What's next for what's left of Wizard?

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The obituary outpouring for the end of the print Wizard magazine yesterday did not stint on criticism. Former Wizardeer Sean T. Collins has a definitive list of links and a succinct statement of where it is now:

Since the Great Con War erupted, it’s become clear that the comics industry, at least, has less and less time for the management’s behavior. This seems to be at least somewhat mutually beneficial: The comics industry has divorced itself from an entity it clearly has disliked and distrusted for far longer than it’s felt comfortable saying so, while that entity is clearly willing and able to pursue avenues of exploration outside the confines of that industry, its characteristic self-promotional mojo still intact. But the conflict’s resolution has seen more than its share of collateral damage over the years, and this latest spasm of it is just the most obviously and publicly gruesome. I just feel badly for anyone who’s ever seen the people and the work they care about caught in the blast radius.


Johanna runs through the recent history of firings and customer complaints. It’s an ugly story.

201101250325 What's next for what's left of Wizard?
John Jackson Miller lays out the sales decline with a graph, and recalls the magazine competitions of the ’90s, and, lest we forget, just how revolutionary from a production standpoint Wizard was:

A famous in-house story involved a meeting in the early 1990s in which Krause executives asked the CBG publisher what it would cost to transform the weekly newspaper into something that could compete with Wizard head-to-head. When the publisher provided his estimates of what it cost to produce a single issue of Wizard — from the full-color printing to the paper quality to the comparatively high freelance rates — the room erupted in uproarious laughter from the higher-ups. The production costs were astronomical, compared to what hobby publishers were paying. Krause didn’t yet have a single magazine designed fully on computer — my Comics Retailer was the first, in 1994 — and the freelance budget was minuscule (The magazine would remain a weekly newspaper until the conversion to a monthly magazine with limited color in 2004.)


Topless Robot’s Rob Bricken started out with a nice tribute:

For all the shit Wizard got, I don’t think my writing has been influenced by anything more — that nerdy subjects could be worth of news coverage, critical thought, and a shit-ton of humor. That you could take things like comics more seriously than regular people, but less seriously than insane fanboys. There was a time when Wizard did that before and better than anybody, and I hope people remember that. At least today.

but upon learning of the cancellation of ToyFare, lashes out as only he can:

Incidentally, Wizard Entertainment has announced that they’ll be starting a “digital magazine” called Wizard World in February. Since the one thing Wizard has never figured out is how the internet works, I’m not holding my breath for a return to glory. But I would like to call out the gutless shitweasels in charge of the company who had the unmitigated hubris and bastardry to issue a press release today, heralding both the announcement of “Wizard World” and that Wizard is now being publicly traded without ever mentioning the cancellation of either magazine, or the god-knows-how-many people they laid off. Not only it is callous and classless, telling people they should invest money in their company ON THE SAME DAY THEY CANCELED THEIR TWO MOST VISIBLE PRODUCTS… well, that sums up Wizard Entertainment more than anything.


ToyFare was actually a very entertaining magazine if you were interested in toys, and Twisted Toyfare Theater was often hilarious. Its demise is, if not unexpected, sad. And it leaves a vast empty plane where once print magazines about comics once flourished: My alma mater, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, remains as the last print comics magazine standing. (Some people brought up Comic Shop News, but that’s kind of a broadsheet.)

And now for the fun part. Where is Wizard going now? Well, fortunately for us, as a publicly traded company (albeit a “pink sheet” or penny stock) there are lots and lots of SEC filings open to the public, and you can kind of see how this went down. Torsten and Dave Michael dug out the salient facts in yesterday’s comments, and surely they understand this better than The Beat, but we can pick out a narrative. Last November, Gareb Shamus started a new company, Kick The Can Corp and someone with the awesome name Strato Malamas entered into an agreement with GoEnergy, a rather unsuccessful mining company, to get acquired for a lot of nearly valueless stock. The original owner of GoEnergy then stepped down and Shamus took over in December, and suddenly GoEnergy became a comic book convention company. Just to keep the James Bond movie vibe, recently, the company acquired another member of the board of directors named Vadim Mats.

There is lots and lots of stuff that only people who actually understand money could interpret, but if you liked Wizard’s forward looking statement, you’ll love the part where they talk about their convention business. There is lots and lots of this stuff, but we’ll give you a nice excerpt to get you started:

Our Business

Overview

We have the rights to the name, marks, domain, customer lists and production rights for a portfolio of fourteen pop culture and multimedia conventions (“Comic Cons”) across North America, and are in the process of acquiring from KTC LLC the rights to produce the Mid Ohio Comic Con in Columbus, Ohio, Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg and Houston Comic Con. In addition, we originated in-house and produced the Anaheim Comic Con in April 2010 and the Austin Comic Con in November 2010.  We have thirteen conventions scheduled for the 2011 tour and plan to add at least five more conventions to the 2011 tour.  We project that we will produce twenty five conventions in 2012.  Our Comic Cons provide sales, marketing, promotions, public relations, advertising and sponsorships for entertainment companies, toy companies, gaming companies, publishing companies, marketers, corporate sponsors and retailers.  The demand for our Comic Cons results in our production of multiple conventions in certain cities such as New York City in one year.

A majority of our  target audience is male-oriented and are major buyers of many types of entertainment and media, including movies, music, toys, video games, apps, consumer electronics, computers, and lifestyle products, such as clothes, footwear, digital devices, mobile phones and men’s personal items. We believe that this male demographic consists of tens of million consumers in the United States and has hundreds of billion in spending power.  Through our Comic Cons, we introduce movies, TV shows, video games, technology, animation, toys, action figures, social networking/gaming platforms, comic books and graphic novels and their ancillary merchandise products, covering such media properties as Spider-Man, Transformers, Star Wars, Star Trek, Iron Man and Batman.
[snip]

Competition; Competitive Strengths

Our competitors are local one-time event comic cons. We have a competitive advantage over these comic cons because they do not have our economies of scale and operating efficiencies. Our production costs remain relatively constant despite the number of Comic Cons we operate because, for example, we do not significantly increase the number of personnel, who are either employees or consultants, as we produce more Comic Cons. Further, the size of our Comic Cons and the volume at which we produce them give us the leverage to negotiate discounts on such things as hotels and other travel expenses.

There is also the San Diego Comic-Con that occurs every year in San Diego. However, because of its history, size and well established industry presence, we have made a deliberate decision to not try to compete with it and therefore do not consider them a competitor.

We also believe that the size and volume of our Comic Con tours create a barrier to entry of new industry participants because, due to their size, such new industry participants would find it difficult to enter into certain markets, such as the larger metropolitan cities. Further, because we produce a number of events throughout the year and across North America, we believe that we provide an attractive opportunity for sponsors with limited coverage who want to expand their exposure nationally.

[snip]
Sales and Marketing Strategy

We promote our shows through a number of different outlets, including through local radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines and online sites. We also use online social networks like Facebook as a resource for our fans and Twitter as a provider of updates to our fans. In addition, we promote our Comic Cons through Wizard magazine, FunFare magazine, ToyFare magazine and www.wizardworld.com, each of which is a property of our affiliate Wizard Entertainment, through an informal arrangement we have with Wizard Entertainment. Such arrangement will be formalized in an agreement, the terms of which have yet to be negotiated.

Growth Strategy

We plan to increase our presence in the comic con market by acquiring the rights to conventions across North America and building and developing new shows in-house. For example, we created and produced the Anaheim Comic Con in April 2010 and the Austin Comic Con in November 2010.

Employees

We do not have any of our own employees. We currently obtain the services of the employees of either KTC LLC or Wizard Entertainment to operate the comic cons through an informal arrangement between us and KTC LLC and Wizard Entertainment. We plan to enter into a shared services agreement with KTC LLC and Wizard Entertainment, the terms of which have yet to be negotiated.


A couple of things jump out here: The plan to go public certainly explains the recent activities we’ve been hearing about Wizard making very aggressive moves to acquire a bunch of North American conventions. The other — and maybe we’re a bit biased here — is the insistence on “male-oriented” shows. The contemporary comic-con is pretty evenly split – most shows we go to these days seem to be about 60-40 male-female…or even 50-50. Is Wizard World still clinging to an outmoded business model?

There’s a lot to digest here…we’ll let you do the chewing in the comments. The listings of risk factors alone are enough to make you consider going into a safer line of work, like running a fishing boat in Alaska or bomb squad removal.

Comments

  1. A convention every two weeks. Given the blackout dates around San Diego and Christmas, that means weekly events at some point of the year.

    Aggressive. If they can make it work, good. We need more entry points for fans to geek out.

    As for their barrier strategy… large metropolitan areas can support more than one pop culture event a year. Quite a few Wizard cities have direct competition (LA, Chicago, NYC). Also, Reed and Creation have the expertise to expand as opportunities arise.

    Wizard was after my time… I had been hooked (and burned) on superhero hype since 1984 that when Image and Wizard hit, it wasn’t for me. I just kept reading the Comics Buyer’s Guide, the occasional issue of the Comics Journal, and avoiding most of the Top Ten writers and artists listed in Wizard.

    This weekend will be interesting down in N’Orleans…

  2. Actually, Heidi, ALTER EGO continues — getting close to its hundredth issue, I believe.

    I think it is no surprise that the surviving print publications are the nostalgia magazines, whose readerships have a history of reading print publications. When your reader base has a significant segment that’s been subscribing since the 1970s, you have an audience that, while it may not renew much, erodes on a somewhat slower timetable.

  3. Well dumping unprofitable enterprises is certainly not going to hurt anyone’s stock valuation, regardless of how ‘visible’ they are.

  4. D’ you know, I always thought the cons wereby the fans, for the fans…most of them originated from fans who wanted to get together, geek out about there stuff, meet a few professionals and maybe dig through the boxes to complete a run on a title. I wouldn’t go neara convention nowadays, if I wanted stuff shoved down my throat I’d fake insanity and get sent to a nut-house.

    as I commented before, somewhere else,
    Wizard magazine was all that was bad about the industry.

  5. When I saw they were going publicly traded, I had to fight the urge to pull on my reporter’s hat. Those board member names… too funny.

  6. Julián Gutiérrez says:

    I wouldn’t go as far as saying Wizard was all that bad about the industry, if anything, they should be regarded as a media outlet that took its subject matter seriously.

    I used to pick them up during 1998-2000 until they became ridiculously expensive down here in Colombia (About 11 bucks an issue), and seeing them now, I think Wizard glorified everything that was f***ed up about comics back then, which was essentially, form over substance through the glorification of the Image Comics Way. I mean, it was almost as if they were doing PR to Todd McFarlane and Marc Silvestri…

  7. Thanks to John Jackson Miller for mentioning Roy Thomas’ ALTER EGO is still going strong as issue #100 hits next month. I’m proud to say that our other TwoMorrows publications are all still doing well in both print AND digital editions: Back Issue, Draw!, and my own venerable Jack Kirby Collector magazine, which started TwoMorrows back in 1994. We’ve been around for 17 years now, and plan to be here for at least that long again.

  8. Until this piece, I had no idea Comics Buyers Guide was still around — let alone online. Off to check it out!

  9. Comics Journal is back, though now as an annual–issue #301 was just solicited.

    I considered Wizard to be a cancer upon the field, an uncontrolled growth that choked the healthy tissue. I can’t say they produced nothing of positive value, but they certainly were one of the prime movers of the boom and bust that nearly killed American comics between 1989 and 1994.

    (Also, personally, the only Wizard staffer I had any regular encounters with during the 1990s was a flaming douchebag.)

  10. This fluff piece for their public offering strikes me as ill-informed and written by a novice. It’s uncannily misleading on the whole, and being as we are still in the deep motions of a recessionary cycle… well, frankly it’s actionable.

    I will be blunt here. If this is what they actually believe then I leave it to the lawyers of the wealthy to beat this corporation (LLC) down. They will have earned that for as others have termed it… “unmitigated hubris”.

    Business is for professionals, not this skull-and-crossbones pap.

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