The matter of the day…again

Warlordsofio-1As if psychically answering our call yesterday for solutions instead of salvos, retailer Brian Hibbs confronts the Warlord of Io Situation with a look at every aspect of the comics chain, from publishers on through distributors and why they are unlikely to work.

It’s a sensible, real world-based look at the problem, although Hibbs kinda lost us right at the top with this:

But if you say “I’ll just wait for the trade”, you’re automatically decreasing the size of the audience. Why? Because: x% of you will keep waiting even once the work is out. Another x% of you is going to balk at the prices needed to finance “OGN” work. Another x% of you are going to completely forget that the work is being produced — if LOVE & ROCKETS is produced only once a year, where’s the percentage for the Hernandez Brother’s readership to come in looking for L&R more than once a year? ONCE YOU BREAK THAT PURCHASING HABIT, it is extremely hard to get it going again. If you’re only looking once a year for something, then you’re just as likely to only think of it every 18 months, 24 months, whatever.



Since comics sales have more than quintupled since 2001, blaming graphic novels for a shrinking audience seems…counter-intuitive. In the thought-provoking comment section, Hibbs is repeatedly called on this, but, if you’ve been reading his commentary for even a little while, you know he is a confirmed periodical man, and thinks that the continued emphasis on the comics periodical as the primary exponent of the medium is economically essential for his store.

We don’t have much of a head for numbers, but it seems that higher profit margins on higher priced items might help offset some losses in traffic, but certainly Hibbs has run those numbers and knows how his his shop runs. The above pull quote does seem to controvert the inescapable fact that increased availability of trade paperbacks has increased the audience for comics in America.

But for the indie pamphlet, Hibbs paints a grim picture, and the culprit is standing right there with a smoking gun:

In other words, The Big Four are probably eating up most of Diamond’s “mercy fuck” budget by overproducing a bunch of marginal shit that no one really wants. In a way, I feel like Diamond’s policies are nearly aimed at Marvel and DC, but they contractually CAN’T dictate shit to Marvel and DC, so they have to do it where they’re contractually able to do so.


The one solution that Hibbs paints as even vaguely possible is one where publishers get on the stick a bit more:

Publishers of all shapes and sizes actively promote what they publish, creating consumer pre-order demand for all manner of “non-traditional” works, which spurs retailers to take more chances, and makes it so that Diamond’s benchmarks never even come into play in the first place.

At the same time, publishers take a serious look at their offerings, and knock off all of the crap there really isn’t any audience for (and yes, I’m including shit like DC doing a TP of the most recent EL DIABLO mini-series, which sold all of 4k copies of its last issue, sheesh!)


In other words…let market forces prevail. Which is kinda what is happening.

All of this and more is discussed in the comments thread, with Spurgeon, the author of the original position paper, and Hibbs debating some points.

No one is anywhere near any kind of consensus here, or even agreeing on the problem, but since it’s a rainy day, I’m going to quote Spurge’s response to Hibbs’ response:

My goal Sunday was to use Diamond’s move on a book of obvious merit to throw a spotlight on an unimaginative and potentially self-defeating general approach to an arts market that makes books like Turner’s the victim of reactionary constrictions and systemic malaise, all without a positive formulation to offer up as a counter-value. That’s not a down-slightly strategy, and I think comics can do better than that in one of its core markets. There are no solutions for most of these complicated industry problems in the Encyclopedia Brown sense, although people will keep clamoring for them where comics are concerned. I do think, however, that Diamond and through it the entire Direct Market are systems that can function with greater clarity and purpose and that this would likely benefit everyone.


Although these gadfly type calls to action are a necessary response, at some point, someone has to decide what that action will be. We detect in this a whiff of the “Milk Box Response.” SLG has identified an audience for James Turner and his work — but the comics shop system hasn’t proven an effective way to market a cartoonist with a loyal but small cult. And yet…the exciting thing is that thanks to the internets, you can still read Warlord of Io, right this very minute, for less than a dollar. Is this Diamond’s loss? Of course it is. But they seem to think that it is one they can absorb more easily than the loss of other revenue streams.

Alternate distributors continue to be the “easiest” solution to this problem, but it’s one that is so daunting and scary that no one wants to step into the breach. (If Haven plans to ride to the rescue, now would be a good time to show up.)

Alternative distribution methods, on the other hand, are already being employed.

In Jennifer de Guzman’s report on James Turner’s strong sales on FCBD, one detects a hint of sadness and frustration. Without getting too psychoanalytical, we’re seeing lots of this same wave of sadness and frustration in a lot of places, including Stately Beat Manor. The world’s lowered economic prospects mean that a lot of people are never going to be able to sit back and relax. NO ONE has worked harder to keep the spirit of independent comics publishing alive than Dan Vado, and if anyone deserves to just sit back and watch the money roll in, it’s him. But, sadly, the words “independent publishing” and “watch the money roll in” are rarely synonymous. It’s been a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle. But there are more ways to reach an audience than ever before and more comics are using them right this very minute.

Comments

  1. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Suck it up, Vado!

  2. Heidi M. says:

    Tom, I dare you to ever make a substantive post here. Or would that violate your religion?

  3. Though, 2001 was the absolute nadir of sales of comics in America, wasn’t it? Also, dollars not readership…

    Look, I’m not “blaming GNs” for ANYthing — what I’m saying is that the audience for an OGN is, in the majority of cases is smaller than that of an equivalent serialization (largely as a function of cost, I think). Me, personally, I think it is healthier to have 100 people buy a serialization than 40 people buying the GN.

    Also, like Tom keeps stressing this conversation isn’t about Vado or SLG or WARLORD OF IO.

    Not really.

    -B

  4. You should Double Dog Dare him, Ace!

    -B

  5. I Triple Dog Dare him!

    And if he doesn’t, we should freeze a flagpole and make him touch his tongue to that!

  6. I’ve said it before…I’ll say it again.

    My thoughts are…go online with the comics.
    Give them away for free.
    Webcomics.

    You gain your audience…and generate income from advertising.

    Then your GN sales go up SO much more than if you’d have put out pamphlets.
    It’s not only worked for me and The Dreamland Chronicles tremendously over the last few years (over 10,000,000 readers online)…but also for dozens of creators.

    Why keep doing pamphlets where you profit $.25/comic when you can do GN’s and profit $4/each?

    Also…why make fans spend $4 for a 22 page pamphlet when $12 gives you 150 pages?

    Just my 2 cents from someone who tried both ways and found going online and doing GN’s exclusively the BEST solution.

    Hope that helps.
    Scott

  7. Heidi M. says:

    >>>Though, 2001 was the absolute nadir of sales of comics in America, wasn’t it? Also, dollars not readership…

    Right and….SO WHAT???????????? The point is they have risen since then. Was it because of GNs or Manga or just because Dan Didio personally purchased five times as many comics?

    I’ve heard the Pamphlet Prophets speak of the importance and passion of the Wednesday Culture. I’ve seen new readers get caught up in this Wednesday Culture. But I’ve also seen an entirely new class of readers sitting around in Borders stores reading Manga…a “Tuesday Culture” if you will. (Although someone once told me that Borders business plan was based on being a place where midwestern parents dropped off the kids for a while — a perfect breeding ground for manga readers.)

    I get the 40/100 analogy, but what if MORE people will buy certain collections? More people buy the new Naruto in a month than buy 50% of DC and Marvel’s output. And the dollars are way more.

    Indie comics periodicals don’t work any more for the reasons that you and many others have pointed out: the periodical system is
    now clogged with crossover and “event” dross from Marvel and DC. And they keep producing it because people keep buying it.

    Yet for some reason, I doubt any of this is bothering Kate Beaton.

    I don’t think we really disagree on the fundamentals here, but there is no One True Business Model any more for anyone.

  8. Nate Horn says:

    I would like to know if the doom and gloom about OGNs and trades apply to manga digests.

  9. I agree with Mr. Sava about going online. Although, looking thru SLG’s catalog to track down WARLORDS of IO, there’s a lot of stuff there I’d buy if it were downloadable and cheap.

    WARLORDS is available for $.99 as a download. Sweet! Gimme!
    REX LIBRIS is only available as a graphic novel?
    Hm.
    Well.
    What else do they have that’s cheap and that I can download and read right now?

  10. MBunge says:

    “>>>Though, 2001 was the absolute nadir of sales of comics in America, wasn’t it? Also, dollars not readership…

    Right and….SO WHAT????????????”

    Heidi, you can’t be that economically ignorant. 2001 was the aftermath of the 90s boom/bust and just as sales were unsustainably high at the top of the boom, they were excessively low at the bottom of the bust.

    And secondly, if one more person brings up Manga in this sort of discussion without recognizing that the Manga business model has virtually no application in the American comic market, I’m going to grab a rifle and climb up in a clock tower.

    Mike

  11. Heidi M. says:

    M, of course I know that. I don’t see how it is not germane to the present discussion to explore how comics rose out of a sever economic depression to become one of the hottest areas of publishing. Or, if you think publishing itself is doomed, we’re the chirpy little band that’s playing while the other folks rearrange the deck chairs.

    It seems to be that Brian is going out of his way to dismiss the fact that in the Graphic Novel Era, the size of the comics industry — in dollars — has risen every year. So despite some people’s insistence on waiting for the trade, the overall industry health is UP.

    BUT…see next post.

  12. Synsidar says:

    Publishing comic books might not be all that different from other small press publishing enterprises. Here are two resources lists for small publishers.

    SRS

  13. Synsidar says:

    Here’s a bookseller’s essay on the subject of alternate comics distribution methods.

    SRS

  14. Charles Knight says:

    Brian makes some really good points and I’ll just pick up on a couple

    “But if you say “I’ll just wait for the trade”, you’re automatically decreasing the size of the audience.”

    I think it’s gone beyond that for quite a few of us, it’s not “wait for the trade”, it’s “I’ll buy what’s available” – I honestly don’t know what’s coming out when and just pick up what looks interesting when I find it – and I’m not allow.

    “You CAN change consumer behavior: make it clear that material will NOT be collected until x months, or by providing material in the serialization that will NOT be collected, maybe even ever.”

    Then they will miss out on my money because going to a comic shop on a regular basis like a trained seal simply doesn’t fit into my life style or I’m guess many other busy people. You provide material how we like it, where we like it and when we like it or we spend our money on something else. Consumers simply can’t or don’t care about the producers and that’s true in all industries, it’s not going to be less true in comics regardless of how much people would prefer the good old days comes back. While I agree that, to an extent, you can change consumer behaviour, you simply cannot change it to that degree.

    Obviously this is no good to the people who’d business model relies on those weekly visits and the artists who rely on the month sale – but well that’s just how it is.

  15. Charles Knight says:

    forgive the typos – loooooong day.

  16. I’d just like to make the point that creators and publishers have to stop looking at we retailers as the end buyer. If your books sells 10k it’s probably only selling 4k to consumers, based on the experience in my store. If you can’t sell 4k consumer units why are you bothering? Direct your attention elsewhere.

    I think Scott Sava is right in an earlier post. Lots of this stuff should go on line. That’s where it belongs. You’d be surpised at how many people will read your stuff if you give it away for free! Once you’ve built an audience for your product you can look to move it at retail.

    That came out a bit harsher than I’d intended. I just saying this stuff all seems to be finding it’s proper level. Some of this independent stuff simply doesn’t be long with the Wednesday crowd. That’s ok. It belongs –just not competeing with the “big bang” of the week book.

    I wish I could sell more. I’ve really tried. I just can’t keep buying 5 copies of a book and putting 4 copies in basement after 3 months on the racks. Really, I’m open to ideas. I WANT to sell more books. And no, I can’t hand sell every indie book that comes in the shop.

    Dan Veltre
    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison NJ

  17. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Heidi, I stopped thinking about making substantive posts here when you started selectively deleting them.

    But okay: I think your post is dumb, and insulting to Dan. I don’t think Dan or Jennifer or anyone else in the non-mainstream comics world is suggesting that they’d done enough work and now it’d be nice if the money was rolling in. I don’t know what individual people think — I lack those Beatian powers — but I know I wouldn’t blame anyone if they were frustrated by a policy that lumps a James Turner comic with a sub-Boneyard looking piece of crap, or more generally desperate in the light of a general attitude towards comics that does everything to push the sales of huge swathes of comics below a certain line — and then punishes them for falling down there.

    Further, I don’t know how you have the gall to point out to an independent publisher that independent publishing is hard when you frequently complain over and over and over again here how hard it is to blog about comics and how you’re way too busy to do what I can assure everyone out there is a phenomenally easy job of re-posting press releases and offering up commentary on x- y- or z-day.

    Hey, you dared.

    Brian, are you saying that I’m being dishonest and that I really was primarily talking about the specific case of SLG and Warlords of IO? I guess you can think that, I can’t stop you. But you’re wrong. I don’t think all comics deserve a shot at the marketplace, I think Diamond’s general policy is screwed-up. I’m not even as defeatist as you are on this matter that the company can’t change. I don’t believe history supports that. I think Diamond does some things now I never would have guessed it might do 10-15 years ago.

    It’s easy to be a logic lawyer for the status quo. It really is. You two are better than that. Brian, you in particular aren’t that kind of guy, so it baffles me to see you thinking in such weird, circular, insular, passive fashion.

    Indiscriminately pruning the bottom of the sales charts via arbitrary sales standards and placing such emphases elsewhere that so many other people leave that part of field voluntarily or are encouraged to slip below that line seems to me broadly dumb on Diamond’s part. My lifelong patronage of comics shops is as much because of Doofer and Journey as it is X-Men and New Teen Titans, just as the early adoption of Netflix by my circle of friends was about a place to rent semi-obscure British TV shows as much as it was to have a more convenient way to score a rental of Maxx Payne, just as my circle of friends mostly stopped going to music retail establishments when they swept the ‘zines and obscure releases out for more top of charts stuff. Should the market conform to me? No. But it doesn’t seem to me a strong enough market that it can persuade anybody to stop going to the shops, let alone in the name of cobbled-together policy.

  18. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Also, pointing out that other areas of comics are doing great seems ridiculous and beside the point and the usual lifelong comics fan nonsense of meekly accepting the status quo. Additionally, attributing developments to natural market forces is absurd when the discussion is about policy, not natural sales declines or the general picture.

    I may care less than any human being on earth that covers comics about the culture of comics and specific expressions of same. I’ll write about them in whatever form they take and be happy for them. But there’s a huge difference between natural selection and the results of applied policy. If everybody wants to read comics on-line one day, good for them. But if Marvel and DC suspended print comics making tomorrow, it wouldn’t be market force — it would be those companies’ decision. And so it is with Diamond policy as well.

  19. Tom Spurgeon says:

    “If you can’t sell 4k consumer units why are you bothering? Direct your attention elsewhere.”

    Because some things have value even if they only sell 4000 units, both in terms of one day potentially selling many more than that but also in and of themselves and, perhaps most importantly of all, by adding to a varied and rich and unique experience that involves stringing together multiple titles.

    Why does Hulu.com carry To Catch A Thief re-runs instead of limiting its offerings to Family Guy, SNL Shorts and Daily Show? Idiots!

    What would you say if someone decided that the only worthwhile comics stores do Midtown’s level of business?

  20. Tom Spurgeon says:

    It Takes A Thief, that is…

  21. Heidi M. says:

    Believe it or not, I much prefer an honest, blunt post such as this to snarky passive aggressive ones, otherwise how am I to learn from my mistakes and try to make myself a better blogger and person?

    I’m happy that blogging about comics is easy for you. It is not as easy for other people and evidently I struggle far more than you. In fact, perhaps my comments on SLG and Jennifer’s own commentary were reflective of my own wistful memories of 2003. If I could expend the exact same energy blogging now that I did then, I would have way more spare time. But sadly for me, in a world where once once three or four solitary people did what I do now there are half a dozen conglomerates of people, all funded by major media outlets. So the game is upped. Nothing is static. Coasting is death.

    It’s happening everywhere in the media (or job) landscape. People who had it down pat are out of work or uncertain what is even being asked of them any more.

    I think comics are still living on fairly rarified air, at least from where I’m sitting. Instead of wondering if we’ll even exist in a few years, we’re worrying about how best to sell quirky books like WARLORD OF IO. It’s a bad problem, but things could be much worse.

  22. Tom Spurgeon Says:
    “Because some things have value even if they only sell 4000 units, both in terms of one day potentially selling many more than that but also in and of themselves and, perhaps most importantly of all, by adding to a varied and rich and unique experience that involves stringing together multiple titles.”

    This is a good point. It really is.

    But so I understand. Are you claiming that some comics…while not big sellers…have either a potential future “collectible” value or even “artistic” value?

    If so…
    Why is it the industry’s responsibility to shoulder the financial burden of publishing these pamphlets?

    I don’t understand. Don’t government and private grants provide for “artistic experimentation” and such in comics?

    If enough people aren’t buying these “artsy” comics…then so be it.
    Maybe comic book shops aren’t the proper market.

    Again. Only speaking from experience….

    When I first published my comic in 2003…I got orders of around 4000 copies. The next issue had half that…and the next issue…I think half of that.

    I came to a conclusion. Comic shops are not where my books should be.

    In 2006…I went on line. Found out my audience was mostly teenage girls. Now I publish the graphic novels through IDW and they’re 6×9 manga sized.
    They sell in the Teen Manga section of B&N and they’re doing pretty good.

    If I would have stuck with trying to make my “square peg” comic fit into the “round peg” market of comic shops…I would have never discovered the millions of readers worldwide on line and the 10′s of thousands of readers in stores.

    So…I’m not sure I understand what you hope to achieve with your argument.

    I hope this makes sense. And hope to understand a bit more.
    Thanks
    Scott

  23. Tom
    I really do understand that “some things have value even if they only sell 4000 units”. Lots of stuff does, I do realize that. And I carry a lot of it. ANd a lot more of it is in my basement.

    I just don’t understand how I can stay in business trying to sell books that sell under that number of units nationally. They belong elsewhere. On-line, maybe. I don know. Really I wish those creators success. I hope they find a way to develop these properties. They just can’t do it with my dollars.

    Again, I’ve tried. I really have tried. Like Brian, a certain amount of my monthly budget goes to what he called Mercy Fuck books. Books I know I’m not going to sell but carry because I either believe in the talent, believe in the book, believe its good for my store to carry or believe it’s good for the industry to support. But there are limits. And in this economy the limits are getting smaller.

    Best
    Dan Veltre
    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison

  24. Nate Horn says:

    Wow, I really don’t want to be distracting riff-raff in this war of elephants, but one comment kinda rubbed me the wrong way:

    “And secondly, if one more person brings up Manga in this sort of discussion without recognizing that the Manga business model has virtually no application in the American comic market, I’m going to grab a rifle and climb up in a clock tower.”

    Manga absolutely belongs in this discussion because manga comics sell *huge* numbers despite the comic stores all but ignoring them. I’m not advocating the down fall of comic stores, just saying comics can do well without them and all of this discussion about the future of pamphlets is like talking about the best way to sell horse and buggy whips.

  25. Dan:

    Depending on the type of work, a book that sells 4000 copies can be nicely profitable to its publisher and its creators (moreso if they’re one and the same person, and moreso if the same content can then be reused in different formats.)

    If these books don’t work in your store, then by all means you should stop ordering them. If you’re regularly ordering five and basementing four, then I gotta say “why?” — but you shouldn’t assume that because they don’t work for you in your store, that everyone else who is ordering them is doing so on that basis.

    –Nat
    publisher
    About Comics

  26. Nat

    I order some of them because as I’ve explained above, I too have what Hibbs called a Mercy Fuck portion of my budget. But it’s growing smaller every month. There are books I simply want to or feel I must support, both for the good of the store and for the good of the industry. I think many retailers do this, and certainly the ones I consider better retailers in my area. And I try not to be stupid about it. I’ve been doing this for close to 18 years now, so I do think that I’ve got somewhat of handle on what sells in my store.

    Still, there’s the old 3 and out rule. If I don’t sell any copies of a title (and it happens) by the third issue (maybe second issue, if I’ve had enough data), I’m done with the title. DC, Marvel, whoever. There is only so many times you can bang your head against the wall.

    Dan Veltre
    Deweys Comic City
    Madison, NJ

  27. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Dan, I would never suggest anyone order anything that fails to sell and you are a kind-hearted patron of the arts for doing so. I’m talking about the general orientation and this specific policy, and fully realize that this does not ensure an outcome.

    Scott, I don’t follow your logic. I don’t understand how allowing sturdy veterans of the Direct Market and quality artists access to a market is shouldering the financial burden of publishing these pamphlets. Market forces don’t send e-mails to publishers saying “We’ll pass” — people acting on policies that are trying to interpret those market forces to advantage do. You’re right in that market forces do exist, and if it doesn’t work for someone, as you say, they may find something better and more rewarding to do. But I think that comes either way. Of course, they may also turn to smuggling cigarettes and joining a Cheap Trick cover band. You never know. I’m glad it’s worked so well for you.

    Heidi, I’m sorry, but I think I prefer the snark. I get more done elsewhere.

  28. “Brian, are you saying that I’m being dishonest and that I really was primarily talking about the specific case of SLG and Warlords of IO?”

    Uh…no? What makes you think that? Or is it just that sincerity translates as sarcasm on the intertubes?

    “My lifelong patronage of comics shops is as much because of Doofer and Journey as it is X-Men and New Teen Titans, just as the early adoption of Netflix by my circle of friends was about a place to rent semi-obscure British TV shows as much as it was to have a more convenient way to score a rental of Maxx Payne, just as my circle of friends mostly stopped going to music retail establishments when they swept the ‘zines and obscure releases out for more top of charts stuff. ”

    (Doofus?)

    Here here — a key to encouraging diversity is to support diversity. I’m speaking up here on this book because this IS the kind of title I threw some MF money at, and its something that I WANT to continue to stock in the future, and I resent being told I’m not allowed to.

    -B

  29. TOm…
    I see what you’re saying.
    You’re right. The industry wouldn’t really shoulder the burden. I don’t know what I was thinking with that…ha ha.

    I wonder if the cost of shipping is a factor? Or the size of the Preview mag every month?

    Other than that…a Cheap Trick cover band is never a bad option.

  30. Nate:

    “Manga absolutely belongs in this discussion because manga comics sell *huge* numbers despite the comic stores all but ignoring them.”

    I think that when Mike referred to “manga business model” he wasn’t speaking of sales, he was talking about the PRODUCTION end — how the creative costs on Manga are generally a tiny fraction of what they are on “Western” comics because it is (often? Usually?) just a licensing fee being paid up front, with all of the money on the back end.

    Whatever else one might think of the superhero production line and Marvel & DC’s business practices, they’re generally paying something that could be considered a “living wage” UPFRONT to comics creators. Manga is created in a TOTALLY different fashion natively, and is brought to the US in a completely different fashion than that.

    ONE of the reasons Manga made such dramatic sales in-roads was because of the 200-pages-for-$10 format… but that format would be largely completely impossible using anything even slightly resembling US page rates…

    (If I’m wrong in judging his intent, I’m sure Mike will jump in and correct me)

    -B

  31. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Brian –

    Doofer, by the late Paul Ollswang, comics’ Charles Portis:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/buckaroobob/3026144907/
    http://www.lastgasp.com/d/1302/

  32. Alan Coil says:

    I think I like it better when Spurgeon’s posts are only one sentence. My head hurts.

  33. Scott:

    I’m befuddled by why you keep talking about there being some “industry burden” in carrying books that sell 4000 copies.

    Diamond doesn’t consider it a burden; even a $3 item that sells 4000 copies is well within what they consider worthwhile. It’s not a burden on the retailer who doesn’t order it, beyond th effort of skipping over one more item in Previews. It isn’t a burden to the retailer who feels the book gives him an opportunity to profit, or to make his store more like he thinks his store should be. If it’s a burden on the creator or publisher, it’s a burden they’ve chosen to bear. It’s not a burden on the printer; it’s a source of profit for them. So where does this supposed burden lie?

  34. Brian wrote: “ONCE YOU BREAK THAT PURCHASING HABIT, it is extremely hard to get it going again. If you’re only looking once a year for something, then you’re just as likely to only think of it every 18 months, 24 months, whatever.”

    Well, for me personally, it wasn’t the fact of L&R coming out once a year or “waiting for the trade” of an ongoing series that broke my weekly purchasing habit, it was the lack of variety (anything other than Marvel or DC) that did it for me.

    Week after week I’d see more and more a wall of sameness and less and less of anything new or different. And what was the retailers response to me when I asked why? Marvel & DC superhero titles sold, the others didn’t.

    So I left the shops, moved to book stores or online sites.

    I understand what the retailer is up against, how his already strained budget can’t afford taking a chance on a little known title by an unknown creator but had that shop continued to purchase independent titles, I would have continued to show up every week. And as a browser, along with buying that independent title, I’d more than likely (hell, I know I would, because I often did it in the past) buy more than I had originally planned.

    Now, it’s B&N, Borders or the net for me.

  35. Bleakest Year #HELP! says:

    MacD said, “Believe it or not, I much prefer an honest, blunt post…otherwise how am I to learn from my mistakes and try to make myself a better blogger and person?”

    That’s a good one. Almost sounded sincere, but since you essentially solicited that post, any other response would have been distasteful.

    Hibbs via quote–”But if you say “I’ll just wait for the trade”, you’re automatically decreasing the size of the audience.”

    Do you mean the overall audience for the work or the audience for the monthly comic? The latter is self-evident. The former is just an unsubstantiated guess.

    “Why? Because: x% of you will keep waiting even once the work is out. ”

    If they’re still waiting, they’re still part of the overall audience for the work. Just not yet.

    “Another x% of you is going to balk at the prices needed to finance “OGN” work. ”

    This doesn’t follow. Are we talking about TPBs or OGNs?

    In most cases (or at least it used to be this way), the TPB has a lower retail price than the total cost of the individual comics collected within. I assume this can be acheived as a result of offsetting the cost of producing the work by selling monthly comics. OGNs don’t have monthly comics to offset this cost, so one would assume they would have a higher retail price than what it would have cost to publish the story in monthly chunks to be collected at a later date. Quite a few people would choose to pass on the work as a result. Thems the breaks.

    For years people have been extolling the virtues of comics as an equal to literature, and now that more people are beginning to come around to that way of thinking, the comics faithful are expecting them to get a “pullbox” and become a kool-aid drinking member of the Cult of Wednesday. In most cases, that’s not gonna happen.

    Unfortunately, I have no idea what you were getting at becasue “waiting for the trade” has nothing to do with the cost of producing an OGN. I tried to comment on both acronyms in an effort to cover all the bases, but I still don’t know what my response should have addressed since I’m unclear on your point.

    “Another x% of you are going to completely forget that the work is being produced”

    Again, are we talking OGNs or TPBs? In the case of “waiting for the trade”, it is certainly possible people will forget about the existence of the work in question because all of the marketing dollars are spent to promote the loss-leading monthly publications. You can’t fault a consumer for letting it slip their mind to keep an ever-vigilant watch on the racks at the local book or comic book store in rapt anticipation of the TPB release of a comic series that they had interest in several months ago. It’s like releasing a feature film in iTunes episodes and wondering why no one showed up at the multiplex when the collected product hit the big screen when the distributor didn’t even bother to send out trailers and posters and purchase ad space in print and on television to let people know. Even if they did promote it, who’s gonna be in a hurry to see it except “wait for the movie” people, and if they don’t catch it on the big screen, there’s always going to be people selling off their unwanted iTunes downloads and dvds for sale for all of eternity to allow the viewer to catch it eventually. (I believe a better comparison would have been iTunes to DVD release, but I was already vested in this one that I didn’t want to change it. In any case, film and television always advertise the hell out of something even if it’s a secondary market release, so neither comparison fits perfectly… but then again, they never do.)

    If you’re talking about OGNs, then that argument doesn’t hold water. How can someone forget about a work that has just been released and promoted for the very first time? Maybe its simple release isn’t enough to pack them in and blow the roof off the place with its sales figures, but that’s how it goes. It’s a complete work with an audience, and that audience can sometimes have patience. The Cult of Wednesday has no patience and probably can’t really understand why some of us weren’t camped out at the comic store on Free Comic Book Day to get a copy of Blackest Night #0… or even didn’t bother to show up for Free Comic Book Day at all.

    “if LOVE & ROCKETS is produced only once a year, where’s the percentage for the Hernandez Brother’s readership to come in looking for L&R more than once a year?”

    Uh.. should be 0.00%. Why would they? It comes out once a year. Only need to go looking for it once a year. This comment makes it sound like you’re just worried about losing those people who spend more money on impulse buys rather than worrying about losing the audience for a specific published work due to its style of publication. Seems like retail paranoia instead of concern for comics as a whole.

    “If you’re only looking once a year for something, then you’re just as likely to only think of it every 18 months, 24 months, whatever.”

    This too seems like an unsubstantiated guess. I get it. The habitual regularity of comics customers keeps you in business and you enjoy that comforting feeling of people committing to buying something two months in advance sight-unseen. What keeps you up at night is if this business on which you’ve staked your livelihood were to change from comforting habitual regularity to random occasional bouts of purchasing from well-informed consumers who can see a product before they buy it and buy it where it’s most cost-effiecient and convenient instead of the same place every time, you might not be able to make it. It’s a valid concern. Thems the breaks.

    I believe that most comics which keep most comic shops alive and well are never going to subscribe to the OGN method of publication because the Cult of Wednesday is a loyal–if dwindling–consumer base. The “big two” have painted themselves into their respective corners, and they’re probably not going to change until the money starts to dry up. What they produce caters to and mostly benefits the Cult of Wednesday exclusively, and it’ll be enough to keep the monthly comic book around for quite a while longer. Anyone else who isn’t Marvel or DC should begin exploring options other than the monthly comic book and Diamond Comics Distribution if you haven’t already. The Cult of Wednesday doesn’t give a crap about you, so why should you bother trying to appeal to them.

    Want my advice? Of course you don’t, but here it is anyway. Publish your work in as many different ways as are available to you for as long as you can until expenses dictate a change is necessary. When a change is necessary, begin eliminating the most costly non-essential methods until your profits and losses get back to your ideal ratio. If that ratio again reaches an intolerable level, then it’s probably time to stop. Good luck.

  36. Pedro Bouça says:

    Funny thing is, Asterix, the world’s best-selling comic series has sold some 350 MILLION books all over the world.

    But guess how much the first book sold originally? Some 6000 copies.

    Luckily it was sold in bookstores, not on the direct market.

    Best,
    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

  37. Nate Horn says:

    I’m still not seeing how manga isn’t part of the conversation. If we were talking about how comics are produced, sure, manga could be an outlier. But we’re not, we’re talking about how they’re sold and the viability of life outside Diamond.

    Most comic shops don’t have the time, money, etc to get involved in manga, and that’s understandable. Only so many hours in a day to maximize sales to the people walking in the door – I understand. Manga is selling itself without the benefit of comic stores somehow and I think trying to understand the how is really important. Or, you know, don’t try and keep talking about how there is no solution and all that….

  38. According to the story you linked to, it’s graphic novel sales which have quintupled since 2001, not sales of comics as a whole. And manga is included in that.

  39. People keep claiming manga is this great savior, when it just seems like more of the same. Twenty titles make up probably 50% of the sales, with everything else grabbing their .05% market share. Sounds just like the DM to me. With Fruits Basket and Death Note done, Naruto is the big book still coming out, and as the series gets older, along with the customers, the numbers on the most recent books aren’t as good as previous volumes.

    Sure, companies want the sales that Naruto gets. They also want the sales Secret Invasion get.

  40. All these arguments boil down to one thing: RISK.

    No, not the game of global domination, though it would be awesome if that were the case. Alas, it’s plain old economic risk — and in any recession, risk is the driving force behind all economic decisions.

    Each new title carried by Diamond creates risk by bloating the Previews catalog, thus devaluing the “real estate” of each page therein. Good content gets lost in the shuffle, and retailers are given more choices but fewer tools to decide which choices to make. Plus Diamond has to hire more sales reps (or increase the workload of existing sales reps) to handle these marginal accounts — increasing systemic risk for the company as a whole.

    Each new title carries a risk for retailers who have to buy their content on a non-returnable basis. They already cater to a niche audience, so any expansion beyond that carries with it substantial risk to their bottom line. This is especially so with periodicals that have an extremely limited shelf life. After three months (one, really), a periodical that hasn’t sold most likely never will. Graphic novels may cost more per unit, but they have a longer “tail,” greatly increasing the probability of a return on investment when viewed in the long term. Still, there’s risk involved isn’t there when deciding how many copies of “Amazing Spider-Man” to purchase.

    Finally, each new title carries a risk to consumers. It’s a blind faith purchase for the most part, and the page-count-value of periodicals is too low to justify that kind of blind faith purchase except in the rarest of circumstances.

    As someone who’s worked in small press (Platinum Studios) or written marginal titles for bigger publishers (“Batman Strikes” for DC), I certainly appreciate it when distributors, retailers and consumers all take a risk and buy my books, and I work very hard to convince them that it’s a risk worth taking.

    That being said, it’s their money on the line, and they have the right to spend it as they see fit. I have no right to demand that Diamond or my Local Comic Shop or the customers patronizing that shop purchase my book. As a comic shop proprietor friend of mine once said, just because I grow peas in my backyard doesn’t mean that the local grocery store has to stock them.

    Do I think it’s unfortunate that some books have been cut from the Diamond catalog? Yes, of course I do, but there are economic realities to consider. Risk has to be managed, and the best way to do that is by slimming the portfolio to only the most profitable products.

    We live in a world with too many choices. There are too many comics published in a single month all over the world for any person to read in their entire lifetime. Consumers need content filters so that when the time comes to actually purchase a product, they’re purchasing something that they’re reasonably sure they’ll enjoy.

    That filtering mechanism is the reason publishers want their books in the Diamond Catalog and racked in comic shops in the first place. If it’s in those places, then it’s probably worth reading and paying for. There’s real economic value in those filtering mechanisms, and the less discriminating they are, the less valuable they become.

    If you want a universal distribution system that has no filters — it already exists and it’s called the Internet. Put your book online, find an audience and eventually comic stores will come to you. Just don’t demand that other people take a risk on your product because doing so would be “good for comics.”

  41. Wow, that post is huge. Quite ironic given that it’s about managing risk and I’m demanding a huge amount of time to read through it…

  42. I also think people also forget how many books are out there. I have 7 shelves for recent comics, 20ftx7ft, with many overlapping titles…it’s a lot of damn comics. 4 are taken up by Marvel and DC, while 3 are taken up by everything else. I’d wager, from comments made all over the internet, that’s a lot more indie books than most stores carry, *yet* I still don’t order probably half the back part of the catalog. I should do a list of what I didn’t order in this last Previews.

  43. The Beat says:

    All you “manga doesn’t count!” protesters remind of the mind set that I encounter EVERY time that something that isn’t a superhero comics succeeds. Folks are always looking for a reason to discount something that they don’t like.

    Ryan, obviously manga is the savior of MANGA and not superhero comics. That doesn’t mean it isn’t comics, or that it isn’t a perfect example of an audience that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Ya know, the same way everyone is always saying we need to find a new audience for this or that but it can’t be done?

    Why people are so eager to discount clear examples of how to grow an audience is beyond me.

  44. >Twenty titles make up probably 50% of the sales, with everything else grabbing their .05% market share.

    I would choke a bunny for 0.05% market share. Heck, 10 bunnies, if we’re talking unit share.

  45. Oh, I’m not saying manga aren’t comics; of course they are. And I love manga and anime, so don’t think I’m discounting them. All I’m saying is that:

    1. The manga model, in the end, isn’t so dissimilar from the western comics model. Format and price might be different, but the end result is a dozen books that make up all the sales. And I highly doubt that the comics-by-committee method of making manga would go over well in this very creator-dominated field of western comics. Sure, you can joke about editors writing certain titles, but imagine if 5 writers and 15 artists (who all draw the same) drew every issue of New Avengers? I don’t see that going over well.

    2. The American western comic audience has, for the most part, ignored anthology titles. I love anthologies. I wish Marvel and DC made a ton of them, but for whatever reason, the audience isn’t there for them. Flight is an amazing books, and sells very well for me, but we’re talking one anthology out of dozens. The rest sit and collect dust. I’d kill for a Batman anthology title every month, but it’s clear that they don’t work for whatever reason (see: Spider-Man Family, Solo). Maybe the back-up features are heading us towards anthologies, who knows. I just don’t see monthly (or weekly) b&w anthologies in our future.

    3. You talk about growing an audience. That’s great, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of American interest in manga comes from the anime they show on Cartoon Network, hence why books like Death Note and Naruto are so popular. By that reasoning, why didn’t sales of JLA or Wolverine spike when their shows are on the air? Western comics and manga are all COMICS, but I do not think that the audiences are the same, nor should they be treated the same. I wouldn’t recommend probably any manga to half my customers for the same reason I wouldn’t recommend any one of the dozens of indie books I carry, because they’re Just Not Into It. They like superheroes. Hey, I think it’s dumb, but I’m not the customer. I wouldn’t give my few manga subscribers Blackest Night #0, either, because they’re Just Not Into It.

    So, where does this lead us? Marvel and DC making digest-sized, b&w, comics-by-committee graphic novels every few months? No thanks.

  46. Woops, there was more.

    Of course, the other thing is translating the manga method to indie books. Again, good in theory, but try finding an indie/startup company that can afford to create 200 page b&w comic every few months for $9.99. Manga works in the west because these are books that are already long since finished in Japan, they’re reprinted here for a licensing fee. People always ask why Marvel and DC (and indie companies, too) don’t get all the issues of a series in the can before they publish it, so it’s on time. It’s kind of hard to pay the writer and artist when you’ve made no money on the project.

    So yeah, I’ve got nothing. I’m happy with the way the comics industry is right now.

  47. Wayne Beamer says:

    Great conversation going on here. A few random thoughts/comments…

    Heidi: I’m constantly amazed by how long you’ve done The Beat, how you’ve grown professionally to keep up with “your competition” — from what I’ve been reading over the years you have few “real” competitors — and that you’re still finding reasons to keep doing it even after 20+ years on the comics beat, the last part of the equation being the hardest.

    Bleakest Year: I leafed through a copy of the newest L&R trade for the first time at my closest B&N last week, not at my LCS. Liked what I saw, but because of the long, long time between issues/trades/whatever, I had next to nothing invested in the characters due to the major gap in time so I didn’t buy it. I may later, but not right now. So I understand the reluctance first-hand that Brian describes.

    Then again, I’m a 50-something guy still making visits to his world-class LCS, but leaving with fewer books in my hands to read. Why do I still go? Force of habit, the collegial experience and the promise of finding something I’ve never experienced before and can’t live without. Like JH Williams’ III upcoming run in Detective Comics or the Wednesday Comics experiment or the newest Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean storybook (Crazy Hair) or the latest work of my pals in the biz. Those things keep me coming back, despite evidence — corporate crossover comics and reprints of old material because it’s old, not because it’s any good — to the contrary.

    As smarter folks than me have pointed out here, the shopping market on the Internet for music, books, movies and, down the road, comics — both digital and physical — is easier and better exploits that urge to buy on impulse. So what can the typical comics retailer do to recreate this kind of experience and survive a long time?

    Think, plan and operate their business as would an independent bookseller. Of course, that means there will be a fraction of retailers who can survive this transition because they’re so wired into the weekly, periodical thing they can’t imagine any other way to do business.

    Then again, scary is what I thought at first about buying music digitally. Times change.

  48. Bleakest Year #HELP! says:

    “Bleakest Year: I leafed through a copy of the newest L&R trade for the first time at my closest B&N last week, not at my LCS. Liked what I saw, but because of the long, long time between issues/trades/whatever, I had next to nothing invested in the characters due to the major gap in time so I didn’t buy it. I may later, but not right now.”

    Have you read all of the other Love and Rockets books/collections? Great characters like Maggie and Hopey and Luba are what made Love and Rockets great, but the creators are what really sell the books. It’s not really a great example for someone like you. A better example would be the Joker HC by Azzarello and Bermejo. Did you buy/read that one? or will you buy the SC version? or not at all?

    ” So I understand the reluctance first-hand that Brian describes.”

    I understand reluctance as well. There’s great comfort in familiarity, and that’s something on which comic book stores thrive.

    But times, they are a-changin’.

  49. So yeah, I’ve got nothing. I’m happy with the way the comics industry is right now.

    That’s great for you, Ryan, but for a lot of us, it seems like “I’ve got nothing” will soon mean something much, much different. I’m not trying to sound melodramatic, but you’re the guy whistling on his front porch when a tornado has taken out his neighbors’ houses. Heidi is right: I am sad and I am frustrated. I don’t really have much else to say, which is rare for me. I appreciate the discussions going on, though. I’m always learning.

  50. The Beat says:

    Ryan: >>>By that reasoning, why didn’t sales of JLA or Wolverine spike when their shows are on the air?

    Maybe becuase Naruto the manga came first and that’s there the inspiration lies?

    Or because neither Marvel nor DC has the wherewithal to create or promote these books properly?

    Speaking as someone who edited DC’s Cartoon books a decade ago, I can say that these books were not looked on as “real comics” by some — not all, certainly not all — of the folks tasked with making and marketing them. Plus, even 10 years ago, there weren’t any many kid friendly comics shops as there are now. Plus working on the kids line is still seen as a stepping stone to creating “real” comics by most of the people working on them and I don’t think any of them feel what they’re doing is at the level of Masashi Kishimoto. (I think Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were an exception to this, and guess what, MAD LOVE is still in print and considered a classic.)

    Scholastic, Viz, Del Rey, Harper Collins and Simon & Shuster all have decided that they can make money publishing kids comics and now they make money publishing kids comics, starting from scratch.

    More recently, Marvel is doing really well with its kids digest lines, and DC has invested in early readers with the line that Jann Jones created — and here, at least, she cleverly tapped into the group of creators who are really PASSIONATE about making comics for kids.

  51. Jennifer,

    I know it’s frustrating from your perspective, but there’s many other perspectives you need to look at. It’s like people are SHOCKED that an indie book isn’t selling well. Getting out more than an issue or two is a goddamn miracle these days, it would seem.

    I’d probably order a bit more from SLG if books like Gloom Cookie or Nightmares & Fairy Tales were still coming out in single issues. (I won’t bring up Vasquez or Dirge, obviously)

  52. Wayne Beamer says:

    Hey Bleakest Year,

    You said: Have you read all of the other Love and Rockets books/collections? Great characters like Maggie and Hopey and Luba are what made Love and Rockets great, but the creators are what really sell the books. It’s not really a great example for someone like you. A better example would be the Joker HC by Azzarello and Bermejo. Did you buy/read that one? or will you buy the SC version? or not at all?

    Agree with you about L&R’s creators being the selling point. Bought about half of the original run of single issues, but have stayed away from most of the big collections that FBI has reprinted a number of times, partly in lieu of looking for new stuff and the rest just the passage of time between work. There’s very few folks whose work I’d buy automatically these days, and all but one (Alan Moore) is a cartoonist.

    As far as the Joker book, a pal of mine whose taste I trust warned me to stay far, far away from it (even though I like both creators) and the hardback was overpriced, in my opinion, so I took a pass. Maybe, I’ll read the trade, maybe not.

    Regarding reluctance and changing times, that’s what I believe will fuel the tsunami that will overtake the traditional way of selling comics much sooner than later. Will Amazon’s newest Kindle device change habits? Not now, perhaps, but eventually…

  53. 1. The manga model, in the end, isn’t so dissimilar from the western comics model. Format and price might be different, but the end result is a dozen books that make up all the sales. And I highly doubt that the comics-by-committee method of making manga would go over well in this very creator-dominated field of western comics. Sure, you can joke about editors writing certain titles, but imagine if 5 writers and 15 artists (who all draw the same) drew every issue of New Avengers? I don’t see that going over well.

    Isn’t this entirely beside the point? There are a handful of blockbusters at the movies every year, and a bunch of movies no one saw. Oprah makes a few books sell a gajillion copies, and other new releases flounder. I’m pretty sure that everything ever has a few great successes, a few moderate successes, and then a bunch of things that don’t quite make it, regardless of quality. Saying that manga is like that is kind of like saying “Manga has pictures, just like comics!”

    Also, modern comics seem to me to be very much by committee. To quote from Chris Eckert @ Savage Critic(s): “There have been sixteen pencillers and twenty three inkers so far.” That’s out of 21 issues, and a few of those art changes were completely unannounced. If it’d been by sixteen dudes who drew exactly the same, I’d bet it would have been better received.

    I don’t think that modern superhero readers would think of comics-by-committee as that much of a big deal. We already know that editors have a hand in many a story, and sometimes the EiC decides the whole direction for a company. Doesn’t Marvel make a big deal about how all of their writers go on retreats to plot out the over-story for the next 12-18 months?

    Marvel and DC can’t copy manga point for point, but like Heidi said, manga’s audience is an audience that wasn’t there not too long ago.

  54. Ryan,

    At the end of their runs, Nightmares and Fairy Tales or GloomCookie would have come very close to not making Diamond’s benchmark, if not falling under it. Does that SHOCK anyone? Not if they were paying attention to Diamond’s Top 300 lists. That people are SHOCKED that an indie book isn’t selling well isn’t such a comforting perspective. It’s just another example of other perspectives that– I have to say — are apparently far more limited than my own.

  55. Steven R. Stahl says:

    Serial comics aren’t quite comparable to TV shows, either as single issues/episodes or as collected issues/episodes, since there’s not much cost associated with watching a TV show, aside from the time spent. A favorite show might be an “appointment” event, but a person can record the episode, etc.

    I wonder how much serial comics publishers depend on people with addictive personalities for their business? Publishers should be able to promote their publications based on their merits as entertainment, even as standalone products, and not as something that temporarily satisfies a need for a weekly fix.

    It’s not that difficult to think of a Marvel Universe in which stories were published as graphic novels and the “shared universe” concept had been abandoned, with continuity and references to other characters within a story being very general. One has to wonder, though, whether writers would be able to adjust their views of the characters sufficiently to produce novel-length stories that provided real drama and suspense.

    SRS

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The problem with Turner and SLG being rejected by Diamond has led to all sorts of reactions from the usual suspects: Tom Spurgeon discusses it, Heidi McDonald weighs in here and here, and Brian Hibbs checks in. Hibbs, as a retailer, offers an interesting point of view, but he shoots himself in the foot a bit by beginning his essay with “CONSUMERS: Honestly, a fair chunk of the issue is your own fault.” It vexes me whenever vendors blame the consumers for not buying what they think the consumers should be buying, but Hibbs does go on to qualify that statement. He takes everyone in the chain to task, too, so there’s that. He brings up the idea of the “mercy fuck” – if only distributors and retailers would order a lot more copies of, say, The Warlord of Io, and put it right next to Generic Superhero Shit Comic #57, then all the fans of Generic Superhero Shit Comic #57 would see it and see the light and buy it! Yeah, that’s pretty stupid. Maybe we should blame the consumer … [...]

  2. [...] Incidentally: I sometimes mock Publishers Weekly comics-blogger Heidi MacDonald’s presumed absorption of the values and definitions of New York City corporate-comics culture. Given that, my withered, vestigial sense of fair play demands (in a tiny little voice) that I acknowledge her to have been the voice of reason in this week’s commentary on the subject. [...]

  3. [...] I haven’t fully read and absorbed all the articles, but I liked Tom Spurgeon’s contention that, “[S]ome things have value even if they only sell 4000 units, both in terms of one day potentially selling many more than that but also in and of themselves and, perhaps most importantly of all, by adding to a varied and rich and unique experience that involves stringing together multiple titles.” [...]

  4. [...] 58 the-matter-of-the-dayagain/ — more on Diamond’s new minimums [...]

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