Mark Andrew Smith's new manifesto on Kickstarter and Comics: THE CREATOR AS RETAILER

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We quoted some of Mark Andrew Smith’s interview on Robot 6 about his successful SULLIVAN’S SLUGGERS Kickstarter campaign just a little while ago, but he’s made his thoughts on the new market for comics funding a little more explicit in a new essay. With his permission, we’re reprinting it here.

The A to B Manifesto. The creator as retailer. (Spread it)

By Mark Andrew Smith
We stand on the brink of a new Golden Age for comic books. Never before has there been such a diverse range of material and stories to choose from.
There is truly a comic book for every reader under the sun. In the next few years creator owned comics are going to spill into the mainstream of society in a big way.

In particular with this essay I am referring to ‘creator owned’ books and not applying these ideas to Marvel or DC.

This is not an essay where I will spell out or predict anyone’s doom. I believe there are infinite resources when it comes to reaching potential readers and infinite potential for growth. The success of one kind of distribution model doesn’t mean the detriment of another and indeed they can all benefit from each other and grow together.

The main message of this essay is ‘creators first’ which I will explain. This is the era of the creator.

CREATOR OWNED COMICS, THE UPSIDE DOWN PYRAMID:

A comic book creator I really respect often says that people focus on the negative things in comics but fail to provide solutions. For this essay I have to go over the bad to get to the solutions, so please be patient here. This essay is a jumping point for others to add to or subtract from, and I’ve given my piece here and after I don’t have anything to add or debate. Feel free to pick up the torch and run with it if you like.

I will also do this without any finger pointing or blame placed on anyone.

The state of comics now is no one’s fault.

The current distribution system of comics is failing the makers of creator owned comics and has been doing so for years. Comics are a place where people create something out of love painstakingly. They invest their time, money, and energies into creating their comics, and often it takes years before a series is ready to come out.

The creators put the book into the hands of the current comics distribution system and ‘roll the dice’ to see where they may fall. Most often the distribution system that exists fails those creators in many ways. I predict good health for comics in the next few years, but you’ll have to read the next sections of the A to B Manifesto for me to explain why.

The distribution system for comics as it stands is an upside down pyramid with the creators at the very bottom. In this upside down pyramid the creators are the last ones allowed to recoup from their work and they get the leftovers or scraps after everyone else is finished. (If there is anything left for them.)

The creators are the people who put in all of the time and energy into the very product that’s being sold. Even if you heavily promote your book, you’re doing it to make other people money.

The distributor makes their money, the printers get paid, the publishers, and the retailers before the artist gets to make anything or recoup money invested into a book. It’s easy to loose money even after everyone has been paid and very common.

Usually the rent is too high and it’s hard for creators to recoup unless their book has strong enough sales. Usually, it’s the exception that does, and not the rule. Or as Eric Powell puts it, “Making it big off creator owned work is like winning the lottery.”

The distribution system fails creator owned books again and again. If you work for years on a book and retailers don’t as a collective entity order enough copies of your book, then your book is dead, strangled in its infancy in its crib. It’s not the retailer’s fault. It’s the nature of the distribution system that’s in place.

If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the creator’s fault for not doing more to put their futures in their own hands by being entrepreneurs.

There are so many books on the market to order and it’s difficult for retailers to take a risk with everything, because books are non-returnable if they don’t sell, and so they go with what’s safe and hedge their bets by ordering conservatively so as not to loose money. I would do the same in their shoes.

But rest easy, everything as we know it is about to change and we’re going to soon flip that pyramid right side up, and creators once again will be first and at the top of it in their rightful places. The shortest distance between to points is a straight line. This will also be the best thing for everyone involved and everyone will benefit from creators once again being at the top of the pyramid. I’ll explain this after I go over my second point.

NO MAN’S LAND:

To make comics grow we’ve got to stop beating each other senseless for a small piece of land. There are a lot of books that come out every month that have to fight it out for space on shelves to get noticed. They’re fighting for a small piece of land and space in comic shops. Creator owned comics are like being a minnow in a fish tank with two huge great white sharks (Marvel & DC).

The trick is just to get off that one piece of land where everyone is beating each other senseless and to make your own piece of land, that’s your own sovereign nation and reflects what you’re all about. The trick is to find your own audience and to sell directly to them, establishing a relationship with the reader and direct communication.

Even digital comic shops are full of clutter and the same with many creators battling for limited space and attention. With Marvel and DC taking the front and creator owned books in the back. If you’re not featured, your not there. Unless people go in looking for your book, they’re not going to find it in a digital comics shop that I feel is a shortcoming.

For many of us this consists of people that we already know and not subtracting from comic shops, but actually benefiting shops in the long run.

PIRACY:

We’ve got to lower the price of digital comics dollar an issue to make buying comics easier than pirating them. Also we need to make people aware that people create books, and depend on them for income. I think in the same way that Louis CK did recently. Because if they have a direct connection and interaction with a creator it becomes exponentially more harder to pirate from them.

I got the negative points out of the way and it’s all rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns up ahead in the next parts of this essay, I promise. This part was tricky to navigate and I’m sure I’ll come back to it after getting feedback from friends and give the beta version a second polish, but right now I’m just trying to get the main ideas of the essay out on paper so that I actually write and finish it, instead of it being a bunch of notes in a notebook.

SOLUTIONS:

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and for comics to thrive and grow in the future comic books have got to go from point A (The Creator) to point B (The Reader). We live in an exciting time where creators once again will be at the top of the pyramid, with it right side up. Perhaps for the first time in history.

In order for comics to grow the creator has got to take the center stage as one of the retailers and we need to start cultivating a spirit of entrepreneurship among creators so that they take their own destiny in their hands. In 1988 a group of creators got together and came up with the ‘Creator’s Bill of Rights’, I think now with so many technological breakthroughs that it’s time to update that bill of rights to include a new right which is the right of the creator as retailer.

In order for comics to thrive I believe that the solution is to get comics out of comic shops. Well no, that’s not right. The solution is to keep comics in comic shops, AND to get comics out of comic shops and onto new soil. For creators to win they need to break away from the pack of other comics and find their own audience that they can communicate with directly.

The success of creators selling direct will not effect shops or take from their audience, in fact I believe that creators selling direct digital comics will help comic shops when readers want to pick up copies of the books in print and that the print run will be healthier because the creator established an audience for the book first.

I think that very soon, there will be a web template with paypal, where readers can go to a creator’s website and order digital copies of their books. The money will go directly to the creators. I also think that comics might take the form of webcomics, but with a monthly subscription model where there is a built in readership through places like, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Kickstarter.

I think this model will make it easy for creators to recoup and they’ll have no print costs. Print will also be an option, but I think it will be the second stage in the cycle after the creators take care of themselves. Everyone loves printed books myself included. But the trick to being successful is to establish and to build your fanbase in the same way that digital comics do. To do this creators need to promote their books like they would with actual physical comic books. Creators also need to rely on ‘older brother figures’ to bring in more traffic to their projects and to get the spotlight on them.

The creator will be first once again.

I know there are many myths about Kickstarter or that books on Kickstarter are books that were rejected by other publishers. But I feel that in the future Kickstarter is going to become the first choice of many creators as a distribution outlet. Another is that Kickstarter is begging for money or asking for a handout, but it’s really not, it’s a built in creator centered distribution system and you’re giving readers something of value that you made in exchange for their money and support.

I think we’ll actually see some millionaires on kickstarter who are big names in comics, that give digital comics a roll of the dice and try it out.

I think in the future the goal of creators should be to look out for themselves and it’s essential for them to grow their audience numbers and be in direct communication with them. The success of creators as a distributor is not to the detriment of the system already in place and will benefit it because everyone has their own unique audience and fan base in place. No two fan bases are alike and it’s really about growing the audience of comics.

The sky is the limit.

Comments

  1. I really wish that he had identified that one of the reasons that comic shops have conservative ordering habits is that they have a default demographic – superhero readers. Anything that is not aimed at that demographic is starting an automatic disadvantage.

    Trying to find audiences outside the default comic shop demographic is absolutely the smartest thing that an indie creator can do these days, but success is going to rely on those creators to sell by genre instead of by medium. One of these sales pitches is more likely to get customers – “You like DVDs? Check out my DVD.” vs “You like horror? Check this out.”

    It is absolutely possible that a comic that generates an audience in this way may actually be able to convince those readers to go into a comic shop to purchase physical copies of their book. But that’s a long-term sustainment activity that requres an actual audience. Most of us are just trying to get past the discovery/start-up phase of getting the work out there by any means necessary.

  2. Well…some good points…some that are crazy wrong…the reality is that

    a) kickstarter projects are generally far more expensive than say amazon…which means some projects are going to do well and many many others will tank. At the end of the day this is not a much different environment than conventional publishing where a Jeff Smith strikes it rich and others eke by…i.e. people have limited cash and while you can grow the pie, $30 graphic novels mean people buy fewer of them.

    b) going to straight to the consumer is the death knell of the comic store (the idea that digital comics and kickstarter are somehow going to be positives for the retailer is absurd and we have to move beyond this idea that the comic store is going to be around in ten years)

    c) creating your own land is a classic “sounds great but doesn’t work” kinda deal…you can’t have a million separate lands…if you are relying on me to check kickstarter every day for new projects then you’ve got a poor business model. i.e. this model works for some creators (Order of the Stick) but is impossible for many…there just isn’t enough time or eyeballs for a million independant creators to make money.

  3. I love comments like “we have to move beyond this idea that the comic store is going to be around in ten years”. Every local retailer I’ve talked to has seen sales increase every single year for the past 3-4 years, almost every retailer on the CBIA is seeing the best sales in a decade, 2012 looks to be a banner year for LCS, and I’ve personally just come off the 2nd best month and 2nd best quarter in the 19 year history of the store. But don’t let facts get in the way of the internet’s certainty that b&m stores are on their way out.

  4. I agree with a lot of this. There does seem to be parts of the current system that are fundamentally broken and will only hurt the industry in the long run. I think a big one of them is accessibility.

    For example, comics are so expensive for what they are and there’s all sorts of things that are competing for my money each week. It’s a good thing I love the medium so much that I’m willing to pay over the odds for it, but it is getting harder and harder to justify spending nearly £3 – 4 an issue which are rarely much longer than 20 pages of story. A newcomer to comics won’t easily see it as worthwhile if they are unsure of how good the medium and quality of stories can be because they’ve never tried it.

    I think the current price of things is definitely a bit of a barrier for new readers. Not all new readers, some people do come into comics, just I think it’s such a great medium with great stories out there for absolutely everyone, and can’t help if it were a bit more accessible then it could become a major part of pop culture instead of just on the fringes being milked for ideas by TV and film companies. We need to help get across to the mainstream that comics are where it’s at. Look at things like The Dark Knight and Avengers, even things like The Walking Dead, clearly people have some interest when it’s made accessible to them in the form of a film or TV show. I’m not saying everyone who loves these on-screen properties will love comics, but I do think we need to take down more of the barriers so they have more of a chance.

    Also, digital comics worry me at the moment. They are just as expensive as the print versions, and you get even less for your money. You’re also paying for something that’s not even technically yours to own, but it’s yours to “access”. And that’s only if comixology doesn’t go out of business or anything like that. At the moment I’d rather risk having a house filled to the brim of print editions than put the significant amount I spend each week into 1′s and 0′s that might just vanish one day with no warning. It’s a bit paranoid maybe, but still can anyone really promise it won’t happen?

    I think these are my biggest gripes with the industry right now, and addressing them might go some of the way into making comics sell a lot more in line with their pop-culture impact. For an industry that’s pretty much sidelined, it has a massive impact on society to say most people have never picked up a comic in their lives. I see thugs on the street wearing Batman caps and Superman belts that they probably got from some mainstream trendy clothing place rather than anywhere specialised in comic gear. If comics in general sold like comic-pop-culture-but-non-comic stuff, I think creators would be seeing a bit of a healthier profit as well as more respect for their art and achievement like film directors or TV showrunners.

  5. This is nothing new. Anyone not employed by Marvel or DC has had to do their own PR and marketing, pretty much. And more and more writers are having to serve as producer-editors, packaging eveything for even the mid-range publishers. Kickstarter is just the latest thing. Indyplanet and other POD services had their hey day too. Kickstarter and other crowd sourcing sites won’t last though, as money everywhere is wearing thin.

  6. I’m not sure that lowering the price any more is going to help. DC made a good move by lowering their prices from $3.99 to $2.99 for most of their books, and I’ve said since then that Marvel and others should follow suit. (I know Image already uses the $2.99 pricing model.) If that $2.99 goes down any further, what do the creators get, a penny? Even completely indie comic creators have to take care of printing and shipping costs.

    I don’t at all mind paying $2.99 or even $3.99 for an issue — especially if the art and writing is good.

    I do think that comics need to focus more on genre (though I do love me some superhero books, don’t get me wrong). If there were a horror section at my comic book shop, I’d probably have discovered more titles by now instead of sticking to the ones I know and love.

  7. Really, I think Smith is just drunk on the success of one kickstarter win. Does anyone know the percentages of kickstartrer campaigns that succeed/fail?

  8. I can say that, as a retailer, any product offered to me that isn’t offered at the SAME TIME as any other venue (be it digital, Kickstarter direct, bookstores, creators coming to your house and tattooing it on your eyeballs, whatever) will automatically garner significantly lower (if not nil) orders from me.

    Why? Because I have to assume that most of the demand from the most motivated buyers has already been absorbed.

    Direct-to-consumer sales *can* be a nice adjunct to middleman-driven sales (though: don’t underestimate the costs of distribution/fulfillment — there IS, in fact, a reason while middlemen take such a significant chunk of the gross), but as more people try to move to direct capture of sales volume, it will get harder and harder for anyone else to succeed doing that. As I’ve been saying for years, TIME is the real commodity today, and only a very few people are going to be able to command the time and attention to fully succeed.

    To continue Powell’s metaphor, this sounds to me to be a lottery that is slightly more likely to pay out the $5 and $10 payouts, but where the chances of the actual “million dollar” payout has odds that are even more reduced.

    I don’t really see any chance of a THE WALKING DEAD / BONE level of success from the sales of comics with any kind of web/social-media driven model.

    THE LARGEST AUDIENCE FOR MOST CARTOONISTS IS THE ONE WHO HAS NO IDEA WHO YOU ACTUALLY ARE… YET.

    -B

    PS: I’m really trying to avoid snark here, but this hit one of my knee-jerks — the word he is looking for is “lose”, not “loose”. He used it wrong at least twice.

  9. Ryan, reading Alex’s comments, I have to think he accidentally dropped the “n’t” and didn’t catch it in proof. Otherwise that entire para doesn’t parse correctly.

    Having said that, you’re correct that we’re currently in strong times for the DM. People are buying a whole lot of comics, and, generally, when someone complains that people aren’t buying *their* comic, it’s because the underlying comic isn’t better than the ones that ARE selling.

    -B

  10. Synsidar says:

    Smith might be focusing too heavily on superhero comics as competition for creator-owned comics.

    If creators submit a work to a traditional book publisher for publication as an OGN, it’s the same as the publisher’s other potential books. Is it suited for an existing imprint? Is there a market for the material? Does it meet the publisher’s editorial standards? If the profit potential is slight, will there be prestige associated with publishing it?

    The distribution system for superhero comics, and those comics only, works like it does because it’s concerned solely with generating profits regularly by publishing material aimed at a single, tightly-defined market. There’s no aesthetic justification for publishing stories about the same small group of characters over and over again; the only justification is the profit potential for publishing issues starring _____ versus publishing a comic series starring an unknown character, by unknown creators, that has to be advertised and promoted to reach a substantial number of possible readers.

    Submitting material for publication to book publishers versus dealing with DC and Marvel is comparable to writing and submitting your own material versus wanting to write a screenplay for a TV series. The market for screenplays is severely limited. If your material is good, you should be able to find a publisher eventually, but the profit potential might be slight. Then it’s a question of whether the pleasure you get from having it published compensates for the potential lost income from not devoting the time to something else.

    If the comics creator’s goal is to publish a series to generate a steady stream of income, then he’ll face the same aesthetic problems that he would working on a superhero series. Does he create to satisfy himself, or does he create to satisfy his readers? If there’s no problem balancing the demands, great.

    SRS

  11. @Elizabeth Barone

    Yeah you’re right lowering prices any more right now is probably pretty much impossible for most. Admittedly I’m not really good at thinking of things from a publisher/retailer perspective as I am neither of these. What I am though, is a customer. And it seems to me that it doesn’t stop price being a major issue for a lot of people whether lowering them is possible or not.

    Saying that though, I really don’t see why digital comics can’t be cheaper other than trying to keep retailers happy by not undercutting them. I see the logic in the retailer thinking on this, but I do think they should just admit that they are 2 wildly different ways of getting the same product and don’t need to be priced the same. If people want printed comics they are likely to be fine with having to pay a little extra for all the process and shipping. Even if digital was significantly cheaper, people will still want print. It strikes me as a fearful way to keep retailers happy, instead of customers. Yet I can’t help thinking that keeping customers happy would be beneficial to retailers, both physical and digital.

  12. I have to agree with the comment above that Mr. Smith might be riding a high. I’ve thought about Kickstarter for my book, but I don’t have enough of a following to hit the mark. I think it helps if a) you’ve had some following, b) it’s an easy elevator pitch genre mashup/twister or c) it looks fantastic. Thankfully Sullivan’s Sluggers has it all. Basically it’s not the answer for everybody. I mean one could have a great book and still not hit the mark and that really sucks. Barring a runaway hit the only real answer is to grind it out. Do the work and hit the bricks to try and get noticed above all the white noise.

  13. Torsten Adair says:

    I don’t know what the thesis of this essay is…
    If it’s comics as retailers, then isn’t this just a new iteration of the Self Publishing movement of the early 1990s? The Internet makes it easy to sell stuff, but the backoffice management is a pain… you need a spouse or paid employee to handle the shipping and billing and paperwork and taxes.

    (Dave Sim might have been the first self publisher to sell direct, when he offered the Cerebus phonebooks via mail order, back in the mid-1980s, when graphic novels were not a significant market segment for comics shops.)

    Paying for comics online… that will be easy to do. Perhaps the creator-publisher offers it directly. More likely, they will partner with a distributor. Comixology might host the digital comic on their servers and process every transaction which comes through, perhaps using the 30% Agency model. (The publisher will have a “Buy Now” button and the transaction will occur on the publisher’s website, and Comixology will also list it in their catalog.) Lulu or PubIt might handle the print-on-demand paper books in the same way, after the initial first printing has sold out, funded by Kickstarter, pre-orders, and/or other incentives.

    Stocking a book (not a comics periodical) in stores? Sure, you could self-publish, but aside from the business headaches, you’ll also have to market the books. A better model is to publish the comics online, then license those comics to a trade publisher. (See: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Mom’s Cancer)

    Some web comics do publish exclusively online, selling print collections. But those print collections are rarely found in stores. Sales are usually by word of mouth: a friend shares a link, the recipient reads the comic for free online, gets hooked, and then buys the collections. This model is similar to the newspaper syndication model, except that newspapers pay to run comic strips, using it as an incentive to get people to read the newspaper. The syndicate or cartoonist then sells collections via bookstores. The Universal UClick website operates like a webcomic website. The comics are free to read, yet there is advertising on the site, as well as a store where one can purchase a variety of merchandise.

    The bigger theme:
    Cartoonists are businessmen/women.
    Every cartoonist should take business courses which pertain to art and publishing. Small business, business planning, the publishing industry, freelancing and contracting, contracts, property rights (copyrights and trademarks), accounting…

    Everything changes. The smarter you are, the better you will be able to anticipate and exploit new opportunities.

  14. John Shableski says:

    It is great to see more conversations like this developing. Creators have more options in getting a ‘book’ to market than they have had in many, many years. Tools like Kickstarter can be as effective as your effort to promote. Reading With Pictures had a very successful(and very ambitious) project funded for around $77K but the success was directly related to the amount of promotional effort from Josh Elder and all the friends of RWP who tweeted and retweeted the campaign.
    How and what comic shops sell is a different conversation. The smarter shops are expanding their genre offerings and their audiences.
    But how does a creator owned and published book make it to the shop and the consumer? You have to find a distribution channel. You also have to learn the business of printing. Both of those are just as critical as your marketing campaign.

    I’ve heard it said that promotion and marketing for a book takes the same energy used to create it. I think the reality is that it is probably twice the effort to create it.

    I do agree that digital should always be cheaper than hard copy. It’s obvious that digital has very little overhead cost associated with it so why keep squeezing the readers? Cheaper means more folks are willing to try your new book/series. If we like a series, we will buy the hard copy. It’s no different than buying the entire season of The Office on DVD.

    I think Mark has made a lot of great points about the new frontier and that it’s become a game that the creator can have a lot more say and control over.

  15. i do think its incredibly screwed up that the creator is the last person on the totem pole to get any sort of compensation from his/her hard work.

    There really are too many middlemen in the comics industry. The problem is that too many creative people are piss poor at business to really go it alone.

  16. @Adam:

    I really don’t see why digital comics can’t be cheaper other than trying to keep retailers happy by not undercutting them.

    I don’t buy digital comics, so I don’t know what the price difference is, but I agree that digital should be cheaper than print. There are still costs involved in digital publishing — hosting, for one — but they’re definitely less costly than print.

    I like having physical copies of things (CDs, comics, books, etc), so I appreciate the models used by some where the digital copy is cheaper and the physical copy is a little more expensive. The latter is still available, but those who want a more economical* solution can buy digital.

    What I am though, is a customer. And it seems to me that it doesn’t stop price being a major issue for a lot of people whether lowering them is possible or not.

    I’m an independent author but also an avid reader, so I see both sides of the coin. As an author, I want to not live in my parents’ basement. As a reader, I want value and quality for my money. I think most people don’t mind a fair price, especially when some comics readers tend to pick up their books when their boxes reach about $30-50. (This is my assumption, based on spending entirely too much time at our local shop and seeing people leave with around fifty issues to go read all at once.) Those who can’t afford $30 at once will buy an issue here and there, spending maybe $10 a month (assuming you’re collecting three series and picking them up weekly). I don’t think that’s too bad.

    I think what needs to change is the order in which involved parties get paid. We deal with the same issue in the books industry. Everyone else gets paid before the person who is actually creating the content, even if you’re receiving an advance. The publisher, distributor, and retailer all get a cut first. In the past, creators have looked at this as a necessary evil, but I think now that we have such a vibrant self-publishing industry and such great tools at our disposal, we don’t need to feel trapped in this cycle.

    *In both the bargain and environmental sense

  17. Hikaru says:

    It’s hard to “do this without any finger pointing or blame placed on anyone” and directly proceed to say the current distribution model hurts creator owned comics. Since Diamond is the only distributor it’s impossible to ignore how they cater to the big companies. I’m sure Smith doesn’t want to step on toes but a spade is a spade.

    If some want to argue that small creator owned books aren’t worth the risk in investment, I call bullshit. Bleeding Cool has a great interview right now with Tom Neely, where he states the Henry & Glenn Forever comic has sold over 50,000 copies…outside the suffocating insular bubble of the comic industry. While convention roundtables and top 10 monthly sales figures promote self-giving blow jobs for the next new rehash, creators finally have an opportunity to have an open honest relationship with the reader.

    It’s not a question about the state of brick and mortar stores…it’s a question of success from independent creators who are constantly ignored by major publishers, distributors, and stores.

  18. Viewing retailers just as “middle men” seems short sighted. The goal should be to partner with them, for mutual success.

    In the past this has been a challenge, since many comic shops were not receptive to anything outside their target demographic. But more and more stores are having success selling a wide range of content and doing amazing things to bring in new readers. The best shops are working WITH authors and finding creative ways to connect books with customers (book clubs, signings, parties, workshops, live readings, author speed dating etc.)

    BTW: I’m not against Kickstarter. I just don’t want to end up in a world were all publishing HAS to be done alone!

  19. It’s no coincidence that webcomics projects account for SEVEN of the Top Ten Most Funded Comics projects on Kickstarter, and the ONLY million-dollar Comics project.

    Strangely enough, giving your comic away for free gives you the potential to make the most money from it on Kickstarter. The more readers you already have, the more people that will back your project.

  20. I think the key metaphor here is the limited piece of land — there are a lot of comics out there and limited shelf and catalog space. And most retailers have little room for error. Obviously retailers will put their priority on what they know they can comfortably sell well, then the rest of the space is allotted to guessing what they think readers will like and what they can get behind to sell. It’s a tough choice I’m sure.

    As a self-publisher, I know how difficult it is as a creator to be a good businessperson and, even more difficult, a good marketer.

    The Kickstarter model seems to be a modern-day update of the classic patronage system–nothing wrong with that. But it is a different model than what we’re used to here in the modern day, hence some of the language in the essay about not feeling apologetic about taking this approach.

  21. @Brian. You should Astrix your statement about “People are buying a whole lot of comics, and, generally, when someone complains that people aren’t buying *their* comic, it’s because the underlying comic isn’t better than the ones that ARE selling.”

    Better is subjective and if your doing, say a comic aimed at kids 10 and under, there might be other markets that it will be more successful in than the DM.

    I think that’s part of the whole indy creator/fan vs. the DM thing that gets brought up pretty regularly. The work they are doing isn’t always necessarily BAD, it’s just not what DM readers (ie Marvel and DC superhero fans) want to buy.

    So those creators understandably tend to go a little ga-ga when after much struggling within the DM they find an alternative market where their stuff will (or has the potential to) sell.

  22. Tom Williams says:

    There are a few shops, good shops, that actively order indie along with mainstream fare. Responding to a crappy point made on Robot 6, no amount of promotion in the DM is going to get an indie book noticed. It happens all the time. If it doesn’t have an X or Bat in front of it, it’s going to get ignored. Save for pull orders.

    I wouldn’t besmirch any indie or small press publisher that goes outside the Diamond/DM system to sell their books. If one isn’t going to order it for their shop, fine. I wouldn’t go complaining about that same small press guy or indie publisher selling their books on Kickstarter, at a con or offering it digitally.

    I see that attitude all the time and it’s not fair. In fact it’s painfully short-sighted. A handful of shops might be selling that book but not everyone is. A creator has to be able to get it out somehow without some DM shop crying foul.

  23. Future Comics, the group led by Bob Layton, Dick Giordano, and David Michelinie, had this very same proposal in full effect, of selling directly to retailers AND consumers, via the intraweb.

    And they bombed big.

  24. mario boon says:

    Richard, can’t it also be that Future Comics were dull, grandpaw written, superhero comics?
    Comics where the niche has been utterly and thoroughly filled ad nauseam?

  25. I think there are several issues here.

    1) Comics, digital or print, individually aren’t expensive, per se, but the sheer volume of comics makes it incredibly expensive to be “up to date”. Take a mainstream character like Iron Man. He’s appeared in around 5400 comics in some way or another. If you wanted to read all of them, even at $0.99, that’s about $5K. Who has that kind of money? Now, multiply by the number of mainstream characters and we’re talking the equivalent of buying a car or even a house.

    2) Retailers have to be part of any market change. If they aren’t on board, it is a very difficult pitch to convince Marvel or DC to gut their sales to offer an affordable option. Marvel and DC would have to gamble that the lost sales from the retailers could be made up in volume.

    3) The idea of everyone grabbing their own piece of land is really no different from what we have today. Yes, you can go find a piece of land that Marvel or DC isn’t currently holding, but you’re still competing with everyone else for sales. This option is already available, as alluded to previously. This is what webcomics do. They seek out an audience and a few successful ones find a way to monetize that audience.

    4) A more promising approach is to grow the pie, even though Marvel and DC will still command the largest shares of it. A top selling mainstream book attracts 150-200k print sales. A movie like the Avengers attracts 50,000,000 people. There is an opportunity to capture that market.

    5) There is power in aggregation. This is one of the key benefits of the LCS. I can walk in and see a number of different books and can get exposed to things I might not seek out on my own. The problem is that it is filtered, not through my personal preferences, but the preferences of the store owner and their estimation of what will sell. Even though digital comics stores might bury the less popular stuff, the chances of finding a book are greater when it is among other comics. Otherwise you’re back to the strength of your own marketing efforts.

    These are some of the reasons why I am starting ComicBin (http://comicb.in). I want to read more comics in a way that makes sense to me and makes it possible for creators to get paid. There are ways for everyone to win when you stop looking at the market as solely competition and look at it from a stand point of coopetition.

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