Can Comics Become Legitimate Bestsellers?

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By John Shableski

To me, the answer to that question is definitely: yes! But that also depends on a lot of moving parts and with encouragement from The Beat, I’m going to post a few columns here about the elements needed to create real marketing programs that can help better define what a bestseller is and where the real opportunities lie.

While it has been really fascinating to watch the development of the graphic novel category over the past decade, it has also been frustrating. In the world of the comics publishers, small ‘indie’ presses create beautiful books that garner critical reviews and the ‘Big Two’ create interesting projects that should be smash hits and yet none of these projects tend to do much in the way of sales numbers that one would expect to see in the ‘real book’ world. Now, with all the major publishing houses quietly joining in, the graphic novel category has hundreds more titles being published for the category today than we did even a few years ago. From science to memoir and from adaptations of classic literature to business theory, we now have graphic novels for every genre and appealing to every age range. But why are there so few titles selling into the tens or hundreds of thousands of copies?

This is mainly because the stories are not being properly marketed. Why? It’s because so much of the comics publishing world is focused on the traditional comic shop market that they completely overlook the areas of real opportunity: schools, libraries and traditional retailers. The real challenge though is with the mindset and experience of the publishers themselves. Just about everyone is a great story teller but not many of them actually have real-world experience in the business of running a business. Yes, that is a generalization but there is a science and art to the business of marketing, promoting and selling books-or any product for that matter.

This series of postings for The Beat are my attempt at helping to create a real focus on what the opportunities are and how best to exploit them. In this case using the word ‘exploit’ is a positive thing. No one really wants to create the artistic master piece that only a few folks buy and publishers certainly can’t survive on publishing great stories that only sell a few hundred copies. So, this is where exploiting market opportunities can be a very, very good thing.

If you take a much broader view of the market opportunity you may actually discover that it’s worth a LOT more than you anticipated. Beyond the comics shops lies a multi-billion dollar market that includes schools, libraries and traditional retail. What’s quite interesting about this broader market is that the comics guys and traditional publishers are equally confused as to how best to sell their books into the real world.

This takes me back to the critical role that marketing and promotion plays in publishing. If you have a great story to publish, make sure it’s a great story and then make sure you provide it the support it needs to be successful. This means investing in things like publicity, cover design, proper editing, defining the ideal reader, figuring out the best publication date and then, scheduling delivery in time for seasonal elements, film releases etc.

The point is you can’t just simply drop a book on the market and expect the world to find it. 99% of the stuff you buy was scheduled for you and that’s the plain truth. True there are those anomalies like Beanie Babies or 50 Shades of Grey but the rest of the stuff that finds its way into your life has had a ton of marketing effort to support it. I guess the next question is: How do you support every book with promotion and marketing? You can’t, because they’re not all great books but you can be smarter about the books you do choose to publish. The publisher and the talent, need to invest as much energy in promoting the book as what it took to create.

But….what about Digital? Every great book, no matter the format, needs editing and promoting. I see digital as a great and very cost effective way to market a story. As American consumers, when we really like something, we want to own it. But again, we need to have heard or read about it somewhere which means someone had to spend money on promotion.

This is the first entry for this series and over the next few postings we will talk about some critical elements of marketing and promotion to include understanding the real audience for the story, MARC records and why you need them, what a real editor can do for your book, proper book design, why “ALL AGES” is a bad way to sell your book, and, why the future of the category depends on great comics for kids.

Yes, comics can be legitimate bestsellers generating print initial print runs that rival traditional prose and multiple reprints as well. Comics have already landed on the New York Times Bestseller list as legitimate bestsellers-Fun Home, Smile: A Dental Drama, and Stitches are a but a few that come to mind. Almost all of them gained their success because there was a considerable investment in marketing and promotion.

As we head into a week crammed with news from New York Comic Con and the Frankfurt International Book Fair, there’s going to be more great stories for the market. I hope we can help them find their way to the bestseller lists.

Comments

  1. “This is mainly because the stories are not being properly marketed. Why? It’s because so much of the comics publishing world is focused on the traditional comic shop market that they completely overlook the areas of real opportunity: schools, libraries and traditional retailers.”

    Sorry, I call bullshit on this premise — “traditional” book publishers, with OODLES of experience here have been selling comics for YEARS (decades in some cases), and those entities have flatly IGNORED the direct market in all of that time.

    How many best-sellers have THEY facilitated?

    Yeah.

    -B

  2. Synsidar says:

    Sorry, I call bullshit on this premise — “traditional” book publishers, with OODLES of experience here have been selling comics for YEARS (decades in some cases), and those entities have flatly IGNORED the direct market in all of that time.

    But there’s a sales ceiling in the direct market that doesn’t exist in the broader book market. It’s not as if book publishers can manufacture bestsellers, but the potential for a bestseller often exists. And the direct market is a subset of the general book market. TV and print advertising will reach people who buy books in the direct market as well as those to go to libraries and schools. Nationwide advertising and promotions for a book benefit practically every place that has the book to sell.

    SRS

  3. Only if “the general public” is interested in the base product in the first place.

    Book stores, on a per capita basis, don’t much seem better at selling comics than DM stores (with a few narrow exceptions — like manga), and, given the real estate they occupy, their much more focused advertising and promotion, their broader demographics, etc, they really *should* be doing MUCH better than us.

    And yet they’re not.

    I honestly think that the only rational conclusion to make is that “the general public” doesn’t really want our product all that much.

    -B

  4. Well, there is a sales ceiling in every channel — I think the misunderstanding many people make in these either/or analyses is that they set the Direct Market up against the entire rest of the bookselling world (school and library, national accounts, mail order, special markets, etc.). The idea that the Direct Market is a sales-poor place to sell comics is really wrong-headed (and not at all what John is suggesting in his post). Both a small indie bookstore and a small indie comic book store will count themselves lucky to sell double-digits of any given book.

    The sales numbers a publisher really wants to reach can only be attained by covering all the bases. A dozen copies here, a handful there, a few thousand at a national account, a few thousand more at another national account — all of these channels have a moving-target maximum and they collectively add to the bottom line.

    Comics publishers actually have an advantage over other types of publishers in that we have such a strong network of stores dedicated to selling our format almost exclusively over others. That’s dependable support for pretty much your entire line, and you can’t get that if you’re, say, a mystery novel publisher.

  5. I think “general public” is another not-useful term (kind of like “sales ceiling”). I totally get it — we’re drawing a distinction between superhero genre periodical collectors and everyone else, but the thing is, everyone else really is interested in comics the same way they’re interested in any book: they like an author, a type of story, a certain genre, or a particular property.

    I don’t see a lot of evidence that book-format comics by their nature sell less than other books (even the “legitimate best-sellers” John writes about are hard to gauge, since it’s all graded on a curve; in other words, Critical Darling Graphic Novel Du Jour is simply not gonna chart the same week a new Stephen King book comes out).

    I do see a lot of evidence that the general public likes comics. It’s just that they’re not a mythical beast, just people like you and me who make buying decisions based on a hundred different criteria.

  6. That’s why I put the scare quotes around it.

    I personally think that many/most of the comics-buyers in “bookstores” are comics readers without a “home” comic shop — True “civilian” readers exist, but they’re both rare, AND need a HUGE amount of hand-holding through the complexities of most releases (Seriously, I answer a lot of “I like the Walking Dead TV show… what’s the difference between these different formats?!?!” questions)

    I think, all other things being equal, a specialist comics store is going to do a better job in both salesmanship AND numbers-of-copies-moved than a generalist… because they have stock, knowledge, passion, etc.

    -B

  7. Synsidar says:

    Take a look at the descriptions of some McNaughton blockbusters:

    “Caleb’s Crossing,” by Geraldine Brooks (May 3): Brooks’ newest work of fiction — based on a true story — transports readers to 1660s Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge to tell the tale of the intertwined destinies of Caleb Cheshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard, and Bethia Mayfield, a young woman struggling to find her place in the world.

    “The Butterfly’s Daughter,” by Mary Alice Monroe (May 3): When Luz Avila’s grandmother dies before she can take a planned road trip home to Mexico, Luz decides to take her grandmother’s ashes home. Along the way she attracts a collection of lost women, each seeking to change their lives. Now they’re on a journey that follows migrating monarch butterflies.

    “Dreams of Joy,” by Lisa See (May 31): After discovering the truth about her mother and father, Joy flees to China, and Pearl, realizing what’s happened, sets out for Mao’s China, determined to find her daughter. Both struggle as they face their past and a country that’s intolerant of their free spirits.

    What made them much-anticipated books? They don’t appear to be narrowly-focused genre fiction works. I’m guessing that they’re good books, supported by effective marketing programs.

    SRS

  8. Torsten Adair says:

    Quoting myself:
    http://www.icv2.com/articles/indepth/4584.html

    “Comic books are like wine. You can pick up a bottle at your local grocery store and trade expertise for price and convenience, or you can go to a wine or liquor store and become an oenophile. Drinkers of wine fall into three categories: those who like a glass of wine every now and then but don’t really care about vintage, those who drink it socially and decide to cultivate their knowledge without being obsessive, and those who are introduced to fine wine by an oenophile and are seduced into the hobby.”

    Here’s a question: How often do you shop at a specialty store and how often do you shop at a general store?
    Of the entire retail pie, how much is spent at general stores like Wal*Mart and Target, how much at specialty chains like Barnes & Noble and The Gap, and how much at independent retailers like J&R Music World, Hartville Hardware, and Powell’s?

  9. John Shableski says:

    As I mentioned early in the post there are a lot of moving parts and it’s not that the ‘general public’ doesnt want the product, they actually dont know it exists. So many of the books, movies, cars and clothes that you ‘discover’ have actually been in development for months and even years before you’ve heard about them.
    Interesting too that Synsider mentions the title in McNaughton as that program(from Brodart Co.) is something I have actually been a part of and it gave me some really interesting insights on how traditional houses develop marketing campaigns for the books.
    So not only does the general public probably not know about your book-or a lot of other books, it’s that you may have also been using a language that is not universal in how you describe your story.
    I’ll be hitting on as many of the key elements as I can and I’ll be tapping some great folks who have played a role in building successful campaigns for books.
    My reason for this? We have some amazing opportunities for the comics medium and it would be really cool to see more great stories selling hundreds of thousands of copies. There are doors opening in many areas and maybe this can help blow it open a bit more.

  10. >>>How many best-sellers have THEY facilitated?

    Actually, quite a few, if you look on Bookscan, mostly kids comics but also things like the Twilight manga and so on.

  11. Are we arguing by different standards here, Heidi? I’m thinking “best seller” = hundredS of thousands, to millions, of copies sold… at least that is what my copy of PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY says. And we’re not seeing those kinds of figures, really, for comics on BookScan — DORK DIARIES isn’t *really* comics in any meaningful way; and while MAUS’ (2011′s #4 best-selling GN, via BookScan) 40k a year is frickin’ awesome, it pales to, say, the 411k copies of “Killing Lincoln” or 392k copies of “Gone Girl”, let alone the 5.8 million copies of “50 Shades of Grey” YTD in 2012 already.

    -B

  12. Brian is saying what I been saying for a while, that the industry is trying to sell a niche to the masses. there has been NO effort to try to appeal to a broader audience aside through trans-media association(Buy this cause it’s based on this!). If that were working then AvX would be a record breaking best seller in publishing history selling in the hundreds of millions if not billions. the big two just want to illustrate movie scripts and are only pandering to a niche audience. Publishers like Fantagraphics and D&Q are like Phaidon and Taschen, making coffee table books and nice editions of artists works. The two publisher who I feel are making more work for “non-native comics readers” would be First Second and Top Shelf, but even then they don’t rly top the sales charts that often.
    What you can chalk it up to is the public perception of comics. were still regarded as a niche that likes to dress once a year in San Diego, an eccentric novelty. Comics has never rly redefined itself to the public or even tried, we just let them tack on any title they have for us. even when they talk about comics, the ghost of the 90′s over-speculation is all they conjure up.
    Before we can make comics for the masses we need put our foot down and show this nation what american comic are and rly purge these misinformed and insulting stereotypes from their system.

  13. Synsidar says:

    Don’t forget about Alison Bechdel’s ARE YOU MY MOTHER? The memoir got a first printing of 100,000 copies. Amazon’s GN sales list has a lot of WALKING DEAD volumes on it, but there are also MAUS at #23, Bechdel’s FUN HOME at #26, Burns’ THE HIVE at #27, in advance of its release, and Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS at #31.

    SRS

  14. Kat Kan says:

    And you do part of it by marketing to and helping the library and school market. I have an unfair advantange – I’ve been a comics reader for more than 50 years, I work in libraries, and I’ve been reviewing graphic novels in library media for 18 years. I now work in a school library, where I have built up a growing graphic novel collection geared to my students, preK-8th grade. I have graphic novels in the Easies for the youngest kids (mostly TOON Books, and a bunch of Capstone/Stone Arch titles), for the elementary grades (the largest collection), and for middle school. I share new titles with students in Book Club (formerly Lunch Time Book Club, now part of Library period once a month), and I encourage reading gns at all times. I also get to use them to teach the middle school students. As a result, graphic novels account for 50-60% of my total circulation every week.
    And that’s how you build your audience for comics.

  15. Yet Library usage has been in a steady decline since the rise of the internet and less funding. and the increase of library usage is only due to the recession as unemployed workers use it for internet access. when I was 5, being a from a poor family the library was the hot spot for me and it was open every day except Sunday, now its only open in some areas 2 days a week. sure in a metropolitan area it may be otherwise but library usage has been in a steady decline all over the country.
    I do the same, i’m always recommending comics to kids and parents, but more needs to be done. personally I would love to see an ad campaign for comics a la the “Got Milk?” campaign that harking back to the roots of comics as these populist stories in news stands and papers that were read by all ages. we have the potential to see a second Hearst era, we just need to be more aggressive about it. stop with the serendipitous marketing and throw it in people’s faces.

  16. Good post, John. I look forward to reading more.

    And this comment discussion is definitely interesting reading. Good points being discussed on numerous fronts. But it seems to me that in talking a bout the direct market opportunities in comparison to the big book sales market factors that contribute to bestsellers we’re forgetting a principle early part of John’s post:

    “Now, with all the major publishing houses quietly joining in, the graphic novel category has hundreds more titles being published for the category today than we did even a few years ago. From science to memoir and from adaptations of classic literature to business theory, we now have graphic novels for every genre and appealing to every age range.”

    The key factor here is that, finally thank god, comics are being recognized by creators, publishers and a broader audience of general readers as a form of expression rather than a genre. Direct market strategies don’t run that way, as Torsten points out above. Direct and niche market strategy runs contrary hosting a wide array of genres and styles. This isn’t just the case in comicshops of course, but also in the way books are sorted into a coherent sales language for bigger vendors; MAUS is still next to MARVELS on a shelf in the “graphic novels” section simply because they’re both cartoons.

    One could argue that MAUS could find a broader audience for itself and wider acceptance for cartoon storytelling in general if it was placed in the “biography” or “history” sections. It sometimes is smaller or more comic savvy bookshops and leads to a kind of gateway for other kinds of graphic novels like STITCHES and FUN HOME. One could also argue that books like MARVELS wouldn’t have been made if books like MAUS weren’t there first to open the gateway to a “graphic novels” section.

    But the future of cartoon storytelling as viable, breakthrough bestsellers is, as John points out, all about the language of packaging these books as something other than the existing public perception of “comics”.

  17. Jesse Post says:

    Actually, that was my main question that I forgot to ask: what exactly is a legitimate best seller? I was thinking John meant “not on the graphic books list” but then I thought it was about a certain sales threshold that wasn’t defined. We have one series on the NYT list pretty consistently but not two others that sell almost as well. In an ICv2 interview, Mark Siegel said that their Feynman book spent 6 weeks on the list with a total print run of 15,000. Bookscan rankings are way less accurate than anyone gives them credit for; they like to say, “oh it covers 90% of the retail outlets” or whatever, yet it reports 90% less sales for our books than we actually have.

    I think “best seller” is kind of a distracting point that isn’t too relevant to John’s overall thesis on marketing.

  18. Jesse Post says:

    Kat’s right — you have to cultivate your audience everywhere, and specifically market to people like librarians and Direct market retailers who will amplify the message.

  19. Jesse Post says:

    Well yeah, the Walking Dead example is precisely why we’d have to invent the Direct Market if it didn’t already exist. But there are “civilian” readers (I like the scare quotes!) who also don’t care too much about diving into a genre or a series with multiple confusing formats. A regular bookstore probably can’t navigate the different options for reading the Walking Dead but they can point a reader interested in the Chinese American experience to American Born Chinese. It’s just a book, no special handling required.

    I think it’s cultivating that reader that John is talking about, only because that’s generally an under-cultivated audience and sales channel.

  20. John Shableski says:

    Serhend, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you on your observation of library usage. In fact, one of the major factor in the growth of the graphic novel category in the library market is the impact it has had on circulation. There are quite a few instances where the gn category comprises 15% of the young adult/teen section and yet it generates up to 57% of the circulation(1 circ = 1 book checked out. Circ = revenue). There are more young readers heading to the library because this may likely be the ONLY place they will find comics that fit their interests.
    Libraries have a growing audience but the pain they deal with is from lack of budgetary support at the local government level.
    There are many reasons why libraries are critical to the success of the format. First off: Libraries are like radio stations. They allow us to sample the music/books before we buy. The traditional houses have understood this for many, many years. In fact, publishers often debut titles at the library trade shows or send advance reader copies to the key librarians to see what sort of reaction the title will generate. This is where the first buzz often starts for a book. I’m not going to roll too much farther on this aspect as it will be a main subject in one of the upcoming posts.
    As for retail, direct market is a very confusing challenge for the traditional houses because it requires a totally different language. Most publishers tend to invest their energies in places they do understand. That’s not to say that all comics shops are stereo typical. I know quite a few comics shop owners who are forward thinking and they speak the language of the book trade, they know the local teachers who use comics in the classroom and they know their local librarians. These folks speak the language of book trade. Otherwise, the traditional houses wont learn the comic shop language because they dont see any real sense of return of investment for the effort. If I had a comic shop, I’d learn what ever language needed to bring more business into my shop.

    I will return back to a key point of the library impact: Kids. Libraries are where kids will find books that are actually written for them. They are and will always be a driving force for the future survival of the comics medium.
    Many of today’s veteran comics publishers have forgotten how old they were when they fell in love with reading and because of that, they are failing to develop tomorrow’s market. HOWEVER, there is a new generation of comics publishers who are actually publishing great comics for kids and it comes at a time when teachers, librarians and traditional retailers are looking for it. You will notice none of it looks like superheroes. It’s a Wimpy Kid, it’s Ooog and Gluk, it’s Bone, and it’s stories about girls getting braces.
    Those teachers, librarians, and the kids will eventually come to love all the other amazing books out there. As the kids mature, their reading tastes will mature and the comics medium should always have something great for them to read. As a publisher, I would make sure I’d find a way to deliver books for each of those reading audiences.

    More to come…

  21. John Shableski says:

    I would also add that there are many more public library buildings than there are comic shops and indie bookstores, combined. Selling into this part of the market will be the focus of a future post.

  22. Of course, but if they keep try to become legitimate bestsellers, they’re going to be total garbage. Look at the junk these big media conglomerates are pushing out of Marvel and DC these days. NOT why I read comics.

    Scott
    http://www.ReconditePictures.com

  23. Because that’s been working so well so far…were still using over a decade old model and yet growth on the print and digital front has stalled. Sry for being young and ambitious, but I think we tapped the libraries and DM for what they can give to the industry.
    If comics need to rely on Tchotchkes and winning the TV/Film adaptation lottery to sell comics then comics will always be a tertiary medium compared to Video Games, Film, Music, and TV.

  24. I look forward to your future blog posts and i’ll save the entirety of my reply for the next post. For now I feel you perceive circulation as a magic bullet that will answer the questions to the industry if GNs are doing so well why isn’t it as lucrative? The music industry still needs to sell albums to be viable, they can’t make all their money off the air waves. Not to mention you never rly disproved my point of gradually declining library circulation and hours since the 90s, we’ll continue this nxt time. This is old thinking imo, hate to sound like the Obama campaign but some change is needed.

  25. “Otherwise, the traditional houses wont learn the comic shop language because they dont see any real sense of return of investment for the effort.”

    That’s pretty crazy-making for both the practical reasons (DM sales are FIRM SALES), as well as the potential ones (Specialists [at least when properly educated/stocked/etc]) will sell more copies, per-capita, than a generalist store — I sell scores of copies of SMILE and DRAMA and go ahead and name it. The 500-ish DM stores that have their shit together are MUCH better prospects for sales than most individual book stores, and can, in fact, be reached through a single point of contact that they all pay deadly close attention to each and every month.

    -B

  26. Torsten Adair says:

    I’ll repeat a verbal fact I heard at least a year ago, if not more.
    Raina Telgemeier’s “Smile” from Scholastic, has sold AT LEAST 200,000 copies since being published in 2010.
    Since then, it began to appear on the New York Times graphics bestseller list, hitting #1 many times.

    200,000 copies. That’s a legitimate bestseller.

    Part of that is to libraries, and she has won at least two state library readers’ award, where the children pick their favorite title from ALL books published in certain period. (That is, this is not a GN award, but a BOOK award.)
    Many of those copies were sold through the Scholastic book club. I don’t know where to find the data, but I do know the gentleman who runs that division was at an ICV2 conference a few years ago.
    Many were sold through libraries.
    Ms. Telgemeier is actively involved in the comics scene, and has done numerous book signings at comics shops, as well as at traditional bookstores.

    I think the major publishers understand the comics market. Look at the “mainstream” zone at NYCC; most major houses are there, and some interesting smaller firms (Taschen!). No Scholastic, although they did attend the first NYCC.

    Like bookstores, publishers have either found people in-house who know comics AND publishing (Chip Kidd, for example), or they hire people from smaller houses who were successful (Charles Kochman), or someone in-house proposes a few GN titles and develops a line (Mark Siegel).

    Libraries and comics shops are both “direct markets”. Neither returns books once purchased. Regular publishers will seek out smaller niches, just as comics publishers have sought out larger markets.

    But consider these numbers:
    16,698 public library buildings. (9,225 systems)
    3,689 academic libraries (2,363 4-year)
    99,180 school libraries
    (Source: American Library Association)

  27. Torsten Adair says:

    Here are library numbers for New York State.
    http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/palstats.htm
    1998 – 2010 23 systems reporting

    Annual visits
    1998 102,814,606
    2010 117,795,146
    (only three years had declines)
    14.57% increase

    Total Circulation
    1996 124,106,271
    2010 165,993,268
    (again, three years showed declines)
    33.75% increase! While the number of registered users have remained somewhat constant. (About 10 Million.)

    About FIVE MILLION books added in 2010.

  28. Torsten Adair says:

    Nebraska:
    http://nlc.nebraska.gov/stats/Downloads/20102011stats/index20102011.aspx

    2010-2011
    Total circulation
    13,792,713
    Total Visits
    8,640,282
    Registered users
    1,024,376
    Number books added
    393,979

    1998-1999
    Total Circulation
    10,686,168
    Attendance
    5,391,068
    (No specific data on books added, number of users)

    Circulation increased 29.07%
    Attendance increased 60.27% !!!
    228 systems, most of them small. (1.8 Million population)

  29. Torsten Adair says:

    Do it yourself:
    http://www.lrs.org/public/other.php
    (Gateway to various state library data)

  30. Jesse Post says:

    Serhend, it’s not a decade-old model, more like 20 decades-old (or however long it has been since the publishing industry started developing separate booksellers and publishers). And it’s not just limited to books; you market any product by promoting it to the sales channels and press who will amplify and spread the message, mix in as much consumer-level awareness-building as you can afford or otherwise resource, and then continue doing it until word of mouth catches fire.

    In the case of comics, Direct Market and libraries are the most obvious examples of “friends and allies who actively want publishers to succeed” that come to kind, but you can also include a huge swath of indie bookstores, some progressive national account buyers, and probably a dozen others. It’s certainly not the end of your marketing program but its the essential, no-brainer foundation. If you have another suggestion, I think offering it up would help the discussion John is trying to foster with these articles. But it sounds like you’re saying we should just give up on publishing because people prefer video games, movies, music, and TV (unless I misunderstood your conclusion there).

    Oh, and when you say the DM can no longer give anything to the industry, what exactly are you looking for besides a dedicated network of 3000 stores that ONLY sell what the industry produces, many of whom blog and promote the products with previews and reviews, and specifically reach out to publishers offering to help further promote their line through contests and store events?

  31. johnrobiethecat says:

    Think whats going on with comics is sorta parallel with the art world, popular within its niche audience but the general public could care less. How many art sections do you see in entertainment now anymore?, close to none…Sure movie studios treat the medium as wonderful R&D and the stories can convert to movies well with the digital graphics with big name acotors no longer ashamed to do them that’s relatively recent…this is after they exhausted every 60′s & 70′s TV show like “Get Smart” & the Brady Bunch” to the bone to try to print money due to their in-built brands. Now its comic’s turn…

    Marvel & DC will be hard to beat in term of marketing, There are just maxing out there properties to last drop without remorse making money with every angle possible. The cost of that is the characters are just washing out and erasing the integrity the creators brought to them. Then its easy to hit the restart button again. Just wish they weren’t always rewarded for it.

    The manga-type independent type stuff …if it isn’t geeky, then its really is too hipstery to catch on marketing-wise if you ask me. Hipsters are annoying enough in real life. To buy a comic and read about them just won’t catch on…even if they had a 100 million marketing budget. I woul guess the Japanese versions of manga aren’t dominated by this self-important bunch. For all its faults, hero comics welcome anyone who cares to read them, part of the secret of their success. and these comic cons.

  32. Brian said “the general public doesn’t really want our product all that much.”
    I think this is truer for adults than kids. I agree that lots of adults just can’t wrap their head around comic books, because they either didn’t grow up with them, or believe they “outgrew” them. Adults only have to read when they feel like it. So if they are going to read something, they go straight for what they know they are interested in (like magazines)…OR the hot novel everyone is talking about (like any good fad). But if the that hot thing happens to be a comic (or film/tv based on a comic), it seems to have a better chance of capitalizing on that word of mouth if it’s a stand alone book or a clearly numbered designated series.

    For kids, who “have to read” whether they want to or not, comics are an appealing option (IF their parents and teachers consider it “real reading”). For kids, reading comics seems to be an issue of access. The more places they are available the more kids read them. If they have parents who take them to comic shops kids read them. If they are available at the library or through school order forms, book fairs, or author visits kids will read them. Books like Amulet, Smile, Big Nate, Bone etc. have benefited from a direct line of vision to kids that has lead to word of mouth amongst friends.

  33. What is this whining about “hipsters?” Superheroes are more welcoming to readers? Wow I’ve seen it all, time to set me adrift on a burning pyre.

  34. johnrobiethecat says:

    Since I like the French and I dread talking politics on a comics blog where all the characters seem right wing to me, all I have left are hipsters…sorry…especially when they try to charge me $5 for a taco and $14 dollars for a jar of pickles all because of their “good taste”. All I see on small press comics is hipster art. May be cool to some but the public, not sure, I actually like some of it …If you were on a burning pyre, the hipster would make sure its on smoked cherrywood to dial up the aromas.

  35. johnrobiethecat says:

    p.s… by characters I mean “comic book characters” like Batman, Cyclops etc, and the the jaded writers, not the ladies and gentleman who post here ;-)

  36. Synsidar says:

    Oh, and when you say the DM can no longer give anything to the industry, what exactly are you looking for besides a dedicated network of 3000 stores that ONLY sell what the industry produces. . .

    A drawback to the DM approach is that comics are treated more like a genre than a format. Go into a bookstore; whether you want an audiobook or a paper book, you’ll be able to select it by genre and author. Go into a comics shop; more than likely, the GNs will be arranged alphabetically, with MAUS, LOVE AND ROCKETS volumes, and ASTERIOS POLYP sitting among Batman and Spider-Man collections.

    If a reader happens to prefer a certain artist or artists, his preferences don’t naturally lead him to other creators, unlike genre preferences in prose books.

    For a store, treating comics as a genre instead of a format might maximize sales to certain sets of customers, but it hurts publishers who want to publish a diverse range of titles. Librarians are aware that classifying GNs in one Dewey section and shelving adult GNs in the Teens library because they’re comics cause access problems that they’re trying to address.

    It’s probably not a coincidence that many of the best-received GNs are by people who do both the art and writing, in part because the books are more accessible and easier to market.

    SRS

  37. I’m reply to eveything you provided here instead of jumping around to each post…
    So only 119,567 copies of any comic can potentially be sold? Library budgets are being slashed and the raw unprocessed data you provided out of context is due to the recession as circulation increases during economic recessions. Also using Smile as an example again, Those 200k copies assuming they were all bought by a library meaning 1.2 copies for each of them, libraries most often buy ONE copy and i can recall seeing in a Public Library a franken-taped copy of Flight…how can we rely on libraries as dedicated consumers if they are hell-bent on buying and owning one copy?

    There’s nothing wrong with Libraries or the DM, but they’ve been tapped and solely pursuing them is only going to lead to bottle-necking, i’m surprised your OK with the fact of that there are now two direct markets! DMs lead to stagnation and the industry need a wider eclecticism in its business model.

  38. you are in your own world, entirely disconnected from objective reality. While some people are “hipsters,” that doesn’t hold them to the ridiculous sketch comedy version of “young, fashionable people” that you’ve presented here. You like superheroes, by all means, be my guest. I like superheroes too. Knock yourself out.

    But to call independent comics “hipster stuff” is like calling water yuppie stuff even though some comes from a tap and some come from Perrier bottles. It’s more than an overreach, it betrays the speaker (YOU) as someone who is making mouth noises out of his hindquarters. A commentary which doesn’t even deserve the attention that it is getting.

    Listen, I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I know a hipster when I see one. If anybody can identify a hipster comic, it isn’t you it’s ME. There aren’t a whole lot of hipster comics out there–even comics made by hipsters aren’t often hipstery. Sorry, it’s few and far in between. You’re another tragic victim of thinking that everything in alternative comics is Daniel Clowes in the late 80s, or Adrian Tomine or whatever. You’re way off course. And as for MANGA being hipstery? Manga? MANGA? Spare me.

  39. John Shableski says:

    There are actually a growing number-legions, if you will-of teachers who grew up reading comics and are now incorporating them into the curriculum either as leisure reading or text books. There are two key elements making this happen. First: there are now many more great comics/books for them to use as resources and Second, these teachers have now become influential within their schools and or district. Titles The 9/11 Report(a graphic adaptation) Persepolis, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge, Feynman are representative of great comic works that educators are holding up as amazing tools that engage readers of all skill levels. Even publishers like Fracoise Mouly (TOON Books) have broken through into tough places like the children’s market with titles picking up major awards normally reserved for the elite children’s houses.
    Do any of them look like superhero stuff? No. Why is this? Well, it’s because the superhero world has abandoned the kids market. Too many of the publishers have forgotten how old they were when they fell in love with comics and the joy of reading. This is not to say that it cant be salvaged…all one needs to do is create great books that are truly written for kids. It’s entirely possible to maintain the older core audience and provide mature content for those readers while creating great new stories that bring a younger readership into the world. In fact it basically helps to guaranty the future of the publisher. McDonald’s has Happy Meals, and regular combo meals for adults. Why do you think that is? We ate Happy Meals as kids and now as adults and parents, we know we can go back and get food our kids like and also something we like to eat. McDonald’s maintains market share throughout the demographics. It’s really not a hard formula to follow.
    I’ll put the next posting up after New York Comic Con wraps up. I’ll cover things like market segments, obstacles, distribution, demographics, campaign development, cover design, publishing schedules and marketing messages.
    And as always, it’s great to see the commentary!

  40. Torsten Adair says:

    You stated:
    “Yet Library usage has been in a steady decline since the rise of the internet and less funding. and the increase of library usage is only due to the recession as unemployed workers use it for internet access. ”
    And then:
    “Library budgets are being slashed and the raw unprocessed data you provided out of context is due to the recession as circulation increases during economic recessions. ”

    But there wasn’t a recession during the Aughts, and circulation increased from 2000 – 2008, except for a small dip in2003.

    The two states I quoted showed increased book circulation, not just people using computers.

    (Although computers, like wi-fi at a coffee house, could encourage people to visit, and once inside the building, patrons would discover the many resources a library offers.)

    Circulation is one of the main figures libraries use to justify their existence. It’s like McDonald’s “100 Billion served”. The more popular a certain type of book, the more likely the library will get more of the same, both to boost circulation figures, but also to serve the community’s demand. The more popular the library, the more likely citizens will petition elected officials to properly fund the library, as well as contribute to capital campaigns.

    If you click on the NY link I included, you will see that “Books Added” and “Total Books” have not drastically dropped.

    I am not advocating one market of the other, I am just highlighting one market which some overlook, or do not realize the scope of. Also, like Brian Hibbs and many other ComicsPro retailers, libraries are staffed by experts. Most libraries require a written review before a book can be acquired for the circulating collection. Much of what is on the shelves at your local branch has been curated by the librarians.

    Libraries purchase multiple copies, especially larger library systems. The New York Public library has 25 copies of Smile, and 18 are checked out. (That is for the borough of Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Queens (55 copies) and Brooklyn (9 with 6 holds) have separate systems.) NYPL has 40 copies of her new book, Drama, which is also on the bestseller list. The Omaha (Nebraska) Public Library has four copies of Smile, all checked out, with two holds waiting. They have four copies of Drama.

    Those 200K copies, that’s an old number, as I noted. That was before Smile began appearing regularly on the bestseller list.

    I’m sure most authors and publishers would be happy with “only” 119K sales. Of course, if every library building in the country had a copy, then most likely the book is a legitimate bestseller, and is probably selling in the six, if not seven, digits.

    Mr. Sirkecioglu, which library do you use? If you do not wish to be specific, could you provide a census of their graphic novels? How many books are on the shelf? How many are checked out? Ask a librarian about the graphic novels. How well do they circulate? Does the library have a manga or comics club for teens? How has that library weathered funding? Do they have public statistics available? (Most states survey libraries. It’s probably also included in reports to the local city council.) Do they network with local comics shops? Do they actively promote GNs to their patrons?

  41. Well sure — every individual store can make mistakes in merchandising and promotion (just like regular bookstores), and probably many more than the one you mentioned. But broadly, as an entire sales channel, I think it’s pretty remarkable.

    Also, I think the thing you’re talking about is more common in regular bookstores and libraries than comic book stores. Few bookstores have the room to double-shelve something, but most comics stores I’ve been to do break the selection down by genre, with some double-shelving key books by author, or even triple-shelving them by company. Heck, even the worst comics stores I’ve been to at least have sections for Marvel, DC, and “Everything Else” which can help a customer determine where the superhero genre books are and where they might find the hard-boiled crime books.

  42. johnrobiethecat says:

    Well said , I actually agree and feel a bit schooled. I used to love superhero comics but relate to them less now because they are less about mythology & interesting characters and more about milking their audience -with some exceptions t., Maybe because i read so much good stuff in the past. But I have to admit, the Scarlet Witch is getting rather sultry these days….. Myself, I hope alternative comics (perhaps a better word?) step it up even more or some of the great sci-fi I’m seeing out of a few Image titles knock these the BigTwo down to size one day where more funny comics with stories that don’t involve guns & what-not can share the spotlight. There have been a lot of great and gentle stories that have been turned into entertaining and satisifying movies in Japan that I’ve seen. Comics being the source.

    As for living in my own world, not true. …I reside in villa tending a lovely garden overlooking the French Riviera with a maid and view of the Cote’d Azure… but I have heard of this Greenpoint and its hipsters. And how there is a Pencil Factory where they can’t afford lights but have plenty of artisan beer yet no Michelob.

  43. My two cents:

    1) Many comics creators want to cater to the comic book fan market. Very few are willing to explore other markets, and find out what this market wants to read. Fun Home, Persepolis, American Born Chinese, One! Hundred! Demons!, Walking Dead, all acclaimed and bestselling titles that talk about the human condition, human issues, human concerns, and are not primarily for kids. While superhero comics do have these, the adventure is the emphasis (otherwise, they won’t be superhero comics).

    2) The big book publishers are interested in promoting books that can reach as wide an audience as possible. That’s why, when it comes to fiction work, they focus on the broad genre categories we find in bookstores — romance, young adult, literary, mystery/thriller, scifi/fantasy, biographies, etc. The superhero genre is not a broad genre; it’s a niche market in the eyes of bookstores and publishers. Comics creators need to think in terms of popular genres, and write based on genre conventions. Want to write a superhero GN? Write it with the scifi fan, not the superhero fan, in mind.

    3) It’s so easy to fault the system, but I think it should start with what kind of products the industry is creating. If we want graphic novels to sell, we must do what businessmen do to make sure any product sells. It all goes back to solid editorial planning, market research, product development, marketing strategy, and accessible but well-crafted stories.

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