Home Comics State of the Industry : The floppy abides

State of the Industry : The floppy abides

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And with another “where are we at now” the revamped Trouble with Comics (or “Middle Aged White (mostly) Men on Comics”) looks at the state of the pamphlet, or periodical comic, as we like to call it here at Stately Beat Manner. The question, McLaughlin Group style, is

Is the floppy, monthly comic book still a viable standalone product in today’s comics market? Is it a loss leader for collected editions, a great and viable medium all on its own, a lost cause, an impediment to progress, or something else?


and while individual readers may have drifted away from the format, there’s no denying its place in the comics money chain, as Christopher Allen writes:

If you keep that in mind, the perpetuation of the floppy makes a lot more sense. It’s not a loss-leader. They know how to make a profit on these things. It’s after the initial printing that the fun really begins: all the work that gets produced on a monthly basis gets put in the backlist. The way comics are sold these days, first printings of floppies are only the tip of the iceberg. With their aggressive (if spotty) trade program and fast adoption of the online business model, the backlist is only going to become more and more important as the years go by. If all of your stock is already 100% completely paid for – save for minor ongoing expenses such as royalties – then every repackaging of that stock is going to represent a significant profit. That’s how Comixology can have incredible deals and monthly subscription rates – Marvel can afford to charge pennies on the dollar if they want because they have millions of pages of backlist that represents almost pure profit for them.


Jason Marcy notes that periodical comics are not as welcoming as they once may have been for new readers:

Monthly books no longer seem to be the gateway to comics. For the most part I feel a lot of cartoons get some people into comic shops. And few of these readers are children per se, but rather preteens or teenagers and again most are buying collected works of stuff they might be into, be it Adventure Time or even the odd superhero thing. Most young readers get comics from major bookstore chains where Bone thrives, or the Smile graphic novels.


I think this comment overlooks Adventure Time comics—there are a lot of kids comics out there that seem to be doing okay and while kids GNs are the biggest growth category in the industry, kids periodicals seem t be holding their own at least.
Retailer Mike Sterling gives us the long picture:

I’ve been in this business long enough to have heard, multiple times from multiple sources, “the comic book as we know it will be over and done with in….” followed by a predicted time frame just near enough in the future to supposedly pose an immediate threat, but far enough away that when the time comes and goes, no one will remember to go back and tell that comic book Cassandra he or she was wrong. “Five years” is the period usually suggested.


Yeah gotta plead guilty to that one. I’ve been calling for the death of the floppy for a decade but here it is, still going strong. Cheap serialization is a important revenue model for stores, publishers and creators alike and it seems to be one that readers like as well.

That said, it’s a fair question to ask how much of the current periodical market is being held up by variant covers. In a little noted story, Torsten Adair added up the number of variants a single month and it was hundreds. (I don’t think even Torsten could count them all up.) Retailers don’t think the current variant market is an overall danger, as it’s only one piece of the sales pie, unlike when the crushed everything in the 90s. However, it would be interesting to see how long several companies on the charts would last with only a single cover each for their pamphlets.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Whites are definitely an unintended majority at TWC, Heidi, but our contributors are not exclusively white. Just FYI.

    Thanks for the coverage!

  2. Re: “Cheap serialization is a important revenue model for stores, publishers and creators alike and it seems to be one that readers like as well. ”

    Cheap? Really? Digital is for sure, but not periodicals.

  3. Virtually none of the periodical market is being “held up” by variants in the sense that you’re implying — there is no direct evidence to suggest mass amounts of comics are going unsold in an attempt to chase the “investment dollar” of the aftermarket for the 1:25-style comics that is primarily what Torsten is tracking (because the return-on-investment potential vis a vis the wholesale cost-to-acquire simply isn’t there for people to make that kind of investment in the first place)

    There ARE potentially two big problems with Variants Today:
    1) “Store exclusive” covers which go unsold. This is a self-selecting problem, and not an industry-wide one, but if comics are going unsold, it’s probably in that cohort. On the other hand, if stores are getting MORE THAN COVER for those covers (someone recently asked if I wanted to wholesale (!) their store exclusive ARCHIE #1 for $10 (!)) then economically, maybe it makes sense.

    2) Open-to-buy covers (Think “subscription variants”) on smaller-press titles which can add 25-50% of initials to sales… but that disappear the instant you stop doing the OTB covers, creating false expectations for what true to-consumer sales actually ARE.

    More broadly, I think, dur, periodical saddle-stitched comics will still be here in 5 years and 10 years and 25 years and 50 years, despite many attempts by people like… well, like you, Heidi, who have done everything they can to try and diminish them. The very title of the article, with it’s “floppy” — what a horrible screwed up way to refer to a package that drives the market. You’re normally one of the very smartest Thinkers About Comics, but, ugh, confusing format as the root of ills of the market has been a place where you have been consistently wrong for decades. Sorry :(

    -B

  4. Bill, “Cheap” is relative.

    As a retailer, I can assure you with 100% certainty that it is much easier (MUCH!) to sell someone on a $4 object than a $20 one (let alone a $30 HC)

    Look: Even the best-sellers on all of BookScan (In 2014, only FOUR GNs sold more than 6 figures, the highest at ~176k copies) sells just a fraction of the number of comics (in 2014, FORTY periodicals sold more than 6 figures, with the highest one at ~560k)

    -B

  5. I don’t think anything bad when I hear the word “floppy.” People used to call portable computer memory “floppy disks” for years and no one thought any less of it.

    Wouldn’t it make sense for a comic book enthusiast website to be mostly written by white, middle age men? Isn’t that the biggest portion of the market? Yes, we need more diversity, but it’s going to take some time. There aren’t a ton of books like Adventure Time and Ms Marvel yet.

  6. ADD and Diana: that was a little snark but I’m very glad to hear the site has more diversity. Also, MAWM are definitely an important comics demographic, and I think they should be heard!

    Brian: DUDE. COME ON. It’s a TITLE. THIS IS THE INTERNET. The Floppy abides is a way better title than the periodical abides or even the pamphlet abides. It’s called WRITING. I suspected I’d get protesters for using the F-word, but not that fast!

    As a MAWW (middle-aged white woman) I find my interest in periodicals is almost nil. I do like reading comics on the web and OCCASIONAL periodical of note. I’m not alone in this. Also, the ICv2/Comichron industry sales study sees GNs bringing in more revenue than periodicals, $460 mil to $375 mil. So NYAHHH.

  7. Hi Heidi. Thanks for the link and analysis. One thing: the comments you attribute to me (and are much smarter than I provided) are from one Tim O’Neil. If even one middle aged white man fails to receive the credit due him, we all lose. Thanks.

  8. so what if comics are enjoyed by middle age white men.

    There’s plenty of other media targeted at ethnic/women consumers that don’t appeal to white middle aged men but I don’t see anyone demanding they change to appeal to white males.

    Here’s a thought instead of endless negative reviews trying to change/spoil things not targeted at you how about spending your energy promoting those that do, there’s plenty of comics/graphic novels targeted at women.

  9. Dynamite would really be in trouble whitout a variant cover program. It happened many times for them to advertise a comic not crediting the interior artist but only the ones doing the covers.
    One big disavantage of variant cover for lovers of the floppy format like me who are not into it, is that it makes sometimes the search for back issues a nightmare. Often, like many other people I suppose, I used my visual memory of a comics cover to help me guess if I already purchased it or not. Now, it’s quite dangerois to play this game, because of the many variant covers, and also because a lot of covers are non-narrative now, only pin-ups who could find their way almost on any issue.

  10. I feel like you may be overreacting a bit there, WASP. I took Heidi’s comment as a gentle jab, not a devastating critique, and we should all be working harder to bring more points of view into the discussion about comics. Into discussions about everything.

    I do hope that I don’t get diversity demerits for our lineup at the moment, which contains people of a variety of races, genders, nationalities and sexual orientations, when two weeks ago it was two white middle-aged American straight guys. Everyone I brought into TWC was brought solely because of their talent and because they are longtime friends and colleagues, but it’s a happy accident that the site is far more diverse now than it was in July or for the previous few years.

    That said, I do want to add more voices to our mix, and I’ll be working on it.

    Thanks for taking the heat off me for using the term “floppy,” Heidi, except of course with Brian, who always fights for what really matters.

  11. “Dynamite would really be in trouble whitout a variant cover program. It happened many times for them to advertise a comic not crediting the interior artist but only the ones doing the covers.”

    Wait, what now?

  12. “In a little noted story, Torsten Adair added up the number of variants a single month and it was hundreds.”

    One of the thigs that’s made my By Its Cover column so joyless is that I try to look at every one of these…and ultimately only come up with about 10 really striking covers each month. I’ve been contemplating going in a different direction with it.

  13. “They have been called floppies throughout the culture since 2003, with no insult intended”

    Ha ha, ADD — the intent to insult was CLEARLY there when that phrase was coined. Don’t try and trick an old campaigner!

    I’m more than willing to accept that you’re not intentionally using it to be insulting right now this second, but I think that saying the origins of the term “floppies” isn’t insulting to the format is like saying the confederate flag is about “Southern Pride” and not “Slavery”.

    Heidi: it would be shocking if books didn’t bring in more revenue — after all, they’re drawing on the Entire History of the Medium, while periodical sales only reflect things that are like 90-120 days old, mostly. And at my main store, we’re 60% book vs 40% comic in dollars — but a way larger number of people (of all ages, races, sexes, and creeds) are likely to buy virtually any periodical than they are a collection of that same material in anything remotely resembling a near horizon. I will *eventually* sell more trades than comics of SOME things (SAGA being the current poster child), but it will probably take something along the lines of 18 months to do so. I’d much rather have that same number of people come in to buy the periodical in a 12 week window, where I have a reasonable opportunity to sell them ANOTHER awesome comic they’ll love as well.

    -B

  14. I think floppies are in an okay position at the moment. I think they only thing that would hurt them is if there were more comics being released than the market could sustain.

  15. Many people would consider me to be a HMMAWG (Happily-Married Middle-Aged White Guy) or a GLS (Godless Liberal Socialist) or a OBCAAB (Old But Cute As A Button) or a GOM (Grumpy Old Man), but I self-identify as a PKA (Proud Kaiju-American).

    Or you can just call me Tony. That works.

    I never much liked the term “floppies” and generally use “comic books” to denote the individual issues model, but I don’t get bent out of shape if someone uses the term on account of there are probably 99,000 things that concern me more.

  16. You can’t imagine how exotic floppy comics are for french comics reader. the fact to have something serialized every month, so small and cheap, that you can carry with you everywhere is a real joy. It’s really something that I wouldhave a hard time to not see anymore. Part of my appeal for US comics comes from this exotic format and its publication schedule.
    It makes the bande dessinée comes back to its roots: pure efficiency, whithout all the tralala surrounding expensive shinny editions.

  17. “However, it would be interesting to see how long several companies on the charts would last with only a single cover each for their pamphlets.”

    It would be more interesting to see how long the industry would last if it didn’t have comic books as the foundation for the whole shebang.

    It’s a little like the convention scene. It’s far outgrown its comic book origins but take away the dealers and Artists Alley and what have you got? A whole lot of people with nothing to do between celebrity panels.

    Mike

  18. “comics magazines”
    “periodical comics” (double meaning on “periodical”)

    The best way to kill comic books?
    Replace them with digital comics.
    The production costs are cheaper.
    Like the Direct Market model, the publisher “prints” exactly as many copies as ordered.
    Distribution costs are cheaper.
    Sales are optimized, as the title remains in print forever.

  19. Torsten, based upon what people shopping at a comic shop tell the guy who owns the comics shop (and I quite understand this is a massively self-selecting sample!), the overwhelming majority of customers say they would quit buying comics entirely if they went digital only.

    WOULD they stick to that? Who knows? But for this one individual MAWM, I know I’d never buy another comic again because my brain just doesn’t process digital right, and I start drifting after about 3 pages….

    Also, I *constantly* hear people walking in saying “I tried this comic on line, and I am here to buy the ‘real’ version”, which certainly warms my black heart.

    -B

  20. “I think this comment overlooks Adventure Time comics—there are a lot of kids comics out there that seem to be doing okay”

    Purely anecdotal, but… I’m in charge of picking my 7 year-old from school in the afternoons and there are always tons of kids reading comics (usual suspects are: anything by Raina T., Amulet, Bone, Big Nate, etc.) as they wait for their parents to come get them. Never once in all my years of doing pick-up have I ever seen a kid reading a “floppy.” There’s literally *no way* a child would be exposed to this format other than having a parent who is already a comics-reader take them to a comics shop. Libraries cannot shelve them, they’re not sold via Scholastic book fairs, etc. The only recent exception to this is IDW’s kids’ comics, some of which have been formatted so that they can be displayed at point of sale at stores like Toys R Us.

  21. I don’t call them “floppies,” it was a term coined in contempt and it sounds silly. They’re just single-issue comic books. It’s not hard. I see people reinvigorate this argument every two years about “it doesn’t mean anything bad!,” but it does. It does mean something silly and insubstantial and also it doesn’t sound like serious talk. But whatev, people are going to do what they want to do~

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