Two years ago I wrote a piece called “It Takes a Nation of 10,000 Dopes to Hold Us Back,” looking back on the comics industry in 2004, and the trends that emerged and are still, to a great degreee, shaping the business. The title was based on the phenomenon of POWERS by Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming going up 10K in sales when moving from Image to Marvel. I implied that blind brand loyalty was still the weakness of the direct sales market, even as new products became available for new audiences.
I’ve been trying to put together my 2006 in review piece for a while now — last year I didn’t even manage one, pathetically — but my schedule and the plethora of funny things to link blog has conspired to keep my attention span a bit too fragmented. I’m going to force myself to do it over the next few days, but I’m going to break it up into a few discrete parts so as not to be too daunting — to both author and audience.
First up, I’ll look at the return of the “10,000 Dopes” phenomenon. This time we have the most perfect lab specimen ever in Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s THE BOYS. Booted from Wildstorm for its wildly tasteless contents, the book was nevertheless a strong seller for DC. As the figures Marc posted the other day revealed, sales were ACTUALLY GOING UP, an almost unheard-of miracle.
08/2006: The Boys #1 — 31,636 [36,173]
08/2006: The Boys #2 — 26,165 (-17.3%) [32,075]
10/2006: The Boys #3 — 26,415 (+ 1.0%)
10/2006: The Boys #4 — 24,848 (- 5.9%) [28,452]
11/2006: The Boys #5 — 26,842 (+ 8.0%)
12/2006: The Boys #6 — 27,039 (+ 0.7%)
DC (most likely Paul Levitz) put principle before profits in canceling the book but has graciously allowed Ennis and Robertson to shop it to other publishers, while freeing Robertson from his DC exclusive just for that book. While one assumes DC wouldn’t be too happy about the book going to Icon, Marvel’s creator-owned boutique line, both Ennis and Robertson report they have been flooded with offers from publishers.
Over on the private retailers forum, there was much complaining about DC for cancelling thebook, which everyone agreed was selling briskly — the trade was eagerly awaited, and all systems appeared to be go, even before a hamster crawled from a dead man’s ass. However, the move to another publisher was greeted with gloomy predictions of diminished sales, as stated by Dan Wallace of Impulse Creations when I asked WHY the book would have to sell less from another publisher when the quality was the same. (All quotes are given with permission.)
There are always going to be some readers who will pass on a book because of the publisher simply because they read only or mostly books from a single publisher or (more commonly) only read books from the big publishers. The bigger issue though is that there are retailers who will order fewer copies of the same book (or not stock it at all) if it moves from DC to anywhere other than Marvel and won’t give it the same shelf presence. It may not be logical but it happens.
The Dabel Brothers books are a good example of the difference in sales a publisher can make even though promotional efforts certainly played a part in the increase in sales on those books.
The Boys may very well be successful at another publisher and may even increase its readership over time but, initially, there’s sure to be a drop in sales with the transition unless the “buzz” of it’s cancellation is played up to generate hype of it’s return.
I’d just want to clear that the situation I describe is NOT representative of Impulse Creations as a store. Unless there are other circumstances that change with a change in publisher (such as a creator change or a price change that’s likely to affect sales) I don’t expect to order the book differently wherever it ends up.
I won’t stock it any differently and I’ll make sure previous buyers know about the change to try and avert any dropoff there.
However, I can still virtually guarantee that sales at the publisher level will decrease with the change due to the ordering habits of some other retailers and the loss of fans who don’t look at anything outside of the big two or four and will just miss it if it isn’t pointed out to them.
Over time though, sales will likely rebound as retailers order to meet the real demand and fans of the book who weren’t aware of the publisher change eventually find out about it.
I’m profoundly saddened by the idea that a book that specialized in dark, gross out humor — a popular genre among many readers — which all agreed should never be published by DC would nevertheless be penalized for appearing from a more receptive publisher. It’s as if people were looking at the newspaper ads and saw HELLBOY 2 coming out and said “Oh no! It’s not from Revolution! I just won’t see it!”
Several retailers told me that yes, studios did have some kind of branding, but another factor might well be a new publishers having a lower discount than DC, which would mean lower initial orders (see the item on Virgin’s discounts going up the other day.) I can certainly understand that, as well as indie publishers tendency not to ship on a monthly schedule. Ennis and Robertson would seem to be beyond this level of reproach, however.
But still, the idea that ANY publisher’s branding could trump Garth Ennis’s branding seems ludicrous to me, just as Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola would trump any studio branding. The initial motto for THE BOYS was “The book that out-Preachers Preacher” and if that isn’t based on Ennis and Robertson, I don’t know what it.
Paul Stock at Astro Books also responded to my question, but with the idea that blind brand awareness and Marvel Zombiedom may be loosening their grip.
I feel the market’s changing a bit, thanks to the success of stuff like Hellboy, Sin City, and especially books like Walking Dead, and Persepolis.
I feel a certain …perception(?) that a publisher’s solid as long as they have a library of TPBs- or at least one solid title in their library.
As far as singles go, moving to anyone who’s not a big two IS a step down in volume- pretty sure of that, but the shifting of titles like Transformers, GI Joe, Angel and so on, the “classic Marvels” Red Sonja to Dynamic, and Conan to Dark Horse… It’s not quite the old days of “original publisher or failure”. It’s become a fairly mundane thing, and consumers aren’t all that disturbed by it anymore.
As long as a title goes to a stable publisher I don’t see the resistance that I once did. With all the publishing failures in recent years, customers ARE leery of start-ups, but if a book goes to an IDW or Devil’s Due, customers are pretty confident they can get involved without too much concern.
Retailers are a different story. We have huge discount drops to consider. We’ve seen the same faces float from this masthead to that, and we’ve been left with the trail of broken promises and unsold inventory. We’re VERY cautious.
But consumers? I think the “Marvel guy” and “DC guy” are going the way of the Chevvy or Ford guy. Consumers are starting to think “try a Datsun” (or a Dark Horse). I see branding losing its grip.
Someone else put together numbers comparisons of books that have shifted publishers, with some interesting results.
IMAGE (MARCH 2001) #75 AT 23,387
MARVEL (APRIL 2005) #74 AT 28,360
IMAGE (APRIL 2001) #64 AT 24,977
MARVEL (JUNE 2005) #88 AT 27,703
POWERS #12 – SKIPPED DUE TO THE MARVEL ISSUE HAVING TWO COVERS
IMAGE (JUNE 2001) #65 AT 27,002
MARVEL (OCTOBER 2005) #73 AT 26,535
LAST ISSUE OF POWERS AT IMAGE
POWERS #37 (MARCH 2004) #89 AT 25,028
FIRST ISSUE OF POWERS AT MARVEL
POWERS #1 (JULY 2004) #39 AT 40,387
FALLEN ANGEL #8
DC (FEBRUARY 2004) #135 AT 11,435
IDW (AUGUST 2006) #177 AT 8,168
FALLEN ANGEL #9
DC (MARCH 2004) #167 AT 11,163
IDW (OCTOBER 2006) #161 AT 7,954
FALLEN ANGEL #10
DC (APRIL 2004) #154 AT 10,930
IDW (NOVEMBER 2006 #214 AT 7,718
LAST ISSUE OF FALLEN ANGEL AT DC
FALLEN ANGEL #20 (MAY 2005) #144 AT 10,283
FIRST ISSUE AT IDW
FALLEN ANGEL #1 (DECEMBER 2005) #151 AT 12,176
There may actually be fewer than 10,000 dopes — perhaps there are only 3 or 4 thousand. And yes, I do mean they are dopes. People who think individual creators as professional and individual as Peter David and Brian Bendis and Garth Ennis change when they change publishers are not well-informed. I can see them preferring to read Bendis’s writing on well-known characters like SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL — sure. But all of these books are new, creator-owned characters.
Throw in the top-heavy weighting of the pamphlet system to order the event books from Marvel and DC (a topic we’ll look at tomorrow) and you can see how books below the Infinite Civil Crisis tie-in level get left behind, let alone new characters from non Marvel or DC characters. I suppose I don’t blame retailers for having to lower the bar for their dumbest, most reactionary customers, since those may be the most steady. But it is still stifling the marketplace.
Maybe the world is ready for THE BOYS coming from a non-DC company. Maybe Paul Stock is right. I sure hope so. If you can’t sell jokes about blow jobs and anal trauma, what can you sell?