Another culprit for declining comics sales….too much internet buzz?

201010221558 Another culprit for declining comics sales....too much internet buzz?Over at iFanboy, Josh Flanagan continues this week’s succession of toilet metaphors for the monthly sales figures with “Q3 Comic Book Sales Are in the Crapper”. We don’t agree with Flanagan’s overall distress — there is no need to “cross fingers” that comics will get through this rough patch. Let’s get one things straight in all this mishegoss: Comics will continue on in some format either like or unlike the one we have today. Period. People have been proclaiming the death of comics for over 50 years and something new always comes along. The particular aspect of the present day comics industry that you or I are involved with may not make the jump but something else will. Them’s the breaks.

That aside, the article is interesting for the comments section, which doesn’t go for the knee-jerk complaint that big events are killing comics. The general crap economy and general malaise among many comics series are mentioned, and a new threat is raised: too many comics that were lauded on the internet. According to a theory espoused by several commenters, over the last two or three years, a whole class of must read books were promoted by internet reviewers — and a lot of people got on board, only to find they are now on “bored.” reader “QwayLewd” advances the theory:

I’ve cut way back, but it’s more to do with my personal stack problem. I went on a buying orgy the last 3-5 years, spurred on, to no small degree, by iFanboy and other online communities and podcasts. I sloooowwly realized the need to downshift because of that finite resource: my time. Have others experienced this? Is there a slow deflation of the comics bubble that resulted from the “new golden age” of the past several years.

Reader “AvengersAssemble” backs it up:

I completely agree! The internet reviews and online trade buying made it so simple to find a good jumping on point!
Some 2 years ago I read the one or other great-awesome-cheering review and instantly bought 3-4 trades to get in and catch up.
It was just during the last 1 1/2 years, I more and more realized, how crappy those titles have gotten /been-are at some times.

We really are onto something, aren’t we?

The user names suggest these were more mainstream books that got dropped from the Wednesday Habit than, say, Prison Pit. The whole “Wednesday Crowd/Internet chatroom” culture that was created with DC’s weekly soap opera 52 seems to have died down as normal books just don’t deliver that kick.

Hm, SO it turns out it was event comics after all, but not because they sucked. Because they were jut too damned good.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    I remember a time when regular monthly comics were so good, each title itself was an event that brought me into the store every week.

  2. The full quote was “cross your fingers that your favorite titles stick around,” which isn’t the same thing as cross your fingers for the fate of the industry. The really good stuff with lower sales will be the first to go if sales continue to decline.

  3. Kate Willaert says:

    Brett: I was about to post the exact same thought. For example, back when there was only one X-Men series, every issue was considered a big event. Likewise, when a popular character has only one book rather than four, each issue seems like an event.

    The problem isn’t that events have made regular books seem less spectacular – it’s that milking properties by featuring them in a half dozen (or more) books a month makes them feel watered down and less special. As a result, the only time a book has that special feeling anymore is in the case of the Big Event mini-series.

    In the case of the X-Men, it wasn’t the number of mutants running around that took away from what used to feel special about the series (“no more mutants?”), its the ridiculous number of books being churned out each month.

  4. I don’t doubt that comics will endure in some form. But when a book of the caliber of daytripper sells 5,000 – 9,000+ copies throughout its run, something’s very wrong.

  5. Don Winslow says:

    I read twenty ongoing books a month, come January. It’s my lowest number in the last five years.

    I was up to almost a hundred titles a month. I didn’t drop books because of properties being “milked,” or over-saturation of anything. I dropped books because they weren’t providing me the entertainment I felt they should be.
    It had something to do with events, possibly, but not because it was an event, per se. My dislike of the concept, execution and aftermath of Blackest Night spurned me on most DC books.

    I didn’t drop titles because they were too expensive, either. If a book is 3.99 and I feel it is worth 3.99, I pay it. if it’s not, I don’t.

    Price decreases will not get me to pick up any titles I otherwise wouldn’t have.

    No matter how cheap a turd is, it’s still a turd.

  6. There is this interesting thread over on the CGS boards called ‘The Tyranny of the New’, where we are discussing just this subject.

    http://www.thecomicforums.com/forum2/index.php?showtopic=173376

    I’m in process of going from 50+ to 12 books a month and it’s simply a matter of my time — my unread backlog is sooo large that it just doesn’t make sense to keep buying in that volume until I catch up.

  7. It’s good to see that people are finally voting with their wallet.

  8. michael says:

    I agree with Kate Willaert on her comment that DC and Marvel just over-milk their properties and many of the superhero fanpeople get bored with overpromoting books they may not even be reading.

    Me, I like all kinds of books and support them whenever possible. And though I love and listen to many comic book podcasts, it just seems like many of the reviews get burned out by their weekly reviews, as they have mentioned lately. Just read what you want and enjoy. I could never make comic books some sort of work that I would have to read weekly and review even if I were not enjoying that issue/publisher. I refuse to make comic books unfun for me.

  9. It’s funny Kate, I was going to post the same thing in a PS. after my initial post.

    I too remember when there was only ONE X-Men book: Uncanny and it was so good, the once a month it did come out (NEVER late), it was an event. Even when New Mutants and X-Factor came out, they were good enough that they were the events to keep me going to the shop each week when X-Men wasn’t.

    Same with New Teen Titans, Thor, Legion of Superheroes, Daredevil, Spider-Man pre-Satan, Swamp Thing, Superman and yes, even Wonder Woman were all good enough on their own, so much so, that each issue was an event in itself to get me into the shop each week.

    And again, it was a time when those books were never, ever late. I think Brian Hibbs stated it best in his last Tilting column that a customer knew when Superman would be out: I believe DC Presents was the first week of the month, then Superman the next and Action following. Batman titles adhered to the same schedule and customers never missed a beat because the comics were on time and good.

    If the industry is suffering, I don’t think its because people don’t want to buy comics anymore, I think they don’t want to buy bad comics.

  10. Brett—

    I remember those days, too: weren’t they back when Comic Books cost $.35/.50? And NOT $2.99/3.99/4.99? Back in the good old “non-decompressed” days?

    So much easier financially to buy all those different comics… And to chance that $.35/.50 on some NEW comics, to see if they’re “worth it”, picking up an unknown Writer or Artist (maybe even from that OTHER company, with their weird super-heroes and strange writing staff)?

    Sure was DIFFERENT back then. Ah, nostalgia!

  11. Peter Adriaenssens says:

    Price has to have something to do with it. Buying 100 comics a month in 1990 cost you about 100 bucks. 20 years later, it costs you about 350 bucks. How many people have wages that went up 350 percent in 20 years? 100 out of, say, 500 “spare” bucks is only 20 % of that, but 350 is way over half.

    And to top it all off, not only is the product essentially the same, it’s actually gotten worse content-wise. The format is “better” (although I prefer newsprint, it suits the material better), but the stories themselves are so… drawn… out… Cutting stories in 6 parts means you get 2 stories a year, so 10 issues of 12 are middle. Boring.

    I was buying fervently too a few years ago, but after 52 ended, so did my enthusiasm because of the mismanagement going on both at Marvel and DC. Bad stories + high prices = no sale. But it does give me a chance to reread my thousands of back issues, so that’s good, I don’t need to go to the store to get my fix, I have it right here and no wait between issues!

  12. Price only becomes an issue for me when it is measured against the quality of the product. And the quality of product today is really sub par, especially at the big two, Marvel and DC.

    So the price drop really doesn’t help because if the product is sub-par, few people are going to want to buy it at $3.99 or 50 cents because like Don said, a turd is still a turd no matter how much it costs.

    Sales may be down but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to read comics, it just means they don’t want to read much of what’s being offered right now.

    Because even though I’m not buying regularly anymore, I’m still reading comics every day: I’m just not reading the new ones.

    To get me as a reader back into the shop regularly would require a complete change in leadership at the big two because I have zero interest in the creators they employ or their past or current directions.

  13. arch 14 says:

    Some people are lauding the time when characters only had one title….but when was that? Spider-Man has had multiple titles for years (decades?) as have the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four (in the past), Superman, Batman, etc. There have been multiple titles during booms and busts, so I see no reason this particular cycle could be blamed on that.

  14. The “internet buzz” explanation sounds…weird to me. Maybe it’s just a sideways perspective on a different phenomenon: Is it possible we’ve got a particular generation of internet-savvy commentors/critics/fans who are just aging out of superhero comics? I don’t have any real evidence for this — we’d need to look more closely at the ages of the people posting and writing about this phenomenon. But if so, it wouldn’t necessarily mean anything about the books themselves…people go in and out of superhero comics reading all the time.

    (I don’t subscribe, at all, to the idea that no new readers are being created. People drop out of superhero comics all the time; and the books keep selling, so someone’s buying them. Yes, yes, three-month dip; but look at the long view.)

    I also think people get particularly upset at comics companies when national/world/economic situations get tense. That’s when you start hearing a lot about “punishing” Marvel and DC for their “crimes.” But that’s a whole other doctoral thesis!

  15. The danger to comics is not that they will go away, that is never going to happen as long as the two major players in this industry are owned by companies who only need comics as a platform for licensing and films (short story, Marvel and DC don’t need to make money, they just don’t need to loose too much money).

    The biggest danger is that the REST of the industry will be so deeply impacted by downturn that what is left over will be unrecognizable.

  16. Chris Hero says:

    @Diana Green

    “I don’t doubt that comics will endure in some form. But when a book of the caliber of daytripper sells 5,000 – 9,000+ copies throughout its run, something’s very wrong.”

    I know what you mean, but good books rarely sell to the same audience “pop” books do. It’s depressing if you think about it too much.

  17. Brett says:

    Arch…

    In the days we are referring to, the maximum amount of titles in each ‘family’ was three to four tops. Superman, Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man had three books to four books each shipping on a particular week of the month.

    Today, each of those brands have multiple books shipping all over the month, in no particular order and sometimes, you have later chapters in the story shipping before the earlier ones as noted in Brian’s recent tilting.

    So yeah, when you have Batman shipping 19 titles in a month, with later chapters in the story releasing before earlier ones, it’s a problem.

    Why are there so many Batman books? Because the quality on other books DC sells is poor and don’t sell so brands like Batman, Superman and X-Men have to put out 19 titles that people will buy to pick up the slack for the books that don’t.

    It all boils down to putting out quality product that people want to buy. The thing is, what the leaders at DC and Marvel believe is quality is vastly different than what the readers see as a quality product worth buying.

  18. “Some people are lauding the time when characters only had one title….but when was that? Spider-Man has had multiple titles for years (decades?) as have the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four (in the past), Superman, Batman, etc.”

    Uhmmm…no.

    It’s only in recent years that the name “Avengers” became overexposed into nearly a half-dozen titles, and Batman-related material mushroomed into 20+ titles. The X-Men were probably the precursors to this sorry trend early, but some can still remember when they only had ONE title, and zero spin-offs. Oversaturation of trademarks through a multitude of unnecessary books may arguably help to explain why long-standing icons like Spider-Man currently struggle through an all-too-frequent story-telling malaise, or why Superman is now only appearing in one monthly, instead of the 3 to 4 he used to inhabit.

  19. Mikael says:

    That’s a lot of talk and gnashing of teeth for basically a 3 full paragraph blog post mistakenly called an “article”. What? Good online buzz didn’t exist prior to 2006? Come on – that’s a ridiculous notion. It’s all about the price increase and the quality content decrease. Say what you will about DC and Marvel from 2004 to 2009 – yes they were stuck in their Event Craze – but they were good and sold well. What has changed is that the bubble burst: they kept the same format (multiple titles, branding, etc.) but the content slipped. Dark Reign? Poopy. Siege? Bleh. Final Crisis? Oops. Case in point – Blackest Night ended earlier this year and was a sales and critical darling. But what’s following? And what’s coming up? Practically nothing from either company. And this was DC’s 75th Anniversary! Next year is Modern Marvel’s 50th.

    It’s all cyclical as someone said above.

    (comics declining because my to-read pile is too big. What a weird slant)

  20. It’s cyclical. The first expansion was in the 70s, starting with Marvel’s new distribution (no longer limited by DC) and fueled by the
    Comics Code was revised, comics magazines hit the stands, treasury editions were marketed, and books about comics were sold in bookstores. There were backup features in Action and Detective.

    It happened again in the 1980s, when the Direct Market became prominent. There are sales to be made, so you fill in empty weeks on the schedule with a Web Of Spider-Man or X-Factor or Man of Steel. This peaks with issues being numbered to follow a continuing storyline, and special skip-week projects to fill empty spaces on the calendar.

    Now, we have two new markets opening up: bookstores/library and digital comics. The Shelf Market demands product. An ongoing series produces two volumes a year. There is a finite amount of inventory to repackage. So you produce lots of comics, using the DM (and subscriptions) to pay the cost of production (and maybe make a nice profit, and to expirement with storytelling). Then 6-12 months later, you sell the trade.

    The Digital market is another venue to sell comics issues. Just as there is plethora of webcomics, so there will be a plethora of corporate comics. With digital, it is possible to have sufficient and significant audiences for what could be a cult title like Hit Monkey or ‘Mazing Man.

    The Market dictates. We can revolt, but then what do replace that regime with? Revolutions have simple ideals, but systems are hard to manage.

  21. As for the Backlist Backlash … yes, there will always be a stack of good books to read. There are titles I have purchased for my library which I have yet to read, but will one day. I have limited funds and time. You’ve seen my lists of Coming Attractions… I would buy them all if I had more money.

    So what we have is the evolution of the discerning collector. Finite funds, finite time. Buy and read what you can afford and enjoy.

  22. “The Digital market is another venue to sell comics issues. Just as there is plethora of webcomics, so there will be a plethora of corporate comics. With digital, it is possible to have sufficient and significant audiences for what could be a cult title like Hit Monkey or ‘Mazing Man.”

    Yet DC just closed Zuda, so it doesn’t appear that they are pursuing this cult strategy. Digital may be the bright new shiny toy in the room right now, but there really doesn’t seem to be any original or compelling content that the big publishers are preparing exclusively for the medium to really become attractive in the long run.

    “The Market dictates. We can revolt, but then what do replace that regime with? Revolutions have simple ideals, but systems are hard to manage.”

    Yes, but who’s revolting? People might still want to buy comics, but there’s still not enough variance in taste in the corporate products currently being dished out. To throw out a fast food metaphor, perhaps some would rather have a pizza, instead of 20 different toppings on the same ol’ hamburger.

  23. “Case in point – Blackest Night ended earlier this year and was a sales and critical darling. But what’s following?”

    Well that answer’s easy: Blackest Night II-Electric Boogaloo, better known as Brightest Day. Of course, even while this mini-series is charting quite well, the overall sales numbers (and shakier critical response) strongly suggest that too much of the same thing is wearing out its welcome with a growing percentage of readers.

  24. BiffordMichael says:

    The problem is too many books…There was a time I felt I had to ready every book in a certain line and now I don’t. I do one Iron-Man, One Cap, one Thor…etc. The flood of 3.99 stuff is killing comics!

  25. Mike Hansen says:

    The internet is partly to blame for declining sales, but it’s not because of reviews. Digital comics (legal and otherwise) have made virtually EVERY already-published comic book since the ’30s available to read, for cheap or for free.

    Digital media storage and the internet are forcing the comics industry to deal with the same issue that the music and film industries have: creating exciting, new, and more expensive content that has to compete with decades’ worth of older and cheaper (or free) content.

    I’m guessing the eventual solution will be that, generally speaking, digital will be the norm (probably using monthly subscription payments for full backlist access) and print will be for collectors.

    In any case, it’s looking to me like the current system is quickly becoming obsolete. I fear that the independent retailers – the industry’s biggest supporters – will feel the worst of it, while the biggest retailers with an online presence will ride it out and become the Walmarts and Targets of comics.

  26. arch 14 says:

    Well the target is shifting a bit. I was responding to a couple of quotes like this –

    “Brett: I was about to post the exact same thought. For example, back when there was only one X-Men series, every issue was considered a big event. Likewise, when a popular character has only one book rather than four, each issue seems like an event.”

    When was there only one X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, or Superman title? Sometime in the 80s (maybe early 90s for X-Men, I’m not sure)?

    Maybe it’s been taken to extremes that are more damaging than before, that seems to be what a couple of posters are saying in follow-up. And perhaps that’s part of the truth, but that’s a bit more nuanced than what the first few posters had mentioned.

    And KET make a good point that seemingly conflicts with his first paragraph –

    “Oversaturation of trademarks through a multitude of unnecessary books may arguably help to explain why long-standing icons like Spider-Man currently struggle through an all-too-frequent story-telling malaise, or why Superman is now only appearing in one monthly, instead of the 3 to 4 he used to inhabit.”

    In some ways this is the fewest number of titles characters like Superman and Spider-Man had have in some time. So it seems likely that title number explosion is, if anything, just one factor in the sales slump.

  27. Jim Caldwell says:

    Arch,

    Excepting a few months in 1986, there have been multiple Superman titles since 1940 (Action Comics, Superman, World’s Finest [solo Superman stories until the mid-50s], DC Comics Presents, etc.). There have been multiple Batman titles since 1940 (Detective Comics, Batman, World’s Finest [‘solo’ Batman* stories until the mid-50s], Brave & The Bold, Batman & The Outsiders, etc.).

    There have been multiple Spider-Man books since Marvel Team-Up in 1972. If for some reason that doesn’t count, Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man debuted in 1976. Later, they added Web of Spider-Man in 1985 (replacing Marvel Team-Up).

    *yes, yes. Batman *and* Robin, nitpickers.

  28. The last time there was only one Superman book was Spring 1939.

  29. Mikael,

    Many comics did sell between 2004-2009 and some may even have enjoyed much of what was being published but for me, it’s the material between 2004-2009 (actually around 2003?) that helped break the habit.

    Personally, Identity Crisis, ASB&R, Civil War/Infinite Crisis and the subsequent One Year Later, Final Crisis, Batman RIP, the Kubert/Donner Action Comics, the Wonder Woman relaunch, the many Flash relaunches, the incessant reboots at Marvel and finally One More Day was what did it for me.

    I bought those comics but didn’t enjoy them. I kept buying out of habit, hoping things would get better but they got worse mostly because I thought characters were written out of character, many of the stories made no sense and were insulting to my intelligence. Moreover, late comics became the norm rather than the exception.

    Industry executives, artists and writers began condemning readers, calling us whiners and complainers, basically giving us the middle finger stating fanboys are chronic complainers who just want their comics when they want them. They told us to vote with our dollars so I did and they made it very easy for this reader because comics that aren’t very good, that come out I don’t even know when makes them very easy to drop.

    People have said that the Spidey controversey has been beaten to death but for me, it was that story that put the nail in the comic coffin: Because as a reader, if I already know the character is never going to grow, is never going to get into a meaningful relationship, is always going to be a loser with a sick, unnatural attachment to his 100 year old Aunt, I already know what happens and how the story ends so there is no need to read anymore.

  30. This industry “insider” (haha) says: Buy what you want! Don’t worry what I say to you, or what anyone else says. If you’re enjoying a book, buy it. If you’re not, drop it. If you’re tired of all comics, or all superhero comics, consider taking a break from the hobby. People do it all the time, and it doesn’t mean the heat death of the universe (or of the medium) is here. I’m currently a little tired of watching CAPRICA, but I’ll probably swing back its way at some point, and I’ll probably enjoy it more when I do.

  31. Synsidar says:

    Some sentences from the iFanboy item:

    As much as some people (such as myself) malign the ongoing events, they were definitely good for business. Therefore, it wouldn’t be out of line to suggest that you ready yourself for another couple of years of unending events, because that’s how you stay in the black in comics today, it would seem.

    Other than Walking Dead for Image, and Parker: The Outfit from IDW, I can’t think of a bit hit, must-have book from an indie publisher. There are critical hits, yes, but no huge sellers.

    After a decade of mega-blockbuster films about Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, and any other property they can strip mine, it’s just not putting butts in seats in terms of comics. There are breakaway exceptions, the biggest being associated, ironically, with films that didn’t do so well. Those are Scott Pilgrim and Watchmen, which sold graphic novels by the truckload.

    If Flanagan’s comments are correct, perhaps some inferences can be made:

    That the market for (serial) comics about established characters such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, et al., is limited in size and might have peaked. The general public isn’t interested in the comics.

    Movies and the associated promos do help to market comics about other characters. Buyers might be reacting favorably to close-ended publications that are satisfying reading and aren’t just teasers for series.

    Co-op advertising, especially in large markets, could boost sales on some comics. Since the mainstream media readily do articles on comics that refer to current events, writers should make more efforts to refer to current events in their stories. The election season is almost over — comics that had referred to Tea Party candidates, either positively or negatively, would have gotten loads of publicity. Advertising those comics would have produced more sales.

    The successes of events, even though many people consider them junk, and the low numbers for indie comics, whether or not they’re hits, suggest that the market for superhero comics is still comprised mostly of lowest common denominator readers and those who buy on the basis of habit or compulsion. Producing comics about new characters, and boosting the profiles of those comics with movies might be the only way of trying to achieve a breakout hit.

    It would be interesting to know how the increases in the comics’ cover price, from the ’70s to the ’00s, affected the profitability of the comics. How much of the revenue from a 35 cent comic book was used to cover operating expenses, payments to creators,etc., compared to the revenue from a $3.99 comic book?

    SRS

  32. “The last time there was only one Superman book was Spring 1939.”

    And RIGHT NOW. Superman/Batman is a team-up book, and technically doesn’t count in either character’s barnyard, for the most part.

  33. “And KET make a good point that seemingly conflicts with his first paragraph..”

    Only if one willfully misreads the point. And so far, that hasn’t appeared to be the case.

  34. John Warren says:

    As someone who cares about math literacy (aka a geek), I feel compelled to point out that going from $100/month to $350/month is an increase of 250%, not 350%.

    As you were.

  35. There’s too much product on the market in all shapes and forms, that’s what’s killing comics, we’re at a glut where their are a massive amount of “indies” and the “Big Two” are flooding the market with multiple books with only one character or massive cross-overs and events. Books like “Daytripper” would have possibly been released by a “Fantagraphics” or a “Kitchen Sink” 20 or so years ago, who would take the lower sales figures in their stride, due to the nature of those companies and it would have been a bigger hit. But when you have “mainstream” companies (even though Daytripper was published through an imprint)putting out what is essentially indie material then the lower sales figures seem out of whack.

    There’s so much good stuff out there, both in print and digitally, that it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, the consumer gets confused and then scared and drops books left right and centre.

  36. K-Box says:

    “If you’re tired of all comics, or all superhero comics, consider taking a break from the hobby.”

    You say this as though the numbers don’t show that more and more people every month are doing exactly that.

    If EVERYONE is “taking a break from the hobby,” then maybe the problem is not with the audience, but with the product itself?

  37. The numbers don’t show that. They show that (a) there’s a possibly significant drop in the third quarter of 2010; (b) there’s a drop in single-issue sales per title, at the same time the number of different books has increased; and (c) the number of trade paperbacks sold has increased massively over the past decade. (A) bears watching, and might be cause for alarm if it continues. (B) shows sales spread out over more titles than before, and also the influence of (C) — people switching to trade paperbacks as their preferred format. Which doesn’t sound like bad news to me.

    Yeah, third quarter 2010 doesn’t look too great. But I don’t know of any other industry where people run around panicking with such incredible regularity. And some of those other industries have real reason to panic!

  38. I think that people waiting for stuff to be collected into trades has a big influence on the market, not massive but significant. I think that this trend will continue until more and more material will be brought out in GN format rather than monthly books. I could think of several properties that would benefit from that format rather than the monthly model.

  39. Chris Hero says:

    @Stuart Moore:

    If sales for a market leader, like Coke or McDonald’s or Microsoft or pretty much name the company, dropped this much in one quarter, there would be widespread panic. It happened with the auto industry just a few years ago. The bank industry just about collapsed as well. If you’re not a stock aficionado, I don’t think you’d remember it or you may think the banking collapse caused the auto collapse, which is not the way it happened. Sales crashing in one quarter is…worrisome.

    On the other hand, you make an excellent point people should buy what they like and not worry much about it. For me, no matter what the sales are in the industry, I’m reasonably certain my favorites, Huizenga, Los Bros, Shaw, etc., are going to keep making books.

  40. Kate Willaert says:

    To elaborate on my “more titles ruins specialness” idea: also note that some characters/properties can handle having multiple titles…up to a point. Superman and Action Comics, Batman and Detective Comics, two Spider-man titles, two core X-Men titles…that seems to work alright, it doesn’t stretch things out too much.

    But I think when it gets to the point of four (or more), it does two things: 1) it requires an occasional crossover between what is now a line of books to temporarily recapture the specialness that just one or two books had, and 2) it makes the series much less accessible to new readers.

    When I started reading X-Men, there were only two “core” books: Uncanny, and X-Men. Two books didn’t seem overwhelming for me, and if I wanted I could just ignore the other spin-offs in the line, because they all dealt with different teams and characters.

    But Superman and Batman at that time each had four (or was it five? I can’t recall) core books…I was interested in checking out these iconic characters (Batman in particular, since I liked the Burton movies when they came out), but four books was just completely unwelcoming. If I only want to read one, which one do I read? Which one is the “important” one? Or do I have to commit to all four just to keep up? So it seemed no surprise that X-Men was almost always ahead of them on the sales charts throughout the 90s.

    However, there’s also the factor of the big two filling the shelves with a glut of material, not just pushing the smaller books off the shelves, but even cannibalizing the sales of their own books to an extent. It’s not like the first time they’ve ever done that, and I can’t wait until this particular cycle has ended.

  41. “10/23/2010 at 7:44 am
    Price has to have something to do with it. Buying 100 comics a month in 1990 cost you about 100 bucks. 20 years later, it costs you about 350 bucks. How many people have wages that went up 350 percent in 20 years? 100 out of, say, 500 “spare” bucks is only 20 % of that, but 350 is way over half.”

    No … how many people ever purchased EVERY brand new comic every month. I’ve heard this before, and still can’t believe this concept. Even when I had the money, I purchased the comics I LIKED. I’m sure there were a handful of people who purchaed every title … but there were probably so few of them, I can’t believe their absence is why sales are down.

  42. One of the main problems of the US comic market (as clearly shown by most of the comments) is that it is controlled by 2 companies with their own tailored system of distribution. The market lives and dies with those 2 companies. That’s a sad thing.

    In France average comics sell the same numbers as in the US, and this is with a population 5 times smaller. The average comic is 45 pages long and sells for $12, a much higher price than in the US. So how can French comics sell FIVE times more on average than US comics? One simple answer is distribution and perception: all bookstores have a nice (usually big) comic section, and average people see comics as a legitimate form of entertainment if not art.
    It’s that simple.

    Equating US comics to ‘superhero books created by Marvel or DC’ puts the whole market in a ghetto that lives or dies according to the whim of 2 companies who, like Dan Vado said, don’t even need to sell well to be successful.
    That’s why ‘Daytripper’ sells poorly.
    That’s why most good titles sell poorly, in my opinion.
    The system is killing the industry and the market.

  43. Also regarding the price of comics, the average annual income in the US in 1990 was $18,667, in 2009 it’s $39,138, almost double. So even if the price of comics went 250% up, the average income went about 200% up. I don’t think price is a huge issue, or even an issue at all.
    People don’t buy because they don’t WANT to buy. Either they want to save money because of the recession or they don’t like what’s offered to them.

  44. Not disagreeing with your basic thesis, but what’s the source for those U.S. income numbers? They sound odd to me.

    And books have also always sold in much higher numbers, per capita, in Europe compared to the United States. That’s not unique to comics.

  45. Salary numbers sources:

    Infoplease: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104652.html
    Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Survey of Current Business.

    Not sure they are right but I found other websites with similar numbers (including wikipedia).

  46. I wonder how many fans have made the switch to exclusively buying monthly comics via downloads. At some point, that is going to be a significant part of the business–if it isn’t already–and that will impact printed book sales.

    I don’t think we have complete information here–only how the printed matter is selling.

  47. Since we match-checked the 350% claim properly to 250%, we’ll also have to match-check the calling of “almost double” as going up 200%. Doubling is going up 100%. In this case, it’s not what I’d call “almost double” anyway, it’s “more than double”, closer to 110% up. And it’s hard to use that to suggest that price doesn’t matter at all – if the amount of money you have to spend goes up 100% (to keep things to the rounder figures) but the price per unit goes up 250%, then the amount of units that you get for your money goes down by 43%. That’s a pretty steep drop in value for what you’re spending.

  48. A few months ago I bought 58 recent Marvel comics for $50 from a guy who was moving out of town. They included long runs of Fraction’s Iron Man, Hickman’s Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man (#600 and up), Shield, Thor, and Thor:Mighty Avenger. As far as the qulaity of the comics, I actually loved them all, even (surprisingly) the Spider-man issues (I had sworn off the character following Brand New Day). All very enjoyable comics,….but not enough to get me to spend $2.99 or $3.99 to buy more current issues of the same series. Why? $1 to $2 per issue seems about right for their entertainment value, even with comics that I like. I’m patient enough to get the issues I want via e-Bay or private sales,….one of my biggest issues is that Marvel has undone way, way, way too many deaths for me to fork over bigger dollars for comic events that likely will have little lasting significance in the Marvel universe.

  49. Bloomberg, in advance of Wednesday’s Commerce report, shows consumer spending increased slightly from last quarter.

    Are other hobbies experiencing similar downturns, as individuals control discretionary spending?

    Can average income be used? When I started collecting comics at age 14 in 1984, I had no reported income. Now at age 41, I make five digits. My income has increased an almost infinite amount, but my discretionary income has increased much less. Circa 1996, when I was not concerned with rent, I budgeted $100 a week for comics (but sometimes spent less). Now, not counting trades, I spend about $20 a week on periodical comics.

    Now… here’s something no one has commented on… these numbers come from Diamond. If Diamond is experiencing a decrease, what does this foretell for comic book shops who depend on Diamond?

  50. JM: Thanks. I wonder if increased income inequity has an effect on these numbers, too. A close look at the state-by-state breakdown might help with that…but it’s a little out of my league.

  51. The Beat says:

    These income stats are not adjusted for inflation, obviously.

  52. You’re right. Print media is in decline, comics just take on new forms. I think devices like the iPad and Kindle will revitalize comics. Think about it – as many colors as you want without printing costs. They could look better than ever!

  53. Synsidar says:

    Infoplease’s numbers are deceptive, unfortunately. There’s a body of research that shows middle-class income in the U.S. has been stagnant for decades:

    Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled.

    Here’s a graph:
    Income stagnation

    Many of the economic problems facing the middle class today can be traced to a lack of demand for goods. It’s not surprising that sales of comic books would be affected by the middle class’s malaise.

    SRS

  54. Probably due to a rise in minority incomes, you know all the yellow and brown people that were kept in low paying positions decades ago?

  55. @ Mori: you missed this part?

    “Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled.”

    Has nothing to do with what’s going on at the bottom of the economic ladder, but what’s going on at the top.

  56. Good job, guys. I was reading through this discussion, and the whole time I was thinking “you know, this is interesting and all, but what this debate could really use is some class warfare. That’s the ticket.”

  57. WOW! I never thought too much about it. I don’t buy comics at all now. I rather but a Xbox 360 game. Comic have got more expensive and they halve to many books and story lines going on. It’s hard to keep up and I don’t know if I want to. I noticed from being out of the comic loop that when retuning to some books things are flipped on it’s head. For example Loki is now female when last I saw Thor and Nick Fury is a black man. how did that happen? Anyway they don’t tell same types of storiesthat used to make me want to buy comics anymore. Namely Marvel and DC.

  58. Ray Dillinger says:

    I quit reading Marvel and DC some years ago – too early to be considered part of the very specific sales dip you’re talking about.

    But the reasons why are pretty straightforward. Publisher cowardice and creative sterility results in stories that stagnate and become incoherent. And the major comic publishers are behaving like utter cowards who have no fresh ideas.

    Marvel and DC are too afraid to finish stories, and as a result, continue to publish “the next chapter” in which plot elements come and go but the net character development has to average out to approximately zero.

    These characters are supposedly having these experiences – but not learning, not growing, not aging, not becoming different people. There isn’t character development. At least none that doesn’t get wiped out by the next change of writer or the next “reboot.”

    Even when the characters in these “major titles” change, they don’t change in ways that have anything to do with the passage of time, with their experiences, or with their personal maturation or working through their issues. There’s no coherent “character arc” to them. So instead of telling a series of stories having beginnings, middles, and ends, I was just seeing the middles of a bunch of different stories strung together, with no promising beginnings or satisfying endings anywhere in sight.

    The “reboots” that these publishers have imagined as stepping-on points for new readers are just transitions from the middle of one story to the middle of another, and mostly served to *undo* any progress toward character development that has happened.

    I wanted whole stories. I wanted Batman to deal with his emotional problems in some believable way driven by some understandable reaction to the plot elements, and become a different person as his character developed and he learned things about himself and the world, and then, grow old and step into a different role. Alternatively, he could have refused to develop emotionally as he got older and more decripit, and eventually burn out in a blaze of futile, beautiful, dysfunctional, self-actualized glory like Captain Ahab.

    That’s the sort of thing that happens to the protagonist in a real, whole, story. But DC is never going to do that, because finishing that story, however they did it, would kill a cash cow.

    Anyway, I found that indie artists *are* producing whole stories – a better product and cheaper – on the web. So I quit buying the inferior and more expensive products from DC and Marvel. Instead, I’ve been buying webcomic compilations from indie artists whose work I really like, who aren’t too cowardly or creatively sterile to bring a story to a satisfying conclusion and then start a new one.

    And these guys are typically supporting one artist with little overhead; they can survive on ad revenues from their web serializations plus very small (by major publisher’s standards) sales numbers from compilations that come out once every couple of years. And they are craftsmen with full creative control who are free to develop stories.

    Ray

  59. Ray Dillinger says:

    Um. Actually, I guess I was a little too quick to brand the major publishers as cowardly and creatively sterile. They have, in fact, produced some good, whole, stories.

    The Watchmen for example. There is absolutely no question that, when that story was over, it was over. There was thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. There was conflict that made sense, characters that changed in sensible ways, and a final resolution to that conflict. That took some courage to finish and some creative juice to come up with.

    The Sandman, for another example. Oh, he’s “Endless”, and you could do a series of stories about what he is now. But the cycle that got published had a coherent beginning (the imprisonment in Preludes and Nocturnes), a middle that made sense (well, as much sense as we expect for a lord of dreams anyway) and an end. It was creatively brilliant, and it’s beautifully whole, and it took some goddamn courage to do it.

    If they built a business around this kind of whole story, I think they’d not be seeing their current sales problem. Their sales stagnation is merely a reflection of their creative stagnation.

    Ray

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