“Are Comic Books Dying?”

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Yadda yadda. Over at the Tor.Com Blog, Heather Massey asks Are Comic Books Dying?, and she isn’t even talking about the Diamond thing. It’s a summation of most of the usual arguments:

Think about the casual fan, or the parent of a child who has just watched Iron Man and would like to read more about his new hero. Will these potential customers be completely shut out by this pricing? One would think so. I can’t see how this move will help the industry overall, especially when we’re deep in a recession. When it comes between choosing to eat or buying Weapon X, Wolverine has met his match.

Even before the recent increase, many readers have dropped monthly comics in lieu of trade paperbacks that collect multiple issues—often with better paper and no ads. In the comics world, trades are akin to DVD season box sets. You can either watch Lost week by week (like the floppies), or all at once without the ads (hello, Mr. Trade Paperback). More and more, people are opting for the latter. And who can blame them? Trade paperbacks are usually a better deal in terms of cost and format.

This poses the question: If sales of monthly titles bottom out, will they remain around for future trades/omnibus editions to collect? No more trades would effectively leave only the hardest of the hardcore comic aficionados as monthly customers—with very few new customers.


It is a bit misleading to ask if comics are dying when the article is arguing for graphic novels — however, Massey runs a science fiction blog, and Tor.com is a book publisher and in the publishing world at large, the word “trade” has a much different meaning than it does in comics.

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says:

    Okay… from a book trade standpoint, kids are golden. Last quarter, children’s books were the one store category that had positive sales growth. Parents will sacrifice for their kids. Do you think a parent is going to deny a kid you wants a book?
    The DVD analogy is a bit false. You can watch TV for (almost) free, or you can spend $30+ on the DVD. Single issues, even with advertising!, cost more collectively than a trade paperback collection.
    Of course, one can read comics for free at your local library.
    Might we see publishers offering advances for original graphic novels, and eschew the floppie format? Or might we see the rebirth of anthology titles, duplicating Shonen Jump?

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    Okay… from a book trade standpoint, kids are golden. Last quarter, children’s books were the one store category that had positive sales growth. Parents will sacrifice for their kids. Do you think a parent is going to deny a kid you wants a book?
    The DVD analogy is a bit false. You can watch TV for (almost) free, or you can spend $30+ on the DVD. Single issues, even with advertising!, cost more collectively than a trade paperback collection.
    Of course, one can read comics for free at your local library.
    Might we see publishers offering advances for original graphic novels, and eschew the floppie format? Or might we see the rebirth of anthology titles, duplicating Shonen Jump?

  3. Meanwhile, thousands of fans wonder to themselves: “Online.. online… when will they go online…?”

  4. Michael says:

    No.

    Gee, that was easy.

  5. Steven R. Stahl says:

    Massey clearly considers the “classic” floppy comic book the format of choice, with TPB collections as alternatives, but for her, the price of floppies is becoming prohibitively high. She’s probably right that other people, both current and potential readers, will think the same thing.

    It’s easy to think that Marvel and others can just go digital and make it, but that easy assumption could be wrong. I’m not aware of any long-term comparisons between reading comics on-screen (on any device) and reading paper copies. My first reaction is that there’s no reason to think that digital comics would be any more successful than, say, E-books have been.

    There are also questions about how well Marvel’s characters would fare in a different format, written differently, in non-serialized adventures. Many of the conventions in the superhero genre are based on the publication of monthly stories of moderate (22 pages or so) length, with cliffhangers, soap opera-type subplots, storylines shared by titles, etc. Would that editorial approach work for any character whose exploits were written about four times a year or fewer? Possibly not, and if a character’s stories only came out once or twice a year, a writer would have to treat him as the starring character in a (graphic) novel. I doubt that many of Marvel’s characters are substantial enough to carry a novel-length narrative if there was a demand for real drama, not just the illusion of change.

    Marvel’s chances for success might depend on readers buying digital comics as though they were equivalents of the monthly floppies.

    SRS

  6. Or a larger-formatted Marvel anthology of their A-list titles…

  7. “Many of the conventions in the superhero genre are based on the publication of monthly stories of moderate (22 pages or so) length, with cliffhangers, soap opera-type subplots, storylines shared by titles, etc.”

    Not to mention, (for today’s comics) many many wordless pages … Simple tasks or conversations which expand to fill several pages to make the comic seem more “cinematic.”

  8. Streaker says:

    I would say the industry is dead and it just doesn’t know it yet. Looking at sales figures for last year, I would guess that there are 200,000-250, 000 comic book readers who are keeping the industry propped up.

  9. Kenny says:

    Streaker, I couldn’t agree more. 10 years ago, Marvel said the audience for Big 2 books was 330,000 people (in an interview with Jemas and Millar hyping Trouble). There’s no question the market is different now. There are more top heavy books and less sales in the bottom, so the market is absolutely shrinking. The older audience is dying off and/or running out of money.

    On the other hand, the independent scene is seeing a rejuvination, largely due to a sea change to a graphic novel format. Whether it’s Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button or Los Bros Hernandez move to a graphic novel format, sales are going up.

  10. Kate Willaert says:

    Streaker took the words right out of my mouth…I’d say the single issue format is — if not dead and just doesn’t know it yet (like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense?) — then in a coma and on life support in the form of the Big Two.

    Does anyone know how much the top webcomics out there make on ad revenue? Like, does anyone have a guess what Penny Arcade makes on ads? Because if Marvel formatted their whole back catalogue into webcomic form (one story page per web page, with ads on each web page, thus roughly 22 ad viewings per issue per person)…with how popular superheroes are in the movies right now, imagine how large an audience would be going through that archive *every day.* Much more than Penny Arcade, I’d wager. They’d just need to make sure their server isn’t overloaded by all the traffic.

    But again, I have no idea what sort of figures the top webcomics actually see. I might just be hopelessly naive.

  11. Kate Willaert says:

    This is a summary of a link already posted above, but I really think people who wonder “why do manga/anime characters look white?” should read this…it’s fascinating:

    Why White People Think Manga Characters Are White

  12. Kate Willaert says:

    And…I totally posted this on the wrong page.

  13. Comics are dead. The public will not support buying a graphic novel at the high prices that those “things” are sold at. Not when they general perception of comics is that it’s for kids. Also, when comics were “hot” during the Death of Superman and the whole idiotic idea of Image and Valiant crossing over, the most a comic was priced at was $2.50. Viz, Antarctic and CPM priced their 32-page manga at $2.95. This is 1992 prices, BTW. Most people, though, were buying Image titles at $1.95 an issue, Marvel, DC or Archie for $1.25 – $1.75 an issue, or Disney at $1.50 an issue. That’s what they recall, that’s what they agree with, and that’s the price they want to pay.

    Furthermore, can anybody prove, with a weblink, to the New York Times Bestseller List any graphic novel or manga digest volume getting on that list? In all my years of following it, never. Not one. And when product buyers for Barnes & Nobles and Walden/Borders have personally told me for various regions (Los Angeles, the Bay Area, San Diego, Las Vegas, Reno, Phoenix, Houston etc.) that science fiction, graphic novels and manga are the biggest losers in their stores, and those sections are shrinking…then where’s the growth? This about that.

    As for on-line comics…nope. That’s a failure right out the door. Despite almost everybody owning a computer that’s connected to the Internet, most computers are made between 1997 and 2005, believe or not. And these folks use the Internet to go on eBay, if that’s even happening anymore, play some on-line “casual” games, and check e-mail. They don’t live on their computers. Now, about the assumed quarter million comic book collectors/readers? (Out of a nation of 300,000,000…) How many actually do more stuff than steal IPs using LimeWire or BitTorrent? Are they going to pay for a subscription to Marvel to read Wolverine’s adventures on-line? Or do they want an issue they can carry and read on the pot? Put next to their table and draw the characters from? Just open any page to see what was written and why? Or give to somebody else to read?

    Also, manga is neither popular nor profitable. Antarctic Press is having a real hard time these days, Dark Horse stopped, Eros was bought by Diamond, A-G Super Anthology Erotic magazine is a shell of its former self, Raijin Comics is gone, Udon only does Capcom work, which still doesn’t sell, Viz only publishes volumes and two anthology magazines, Yen Plus is costing Time Warner tons of money in unsold inventory, CPM is gone, sites that deal and sell manga and anime have gone bankrupt like no tomorrow, and that’s before the economic crisis started, cable TV channels, like Cartoon Network and SciFi, don’t even care to show anime anymore, and outright make fun of it, and EGM, the biggest promoter of anime/manga before 1997, just got cancelled. Also, show me where any of these manga books are breaking sales records. Not a one. Most get sent back to the distributor because of a lack in sales. Naruto isn’t even doing well.

    And then, there’s the stores. How many comic book shops have go belly up because of Diamond’s Hilterite hold on the industry? Tons since 2004. And now Marvel raised the price of a monthly to $3.99 while Jack in the Box is giving me a combo for $2.99 and Quizno’s is selling me a foot-long sandwich for $4?!?!

    Also, in Japan, the anthology mangas have been having a drop in readership near 40% year after year. What have they done over there to buck it? Free gifts, tripled the size of the issues, and lowered the price. Result? Nothing. Nobody wants it anymore over there, nor over here.

    Comics are dead. The independents won’t make a dent at all. Sure, enjoy the niche, but that’s all it is. A niche. No. To fix comics, these ten things need to be done:

    1. 1000 page anthology magazines, mostly black and white, containing whole stories per segment of each character, heavy on ads (not ads promoting comics, either), and priced at $1.99. Can contain reprinted material, too, so even Golden, Silver, and Bronze aged stuff can be seen again, like TCM does with old movies!

    2. Be like Archie, the only comic book company pulling in a profit. Be everywhere, like at grocery stores, school libraries (raise money for the school, too), gas stations, etc. EVERYWHERE!

    3. More tie-ins to events and TV shows. Have a reason why people need to buy the comic. Do want Nintendo did, and target the casual reader.

    4. Become bi-monthly. That means publish an anthology of Superman during the even months of the year, and the anthology of Batman during the odd months of the year. That’s an example. Marvel is currently doing this with Your Universe, but I think that title’s just too damned expensive. Needs to come down in price.

    5. The Return of the Saturday Morning Cartoons, and the Weekday Afternoon Cartoons, and the Weekday Morning Cartoons, all with heavy promotion of comic books during the commercials.

    6. Ditch Diamond. The Sherman Antitrust Law is going to get them soon, anyways. I guess I’ll spill it, but over a thousand owners of shops that have closed are getting together to go after Diamond using the Sherman Antitrust Law. The Department of Justice has already started the investigations about around December.

    7. No graphic novels. Period. Disagree all you want, these are worthless and a waste of trees, as a Liberal would say. Put the issues in the anthologies I propose, modeled after the Japanese system.

    8. Publishers shouldn’t go no more than four anthologies a year. That’s just simple business. Otherwise, it’s a stretch.

    9. Never go on-line. In fact, start putting in four-color printing methods back into the comics, and some anti-copying techniques in. Keep the comics printed.

    10. Ditch the “cinematic” and “soap opera” stuff. Vertigo had it’s shot. Now it’s back to the “BAM!” of the 1950s and 1960s. Keep it for kids. That’s why, currently, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is the best comic book out there behind the Archie and Disney titles. (I know, Gemstone stopped publishing the Disney titles.)

    There you have it. I don’t care if you either agree or disagree. That’s how I see.

  14. dssfd says:

    FUCK YO COUCH NIGGA

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