Are comics leading a charmed life?

While the idea that “comics do well in a recession” is being sorely tested by the ongoing global economic meltdown, the comics industry really does seems to be riding out the storm better than most sectors. The boisterous moods at New York Comic-Con and WonderCon and the faster-than-ever sellout of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con have created the idea of a “fantasy economy” that is very much a standout in gloomy times.

For comparison, check out this report from PW on a DIFFERENT kind of recent book fair:

Stacks of unsold books and glum publishers stood for three days inside the cavernous Dallas Convention Center this past weekend at the Christian Book Expo, a first-of-its-kind event designed to connect publishers and authors directly with readers in the evangelical Christian market. Only problem was there were few readers to connect with, despite the show’s location in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible Belt and a top market for Christian publishers. The show, sponsored by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, attracted 1,500 consumer attendees; it had hoped for 15,000-20,000.

Off the record, exhibitor publishers rolled their eyes heavenward, but spoke with circumspection on the record. “Every new experience has a few nicks and bruises, but things can be worked out,” said Greg Petree, v-p of marketing at Howard Books. A few were more blunt. “We can’t afford these kinds of risks,” said Dennis R. Hillman, publisher at Kregel Publications. “In a year like this the last thing we want to do is something that has no payoff.”

The Christian book market has been one of the fastest growing and stable over the last decade or so; bestseller sales dwarf those of comics bestsellers. Yet people will flood out to see the authors of periodicals that sell barely 10,000 copies a month. Interesting.

 Are comics leading a charmed life?

Comments

  1. this post seems to be incomplete….
    like there is a cut and paste error going on.

  2. Even so, if history is any guide, comic cons probably shouldn’t incorporate “We’re more popular than Jesus now” into their marketing campaigns!

  3. Actually, I have a hard time believing any Book Con would do well, Christian or not. Comic books are on a different field, mainly because it crosses over into other entertainment sectors.

    I imagine a Murder Mystery Novel Con or a Romance Novel Con would attract similar numbers. The convention promoters were a litle naive, in my opinion.

  4. Maybe it shows the way people turn to comics to escape for a little while. Get together with a bunch of other crazy like-minded people and have some fun for a little bit.

  5. This could be more a comment on the general health of American Evangelical Christianity than books/comics shows. Been reading a few articles lately that say they’re on the definite decline. ( Though you’d think such things and their markets would perhaps grow during the harder times ).

  6. With so many Christian churches and charities getting hit hard by the recession, I would guess many of the faithful are using otherwise discretionary income to support those entities…not buy books.

  7. All the CBE did was pull the veil back.

    Christian bookstores are run by churches and are paid for almost entirely with donations, they are not run for profit and don’t have to do any real accounting for sales or taxes. Remember, churches in the U.S. do not report their income to the Treasury or state their income in a quarterly filing, they are exempt.

    As a result, all of the sales to Christian Bookstores are completely unverifiable and not subject to the same standards of publishing of the rest of the secular publishing world. I might believe that there are publishers selling the copies to the local churches at a steady and increasing publishing rate, but once they are sold to a Christian bookstore all reliability of accounting goes out the window.

    I’d hazard a guess that someone drank the cool-aid, thought there was a real multimillion dollar industry with continuous and steady profits and either didn’t realize that it was all propped up by tax-free church donations, or never looked into the basement of their local church run bookstore and saw books piled high to the ceiling with christian book publishing “profits.”

    I’m sure they’ll do fine with a smaller venue that they can grow into next year.

  8. Naveen says:

    Well it’s not like SDCC was as big as it is today on its first year…

  9. CBE needs more booth babes.

  10. Comic books have done very well in building a personal relationship with the readers. It is hard to imagine something like the San Diego Con for other media. I mean, it would be like going to see Bruce Springstein and Moby talking about the difficulty of coming up with a new guitar line, and then you walk through the booths and there is Jerry Lee Lewis signing stuff, and not even a line for him. And k.d. lang just walked by you, and you can overhear Yo-Yo Ma and Jack White trying to work out what they could do together. And even the unknown emo band guy and Buckner and Garcia are fun to talk to. There are a couple genre-specific realms where things work like that to smaller degrees, but it sits across the whole medium of comics. The Christian-specific book world, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t generate readers having that same degree of relationship and connectedness as comics fans have with their creators. The Christian-specific readership, understandably, are more interested in their relationship with the Creator.

    (As for whether this Christian book covference is around next year, I’d be surprised. It’s one thing to start small and build, and another thing to start off as a massive overhyped disappointment. There’s a reason that there was never a Las Vegas Extrosion Year 2 for comics, no publisher would fall for that a second time.)

  11. A-Rod says:

    As someone who sells books in both the CBA (christian general trade) and ABA (non-christian general trade) markets I can tell you that Scott’s remarks about church run chrisitan bookstores are not true for the most part. There are certainly bookstore chains run by major churches in the USA but the majority of christian bookstores are mom-and-pop type for-profit businesses. They are very similar to your average comic book store.
    The decline in the CBA has been happening for years though. The same thing happened to ABA stores before that. Big chains like B&N and Borders thrived and independent stores gradually faded out of existence. Only the stores smart enough to innovate and carve out a niche for themselves survived.

    And therein lies the problem with this book expo. The current performers in christian bookselling are far removed from the “bible belt” customer base found in Dallas. And nobody is going to travel cross country to get a signed copy of The Shack. Like Nat said, the author of a christian book is not afforded the same celebrity status as they would in other genres.

  12. This is a new event with, the article says a ‘minimum budget.’ As A-Rod has pointed out the Christian publishing industry is big business, with many large publishers involved (Harper Collins, for example, owns Zondervan, publishers of the NIV).

    Not everything is roses in the world of comics conventions, either. Conventions LA and Dallas were recently cancelled.

  13. Tom Spurgeon says:

    At the big Christian book con, do they have one panel where all the evil people show up to be interviewed by Dick Buzzson?

  14. Dave Knott says:

    I figure it’s all good, since I have a Spire Christian Comics spinner rack in my living room.
    The above is not a joke, BTW…

  15. While we’re focusing on Big Comic Cons, we might gauge the health of comics by looking at the smaller, one-day venues. People might cut the monthly “garage sale” type shows out of their budget completely. Conventions like NY and San Diego, on the other hand, are “events” and therefore “different,” so people allow themselves to splurge. Some monthly shows might be wondering if it’s time to roll up their tent.

  16. I’m no expert on the Christian publishing industry, but I live in one of its capitals (Zondervan and Family Christian Stores are headquartered here, plus a few other national houses) so I’m familiar with some of the players and I’m acquainted with people who work with them.

    Yes, there are some Christian publishers who are in trouble, but that seems to be specific to those businesses. There’s also some belt-tightening going on (e.g. a wage freeze at FCS), so obviously they’re not living a charmed existence either (heh). Things are tough all over, you know? But I see job postings from these companies on a regular basis (which you don’t see that much of here in Michigan), so it’s not like they’re desperately trying to trim the payroll.

    What we have here is just an overly ambitious and possibly ill-thought-out convention.

  17. Tom Spurgeon says:

    One of the things that makes Christian industries a bit chaotic is something comics folk would recognize: people who make their fortune elsewhere wanting to do something in, say, an entertainment arena that means a lot to them, and the people who either willfully or innocently take advantage of that bankroll.

    A friend of mine worked for a three different Christian publishers that went Tundra. During one trip to a convention with the first one, he was riding with his boss and was told that due to budget concerns that they were going to “rough it” at the show. That ended up meaning that unlike the year before only the president was getting a suite, the rest would have to settle for junior suites.

    I’m sure this is out of the ordinary, given that so many businesses are mom and pop types, but it still cracks me up.

    I would imagine that this convention was in part a reaction to the move by the biggest Christian book convention to invite in all retail a few years back. I’m not sure how that show is doing, but I bet it’s doing better than this one.

  18. Rather than looking to big events like San Diego and New York, the local one-day comic shows might be a better measure of the industry’s pulse. People might splurge at a weekend convention — “It’s only once a year” — while cutting the small venues from their budget.

  19. You mean there are still local one-day comic shows? Seriously, I haven’t even seen one advertized (i.e. an 8.5×11 “poster” in the window at the LCS) in years.

  20. Maybe there’s just something about Dallas and a large deposit of books that people don’t respond well to.

    or,

    I’m sure if you could get a bible signed by the author there, the lines would have been longer.

  21. KentL says:

    “You mean there are still local one-day comic shows?”

    Atlanta has one: http://www.atlantacomicconvention.com/

    It’s not bad. It would be nice if they rotated dealers, but I tend to find some good deals every time I go.

  22. Bible © a bunch of guys says:

    Christian bookstores shouldn’t worry. They’ll get a bail-out from god.

    “I’m sure if you could get a bible signed by the author there, the lines would have been longer. ”

    I doubt it. Shouldn’t that be “authors”? It’s quite an anthology and a lot of pseudonyms were used. It would be difficult to get them all in one room…plus they’re all dead.

  23. Ali Kokmen says:

    For what it’s worth, Michael Hyatt, CEO at Thomas Nelson Publishers, summarized some thoughts on what went wrong with the Christian Book Expo at http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/03/christian-book-expo-my-analysis.html

    It’s interesting to look at his observations and comments and what-could’ve-been-done-better suggestions and think about how comics would or would not (or would not need to) take similar measures for its conventioneering.

Trackbacks

  1. […] • The Christian Book Expo, a first-of-its-kind event held last weekend in Dallas, attracted just 1,500 attendees — far less than the anticipated 15,000 to 20,000. This leads Heidi MacDonald to wonder whether comics, and comics conventions, are leading a “charmed life.” […]

  2. […] The diminutive attendance at the expo led Heidi MacDonald of The Beat to wonder if another literary industry, comics, is leading a charmed life. The idea of comics as recession proof is being tested by our changing economy, but this year’s San Diego Comic-Con is already sold out. “The Christian book market has been one of the fastest growing and stable over the last decade or so; bestseller sales dwarf those of comics bestsellers. Yet people will flood out to see the authors of periodicals that sell barely 10,000 copies a month. Interesting.” […]

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