigger profits per piece. I can see from John’s charts that that’s already the trend in the last five or six years. But how will comic shops continue to survive in that market where those bigger books gain even more prominence when other sources — on-line retailers like DCBS or Amazon — can offer the same items for so much cheaper?

    And what if the Raina Generation grows up and decides they liked Raina’s books but now they’re ready to move on to other non-comics things? That’s what really scares me right now.

  37. I certainly agree any broad change will depend on the stakeholders’ bottom lines, which we only know very imprecisely.

    Archiving is a great idea — one reason I run an archives is to avoid moments like 1998, when I wrote a CBG piece questioning if we’d reached a bottom in the market, when I didn’t have much information on what previous bottoms had looked like and when other factors turned out to be more decisive. (The comparatives had flattened a bit and DC had gone all-in on trade paperbacks, but Marvel had not gone along, and its periodical slate remained truncated for some years post-bankruptcy.)

  38. If we’re not renting movies from BlockBuster anymore, then yeah, I’m not sure why we should expect the comics industry to be some magical wonderland that’s immune to the ravages of time. The shake-ups in comics are much the same as shake-ups in music — they’re caused by long-tail economics. The increasingly lower barriers to entry for independent artists, less expensive vanity printing, digitial distribution, Kickstarter and Patreon, are all disruptive to old-school, gatekeeper-driven markets.

    These new technologies making more titles available gives the readers more choice, and so, inevitably a lot of them are going to switch from what they had been reading, to (indie) titles that speak more directly to them. And since that means the industry as a whole will sell fewer copies of a much larger number of titles, that’s how you get the long-tail curve on a graph of sales.

    But just because the readers have more choice now doesn’t in any way increase their personal budgets. If anything it means they have to become shrewder buyers, being much more careful about where they spend their limited resources. So a boon for indie creators is inevitably going to mean shrinkage for the larger, old-school publishers. Marvel and DC have made at least one logical and practical move toward addressing their own shrinkage problems by attempting to speak to a more diverse audience of readers (a move they’ve gotten unwarranted if predictable criticism for).

    There is one other thing they could try, which is going back to selling comics in groceries and convenience stores like they did in the 80s when I was a kid, before Diamond got their monopoly on distribution. Unfortunately that move, while logical and likely practical (particularly with the success of recent movies), is also likely to cause more financial distress for direct market local comic shops. I would wager however, that whatever stress it’s likely to cause to the LCS market would be offset by the fact that it would widen the market for comics in general. People who aren’t actively seeking out LCS would buy comics at the checkout at a 7-11, and those buyers wouldn’t be hurting the LCS since they’re not existing customers. It’s even possible that after a year or so, it might result in more traffic to LCS, inspired by people who bought their first comics at that 7-11.

Comments are closed.