Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a “sh*tty* business model?

twitter Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?9facebook Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?54google Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?2pinterest Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?0tumblr Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?reddit Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?7stumbleupon Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?0

pvsogn Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a sh*tty* business model?

A few weeks ago, retailer and CBR columnist Brian Hibbs commented on the Fantagraphics Kickstarter campaign, but along the way gave a few sharp-toed kicks to the ribs of graphic novels in general. Hibbs has never been a huge supporter of the economic model of the OGN, but this was his strongest salvo yet:

Original Graphic Novels (OGNs) are a shitty business model.

It is shitty for creators, it is shitty for stores and it is shitty for publishers. Especially in the face of a marketplace that is not only rock-solid non-returnable, but that has evolved a mechanism to draw significant numbers of repeat customers in for regular, scheduled and most importantly paid, weekly visits. That’s a remarkable advantage for a marketplace, and one that doesn’t have any really significant comparable in any other art form.


But-but what about those done in one GNs that are everywhere? How can something that is shitty have produced Fun Home, Exit Wounds, Scott Pilgrim, You’ll Never Know, New School, etc., etc., etc.?

I think serialization inherently produces more work, as well — beyond the lash of the regular ongoing deadline, I think that a serialization-first model allows and encourages work that isn’t already fully-formed — would we have had Chester Brown’s “Ed the Happy Clown” or Dan Clowes’ “Like a Velvet Glove” in an OGN-only world, or would those projects been abandoned when the cartoonists figured out they didn’t have an ending? I think the world is a better place for having those works (however flawed they are) in it, and I don’t think we’d have come to a place where “Paying For It” or “Wilson” could have been created if those earlier works hadn’t come out serialized originally, and the cartoonist hadn’t built an audience and a following.


I was going to write a long riposte to this about how digital sampling allows for the serialization model in a modern environment (of which Hibbs says “the connection between online viewing and making a purchase at the cash register is tenuous, at best” even though the more digital comics there are the more print comics have been selling) and I read Johanna Draper Carlson’s recent analysis of the piece, but then I thought. “Waitaminnit, I’m just a big GN reader and not a periodical fan at this time, but what do OTHER retailers think? That’s more interesting than me getting on my horse again.” So I reached out to a few respected retailers for their thoughts and this is what they said about the mix between periodicals and GNs in their stores:

_______

Joe Field

Flying Colors
Concord CA

I’m not nearly as negative as Brian is about OGNs, but I wouldn’t say OGNs have “radically expanded the market.”

While I do agree that an overwhelming majority of our book business is with previously serialized material, we do have a two OGNs in our top 15 for the year so far: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Adventure Time OGN Volume 1: Playing With Fire.

Granted, a recognizable property like Adventure Times and a well-known graphic novelist like Gene Luen Yang make a huge difference. In my estimation, if there’s a problem with OGNs it’s that we’re in a business that revolves on constant serial entertainment. That often means, unless there is a lot of in-store personal sales focus on an item, that OGNs get a week or two in the spotlight. That works for the inertia of periodical series, but doing that with a $15-30 book with no returnability means there’s a higher risk and a short window for sell through.

Periodicals have the benefit of another issue coming out which can spur a few more sales of previous issues. OGNs are on their own with almost all promotion for them being done in the run-up to publication, but often very little follow-up once the books hit the shelves.

We talk a lot about how great the market for book format  material is—and it is a solid market. But many retailers I’ve been in contact with recently are finding more life and increased sales in periodical comics. Periodicals are still the business core of the direct market while book format comics are a very nice second.  Comics sales have been up by better than 10% a year for the last three years while book sales have been up and down (by 14% in 2012).

In other news, the music business is lamenting the drop in album sales while single sales are up. Different cat, same color.

–––––––––

Leo McGovern

Publisher, Antigravity
Producer, New Orleans Bookfair & Media Expo
Crescent City Comics
4916 Freret St.
NOLA 70115
@leomcgovern

After looking at our year-to-date stats, I’m inclined to say that while OGNs are an important part of the industry, overall the category is much more of a dice roll than collections of serialized material. I used our POS to look at every trade paperback or hardcover that has sold at least 10 copies in 2013. 69 items met that criteria and all but 11 had been serialized and a few of those could be considered special cases for our store.

The top non-serialized GN on our list is Blacksad: Silent Hell, coming in at #7. That book’s set in New Orleans and is an easy sell to locals and tourists alike. The first volume of Blacksad (which wasn’t serialized in the U.S.) clocks in at #50 this year, more or less on the back of Silent Hell. Next up, at #17, is A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Full disclosure: I’m one of the featured characters, so I have reason to keep this book in stock. It’s another good souvenir for tourists, even if it’s more or less hit its peak of local awareness. Of the remaining 7, a couple might not count: Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia (#62), Fortunately the Milk (#67) by Neil Gaiman and Skottie Young, which is more of an illustrated book than graphic novel, and 3 are volumes of the excellent Avatar: the Last Airbender continuation (and you can look at these OGNs as serializations, knocking them out of consideration). Also included are Fun Home (#64) and the paperback Battling Boy (#68, which would rank higher if the HCs were included).  

As with everything, it’s not a black and white situation. I can’t imagine our shelves without Blankets or Habibi or Pride of Baghdad) I loved the recent Bad Houses and moved a few copies of that–it probably won’t make the list next year, but I’m glad the customers who wanted it were able to pick it up. Anthony Bourdain’s Get Jiro fit this criteria last year and would’ve made the list–that’s one I’m glad to have on hand on the occasions someone’s looking for it. That being said, a great many OGNs just sit and sit. Heck, even something like Sandman: Endless Nights sits a lot longer than Sandman volume 10. 

Anecdotally, OGNs are much more important in the all-ages section. Smile, Babysitters Club and Drama are stalwarts considering the ratio of all-ages to everything else we sell. 

For those curious, our full top 10: #1:
Saga Vol.1,
#2: Saga Vol.2,
#3 Manhattan Projects Vol.1,
#4: Hawkeye Vol.1,
#5: Sandman Vol.1,
#6: Adventure Time Vol.1,
#7: Blacksad: Silent Hell,
#8: Fatale Vol.1,
#9: Walking Dead Vol.18,
#10: Avengers vs. X-Men. 

_________

Carr D’Angelo

EARTH-2 COMICS
SHERMAN OAKS
15017 Ventura Blvd. 91403

NORTHRIDGE
8967 Reseda Blvd. 91324 

When I opened a shop in 2003, I thought periodicals would have been phased out by now in favor of book product but that has not been the case.

Periodicals are still strong for comics shops because we are the only place to get periodicals in physical form.  

Many book product sales–especially on more expensive product–have moved to online discounters.  Omnibuses and Absolute style collections are discounted so deep at online bookstores it is hard for comic book retailers to compete price-wise.

But the issue you were originally asking about is periodicals vs OGNS, that is original graphic novels.

The major contribution of OGNs has been to bring a sense of legitimacy and seriousness to the medium.  The works of Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, etc. get written up in the mass media and bring attention to the comic book form as literature.  In terms of superhero OGNs, the Earth One series has worked to bring in people who might not buy a Superman or Batman comic but like to be able to read a single novel.  I’m not sure serializing those stories first would have had the same PR impact as the OGNs did.

But OGNs are not major sellers in comic book shops and unless there are those kind of mind-blowing reviews, it is hard for them to get attention.

Now trade paperback and hardcover collections have been essential in expanding the market so that classic takes are available to all new customers. Arguably, the best-selling collections started out as basically “serialized novels”–Watchmen, Batman The Long Halloween, Hush, Optic Nerve Shortcomings, Civil War and other event stories, Bone, Walking Dead.  

Books like Walking Dead actually offer another paradigm–the collections are a serial as well.  

There is a great body of OGNs that have given us new perennial sellers over the years.  The crime genre has benefitted with books like Tumor and Green River Killer.  Certain kids’ books like Amulet have worked too–but that is still a serial model.

I understand why Fantagraphics may not want to publish Love and Rockets issues, but the Hernandez Brothers have built up enough of an audience and after several years they have established a consistency with the Annual books of New Stories.

But Adrian Tomine still published 3 issues of Optic Nerve that were collected as Shortcomings and that allowed him to be seen in the marketplace and sell the story to two different types of customers.  And sometimes, the same customer buys both formats and that adds to the bottom line as well.

Right now, Battling Boy is the big OGN this year.  After that it’s a long way down before I see another OGN having an impact in our shop.  And even Battling Boy wisely released a comic book issue previewing the OGN.  That was an unusual marketing step for First Second but a very smart one, allowing us to transition Paul Pope’s comic book fans to the collection.  

But most OGNs that come out get some face out time on a rack then become a spine out item after a couple weeks, an item that someone has to come find.  The same thing happens with volume 3 of a superhero tp series–they are books you stock for the Long Tail, for that person who is looking.  It doesn’t sell itself.  

Terry Moore is a great example of serializing then collecting.  We have great success with that work–Rachel Rising, Echo, Strangers in Paradise in all formats.

When comics like Optic Nerve, Love and Rockets, Hate, Peep Show, Yummy Fur, Stray Bullets, Eightball, Acme Novelty, Palookaville, etc., were being published semi-regularly, it made trips to the comic shop worth it to get a new taste of these exciting, groundbreaking artists.  You could always find something new.  And fans of this type of work had a reason to regularly check out their LCS.  But the long production time between OGNs makes those trips less rewarding so I think some of those customers move away from LCS experience and just wait for Amazon to tell them the new Dan Clowes book is out.

Comments

  1. Some really good information here.

  2. Steve W says:

    Very interesting. I think OGNs–especially the HUGE ones (BONE, Fun Home, etc) have a big impact on the first time reader, but I don’t see that Fun Home reader necessarily frequenting a comic book shop. These books appeal to non comics readers in part because they don’t seem like comics, so a better job has to be done making the case for comics as a format.

  3. Speaking as a reader, not a publisher, I find myself moving toward larger periodicals, like Creepy, Dark Horse Presents, and Comics Revue, for example. 24 page comics just don’t seem like $2.99 worth of entertainment to me anymore, where $7.99 for a square bound Dark Horse Presents, with tight storytelling and no ads, feels like a more satisfying chunk of entertainment. In a recent Unwritten, I counted 20 story pages and 10 interior ad pages, after arriving at the end and thinking, “Is that it?” The larger comics are not graphic novels by any means, but are more attractive to me as a reader. I imagine the slightly more expensive books are better for retailers, too.

  4. I think comics people need to stop thinking in the past…if your model is that I, the consumer, am going to go into your shop every Wednesday for the rest of my life, you’re a dinosaur.

    Try attending TCAF on Saturday at 3pm and tell me OGN’s are a crappy business model. There is a model for the OGN, it’s called the “novel”. If Stephen King can make money writing different stories each “novel” then it stands to reason that so can graphic novelists. Sure, it’s harder than cranking out yet another Batman but the rewards are far greater if you can build an audience.

  5. Of course, manga struck the periodical-OGN sweet spot 10-15 years ago. But that primarily benefited bookstores.

  6. horatio weisfeld says:

    With Jimmy and Steve: Great to hear troops on the ground engaged in such pointed debate.

    After reading Brian Hibbs comments- I’m thinking that it’s too bad the current market doesn’t seem to support formats that serialize work.

  7. hsssh says:

    Aren’t OGNs more popular in other distribution channels?

  8. Synsidar says:

    The worst thing about preferring serials to OGNs is that the sales potential for serials is limited, because so many people aren’t interested in buying them. Best selling novels can’t be cranked out on demand, but they’re not accidental, either: they’re generally produced by surveying the demand for types of stories, by particular creators, and designing marketing programs accordingly.

    If the serialize first policy worked for movies, then the market for movies wouldn’t exist in its current form. Producers would instead base most movies on popular TV shows, which indicated built-in demand. Movies based on best-selling novels (Harry Potter, Hunger Games) aren’t comparable to serialized comics, because the novels and movies are marketed as satisfying chunks of entertainment.

    SRS

  9. I know this is the least popular view on the planet, but: whatever.
    Graphic novels may be bad business for comic shops, but comic shops are a terrible business model for comics. So really that’s the larger point.
    Ask publishers if they really agree. Does finding the occassional evergreen book that sells for years on Amazon and in bookstores really turn out poorly for them?
    The question isn’t what’s good business for the direct market. The question is what’s good business for comics.
    The market seems to be showing that, for the industry, they are quite good. More and more publishers are looking for GNs and more and more literary agents are looking to rep their creators. So I think there’s a there there. If it bums retailers out the folks are buying them in bookstores, though, so what?
    As comic shops continue to erode the base of fans, GNs might be a way to help rebuild it, but under a sustainable business model.

  10. shane davis says:

    What’s not mentioned is the “story-telling perspective”. All of the OGN’s I have worked on, if they had been cut up into singles, would have been criticized tremendously. There is a passing to an OGN that you just can’t get completely from singles. I like both formats, but with an OGN vs. collection, an OGN doesn’t have to have a cliffhanger every 20ish pages, and an OGN (like Superman: Earth One) can spend 80-90 pages before getting the costume on. That is hard to do in singles, because reviews would have weighed in negatively for making the reader wait for the costume to come on. An action OGN like Shadow Walk allows to play with action momentum.
    Singles also have major advantages in building steam, but first hand I have had non-comic shop fans approach me for my OGNs, so is that something?

  11. @Brady Dale: “but comic shops are a terrible business model for comics.”
    Bad or lazy comic shops are a bad business model, I’ll give you that. I think one of the bigger issues in the direct market is the lack of accountable standards. You don’t want all comic shops to be the same, but there’s no one entity out there saying something like “if you have a comic shop, you should have these particular books available at all times.” You’d think a retailer would be out of their minds to not stock the Walking Dead, but I’ve heard of one who doesn’t “because it’s black and white.” If you’re a new reader hot off the show and you walk into that store, you’d be reasonably annoyed, right? You’d be right to take your business elsewhere if you’re looking for a copy of Watchmen, or Dark Knight Returns, or V for Vendetta and can’t find them in a place calling itself a “comic shop.” And one or two poor experiences can turn a potential customer off to “comic shops” in general.

    @Steve W: “I don’t see that Fun Home reader necessarily frequenting a comic book shop.”
    @Alex: “if your model is that I, the consumer, am going to go into your shop every Wednesday for the rest of my life, you’re a dinosaur.”

    The best shops I’ve ever been in maintain an atmosphere where if it’s your first time in or your first time in years, you’re just as welcome. If someone’s looking to just read Fun Home, that’s cool–maybe the next time there’s a comic featured on NPR/Daily Show/whatever they’ll know where to look for it. Of course, that’s only if Fun Home’s in stock and I’m aware of media goings-on, which can be tricky. The goal should be if a customer comes in every 3 or 4 months they can have an experience the same way an every-Wednesday customer can. I mean, I’ve got all the volumes of Locke & Key, whether you want to get them all now or stagger them through May 2014. Maintaining that experience gains consumer confidence and loyalty because to give people a real option to ordering online you’ve got to supply a steady wealth of variety.

  12. I’m 99% positive that if serialization sold enough to make money indy publishers would still be doing it. From a comic shop perspective, they order say 5-10, they sell those books and they make money. Hey why can’t they keep doing it? *I’m* making money. But if not enough comic shops are doing it, the publisher doesn’t make money.

    I recall publishers dropping serialization because they just weren’t selling in large enough numbers to support them. This in spite of a lot of them growing up loving the comic book format. The trade was the preferred format for their readers and they knew the book would be coming out in trade, so they skipped the monthly comic. If the trade didn’t come out, they just found another trade to buy. This didn’t just happen to indy publishers it also happened to Vertigo as well.

    The OGNs sell not just in bookstores (physical and online), but also to libraries which is a *huge* market. According the the American Library Association there are an estimated 119,987 libraries of all kinds in the United States today. There are 2996 Library branches in Canada as well. My understanding is there are less direct market comic shops in North America than there are Libraries in Canada.

    Publishers now have multiple streams of selling books, Direct Market, Physical and online Bookstores, Libraries, Conventions and Digital. Only a small percentage of the DM sells the serialized indy books. I suspect the Digital market is not yet large enough to move the needle significantly and Convention table space is limited and expensive and serialized comic just don’t pull their weight in terms of “retail” space.

    Plus some creators don’t want to tell their story in 20-22 page chapter chunks. Clearly great comics can be made in that format, but that doesn’t mean all stories should be told with it. Plus god forbid the serialized book doesn’t meet Diamond’s sales threshold. That can be a marketing kiss of death if it becomes known it didn’t sell enough for distribution purposes.

    In short, I think this ship has long sailed for valid reasons and it ain’t coming back.

  13. I’d be interested to see input from book shop retailers…

    In the last ten years in the UK, the graphic novels market (which includes tpbs/HCs and graphic novels) has expanded in value by over 1000%.

    Book publishers are investing massively in acquiring graphic novels because of the booming market here, and those graphic novels are starting to win mainstream literary awards. I also know of a couple of (top) comic creators who have told me that the HCs and tpbs are where they earn most of their money – in the book shop market.

    So when we’re talking about graphic novels as a poor business model, which ones are talking about?

  14. Torsten Adair says:

    Do OGNs sell in bookstores?

    Well, here’s a little secret:
    Books get three months to sell in a bookstore. (Because then you’re into the next season of new titles.) After that (and sometimes sooner if a large quantity has been ordered), sales are analyzed, stock is adjusted, returns are made, and it starts all over again.

    Generally, a book gets about a month of press and sales. You can see this on the New York Times bestseller lists, especially for fan-fed authors like Laurel K. Hamilton and Danielle Steel. (The fans buy it immediately, it makes the list, stores promote and discount the list, more sales are generated, and about a month later, sales trickle into the long tail.)

    As for the serial model, I’m curious about “Bone”, specifically the final issues.
    June 2004:
    141 22.08 BONE #55 $2.95 CAR 15,902
    April 2004:
    140 17.18 BONE #54 $2.95 CAR 13,490
    Wow.
    This was before Scholastic licensed the color editions.

  15. Another point to consider – location, location, location. I don’t know about those first two stores, but Earth-2 is in Sherman Oaks (and has a superhero centered name to boot). Hi De Ho, Meltdown, Golden Apple have demographics much more conducive to stocking deeper in the graphic novel department. If Comic Cult, a hole in the wall store in a crappy mini-mall in Torrance were to try that, they’d be out of business in two months.

    Really, it’s like the corner bar catering mostly to the local barflies. They need people who drink in volume, and have little incentive to try to draw the downtown lawyers and insurance agents who they’ll never get. Most people who want serial storytelling get it from television and have never heard of a graphic novel. The rest of the reading public want to pick up a book and be finished with it when they hit the last page. If they turn to comics, they’ll get them online because they’re finished too quickly for the price point. Puts stores in a heck of a bind.

  16. You know, I’ve noticed that libraries around here don’t have much in the way of series graphic novels outside of Manga. There’s plenty of superhero stuff to sample, but nothing near sequential, and very little on the Saga, Scalped, etc. continuum. I recall my local one only has volumes four and five of Love and Rockets sequence, the Walking Dead omnibuses (omnibi?) and a few runs of connected OGNs (Resistance, Still Life, Parker). Mostly it’s one-and-done which, that being my preference, keeps me in comics goodness for the indefinite future. Gives the stores the run of that business at least for those who aren’t exclusively online buyers.

    That said, I would love nothing more than to divide my purchases between internet and supporting the local stores. My sheer lack of employment the past two years makes that impossible.

  17. Torsten – that doesn’t take into account backlist sales at all though, which make up the majority of book sales (particularly outside the festive period). But this is in the UK where discounts in bookstores are getting rarer (as opposed to in supermarkets which don’t sell GNs anyway), and backlist is becoming more prominent with minimal returns.

  18. Torsten Adair says:

    With the returnable model, comics shops are also less likely to order new periodical titles.

    So where does one gain exposure?
    Digital comics. (See: Smile, Diary of a Wimpy Kid)

    Both of those examples were discovered by mainstream publishers (Scholastic, Abrams) and marketed aggressively. Smile, while selling nicely in comics shops, has sold over 200,000 copies via Scholastic book fairs, and continues to chart on the New York Times bestseller list (80+ weeks so far).

    Mainstream publishers know how to market original books. They know the audience (there is no “All Ages” demographic!) for each title, which markets to sell that title towards, how to get it reviewed, how many free copies to give away, where to stage signings…

    Marvel is already transitioning a few periodical titles to digital only.
    Will this strategy follow the direct-only timeline of the mid-1980s?
    Will we see a reduction of Direct Market titles in the coming decade just like we saw a reduction in newsstand titles in the 1980s?

  19. Brian Grindrod says:

    Been a year since I opened up my GRAPHIC NOVEL store in the heart of downtown Montreal. We offer other collectibles such as signed or limited hardcover editions, statues, posters, And other assortment of collectibles. We don’t carry the monthlies but we do have ‘wall books’.

    It is a risk but there is a growing trend of people who prefer TPBs and HCs. Why? Because they prefer reading a complete story in one sitting. Not wait month after month for a chapter or having to chase down a tie-in, crossover with one or more titles, having to pay more for a variant cover, and they much prefer to store these editions on their shelves than long boxes

    In addition, what passes as stores looks nothing less than a damp smelly basement that is clutteted. Not very inviting for a parent and their kids nor the female gender. Graphic novels are a better product to sell to the general public rather than the format that if not for Walking Dead, would tank deeper and deeper sales wise.

    There is a vast number of people in the city who grew up buying and reading European graphic novels. Nice oversized hardcovers that have a complete story or have several chapters in a slipcase. Quality paper, binding in which the pages don’t come out, the cover won’t crease, having the choice to get a signed or sketched version, leather bound cover or something that will make the book/product look appealing.

    Image, Dark Horse, Humanoids and IDW are leagues and years ahead in the North American market. They know that is where the future lies. DC and Marvel had it going for a while with Graphitti Designs but at one point, their corporate staff will realize that the asking price for their HCs and TPBs offers little for what the other publishers offer for their money.

  20. Chris Hero says:

    Leo McGovern,

    I also know a comic shop that won’t sell Walking Dead because it’s Image and Image is “indie shit.” I thought I was the only one who knew a place like that.

    Anyway, this comment thread had lots of good things to say. Interesting reading.

  21. Brian, you are an idiot.

  22. Kurt Busiek says:

    Just to note:

    >> I think OGNs–especially the HUGE ones (BONE, Fun Home, etc)>>

    BONE is not an OGN.

    >> Of course, manga struck the periodical-OGN sweet spot 10-15 years ago.>>

    Most of them weren’t OGNs, either. They were reprints of material that had been serialized in very profitable anthologies.

  23. There’s an awful lot of conflation from people who should really know better, and a staggering lack of understanding of real-world commercial realities on display in this thread.

    I say this as a store who MOSTLY sells book format comics (over 60% of my sales) — there is virtually no OGN that wouldn’t have done at least as well, if not better had it had some form of serialization. Big hits like BATTLING BOY and SCOTT PILGRIM could have had thousands of more customers had they been serialized first in a relatively low cost format.

    And all of those books would still have sold just as well in collected editions later — witness the person above who thought BONE was an OGN!

    I love selling books, and I sell a LOT of books (Like I said: over 60% of my annual sales), but things that serialize first virtually always sell more copies than things that don’t. This is as true in the comic book shop as it is in the bookstore — just go look at the Top 20 for BookScan (http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/27371.html), of that top 20, I think only 1 (the Avatar GN) wasn’t serialized first, though maybe it is two (Dunno about Maximum Ride?)

    If that isn’t evidence enough: the SANDMAN OGN ENDLESS NIGHTS sells significantly worse than SANDMAN v1. It’s not even a contest. And this is with ENDLESS NIGHTS being pretty specifically designed as bookstore (and casual reader) bait.

    I truly wish this wasn’t the case — it would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars in liquidated books over the years! — but to try and argue about it is, really, pretty damn silly.

    For every FUN HOME, there are fifty OGNs that didn’t even pay out minimum wage.

    -B

  24. Mr Hibbs, I know your store sells indy/alternative serialised comics, and that’s great. YOU ARE THE EXCEPTION. Most comic shops don’t bother. This is why the business model is not economical. If every store was like yours this conversation wouldn’t be happening. Publishers abandoned the serialised pamphlet model because it lost them a ton of money. Period.

  25. Well said, Roger. Brian’s perspective could be greatly improved by touring a few thousand comic book stores and seeing the reality outside his shop and his circle of peers.

  26. patrick ford says:

    Jamie and Roger have it correct. The average comic book shop would not stock something like PALOOKAVILLE if it were an inexpensive periodical and did not stock it when it was an inexpensive periodical.

  27. patrick ford says:

    To point, I just now read an interview with Gilbert Hernandez where he said he’s tried serialization, keeps on trying it, would like to create an open ended serial comic book, and there is just no interest.

  28. Brian, you used the Sandman Endless Nights comparison in your article as well, and I think you’re making an error of causation. Isn’t it possible that Endless Nights sells less than Sandman Vol 1 b/c it is a collection of short stories and Vol 1 is well, Vol 1? Shouldn’t you compare Endless Nights’ sales to something like The Dream Hunters (w/ P. Craig Russell) which WAS serialized first? Both books take place out of the main Narrative but I suspect would not do much to bolster your argument.

  29. Wow, got to love the type of entitled fan who thinks he could give Brian Hibbs some perspective on comics retailing.

    Here’s something that could improve the perspective of a lot of commenters: Hibbs said that ORIGINAL graphic novels were a shitty business model–as in, comics that go straight to graphic novel format with no serialization–not all graphic novels. (As seen in the confusion about Bone and manga up above.)

    I mean, the headline and the framing of this post don’t do anybody any favors, but it’s right there in the first line of the quote.

  30. ” Shouldn’t you compare Endless Nights’ sales to something like The Dream Hunters (w/ P. Craig Russell) which WAS serialized first?”

    I wouldn’t compare something specifically created as original comics to something that was created to be an illustrated prose story, and then adapted to comics later, no.

    BUT, if we want to use the PCR Dream Hunters as a point of conversation, how is this: ICv2 says issue #4 (of 4) sold just over 20k units to the DM.

    BookScan shows 2042 copies sold in 2010, 1334 in 2011, and 688 in 2012 — just about 4k copies sold total in THREE YEARS. Let’s assume that BookScan under-reports by half; let’s further assume that the DM book sales are equal to THAT total as well — that means in 3 years it has sold roughly 16k copies, compared to the 20k the comic book sold in a single month.

    Honestly, this is not rocket science — more people are willing to buy things that cost $3 than they are things that cost $20. Without multiple revenue streams, comics become MORE expensive, not less. PALOOKAVILLE? The newest “issue” was $23!

    And let’s stop this whole “Oh noes, the bad old comic stores don’t carry Aht!” argument, shall we? CLYDES FANS, for example, shows…. wow, just EIGHTEEN copies sold through BookScan in 2012. Looks like those awesome book stores (hey: and that INCLUDES Amazon!) aren’t especially buying the work either..

    Seriously, the math is all out there, folks — multiple revenue streams, multiple venues, multiple ways of selling a work is better than singular ones.

    -B

  31. This is a serious question then: why do publishers like Fantagraphics even publish OGNs?

  32. Roger, I love your writing.

    Until you’ve been in “Most comic shops” (and you haven’t) please don’t paint us all in any kind of generalization.
    My store is one of four in Tallahassee. It’s widely regarded as the best of the bunch. We carry lots of indie/alternative comics, and have a graphic novel/collected edition section that is larger than most in the region. Hell, my KIDS section is larger than the graphic novel section of any other store in town. BUT, even the stores in town that are, shall we say, less well-regarded, carry at least SOME indie/alternative comics. Even though I have also not visited “Most comic shops,” I can say that of the ones I’ve visited, every single one of them have carried at least some.

    Are there stores that won’t carry that “indie shit?” (Not your words, I know.) Sure. I know of one that I get regular reports on from a former customer who is stuck with it as his only shop in the county he lives in.

    But they are by no means “Most comic shops.”

    Please feel free to stop by and see!

  33. @Kurt, True most manga was serialized in its home market, but as far as the US market was concerned, they were essentially OGNs.

    @Hibbs, it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that Sandman v1 sales justify serialization. The serial market was much, much different 25 years ago, and Neil Gaiman is now a best-selling novelist. I would think a better measure would be to look at how Sandman Overture is selling for you.

    And also, I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Scott Pilgrim yet. How do Scott Pilgrim sales (recent and historical) compare to any Oni serials?

  34. “I would think a better measure would be to look at how Sandman Overture is selling for you.”

    Sure. It is currently my best-selling periodical. I’ve sold roughly 4x what I expect I would have sold of an OGN of the same material in the same time period… AND, it’s (relatively) low price point has given me better option to sell more lapsed and civilians OTHER awesome periodical comics like SAGA or MANHATTAN PROJECTS.

    And we’ll still sell a metric shit-ton of the HC when it finally comes out.

    “but as far as the US market was concerned, they were essentially OGNs.”

    Hardly. Without the serialization revenue streams, the cost-per-page to create that materially natively in the US would have been wildly unprofitible.

    Nothing that I have said has anything to do with the END USER, or what their perception might be. It is about retailers (in any channel), publishers and creators!

    -B

  35. Eventually someone from First Second will show up here, and the fight will begin.

    The fact is, we need ALL DIFFERENT KINDS of business models, and finally after years of struggle by myself, brian and many like minded individuals, we have a market that has more than one channel of distribution. There is still not nearly enough money going around, but the capacity is there.

    In my opinion, OGNs are a perfectly find business model for those who know what they are doing, distribution wise. AS you can see even from the above, the biggest market for them seems to be the booming children’s YA area.

  36. Heidi, it would be interesting if you followed this up with responses from publishers and/or cartoonists.

  37. Paul Houston says:

    I don’t go to comic book shops anymore. I don’t want serialized over priced chapter stories anymore. Therefore I have no reason to go to a comic shop. I get all my comics in graphic novel or trade form through online sites.

    I like the idea of comic shops existing of course, but graphic novels to me are a very wise publishing model.

  38. Steve W says:

    First, I stand corrected: BONE isn’t an OGN, but my point is that bookstore books like BONE or FUN HOME do not necessarily advertise comics or comic book shops. Most bookstore readers think they’ve stumbled onto a good one & the stuff in comic book stores is mostly Superman trying to out run kryptonite. Of the big bookstore/ library books, in my opinion, only Watchmen is an advertisement for what is generally perceived as “comics.”

    I like the monthlies–they’re fun. But collecting them IS tough: if you don’t know which Weds they come out you’d better get a sub. My guess is that very few of those readers that discover a good GN in a bookstore become comic book store regulars. Its 2 separate markets.

  39. Calvin Reid says:

    It’s not that surprising that Brian thinks OGNs are shitty business model, I think a lot of book publishers think books of any kind, comics or prose, are a shitt business model. Even big publishers like HarperCollins are starting to call themselves content producers, to move away from the old world stigma of the book. But frankly periodicals are a shitty art model, and I for one, am just not interested in waiting a month or whatever it may take to find out the next thrilling episode. the fact is that retailers and publisher should offer a variety of formats. We’re never going back to the one-genre retail marketplace nor to some kind of one format marketplace, at least in comics shops.

  40. johnrobiethecat says:

    When Marvel and DC finally go out of business as a serial publishing outfit and just exist as trade entities or video game sources , that will be a good day for comics as an art form. Maybe not for comic shops but the public correctly identifies them as a small sect selling the same bad product to the same ol’ buyers. Regurgitating and rebooting tstuff that was done in 6o’s , 70’s & 80’s over and over again. Movies are at least somewhat understandable.

  41. Ed Brubaker says:

    Man, people get really passionate about the serial vs OGN argument.

    Serialized fiction is fine, it’s been around for a long time, and it’s how Dumas and Dickens and many other authors wrote their books. Breaking Bad is serialized fiction, no one minded that, on principal. Jimmy Corrigan, Building Stories, most of Dan Clowes best work, were also serialized, and are certainly still art.

    The cartoonists I knew who switched from serial to GN did it because they wanted to. Some of why they wanted to was because they wanted to try to reach a different market in bookstores, and some of it was that they already were barely making any money on the serial editions, so why not just do a book instead and not worry about sales as you go.

    The business side of serializing makes sense if you have even a decent readership and if you work on something like the Icon or Image model, where basically all the money goes to the creative team. If a cartoonist is getting 8% of cover price on a single issue, like some of the indie comics deals I knew of in the 90s, then unless you sell a lot of copies, you may not be making enough for it to be worthwhile.

    In any case, both models are fine for their content, and I’m sure there are stores that love OGNs as much as others prefer serialized. For me, I couldn’t survive without serializing, but then, I like serialized fiction. Anticipation is part of the experience for the reader.

  42. Ed Brubaker says:

    I don’t mean to imply that Dan Clowes did Building Stories or Jimmy Corrigan, by the way. I know they’re Chris Ware books.

  43. MBunge says:

    Everyone is entitled to want what they want, but willful indifference to reality is never a good thing.

    Mike

  44. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> True most manga was serialized in its home market, but as far as the US market was concerned, they were essentially OGNs.>>

    No, they’re not.

    The fact that they’ve already made their costs back in another format in a different country doesn’t mean they haven’t already made their costs back in another format. This is a huge factor in publishers’ ability to succeed with them in the US — the costs that need to be recouped are much much lower thanks to prior serialization — and makes them a very different business model from OGNs.

    That the first time you see them they’re in collected form doesn’t mean that makes them the same business structure as, say, FUN HOME. Heck, the first time I’m getting access to BUZ SAWYER is in book form, because those strips came out before I was born. But Fantagraphics’s BUZ SAWYER collections aren’t OGNs either — they’re reprints of something that made its costs back already in another form.

    Ignoring the “original” in OGN, as if what matters if whether you’ve seen it before, ignores the market realities that drive these books. An OGN is a book that bears its costs in GN form first. Manga reprints are reprints, and that’s a whole ‘nother exercise in how to make publishing work.

  45. “But frankly periodicals are a shitty art model, and I for one, am just not interested in waiting a month or whatever it may take to find out the next thrilling episode.”

    I don’t understand this comment, Calvin? (and the other variations in this thread) — if you don’t want to buy periodicals, then just wait until it all gets collected. It isn’t like 95% of periodicals don’t get a book release at the end!

    There are people who buy Walking Dead monthly as a comic; there are people who buy it every six months as a collection; there are people who buy it once a year as a HC; and there are even a few people who buy it every 4 years as a Omnibus. These are all valid choices!

    I would think that people would prefer more formats and choices, and not fewer, EVEN IF THAT CHOICE ISN’T FOR YOU. Especially if it lets creators create more, and retailers (AGAIN: IN *ALL* CHANNELS!!!) sell more.

    Anyone whose argument (not you Calvin) is “I don’t like comics stores” is ENTIRELY 100% missing the point.

    Again: I sell more dollars of books than comics; but I also know that most of those dollars would evaporate if the periodicals aren’t strong.

    -B

  46. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> I stand corrected: BONE isn’t an OGN, but my point is that bookstore books like BONE or FUN HOME do not necessarily advertise comics or comic book shops.>>

    Interesting assumption, that those two are “bookstore books.” I wonder how many copies each has sold through bookstores as compared to how many they’ve sold through comics stores.

    I make no guesses. I just wonder at the assumption.

    I also wonder if “bookstore readers” are as unaware of what comics have to offer as you think (my experience is that there’s a lot of overlap between bookstore buyers of GNs and comics shop customers).

    But overall, I don’t think the question of whether the OGN is a good business model has much to do with whether GNs sold in bookstores promote comics shops, since the question of serialization versus OGN-ing doesn’t affect whether books sold in bookstores promote comics shops at all.

    I like OGNs, and I like serialized comics. I suspect that if, say, UNDERSTANDING COMICS had been serialized, it would never have reached completion, and I wonder about others — would DELILAH DIRK have benefited from print serialization? It certainly benefited from online serialization.

    In the end, I’m glad to have both, and any other format that gets me good comics. But that doesn’t mean Brian’s issues are irrelevant. If you’re making comics and multiple revenue streams are a workable option, they may be crucial. If print serialization will lose you money and blunt the promo value of your rollout, maybe not so much.

    kdb

  47. Ed Brubaker says:

    Much as I am enjoying Battling Boy, I sure did miss seeing Paul Pope’s artwork for the last five years other than the odd thing here or there. I’d love 5 or 10 Paul Pope books a year.

  48. Ed Brubaker says:

    I suspect if I went back in time and asked him, Dickens would say the serial deadline was his best and worst muse at the same time, but that he’d have written much less without it. Your Dickens mileage may vary, but the man produced a lot.

  49. I can see where an “OGN only” business model would be bad for a comic book store which is Hibbs’ bread and butter. I don’t think Fantagraphics is necessarily aiming for the DM crowd so much as the book store/library crowd, though.

    Neither do they seem to be as concerned with commercial success as much as artistic merit. That can be problematic for a profit-driven company as we’re seeing now, but that doesn’t make their approach any less valid.

    Brian Hibbs is a businessman who is concerned with furthering his own business. He obviously thinks his model is the best for this industry otherwise he’d be doing something else. That doesn’t mean it’s the only approach and that other motivations and conditions aren’t also valid.

    I think Hibbs’ assertions need to be taken along with his own biases and motivations. If I open a butcher shop with a Subway in it and primarily promote the “Eat Fresh” side then I can’t be upset when people aren’t buying many of my flank steaks.

    In short, I don’t think OGNs are the best product for many comic book shops as they are for a potentially different audience.

  50. @Ed: I don’t think Paul Pope could work like that. In my opinion he’s Jimi Hendrix and cannot be expected to work on a Paul McCartney production schedule.

  51. Ed Brubaker says:

    I just miss the days when there was a big issue of THB or something else every few months.

  52. “In short, I don’t think OGNs are the best product for many comic book shops as they are for a potentially different audience.”

    *headdesk*

    They’re the SAME customers. Trust me, I’ve been selling to them for a quarter century now.

    The civilian who comes in looking for a good, new and interesting comic DOES NOT KNOW OR CARE whether a book was serialized or not. It’s all new to them.

    And people, in general, like things that have more to it if they like the first taste! I regularly try to pitch civies on ENDLESS NIGHTS, but virtually all of them end up walking out with the multi-volume main series. Go figure!

    But seriously, I’m not saying this to promote an agenda, or protect one kind of market or anything else like that — I’m telling you the things that I regularly witness as a book store that specializes in comics, and has a massive civilian trade!

    -B

  53. Steve W says:

    I’m glad to hear that “bookstore” GN buyers are finding their way into comic book stores. It gives me hope that the store will continue. An interesting discussion.

  54. Estimates from John Jackson Miller’s excellent Comic Chronicles site show that, in specialty stores, there are approximately 3x the dollars in periodicals than there is in book format comics.

    That Brian’s well-respected Comix Experience is doing 60% of its business in book format comics—and he’s still questioning the OGN business model— is worth highlighting.

    If OGNs are not a stellar performer for a specialty shop doing 60% of its business in books, then extrapolate the challenges for specialty store retailers that do a bulk of their business in periodicals.

    Torsten’s experience in mass market bookstores reliably reports that books essentially get a “season” of three months to make it in mass market stores.

    For every new OGN that gets critical acclaim over an extended period (longer that just a “season”), there are scores of titles– good, not so good and meh in the majority of released OGNS— that do not get the benefit of long-term promotion or in-store personal attention.

  55. I certainly can’t sit here and question the business experience of a long-time retailer, but I also don’t think his observations are the end of the conversation. Brian, I wonder if you aren’t being short-sighted in your analysis in observing the behavior of your weekly visitors. In other words, “The audience for comics is the Comicon crowd, and so-called “indie/alternative” comics must appeal to as much of a tiny subset of the Comicon crowd as they can eke out while they are perusing the Marvel/DC product.”

    I spoke briefly to the Comic Cult proprietor that I mentioned above, who pointedly told me, “Comics are a niche market and always will be.” I thought for a long time whether I agreed with that, then posed the question to the owner of Pulp Fiction, a Long Beach shop that has a deep stock of graphic novels. He said, “Maybe that’s true; but maybe comics could be a niche market for five percent of the public instead of one percent.” That’s a comics market QUINTUPLE THE SIZE of what currently exists. After the past ten years, I absolutely think such a thing is possible, and maybe even inevitable, however, I don’t think it will happen as you are envisioning it for both practical and artistic reasons.

    In my lifetime, the comics industry has always been upside-fucking-down, with the most mainstream, accessible material being labeled “alternative” and material that is absolutely niche and limited called “mainstream”. I once had a cashier from a poorly-stocked store ask me if Persepolis was an “indie” book (he didn’t recognize the title). I said, “Uuuuhhh, it’s published by Random House and it’s a New York Times best-seller.” What exactly would Persepolis be independent from? Disney? You say that there are lots of OGNs not finding their audience, and largely, the natural audience for those books aren’t going into comics stores, good or bad. If they did, they sure wouldn’t be looking to buy skinny chapters of something.

    Serializing Fun Home is just a non-starter. I just can’t see it either finding more than a marginal foothold among periodical buyers or adding to its sales in the long run (in addition to it making zero sense for presentation of the story). There’s no way that the market for periodicals could absorb the flood of material appearing these days, and no chance that retailers would or could support such a thing. Nor would I want to distract the attention of creators and publishers by demanding they put in the extra effort to do something that makes so little sense artistically for dubious payoff.

    Pre-serialized books sell better because they have an audience established over decades, and the OGNs have to find their audience and the proper venues to cater to them. These two groups aren’t the same people. I once walked into a holiday home-craft sales event in Koreatown whose customers were young, urbane, arty, funkily dressed and attractive. I asked around a bit, and of course found no one who read comics or knew anything about them. These folks are a natural for OGNs, and I wondered how the medium could reach them. I guarantee that it isn’t by handing them one-twelfth of a story.

  56. “These folks are a natural for OGNs, and I wondered how the medium could reach them. I guarantee that it isn’t by handing them one-twelfth of a story.”

    Conflation!

    When I’m saying that OGNs are a shitty business model, that’s not ANYthing even slightly like “so sell civilians periodicals!”. What?!?!?

    I also don’t think you should do FUN HOME as a 8 part mini series or something — but I think there are ways that publishers could figure out to serialize “literary” material that would be rational for all.

    And PERSEPOLIS *was* serialized — sure, in 48 page “albums”, in France, but that’s not a lot different from the manga situation, really. I find it pretty unlikely that Random House would ever have paid for the creation of that particular work originally.

    -B

  57. I’ll even take it on from the other end. There’s a Jim Ottiavani book called T-Minus about the early space program. I showed it to a friend who recommended it to someone he knew who works at NASA. The NASA guy bought it, loved it and raved about it to his co-workers. He was dead-stop the perfect reader for that graphic novel.

    Are you saying, Brian, that T-Minus, which I assume you would identify as one of those lost OGNs, ought to have come out in five periodical installments? Really? You think a segment of your weekly floppy customers actually would have paid $3.99 or higher for twenty-two pages of rocket scientists? You would have put in for pre-orders on a book called T-Minus along with your hundreds of others choices and then invested in the collected book which would have gathered fans over it’s year or so of scraping itself to completion?

    I’m skeptical. Maybe it’s too nerdy an example. Substitute Marbles if you want. Eighteen months of bipolar disorder comics. Thrill as next issue our heroine goes from manic to depressive!

  58. And missed this one:

    “Brian, I wonder if you aren’t being short-sighted in your analysis in observing the behavior of your weekly visitors. In other words, “The audience for comics is the Comicon crowd, and so-called “indie/alternative” comics must appeal to as much of a tiny subset of the Comicon crowd as they can eke out while they are perusing the Marvel/DC product.” ”

    So, today, in the four hours we’ve been open so far, there have been about 18 people walking through, resulting in 10 sales (lots of “just looking” today, more than normal, that’s for sure!). Only 3 of them bought something from Marvel or DC…. and one of THOSE was 25-cent-comics.

    On the other hand, only one of them bought a “literary” comic… and that was DAYBREAK, to a civilian looking for Zombie comics…!

    Most sales to civvies are actually what we used to call “ground level” comics, really — Saga, TWD, Black Science, stuff like that.

    So, this would not seem to be accurate in how I analyze my customer behavior.

    -B

  59. Okay, I retract the last sentence of my way-too-long post. I get that you’re talking about verisimilitude of format. I’m saying that serialization doesn’t make sense for a lot of the books you’re talking about, and wouldn’t work out financially if it did. The books that fit the serialization model are the ones still being serialized. If OGNs as a whole haven’t quite found their footing yet, it’s no reason to dismiss them as a “shitty business model.”

    I will argue that the core problem is that the pie is too small to begin with, not how that pie is being sliced up. Divide that tiny pie any way you like, it’s still gonna add up to a damn small dessert.

  60. horatio weisfeld says:

    I’m just so out of it: waaay back, in one of the first few posts in this thread, I said something about there being little market for “serials”, by which I meant no market for the really short (8-10 page) story parts that were successfully published when I was in my teen and twenties, like, say, how V for Vendetta or The Crow or Rocketeer or Miracleman or Sin City all began… Alas, as I started reading the later posts , I realized that serials to people here mean 20-30 page installments or what (back in my teens and twenties) we used to call “Comic Books.” … Coming to this understanding that I was sooo out of the loop didn’t make me feel old but a little sad and finally nostalgic for that lost world where somebody wouldn’t even need to do the first 8 or ten page part of something to get us all excited and talking .. I remember when sometimes all they would to do was one single page or even couple of panels, and then we would see how good they were and we’d all be learning something from them already – and we weren’t giving ta lot of time to thinking about comic books becoming movies and there wasn’t no internet – and all we wanted to know was to what was going to happen next.

  61. Bakema NL says:

    What I don’t get is why people call it (Original) Graphic Novels. Most of what goes by that name are collected issues of series/limited series.
    And calling them “Graphic Novels” means avoiding calling them comics which somehow is considered negative or something.
    Buying a single Superman issue makes you a comic book reader…..negative, the basement dwelling nerd at mom’s home and by calling 6 of those issues collected in a volume a graphic novel, preferrably slap a harcover around it and it somehow should appeal to the brighter (ahum, lol) crowd normally ignoring those stupid comics. Naaaahhh, guess that’s not the way it works…or does it? If so, then that “bright” crowd is of a stupidity that’s undescribable. And there’s nothing wrong with comics whatsoever….but explain that to people who are not from the in-crowd…a discussion on itself.

    I have totally embraced the graph…….aaaaah, almost fell for it…..I have totally embraced the trade paperbacks, collecting a number of comics. I have been reading comics since I could read (also European stuff of course), am 43 years old now. All in all I have some 35000 single issue American comics. At the end of the 80’s I got access to the original American comics, quit at the end of the 90’s (gaming took over, became a dad, got fed up with manga influences in comics….needed a break), returned 5 years later…..quit 2 years later unfortunately, because of a divorce and having to take care of a 7 year old on my own, so I needed my money for other things. A year later got into another relationship and I’m back at comics for a few months now….that itch just never goes aways totally. :)

    But with one, or 2 actually, big differences. I always said I would never switch to trades. But I don’t want to think about the hassle of single issues anymore. My time is limited for one thing. And I don’t want to hunt down that one issue I somehow missed in a series anymore, I just don’t. I want complete stories preferrably, with beginning, middle and end. I want to read a lot because I like a lot, so there’s the money aspect….trades usually cost less than the single issues. And on top of that a lot of times you get extras too like a little extra story or pinup artwork in the back, background information, etc, not provided in the single issues. It’s like the music business where they put out an album the fans buy right away and where 6 months down the line they bring out and extended version with more songs on it or a dvd…..stupid marketing, feeding off your buying audience that still wants to shell out money for your stuff where the majority is just downloading it for free these days…….stupid, stupid way of doing things, killing your own business. I would be a moron to still buy those single issues. I’m done with that collector aspect of the comic books. It has always been about the beautiful art and the stories. Stick your overpriced issue one where the sun don’t shine, I just want to read the story and marvel at the pics….so give me that trade. Reprint that stuff so I can order it when I want, no more frustration of missing that one ridiculously priced issue in a series, I can live without that!
    The other biggest change from my former buying habits is I’m avoiding the so-called big 2 almost completely! Another thing I never thought would happen. I always bought tons of “indies” besides the big 2….and with indies I also mean smaller publishers than Image, Dark horse, Valiant (at the day) and other still somewhat large publishers. Missing a single issue of that very small Publisher gave the most headache in earlier days…..those you could never find again most of the time. Of course there’s the problem for me not living in the USA too…doubling the trouble.
    Anyway, avoiding the big 2. I’m done with the same stories over and over again, done with the reboots and retcons. Done with “the story” never ending, it just goes on and on. OMFG, character X dies in this issue!!!! AAAAHHH. Who cares? He or she is bound to come back somewhere along the line anyway. Emotional impact zilch. There’s always a soft spot for those characters, always that itch, but I’m done. There’s so much other stuff out there I can and do enjoy…….I guess I ordered somewhere between 100 – 200 trades in the last 4 months or so. And yes, I said ordered. From outside my lazy chair, I’m not going through that whole every week on wednesday (thursday over here) picking up my comics at the store anymore. I do like stores, but it takes up too much of my time to go there every week. That can become something like a chore too, really. And it’s wrong when you feel that way about it. Ordering online is easy, delivered on your doorstep and it’s cheaper too a lot of times….especially when I order from outside my own country…ridiculous, but true.
    So I visit a store just when I feel like. I frequent a comic book store maybe once a month or sometimes after two months inbetween just because I feel like it….a store not carrying American comics (well, a few…trades). So that’s for the European stuff, an album a year maybe for most series. So I just walk in and see what’s new and on the shelves….if I should miss something I can order it online.

  62. Matt Arado says:

    While I think the trade paperback/OGN format is the best one for reading comics, I’m certainly not opposed to serialization, or the readers who prefer it. As has been said many times in this thread, a variety of models seems to be a very good thing for everyone.

    But getting back to the statement that sparked this discussion, that OGN’s are “a shitty business model” — I’ve seen no convincing evidence offered by Brian Hibbs or anyone else so far to support that. It’s hard for me to swallow the implied notion that all the publishers and/or creators who have embraced the OGN model are either 1) Unwilling to pocket all the additional money to be made via serialization, or 2) Too dumb to realize such revenue is available. It seems more likely that those publishers/creators have tried serialization, or at least thoughtfully considered doing so, and decided that, in fact, it DIDN’T make financial sense for them.

  63. MBunge says:

    ” I guarantee that it isn’t by handing them one-twelfth of a story.”

    Which is probably why comics sold so much better when each issue was treated as more of a stand-alone story instead of merely one chapter among many. Even when storylines were continued from issue to issue, comics used to be written and drawn to be relatively satisfying entertainment on their own merits. It is the decompressed, faux-cinematic storytelling of today, and the expectation of the modern, older audience that every story should be told that way, which has perverted the concept of serialization.

    Mike

  64. MBunge says:

    “But getting back to the statement that sparked this discussion, that OGN’s are “a shitty business model” — I’ve seen no convincing evidence offered by Brian Hibbs or anyone else so far to support that”

    Try this.

    Put all the publishers who produce mainly or exclusively OGNs on one side.

    Put all the publishers who produce mainly or exclusively serialized comics on the other side.

    Which side is bigger? Which side makes more money? Which side has more sales? Which side has more people making a living? I mean, isn’t that what really matters when it comes to business models? How many people are making a living at doing OGNs vs. how many are making a living at serialized comics?

    Mike

  65. Hey Brian, I’m not sure I understand your response. I was marshalling an argument at least partially in support of yours. Not only do YOU think OGNs, and by that you have to mean BOOKS are a shitty business, but prose book publishers, New York trade prose book publishers like HarperCollins and others, are saying much the same about books in general. Why do you think publishers are calling themselves CONTENT PROVIDERS these days? Many publishers have said that they can’t continue to think of themselves as book publishers anymore. So In fact yes, I do wait for the graphic novel in most cases because I prefer the format (which is not to say that I never read periodical comics). Now remember I also get a lot of periodicals just sent to me because of my job. My comment was not an absolute anti-periodical position, because I acknowledge that many fans like them. I also think that economically serials are useful to artists, publishers and retailers. My point is that shitty or not, OGNs/Books, long format content, whatever you want to call them, appeal to a growing part of the reading market (comics folks, prose folks discovering comics and libraries if I may add, which do not acquire periodicals) and will continue to do so in ever-increasing numbers. I personally don’t believe periodicals are going away and believe you me I hear serious comics reader say that “floppies” are doomed to go away all the time. Books/OGNs may be shitty for business, but they’re ideal for deep, immersive, compulsively enjoyable READING. And may I remind everyone, that this words and pictures thing is about READING as well as being about business. Call it the business of reading. Periodicals have their use and so do book format comics. My point, once again, is that the future of comics means offering readers what they want, be it periodicals, OGNs/Books, digital and/or anything else that the consumer wants.

  66. Kurt Busiek says:

    Bakema
    >> What I don’t get is why people call it (Original) Graphic Novels. Most of what goes by that name are collected issues of series/limited series.>>

    No, they’re not.

    If they’re collected issues of series/limited series, they’re not OGNs. They’re reprints, they’re collections, they’re just plain GNs. But unless their first publication is in book form, they’re not OGNs. That’s what the “original” means — original to that format.

    HELLBOY: SEED OF DESTRUCTION is a GN, a collected edition, but not an OGN.

    HELLBOY: THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS is an OGN.

    Horatio
    >> I said something about there being little market for “serials”, by which I meant no market for the really short (8-10 page) story parts that were successfully published when I was in my teen and twenties, like, say, how V for Vendetta or The Crow or Rocketeer or Miracleman or Sin City all began…>>

    Actually, maybe not. Something like, say, BANDETTE started out as short, serialized chapters sold digitally through Comixology (and was nominated for four Eisners), and was collected into print book form later. Short-chapter serials have been being done in DARK HORSE PRESENTS.

    The market for them is smaller than for a lot of other things, but then, the market for WARRIOR (where Miracleman began) or PACIFIC PRESENTS and suchlike weren’t very big back then, either.

    Allen:
    >>I guarantee that it isn’t by handing them one-twelfth of a story.>>

    It might be.

    Amazon certainly manages to sell me lots of books by giving me access to a free sample I can download and read on my Kindle, so I get a good sense of whether I like the style of the writing and the beginning of the story.

    I think there’s no better way to get someone hooked on comics than to give them free samples — comics sell the idea of reading comics better than covers, ads, commercials, etc. That’s why ASTRO CITY 1 and 1/2 are both free on Comixology — I figure giving readers a taste of the book is a good way to get them to decide they want the whole thing.

    Selling them one-twelfth of a story for $4, maybe not — but giving them a part of it as a taste? Works for Amazon, works for Ben & Jerry’s. No reason we couldn’t make it work for us.

  67. Hi. I’m a reader and collector. I have strong opinions from time to time on this business which I’ve been a fan of for almost 40 years.

    And from all I’ve read here, Brian Hibbs is spot-on and knows his customers.

    I am much more likely to shell out $3.99 to sample something before I spend $19.99 on an OGN. I have limited space on my shelves, and limited amount of money to spend. That’s the facts.

    I would run out and buy almost every new Elmore Leonard novel because I knew exactly what I’d be getting with him, so it was worth the money to me. OGNs carry a much more uncertain value proposition, and as a result I’m much less interested.

  68. patrick ford says:

    Here is an example of why serialization does not work.
    I want everything by Gilbert Hernandez. He recently worked on FATIMA.
    Did I pick up Fatima? No. Why? Because doing so would have been like hard labor. And I figure I can pick up the collection in the future.
    Would I have purchased Fatima if it was racked in Publix or Walgreens? Yes. Why? Because it would have been in front of me as opposed to an arduous long trip to a unpleasant place.

  69. Kurt Busiek says:

    Actually, Patrick, that may be an example of why serialization does work.

    You didn’t buy the serialized FATIMA, but other people did, thus bringing in revenue that made the series possible — which helps make the collection possible.

    So if you do buy the collection in the future, you’ll be buying a collection of serialized material that benefited from being serialized even if you didn’t buy the serial version. Other people did, and that created a revenue stream that helped the version you want become a reality.

    Note that when Brian talks about serialization being better than OGNs, he’s not saying periodicals good, book editions bad. He’s saying the book editions that are supported by being serialized first are more successful overall. That group will include FATIMA, just as it includes all but one of the SANDMAN volumes, WATCHMEN, SAGA, MAUS, WALKING DEAD and so many more books that have done really well in book form.

  70. this is good article. Nice oversized hardcovers that have a complete story or have several chapters in a slipcase. Quality paper, binding in which the pages don’t come out, the cover won’t crease, having the choice to get a signed or sketched version, leather bound cover or something that will make the book/product look appealing. thank you for this post.

  71. Bakema NL says:

    >>No, they’re not.

    If they’re collected issues of series/limited series, they’re not OGNs. They’re reprints, they’re collections, they’re just plain GNs. But unless their first publication is in book form, they’re not OGNs. That’s what the “original” means — original to that format.

    HELLBOY: SEED OF DESTRUCTION is a GN, a collected edition, but not an OGN.

    HELLBOY: THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS is an OGN.>>

    @Kurt Busiek…

    I know the difference of course, as longtime reader of comics ;). Whenever I see the term “graphic novel”, I think about original graphic novel….a graphic novel being a comic with a hardcover, original story, other format, etc as opposed to the monthlies. Graphic novel in my mind is something special, not a collection of monthly comic books. Must have something to do with my being used to European albums….which you would call graphic novels too I think.

    What I have rarely seen in American comics is the way European comics were presented to the audience in earlier days. There were some big magazines (linked to a Publisher….Spirou in France for example) where albums (as we tend to call our comics) were pre-published. Two or 4 pages a week, one for the “gag” comics needing just that one page for the joke, etc…..some 50 pages in total, floppies featuring give or take 20 titles. After the story was finished the album usually became availabe. So there was revenue from the magazines and later from the albums. Great way to introduce readers to lots of titles/characters and to try the waters so to speak. Sampling things you possibly liked was easy that way and cheap relatively speaking. Worked well for a long time. These magazines are almost gone, but one of the biggest we had in the Netherlands has returned publishing a few years ago after an absence of many years. I had a subscription as a kid and learned of many comic books that way. Eppo, as the magazine is called, seems to do fine enough. It could be worth a try for American comics too, but on the other hand the storytelling nowadays doesn’t lend itself well for a format like that…2 pages a week, or bi-weekly.
    The audience for comics has shrunken down a lot too, it’s hard to reach a new audience. With European comics it’s much the same (I’m not exactly sure how it is elsewhere, outside of the Netherlands). In earlier days you could find lots of albums just about anywhere a bookstore was, in supermarkets, etc. Now only some of the biggest selling titles are available, but that’s it, a few, not more. Thankfully there still are some specialized stores, but their number decreased too over the years.

    But who knows, a serialized weekly, or bi-weekly magazine offering lots of different titles, letting the audience sample it all, might result in the graphic novel purchase down the line. I buy lots of music nowadays because I came across it on the internet, sampled it and decided to buy the album. It’s about getting your stuff the attention it needs. But of course I’m a dinosaur there (too), still buying cd’s. Whole other debate, but one that concerns comics too actually.

  72. patrick ford says:

    Kurt, I understand the principal. It worked for Dickens and Edgar Rice Burroughs. And in their cases the serial did not make the collection possible in the sense that it created a revenue stream for the publisher, because the serials and the books had different publishers. And in most cases the serial was sold by places (newsstands, candy stores, cigar stores) which probably did not sell the book collecting the serial.
    Brian’s complaint was directed at creator owned original graphic novels. He’s not really talking about Sandman or Walking Dead, he’s talking about how publishers like Fantagraphics and D&Q have abandoned serialization.
    The reason they have abandoned it is because it doesn’t work for them. The reason it doesn’t work for them is most comic book stores do not stock things like Fatima even when they are published by Dark Horse.

  73. Paul Houston says:

    Not to be a kiss-ass, but all we have to do to find sense in this thread is to compile Kurt Busiek and Ed Brubakers posts together. These are guys who are fans and professionals, if anyone knows what they are talking about it’s these guys.

    I remember picking up Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur in serialized form. Pure torture, but that was before the idea of graphic novels were widely accepted as a publishing model.

  74. Dave Elliott says:

    Very thought provoking thread. Love to see this as a panel at comic con. This is an industry where for one reason or another (funds usually) different formats work for different folks (publishers and creators alike). Not to say they are perfect but they work for them at that time.

    Horatio, I hope DC’s long talked about weekly revives interest in the anthology format in the Direct Sales Market. It worked in the UK for decades because it was a weekly fix.

  75. For someone in the UK industry, our sales are dominated by bookstores (which have large GN sections) and by online retailers *cough* Amazon *cough*, thusly serialisation is the least profitable bit for our company. Also, having worked in a book shops (where there is more potential for long-term profitability than comic shops) whether or not a title was previously serialised has minimal impact on the titles sales. Trying to cage the comic industry into the shrinking weekly comic shop model is a horrifying thought, and if you have ever been to a book (LBF, Frankfurt) you will the potential of comics to grow (and how small we are in the book trade). It really concerns me in my desire to expand the comic readership as whole that there is still so much resistance to move beyond these old model, making the industry very unwelcoming to new readers/or non-normal comic readers.

    As well there is of course there is the elephant in the room problem, there is only one main mode of distribution (you know who I’m talking about) to get the serialised work into comic shops, and if say you can’t the quite high minimums for the State and/or you are rejected – the serialised work pretty much doesn’t exist.

    As a reader, and coming to be a comics fan later in life – I always wait for the collected editions versus the individual copies because finacially I really don’t know how it makes sense to spend almost £3 an issue. (I sincerely hope calling them OGNs does not catch on)

  76. Synsidar says:

    I also don’t think you should do FUN HOME as a 8 part mini series or something — but I think there are ways that publishers could figure out to serialize “literary” material that would be rational for all.

    The primary issue is marketing. “Spend money to make money” doesn’t cover everything, but if a publisher sees best-selling potential in a book, it’ll be promoted more heavily than one that doesn’t have the potential. Marvel and DC sell comics without significant marketing because their readers are hobbyists; they seek out material instead of responding to ads.

    There are other issues, such as buying serials for the characters, rather than the stories; not being able to market installments of a serial effectively; and the comics format not being widely accepted in the U.S. But if serialization was profitable for books, it would be practiced widely. Selling serials is dependent much more on attracting a few types of readers than it is on the genre or quality of the material.

    SRS

  77. MBunge says:

    “he’s talking about how publishers like Fantagraphics and D&Q have abandoned serialization.
    The reason they have abandoned it is because it doesn’t work for them.”

    Considering that, I believe, Fantagraphics has turned to Kickstarter to fund their 2014 releases, the OGN format doesn’t appear to be raking in the bucks for them either.

    Mike

  78. MBunge says:

    “But if serialization was profitable for books, it would be practiced widely.”

    I’m no expert, but I would bet 10 bucks that one of if not the main reasons that serialization stopped being profitable for fiction is that full-size books became so cheap and prevalent. Why buy serialized prose when the full-size version is so easily attainable?

    The dynamic doesn’t seem to apply to comics, where one of the major factors is time of production. Let’s say you create a real graphic novel. And no, 40 or so pages doesn’t qualify as a “novel”. We’re talking at least 80 and more likely 100+ pages of material. How long does it take to create that? And once created, how much do you have to charge to make it worth the creators’ time and effort? And once published, how long does it take the viewer to read it? A lot of OGNs cost the same or more than prose novels and are read in a fraction of the time, let alone the comparison to other media.

    Mike

  79. MBunge: Couldn’t have had anything to do with their head guy dying unexpectedly, does it?

  80. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> It worked for Dickens and Edgar Rice Burroughs. And in their cases the serial did not make the collection possible in the sense that it created a revenue stream for the publisher, because the serials and the books had different publishers.>>

    It sure created a revenue stream for Dickens that kept him going. So it made the book editions possible by providing a revenue stream that got the stories written.

    >> Brian’s complaint was directed at creator owned original graphic novels. He’s not really talking about Sandman or Walking Dead, he’s talking about how publishers like Fantagraphics and D&Q have abandoned serialization.>>

    He brings up SANDMAN rather too often for him not to be talking about SANDMAN, I think. He’s pointing at examples of what works well and what doesn’t, overall.

    >> The reason they have abandoned it is because it doesn’t work for them. The reason it doesn’t work for them is most comic book stores do not stock things like Fatima even when they are published by Dark Horse.>>

    And yet, the serialization of FATIMA is one of the factors that makes the collection possible. If Beto didn’t have the income from doing the serialization, you very likely wouldn’t be able to buy a FATIMA GN down the line, because it wouldn’t exist.

    kdb

  81. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> I would bet 10 bucks that one of if not the main reasons that serialization stopped being profitable for fiction is that full-size books became so cheap and prevalent. Why buy serialized prose when the full-size version is so easily attainable?>>

    You’d win that bet. Used to be, the standard pattern for an SF novel was to be serialized in a magazine and then, if it had been popular, to collect it as a book. And at the time, those dual revenue streams were both important, because the books didn’t sell well enough to support the author on their own — the serial income was needed.

    But as the market for the books grew, it became more and more possible to make a living that way. Serialization started to get bypassed, and the magazines eventually died out (well, there are a couple left) because they were outcompeted by books.

    [In mainstream fiction, that transition had happened slightly differently, and much earlier, but they went through it too.]

    If that ever happens for comics, then publishers and creators will leap on it. But they didn’t abandon serialization until original publication in book form was profitable enough to do so.

    >> The dynamic doesn’t seem to apply to comics, where one of the major factors is time of production.>>

    They also cost more to print. Lots more, if they’re in color.

    The transition to a robust industry of original graphic novels might someday happen, but it’s a much steeper climb than for prose, which is much less expensive to produce, both in terms of sweat equity and production costs.

    kdb

  82. I travel the country and I walk into every single comic shop I come across. The truth is as stated above: the majority of comic shops in the US are indifferent to “alternative comics” or in fact downright hostile towards them. Brian’s store and those like his are, very sadly, the rare exceptions.

    I believe there were a number of reasons publishers like D+Q and Fanta began to shy away from the serialized floppy approach. One of those reasons was this indifference. And then Diamond raising their sales minimums was the death knell. Before that D+Q was still publishing Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, Sammy Harkham and other highly lauded cartoonists in the pamphlet format. After the new sales minimums that became impossible. If your serialized comics can’t get distribution through the only outlet most comic shops buy product from, that’s a big problem.

  83. We’re off the front page, so this is probably fruitless to continue the conversation much more, but I want to say two things:

    1) While my kind of store may still be the exception, I think it’s far from “very rare” these days — I see nothing but more and more stores who are focused on the bigger picture and driving the medium of comics (and not just a few genres) forward. San Francisco’s collection of such stores has tripled in the last 20 years…

    2) Diamond’s minimum (as well as the term “alternative comics”), sorry, is a red herring — if you can’t sell $2500 wholesale you probably shouldn’t have access to international distribution. It isn’t “indifference” to the product (or segments of the market) that causes poor sales, it is that the market isn’t interested (very much).

    I strongly go out of my way to carry the widest possible range of styles and genres of comics, we’re civilian friendly, we’re bright and well lit, and positioned as a book store — and most people really just don’t want “alternative” (*shudder*) comics. I’ve sold all of 1 copy of NEW SCHOOL in the 5 months since it’s release — and that’s WITH end-cap displays and featuring it in our newsletter, etc.

    And I don’t want to hear (not you, John) that this is the fault of me or my customers, somehow — in that same six months I’ve sold 9 copies each of THE INFINITE WAIT, MARIA M, MY FRIEND DAHMER, MARCH and THE NAO OF BROWN, so clearly we can sell a diverse list of cartoonists and subjects….

    The problem is neither the market nor the mechanism — not in any kind of structural way. I’ve never met a retailer in my life who wouldn’t sell someone what they want to buy…. IF they can figure out a way to make money doing so.

    -B

  84. Thanks for your comments/response Brian, I always enjoy and respect hearing your perspective. But I’m going to stand by my perception that your store is a rare bird nowadays. Certainly though there are new “big picture” shops opening up all the time — and I look forward to the time that they’re the norm!

    I’m not privy to the publishers’ $ and numbers as they relate to Diamond’s minimums, and I’m not putting all the blame on it, it just seemed like the raising of those was the point at which the alt-publishers finally gave up on that model.

    And your own point– that if the publishers can’t make enough sales through DM distribution they need to reconsider how they’re doing business– is precisely why they left that model behind and did do something different.

    Anyhow, I guess this thread has run its course. As someone who loves comics, and loves comics shops, I hope the conversation continues, and we can all find a way to work together to improve things.

  85. San Francisco, like my hometown of Portland, is not the best cross-section of national comic bookery. We’re fortunate to live in areas such as these (for many reasons) but that hardly means the rest of the nation is following suit.

    I also find it interesting that we are looking at hundred year old scenarios for comparison of a modern and fluid market. Is it a quirk of the comics business to always focus on the past despite the present and the future? How much of this is essentially reminiscent LARPing as opposed to trying to drive a cultural phenomenon forward? It seems like much of the comics industry is impossibly stuck on bad models (one distributor?!) and is only popular in spite of itself.

    I also feel like all of this whole conversation is just speculation with varying degrees of anecdotal experience due to the limited amount of information available. It’s one of the things that frustrates me about the comics world; how the business is decades behind most industries in bookkeeping and market analysis. While Brian has a great command over a wealth of information relative to his own business, we can only really guess at the financial outlook and approach of the publishers who decide what format works best for them…at least until folks from those publishers actually start chiming in with specifics.

    I do find this discussion interesting, though, and thank Brian for continuing to facilitate and participate in it!

  86. Thinking about this a lot last night.

    1. This conversation, while fascinating, is completely academic. Publishers aren’t going to stop publishing OGNs, and those who do are simply done (or never got started) with the expense and trouble of publishing floppies. It ain’t going back.

    2. Thank heavens for point one! The OGN movement has produced a creative watershed for comics that very few of us could have anticipated a decade or two ago. I hope the flood of material never ever ends.

    3. The decision to serialize a book IS NOT CREATIVELY NEUTRAL. Two things can happen – either the story is structured in an artificial way to have a climax at regular intervals or at least forces chapters of exactly equal length, or the work can simply be arbitrarily broken apart into equal chunks – often splitting scenes in the middle and killing the narrative flow, like say, La Perdida. There are a few rare exceptions where this works equally well in both formats – Daytripper comes to mind (though I thought a few of those chapters could have used more room to breathe) or The Comic Book History of Comics perhaps. Generally though, it results in either graphic novels that read a whole lot like episodes of a TV show or terribly unsatisfying floppies. Usually, the whole flow of production for serial comics is radically different, at the very least slowing down the process considerably, if not needing to revert to assembly line creativity.

    4. Summing up, serialized graphic novels and OGNs are two different things with two different reasons for being. OGNs are intended for the wider public, not the small group of people who enjoy buying floppy comics. The solution is not to force the square peg of OGNs into the round hole of floppies. The solution is to raise awareness among the wider public that OGNs are amazing, and if they’re not reading them, they’re missing out on an artistic golden age.

  87. All that said, releasing a free or cheap sample of the book to promote its release is fine, of course, and probably a great marketing piece. Come to think on it, the Best American Comics volumes pull out all kinds of excerpts from OGNs and are wonderful books to read. Get people to buy those things!

  88. Is this where I observe that BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2012 only showed 3012 copies through BookScan 2012 (though, right, released 12/10, so not many weeks — still, 10k total maybe, thought bookstores?)

    I’d rather see a $4.99 monthly, than a $25 annual.

    -B

  89. What’s the realistic ceiling on direct market sales for a new $5 monthly independent comic (not Marvel/DC, not licensed, with a creator not already established through their Marvel/DC work). I’ve got to figure lucky to break 10,000 with the first issue, and that would need a huge promotional push (especially if it’s not standard genre work), dropping outside of the Diamond top 300 by #4 at the latest,

Trackbacks

  1. […] Publishing | Heidi MacDonald talks to several retailers about whether serial comics are a better format than original graphic novels, and a fascinating discussion, with participation from readers, creators and more retailers, ensues in the comments section. [The Beat] […]

  2. […] Beat’s Heaidi McDonald has an interesting article responding to outspoken comics retailer Brian Hibbs’ contention that “graphic novels […]

  3. […] week we ran a piece asking for comic shop retailers to weigh in on the relative merits of periodical comics vs original graphic novels. Although the serial nature […]

  4. […] assertion that serialized comics are a better business model than graphic novels, and a roundtable on the topic that included many retailers (and, in the comments, creators and publishers), Gina […]

  5. […] and sales. In fact, a few months ago out schism led to a rather spirited debate in this post: Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a “sh*tty* business model? The upshot of that one was that comics retailers still sell more periodicals and collections of […]

Speak Your Mind

*