Comics sales: improving, yet complicated

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201111031835 Comics sales: improving, yet complicated
ICv2 has a piece called “Comics in Turnaround?” that suggests that while the New 52 boom has lifted volume everywhere, and the market seems on the verge of a rebound, it isn’t entirely clear where it will come from. Amazon is selling a larger and larger percentage of graphic novels, but there hasn’t been a new breakout GN hit in a while. And there’s also a product glut at the lower end:

One problem for every retailer except Amazon is the increasing share of the graphic novel business the online behemoth is accumulating, especially on higher priced products.  That’s not going to change because there’s some exciting new content hitting the graphic novel format.

And the pipeline of product hitting graphic novel format is crowded, according to retailer interviews.  Lower sales are getting divided among more titles, making purchasing more difficult.

Digital sales are growing as a percentage of the market, but apparently not at the expense of print sales.  Retailers interviewed by ICv2 do not feel they’re losing sales to digital competition on DC’s day and date titles.


On a related topic, retailer Chris Butcher expands on his comments on superhero vs non-superhero sales, and sees a lot of strong new material out there:

So, briefly: The “non-superhero market” is alive and well from my perspective, yes. At any given time there are 10-15 ongoing monthly or nearly-monthly series that I could recommend to readers that don’t fit the ‘superhero’ mold, but are clearly genre-based or genre-inspired works. I think Image is going through something of a renascence right now in terms of the creator-owned work they’re publishing, and Icon, IDW, SLG, Dynamite, Boom, and Oni have all usually got at least one monthly comic worth following, and sometimes two or three. We even got a new issue of Optic Nerve this year!

And that’s before you get into the graphic novels. On a given week, we’re getting 40+ new graphic novels in, and only 25-33% of that is superhero related. Classic comic strips, art-comix collections, mainstream-bookstore stuff. It’s good. One side-effect of Marvel and DC’s “Throw it at the wall to see what sticks, and make sure everything gets collected in trade” business model is that their sales are so diffused among so many products that it’s next to impossible for them to have a ‘hit’ on any title. No one comes in asking for a specific “Green Lantern” or “Avengers” trade, because there are dozens and dozens of books featuring those characters, and it’s impossible to market them or promote them individually… but if someone comes in asking for Buffy, The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Skullkickers, Criminal, Chew, Locke & Key, etc.? We start them at v1, they read til there’s no more to read in that line, and we start making recommendations from there. That definitely affects how we order.


Even manga has a base at The Beguiling — the reappearance of SAILOR MOON seems to have reinvigorated that audience.

Comments

  1. The problem with the big names, at least marvel and Dc is how much dreck they put out. Bad art, spin offs. Nothing really meaningfully new (lots of it anyway)

  2. Mario Boon says:

    Yes, Marvel (much more than DC) overkills their writing talent. I think it was Jonathan Hickman in an interview who said “we (marvel) will give you more work than you can manage, it’s up to you how you handle that.

    If you have 4 to 5 series to write each month, you cannot make them fantastic.

  3. Mario: the key for readers is to have a sense for where a writer is operating at his/her best. I have noticed that many of these writers have one or two titles that are much stronger than their others. It’s difficult work and for readers who operate in a traditional “follow creators that you like” pattern, this can often look discouragingly like a downward trend in talent.

    Example: I always read Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, I have no time for the same writer’s Venom series.

  4. thequestion says:

    i buy all my graphic novels from amazon. you can’t beat the discount and free shipping.

  5. MBunge says:

    “On a given week, we’re getting 40+ new graphic novels in, and only 25-33% of that is superhero related. Classic comic strips, art-comix collections, mainstream-bookstore stuff.”

    I think it would be helpful to the industry as a whole to remember that trade paperbacks or other reprint editions aren’t really graphic novels. The OGN and the reprint book may look the same but it’s an entirely different business model and should be just as different a creative endeavor.

    Mike

  6. Torsten Adair says:

    Mike, that’s a good point.

    The original graphic novel follows (hopefully) the model perfected by the mainstream publishers. A creator gets an advance, the creator submits the book, the publisher sells the book, and, if things go well, the publisher makes back the advance money, and the creator earns royalties from each sale of the book for years and years.

    In comics, the basic model is:
    The work is serialized, the creator is paid a flat page rate, the book sells, and the creator gets a royalty for each copy sold.

    The publisher finances the cost of pre-production (script, artwork, digital press files) by selling the comic book periodical.

    If the market exists, then the comics are collected into a trade paperback or hardcover, and the creators earn more royalties.

    As for creative endeavor, the workload is different (lots of little deadlines instead of one big deadline). But, among readers of the trade editions, it’s not noticeable (if done well). Nobody cares that “Oliver Twist” was serialized. Few notice that “The Martian Chronicles” are a series of short stories.

    If I write an original graphic novel where every chapter is 22 (or 32) pages, will it read differently than if I took those chapters and published them serially before the trade edition was published?

    Would “Watchmen” have been better if it had not been constrained by the maxiseries format?

    Oh, and then there’s the third model:
    Digital

    Serialize it on the web with low cost of production. Use the website to generate interest and sales.

  7. “Would “Watchmen” have been better if it had not been constrained by the maxiseries format?”

    Um.

    Have you READ WATCHMEN?

    It’s structure and the very constraints of that structure are exactly what MAKE IT good.

    No one buys WATCHMEN for the plot

    So… emphatically “NO!”

    -B

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