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Van Jensen on digital distribution

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OKAY, one more…seems to be the topic of the day! Comics creator/journalist/digital guy Van Jensen has his own thoughts on Longbox. Jensen helped set up Top Shelf’s Kindle initiative so he knows the territory:
I’ve become quite involved with the digital distribution of comics in the past year, helping Top Shelf launch some of its books on the Amazon Kindle, sifting through the various iPhone third-party distributors and then moderating a panel on digital distribution at Heroes Con this past weekend.

This seems like a good point to look into the possible impacts on mainstream publishers of digital publishing, particularly as Rantz Hoseley’s Longbox project launches (read a very good summary of the project at iFanboy).

  1. I’m all for Longbox (though I wish the initial press release had fewer backhanded slaps at DC and Marvel. Inclusion, please). But I do want to question this accepted wisdom that periodical sales have dropped recently. Sales of indy comics, unquestionably; and it’s become harder for a mid-level DC or Marvel title to maintain a steady, profitable sales level. But that’s largely because so many more titles are being published now. I don’t have time to do a full analysis, but I think if you look at the overall total sales of the Diamond top 300 since, say, 1996, they’d be steadier than you think. And that’s not counting the enormous growth in trade paperbacks during that time.

    (No fair comparing the sales to 1991. That was a really anomalous boom period.)

  2. Good point, Stuart. As I said, I’d love to see a LONG term historical chart of single-issue sales.

    My guess is there will always be a market for the main DC/Marvel/Image/etc. titles, but for the mid-level books, a digital-only route could become an ever-more-realistic option.

  3. I don’t have time to do a full analysis, but I think if you look at the overall total sales of the Diamond top 300 since, say, 1996, they’d be steadier than you think.

    John Jackson Miller has varying analyses of sales from 1997-present at http://www.comichron.com Charts and graphs showing sales to shops can be seen here.

    SRS

  4. Thanks, Syn…the second chart on your second link is exactly what I was looking for. It looks as though there was a significant drop in numbers from ’96 to about the beginning of 2001, then a slow, uneven growth since then. And as the third chart shows, dollar amounts went up during that time because of price rises. It certainly doesn’t look to me as though the serial comic is dying — though the types of serial comics that sell have certainly changed.

  5. Stuart

    Certainly no back-handed slaps were intended towards DC or Marvel. If anything came across like that, I publically apologize. I’m reading more DC & Marvel content these days than I have since I was in high school and certainly think the overall quality of their books is the best it’s been in years.

  6. The Longbox plan addresses a core problem I’ve seen growing for 20 years – accessibility. Consumers are (at best) distracted by many fine entertainment products and (at worst) lazy. If products aren’t in front of their faces and easy to purchase they won’t buy them. I can’t count the number of times I walk past a space in a large box store, convenience store or coffee shop and think, “Gee, what a great spot for a spinner rack.” And we all see how comic sections are shrinking in our local newspapers.

    I realize distributors in the magazine industry are now monopolies, just like Diamond dominates comic shop distribution. Somebody needs to chop through this Gordian knot with a product that puts the comic book form in front of an audience without the time consuming hassles involved in chasing down titles.

    iTunes is a perfect example. “Gee, I haven’t heard that Sly and the Family Stone album since 1971,” I thought the other day. Within minutes, it was purchased and playing through my computer (Love ’70s funk, hate disco). My old way? Writing the album title on a piece of paper, searching for it for sale at the local stores until, eventually, the piece of paper rotted in my pocket. And I really LIKE music – the casual customer would be a lost cause!

    Of COURSE the iTunes distribution model took off – after using it once, who didn’t think it was the future of music?

    I wish Longbox luck.

    Gary Scott Beatty
    garyscottbeatty.com

  7. Rantz: I hear you, and I may be the one who should apologize. I was reacting to this quote from your CBR interview: “a wider audience is not going to be reached by Spider-Man or Batman or ‘Irredeemable’ or any other superhero book no matter how well done it is.” On the surface of it, that’s just a professional judgment, and I’m sure that’s the way you intended it. But I think it betrays a certain bias. I think comics should embrace all kinds of work; but I also think there are fans of the Spider-Man movies and animated cartoons who might be interested in buying digital, but not print, comics.

    In any case, good luck with the program — it sounds pretty cool.

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