Who Killed the Newsstand Comics Market?

By Todd Allen

Today, we keep seeing attempts to bring back limited versions of the newsstand comics rack.  2011’s Barnes & Noble program being the most prominent to get a little press.  Interestingly, in recent weeks, both Jim Shooter and Chris Clarement have made comments about the demise of the newsstand system.  Coming from these two, the opinions are a bit more interesting as both were on the top of industry when things shifted over from the newsstand to Direct Market in the early-to-mid-80s.

Shooter sums up the dying newsstand market like so:

What seemed to be happening was this: The Newsstand market, with its many tens of thousands of outlets (around 75,000, I think) served by the 400+ ID Wholesalers in North America was continually bringing in new readers. Some of them became enthusiasts and found their way to the comics shops. But new newsstand buyers kept turning up to replace them.
Titles like G.I. JOETransformers and Star Wars helped attract new readers at the newsstands. Most people, especially kids, didn’t know or care who Iron Man was, but every kid knew G.I. JOE. Sooner or later, a kid with a Snake Eyes figure in his pocket was bound to pass a spinner rack somewhere.
The newsstand cast a wide net. It funneled wannabe collectors into the comics shops. In a way, the spotty, unreliable, inconsistent nature of newsstand distribution was a good thing, because someone who just had to have every issue was more or less forced to seek out a comics shop.

He then sets up his idea to throw the newsstand a bone before it disappeared and the conflict with Carol Kalish

As the Direct Market boomed, increasingly it became the focus at Marvel. It was a low-margin business, yes, but it was firm sale, and it was pretty easy to target Direct Market consumers. We knew what they wanted.
It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Kalish loved it. Direct Market success meant success for her. She pushed hard to make it our main business. She wanted it to be our only business. The Direct Market was her turf.
But all Marvel was my turf. I felt that we needed the newsstand market. That, if we became completely dependent on the Direct Market, we’d wind up in the same position as when we’d been entirely dependent on the newsstand market. Up the creek without a paddle. Screwed. Helpless. At their mercy.
I spoke with Marvel’s newsstand sales manager, Denise Bové. Denise was in charge of our dealings with Curtis. Like me, she felt the pendulum had swung too far. So did our Curtis account people.
We came up with a number of support-the-newsstand-distribution ideas. I suggested, for instance, doing a newsstand exclusive. Why not? You know the Direct Market shops would go to their local ID’s and buy copies anyway. It would be a big hit for the ID’s, and maybe the retailers they served. And great PR in that market. Maybe get them interested in comics again. A little.

We all know who one this one, but it’s interesting to hear Shooter’s account of Kalish’s anti-newsstand speaking point:

Kalish vehemently opposed a newsstand exclusive. She vehemently objected to any support of any kind for the newsstand. She claimed that the Direct Distributors and shop owners would see any such things as betrayal, rise up in anger and retaliate against Marvel. Why not just hand the Direct Market over to DC?

Which is the exact argument that’s used for any non-Direct Market proposal to this very day.  Anybody heard this argument applied to digital over the years?

Kalish is considered a saint in many corners.  Shooter specifically mentions her cash register initiative earlier in the article.  It’s the first time I’ve heard her placed as driving the stake through the heart of the dying newsstand market, rather than the savior leading comics to the Direct Market.

Then over at CBR, you’ve got Claremont recalling the transition:

Comics publishers are used to looking in a very, very narrow focused prism. It’s like when I started writing X-Men. Our “meat and potatoes” money was made of newsstand sales, while anything that came through the Direct Market was considered gravy. In everything we did in those early years up through the ’80s, everything we sold to the Direct Market was pure profit because we’d already paid for the printing with our newsstand sales; we were just cranking out money.

But on the flipside, when DC made the decision to go exclusively to the Direct Market, it made life much easier because they’d have the orders in before they set the print runs and would just print a marginal amount of extra copies. That way you didn’t have to worry about 200,000 excess copies unsold by the newsstand, for example. But the negative to being exclusively aimed at the Direct Market is that you’re selling to a committed audience and not bringing any new kids in the door. When Marvel followed DC’s route for the Direct Market, they were going for guaranteed profit and minimal risk, but newsstands had a much bigger potential for sales and induction of new readers.

Once local comic shops began going away in the ’90s, it put a lot of those readers out because not many people are willing to drive 40 or 50 miles for comics; they’ll simply move on to other things. The fiscal decision in the ’90s to maximize profit at the expense of investment was like cutting our own throats. But on the other hand, the guys making those decisions are now billionaires.

Claremont lays the blame on DC moving into the DM and Marvel following.  Shooter says Kalish and the suits abandoned the newsstand for the non-returnability of the DM and DC followed.  Both agree on the economic argument for the newsstand.

The funny thing is, everyone used to just agree that the newsstand was in a lot of trouble at the time.  Has it now been long enough for hindsight and blamestorming to kick in?

Comments

  1. Mikael says:

    And yet neither mention why publishers were giving up on newsstands: because newsstands were giving up on comics. They were increasing in prices but not in content and newsstands made far more profit off of magazines than they did comics so they decreased their orders over time. This is noted in many well regarded comic history books. No “blame” needed anywhere else.

  2. Shawn Kane says:

    My older brother bought comics from 7-11, Drug Fair, and High’s Dairy Stores in the early to mid 70’s. When Marvel started the Star Wars comic, he got a subscription and the brown sleeved comics would come in the mail. I would look at his comics and then when I learned to read, I picked up comics at 7-11, Drug Fair, and High’s Dairy Stores. I wasn’t a serious collector of comics until G.I. Joe #1 came out (I bought it at Drug Fair) as I read through the ads, I started picking up the X-Men and other titles. I would go to the same newstand places for those. I eventually ended up at a comic shop for the first time and discovered that I could buy issues that I missed. I could discover comics that I didn’t see at the spinner in any of the stores that I bought from. It all worked together to build the love that I have for comics today. I still can’t believe that Marvel and DC can’t bring themselves to make comics available at those same outlets. I realize that the $2.99-$3.99 price point is a non-starter but God forbid that you make an effort to bring in new readers that are younger and can extend the life of the industry. My parents complained if I asked for more than on 60 cent oomic. I doubt they’d shell out $3.99 these days for the X-Men.

  3. It was Todd Allen.
    With the pipe wrench.
    In the conservatory.

    (Todd bears a passing resemblance to Professor Plum. Especially with the pipe.)

  4. Jeremy Holstein says:

    Dang it. I was about to do the Clue joke, but Jim C got there first.

    Of course my solution was Mr. Green.

  5. I got into comics because of the newsstand. Definitely. No question about it, but I can’t imagine that it’s the solution going forward. Sure parents still drag their kids to the grocery stores but …
    I don’t know. It just feels like an artifact of another time.
    Somehow, digital needs to create a new newsstand.
    Or…
    The newsstand is dead! Long live the newsstand!!!

    (((anyway, how they didn’t see the direct market ultimately killing comics is beyond me…)))

  6. MBunge says:

    “And yet neither mention why publishers were giving up on newsstands: because newsstands were giving up on comics.”

    I think the point is that without the Direct Market as an easy and seductive alternative, Marvel and DC would have been forced to find a way to remain viable on the newsstand. I’ve long thought that the economics of the newsstand would have forced comics into a Manga-esque magazine format that had multiple ongoing features.

    The transition from dozens of monthly comics to a handful of magazines would have been traumatic as existing readers rebelled at the format and the increased price. If the industry could have survived that, I think it would have ended up in a much better place than it is now.

    Mike

  7. Synsidar says:

    I bought comics at grocery stores, drug stores, and newsstands up until 1980, but — how profitable were they? As I recall, magazine publishers have traditionally relied on subscriptions for large percentages of their profits, and offered initial cut-rate subscriptions thru avenues such as Publishers Clearing House in the hopes of getting profitable renewals. They also focused on ads. Comics didn’t have the circulation numbers for that. As Shooter commented re ads:

    You know what? It was a Catch-22. We were selling so many comics, and therefore paying to print so many comics that if you factored out the cost of printing a page with an ad on it, it cost more money than we could get for the ad!

    I’m doing this From memory, now, but the following is close if not exact: I believe it cost in the low $20,000’s to print an ad that ran in all 12 million-plus Marvel Comics one month, but the most we could ever get for a page was $18,000. The reasons we couldn’t get higher rates were many—advertisers realized that the comic book buyers tended to buy multiple titles, they didn’t like our demographics, etc. Still, it was better to have the eighteen grand than not. We had to print 32 pages per issue anyway.

    Then, Marvel Comics lived off of copies sold, and I’m pretty sure it does now. Same with the other comics publishers.

    Marvel might well have died without sales through the direct market. Audience demographics limit sales on monthly superhero comics, however they’re distributed.

    SRS

  8. Torsten Adair says:

    I wonder what Peter David has to say about his days working in Marvel’s Direct Market office with Carol Kalish? I’ll let others question Mr. Shooter’s recollections, but I do know that Ms. Kalish was responsible for the Marvel graphic novels produced with Thomas Nelson, which I never saw in comics shops.

    What was DC’s first DM title? I see “New Teen Titans”, but that was 1984. Camelot 3000? Marvel shifted Ka-Zar, Micronauts, and Moon Knight in 1981 from newsstand to DM only.

    As for who or what killed the DM? Well, I don’t think it ever died. When I started selling books in 1994, our newsstand had a spinner rack, which actually contained Dark Horse and Image titles! (I believe they were members of the CMAA.) While sidewalk newsstands don’t sell them (limited real estate), I do see them at Penn Station and Grand Central. (I just bought the Marvel Holiday Special. Four stories, $3.99)

    Airport newsstands are less likely to carry comics.

    Disney (with a little help from Marvel) is publishing comics magazines for the newsstand… how many of you have seen these reprint magazines in comics shops?

    Oh, and what about Archie? They are a newsstand publisher, with a small amount being sold to comics shops. If a magazine rack at Walgreens or RiteAid has a token comic, it’s usually an Archie digest. Does your comics shop carry the “Life With Archie” magazine?

    If it’s dead, why did Boom! actively sign with Kable? Why does Ingram Periodicals offer so many titles? (Tank Girl?!)

    http://s7d3.scene7.com/s7ondemand/brochure/flash_brochure.jsp?company=EView&sku=IBCo_ecat_IndependRetailer_2011&config=defaultLargeWlogo&zoomwidth=1100&zoomheight=700

    Of course, there’s Shonen Jump, Shojo Beat, Yen Plus, the old Welsh licensed magazines like “Simpsons Illustrated” (later bought by Revlon/Marvel), Heavy Metal, MAD, Disney, Nickelodeon…

    Could someone analyze the postal statistics and see what the current percentage of print runs are sold (and returned) via newsstands? How does that compare to years past?

  9. Meredith says:

    I also started reading comics in the 80’s as a kid- from the newsstands. My parents didn’t know anything about comic shops- how could I have done it otherwise? If the publishers are trying to get new readers that’s the place to go. Make the spinner rack the jumping off point, get the new readers hooked and let the comic shops keep them. Even if they weren’t profitable it seems they do their job of getting people in the door.

  10. Torsten: DC published Superboy Spectacular as a DM-only one-shot in 1980.

  11. >> Kalish is considered a saint in many corners. Shooter specifically mentions her cash register initiative earlier in the article. It’s the first time I’ve heard her placed as driving the stake through the heart of the dying newsstand market, rather than the savior leading comics to the Direct Market. >>

    Could be the only time you’ll hear it, too, since it’s nonsense.

    Carol wasn’t at all opposed to helping the newsstand, though doing so at the cost of the DM could certainly be a problem. Doing direct-market-only books happened because the DM was willing to support books that the newsstand didn’t have any interest in, but the reverse wasn’t true — giving the newsstand a book and then denying it to the DM even though they wanted it wouldn’t be a parallel situation. The only point to that would be trying to draw customers out of the DM and get them to buy from the newsstand instead, which is bad business — why cannibalize your own customers, try to lure them from a more-profitable buying situation to a less-profitable one?

    But reaching out to new, casual consumers through the newsstand? Carol never had any problem with that.

    A couple of examples I can think of of newsstand-directed promotions from my time in the Marvel sales department, both created by newsstand sales head Jim Sokolowski:

    The bagged SPIDER-MAN #1 program happened because Ski had noticed that the top-selling issue of SAIL every year was the September issue, which was poly-bagged. It was poly-bagged to hold the annual giveaway calendar, but doing a giveaway cost money, so Ski wanted to try out the program simply by bagging a comic and seeing how that would work for the newsstand.

    The program was expanded to the DM not because Carol refused to allow anything to be done for the newsstand, but because DM retailers demanded it. Carol didn’t actually think they’d care about bags, any more than they cared about the fact that newsstand copies had a UPC code printed on them and DM copies had a Spider-Man head in the UPC box instead, as a way of differentiating which copies were returnable and which weren’t. Bags, codes — it was the comic fans wanted, right?

    So the bagged versions were not solicited to the DM at all. It was a newsstand program, and Carol was fine with that.

    Retailers, though, hit the roof at the thought that there was something Marvel was offering that they couldn’t have in their stores, too, and protested loudly and strongly enough that bagged versions were also made available to the DM. And by the time it was all done, it had created a sales frenzy where fans wanted all the variants — all the different-colored inks (that had been a DM promotion), the bags (the newsstand promotion), and even the “newsstand variants,” which were simply the copies printed with a UPC code. On any other book, the DM didn’t care about selling the UPC-printed version, but on SPIDER-MAN #1, the very thought that they’d initially been denied something made them want everything.

    It was a huge success, of course, and newsstand sales were sky-high, too — though it was hard to tell whether it was because newsstand customers were snapping up bagged comics, or because DM retailers were buying them up to sell as “newsstand variants.”

    The second newsstand program I recall was also about bags — Ski decided to test out bags with a giveaway in them, and the launch issues of BARBIE and BARBIE FASHION were bagged, one with a play Barbie credit card and the other with a door hanger that said “Do Not Disturb, I’m Reading BARBIE,” or something like that.

    These were made available to the DM, too, but they didn’t care so much about Barbie, not in comparison to Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man, so there wasn’t a frenzy over them and Ski got more useful numbers to work with.

    Carol didn’t oppose either program, even though they were newsstand outreach, which is what Jim is claiming. She was an advocate for the DM, but not by trying to kill the newsstand or subscriptions. She was interested in what worked for which distribution stream, and how all the departments could best work together.

    Carol was the reason the Heroes World fiasco didn’t happen earlier, too — buying a distributor and taking over that side of the business was a proposal that was floated by people at Marvel every year or two, and Carol slapped it down every time, pointing out that it would be a nightmare of coordination and that retailers would see it as an aggressive move — if they’d go into distribution, would retail be far behind? It’s also no coincidence that Marvel created the short-lived “Marvel Mart,” selling direct to the consumer, after Carol had passed away, and sure enough, it damaged Marvel’s relationships with retailers.

    Carol was a passionate advocate for the DM, when that was her job, but she was an advocate for making it succeed by making it work better, not making it succeed by damaging other distribution paths. Ask Ski. Ask Peter David. Ask Lou Bank. Ask the other people around who were there and worked with her. She may no longer be around to speak for herself, but her colleagues are.

  12. Torsten Adair says:

    For an interesting history of the Direct Market:
    http://www.milehighcomics.com/tales/cbg95.html

    Chuck Rozanski at Mile High Comics

  13. >> I do know that Ms. Kalish was responsible for the Marvel graphic novels produced with Thomas Nelson, which I never saw in comics shops.>>

    Carol developed those books when she was Vice President of New Product Development, and was specifically experimenting with finding new markets for Marvel to get into — those GNs were aimed at the Christian bookstore market, as you might expect.

    She also put together a small line of mini-comics to be produced as greeting cards, for the card market (I’m not sure any of those ever made it to print in that form, but the stories turned up as backups in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS), and began a program of Civil War titles that was intended to be sold through Civil War battlefield monument gift shops, but the editorial side of the product was shaped by the editor into something that was “sophisticated” and unclear-to-comics-newbies enough that the gift shop market wouldn’t take them.

    Even back when she was still heading up Direct Sales, she co-created OPEN SPACE, which was designed to be sold through bookstores. She wanted to put comics in front of people and widen the market, however it could be done.

  14. Synsidar says:

    Johanna Draper Carlson covered the 2010 sales of Archie comics last March:

    Title Issue Average Nearest Issue % Change
    Archie #617 14,413 18,545 29%
    Archie & Friends #151 8,850 8,643 -2%
    Betty #190 8,952 8,772 -2%

    Those sales figures indicate that Archie comics don’t reach the general public to any greater extent than superhero comics do.

    SRS

  15. joe c says:

    Does Shooter ever tell stories where HE’S wrong? Just want to keep some perspective here since I’ve seen others refute his versions of a few things.

  16. Synsidar says:

    Bill Jemas on Marvel’s decision to move away from newsstand sales:

    When Jemas arrived at Marvel in 1999, newsstand sales were at 14%, according to the BPA’s audits for the first half of the year, and the company made a conscious decision to walk away from the newsstand in favor of reprint collections in bookstores, owing to the serialized nature of the stories. “I have a pretty good imagination, but I can’t see a twelve-year-old going to a newsstand six months in a row to pick up the right Spider-Man comic to get a complete story. I can see a twelve-year-old going to a bookstore and picking up a book with the whole Spider-Man story in it,” is how Jemas explains the decision.

    Also factoring in the decision to walk away from the newsstand was the limited ability to audit the returns and verify the return rate; the added expense of returns; and the lack of direct interaction with the newsstands, as opposed to the interaction with direct market retailers. Jemas does cite a successful newsstand distribution program in Waldenbooks stores implemented through Ingram (traditionally a distributor of books, not of magazines) where the comics are racked in a spinner near the magazine section and there is greater communication with the retailer, in terms of display and feedback.

    I occasionally bought comics at the local Waldenbooks, when the LCS didn’t have shelf copies or I missed one I was interested in, but the Waldenbooks spinner was no substitute for a comics shop — and the Waldenbooks mall store in Grand Forks closed a couple of years ago.

    SRS

  17. Legends like Ditko, Kirby, Boring, Cole and the Kanes vanishing into the mists of time is what killed comics, on the newsstand or anywhere else. Their vast inferiors trying to keep the money train rolling by continuing all the titles which their betters made popular is an ultimate waste of effort.

  18. @Synsidar: Regarding Archie, that same page notes much higher sales on the $3.99 digests.

    Title Issue Average Nearest Issue % Change
    Archie Double Digest #215 95,236 86,961 -9%
    Archie & Friends Double Digest
    (was Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals Double Digest) #2 70,806 64,559 -9%
    Betty & Veronica Double Digest #188 80,307 72,120 -10%

  19. Torsten Adair says:

    My first comics were bought from the mass market: polybagged 3-fers, newsstands, and paperback spinner racks (ah, those full-color Pocket Books reprints!)

    For the first six months of collecting, I made the trek to the local shopping center. Waldenbooks had a specialized spinner, designed to hold comics and albums (this was 1984). B. Dalton’s had a different spinner, which wasn’t as effective for marketing. Read All About It, a local newsstand/bookstore chain (lots of magazines, some books)… I think they had a regular wire spinner.

    January 1985 I made the trek to the local comics shop, and I was immediately lost to the world of four-color crack.

    I don’t know about newsstand distributors, but Ingram seems to be quite big… Barnes & Noble gets shipments from them. IPD and Eastern were two others I knew of… but in this day-and-age, they might have joined the choir invisible.

  20. @Torsten

    Shojo Beat ended in July 2009, and Shonen Jump goes digital-only later this year.

    (Not that it invalidates your point at all.)

  21. Goofball814 says:

    “I have a pretty good imagination, but I can’t see a twelve-year-old going to a newsstand six months in a row to pick up the right Spider-Man comic to get a complete story. I can see a twelve-year-old going to a bookstore and picking up a book with the whole Spider-Man story in it,” is how Jemas explains the decision. – Bill Jemas

    Maybe Marvel should focus on writers that can tell serialized stories without having to drag stories for 6 or 8 issues in what could be done in 1 or 2 issues.

  22. A lot of good points raised here by people much more intimately attuned to the comic world than I . Basically, I had to think about how important the spinner racks were to comic sales. I’ve seen Walgreens where they took out the spinners and tried to put the comics in with the rest of the magazines, but that seems to have not worked. result: now more comics in Walgreens at all. What has been missed so far is the point that a newsstand comic gets pretty well pawed over before someone buys it, and when young fans turn into collection-oriented fanboys, that newsstand comic is no longer ***Mint*** I too have thought the solution should be to go to a manga sized volume with several serialized stories, which would have offered more comics for the buck. Even if they are just reprint specials, like the Essential Marvel phonebooks, or the wonderful 80-Page Giants. $4 for a flimsy 32-page pamphlet does not look like a bargain.

    I am sure to be refuted on this, but I would think that serialized stories are not the problem with superhero comics. marvel in the 60’s tried out multi-part stories and I’ve they were doing okay (grin). But that was when there was only ONE Spider-Man title or ONE Fantastic Four title. Nowadays a newbie might want to read the next chapter of the X-book they’re reading, and find the book they thought would continue the story has a big “X” on the cover but is about a wholly different cast, maybe in a wholly different universe. Someone somewhere decided, “If we can’t sell 100,000 copies of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ anymore, we can sell 10,000 copies of 10 different Spider-Man title.” Not sure that works out anymore.

  23. Torsten Adair says:

    DC has published “80-page giants” recently:

    Vertigo Resurrected
    DC Comics Presents

    Usually 100 pages, $7.99, reprinting mini-series, arcs, or old trade paperbacks which are out of print and don’t justify a reprinting. (I believe these are DM-only titles.)

    The problem with serialized storytelling is that you have to reintroduce the storyline to first time readers. DC and Marvel don’t do this anymore, because everything is written for a trade collection, and it reads clunky when each chapter/issue has a recap. (This can be seen when reading serialized comic strips in a book collection. The Monday strip usually recaps the previous week and/or the Sunday action.)

    Marvel and DC don’t even do this in the trades of ongoing series. No explanation who the characters are, what the previous situation is… it’s like you start watching a movie thirty minutes in.

    Disney’s Disney/Pixar magazine is a good idea. Magazine sized, a little more expensive, but with loads of content. 96 pages, $5.99 Reprints from Boom! comics.

  24. jacob goddard says:

    What’s the last year of readers who discovered mainstream comics on the newsstands?
    I was born in 1982 and can remember, as a child, when there were multiple comic shops in the area. I still spent at least the first few years buying and discovering mainstream comics at the newsstands.

  25. jacob goddard says:

    Now that I remember it, it was GREAT! You’d park yourself in front of the spinner rack while your parents did the weekly grocery shopping and when they were done you’d beg them to buy whatever one you liked the best.

    All of those 5 year olds are probably looking at iPads now…

  26. Al™ says:

    My first comics were from the newstand. I bought them new. I also bought loads of them for half price from the local used book stores.

    But they were reading copies when I bought them. New comics could be creased at the spine from having been packed in wire wrapped bundles and slung onto a restaurant floor, or used copies were dog eared and barely in fair condition after they spent a few summers in someone’s cottage. But I got to read thousands of comics, for peanuts.

    All summer nostalgia aside, I do miss the variety of titles I saw each week at the stand.

    The pity of direct market or digital sales is that kids do not create a habit of going to a newsstand at all. They don’t even see comics anywhere except in special stores. And woe to anyone who handles a $4 comic book incorrectly!

    The local DM comic shop now carries ONE copy of the most popular titles, the other titles are strictly catalog orders only. Those ones come in and go out to their customers without anyone else even seeing their covers.

    But today’s publishers appear to be content with the current distribution system, so we must accept that they are making adequate profit for shareholders while minimizing risk… and that seems to be good enough.

  27. without the racks at the 7-11 or the candy store i wouldnt be into comics. it WAS gijoe and transformers that i started with and spider man (when there were sat morn cartoons) and i would get comics wherever i could. remember sears selling bunches of comics in the catalog? 50 i think. the polybaged packs of 3 or more at toys r us… and most def the spinner racks at local stores.

    yeah.. i asked when they came in and i was there when that happened so that i wouldnt miss an issue. Loved multi part stories, specifically secret wars was IT as i was finding my addiction to comics. finding out about comic shops and then getting my dad to take me there was a treat that rarely happened. mostly because there were less of them… but as we went into the 90’s shops boomed and racks were leaving.

    spinner racks were seeds…. cant have a plant when you get rid of the seeds.

  28. It’s too bad that newsstands were not supported longer, but for how many years would they have lasted? As if anyone hasn’t noticed, newsstands as a market is currently drying up for most magazines and newspapers. Instead the focus is websites and digital to replace the newsstand.

    As as others have pointed, it was a different market when comics were a lot cheaper on cheaper paper.

  29. patrick ford says:

    Most people think TV was the biggest factor, but the decision to reduce page count, and keep the cover price low had to make newsstands wonder if comic books were worth racking.
    In 1941 comic books were a dime and Time magazine was fifteen cents. In 1968 comic books were twelve cents, and Time was fifty cents. By 1979 comics were thirty-five cents, and Time was a dollar twenty-five.

  30. I think the problem wasn’t the switch to the direct market, it was the decision to allow the direct market to focus solely on superhero comics and actively drive the rest of comics readership away. DC and Marvel could have made some effort to convince comic shops to sell comics for kids and women. Kalish helped them buy cash registers. She could have provided design help and cleaning supplies to create an environment that could be frequented by customers who weren’t already comics junkies.

  31. Cerebro says:

    The newsstand was, instrumental, for bringing me into comics. I grew up in a, relatively, small town. The nearest direct market outlet was an hour away. Mom, certainly, wasn’t going to drive an hour every week for comics. Fortunately, my town had a gift shop and a drug store that were both equipped with, well stocked, spinner racks that more than satisfied my fix. (And, as a child of the 80s, I can support Jim Shooter’s notion that Marvel’s G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS books were the titles that roped me in.)

    Sadly, the newsstand market feels like a relic from another era. As much as I’d love to see it return for the benefit of bringing in the, ever elusive, “new reader”, it just wouldn’t work in today’s climate. So many periodicals have been making the transition to digital. And the current price point of comics just doesn’t lend itself to making them the “impulse buy” that they used to be. (75 cents was easy for Mom to justify when I begged her for that comic that I became enamored with while she was grocery shopping. $4.00?…Probably not so much.)

  32. Rick Brown says:

    I owned comic shops from 1982 – 1994, the Glory Years of comics. What has killed comics isn’t anything to do with where they are sold, but rather a combination of

    1) A shift towards gimmicks like multiple hologram foldout covers 2) Stories that once took 7 pages are now 7 issues 3) Competition in the form of video games 4) Constant relaunch of titles and refurbishing of characters which drives away loyal readers without bringing in any new ones at all.

    A top selling title today might approach 80,000 copies. 30 years ago, this would have led to cancellation at Marvel or DC. Even the indies were selling 50,000 copies of titles like Jon Sable or DNAgents in the mid-80s.

  33. Yeah, Kurt’s right: Carol Kalish was always about distributing more comics to more people in any way possible. Carol and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but, without question, her strategies with regard to expanding the audience for comics had less to do with her “corner” of Marvel than it did with comics in general. She championed cash registers and wooden comics racks in hopes of expanding the market size overall, in the theory that as the pond became larger, Marvel would become larger.

    I joined Marvel in April 1987, two weeks before Jim Shooter left. So I have no connection to him. But (1) his claim that the margins were higher in newsstand sales are ridiculous. Margins were lower; besides anywhere from 40 – 70% of the product you print getting destroyed, there was also the cost of processing “returns” (unsold copies that were meant to be destroyed … but usually ended up in a warehouse somewhere). And (2) when I started at Marvel, DM sales constituted something like 28% of overall publishing revenues; newsstand sales constituted something like 71%; subscriptions were around 1%. So his claim that the DM was the “focus” when he was at Marvel is absurd. Growing? Sure. Higher-margin? Absolutely. But focus? Not hardly.

  34. Glen Collins says:

    Read a lot about News Stand UPC Comics not being in demand, and that’s just rubbish! I became a Power Seller on E-Bay selling the much harder to find News Stands! Marvel and DC just put the preverbial stake in their own hearts, as they both started on News Stands in the first place. To remove these books from our corner stores is an affront to comic history, and just hurts the small town stores. What I have found from my local store owner was that DC, Marvel pulled out entirely without options to exchange for even DEs, nice! When they were stocking his comic racks, the distributor did not allow the stores to choose what they wanted, instead filled the racks with useless comics, not complete(no GL for instance), and they had the worst problem with mini-series. I myself bought #2 Tron BEFORE #1 was put in the rack, sound like people who know what they are doing or people intentionally undermining News Stands? I know where I found everything I was missing, yup DEs(DSs for you DCers) out the bung hole in the comic stores.
    Also, the comic publishers want you closer to the 3′ action figures they can’t get into the corner or large stores(seen one at walmart for instance?).
    Simply put, it looks like a dumb move period. I know I won’t be driving a half an hour to buy my books, and when I do, the gas stops me from 2 books being bought.
    You fellas at DC and Marvel will not get any higher profits, you will just lose purchasers. Most teenagers can’t afford a car, so how do they(DC/Marvel) expect them to even get to the comic stores in the larger cities(they don’t exist elsewhere), northern communities, I live in Canada, and grew up buying News Stands in Churchill, Manitoba, now sell them on E-Bay.
    Guess all those others who grow up on a farm or remote community will now never even read a comic, and eventually comics will be in a grave, pitiful death of Superman.
    I can’t believe Stan the Man was in favour of this, my listings asked him to put it on the cover, and voila, New Stand appeared, no more explaining UPC/non UPC! Stan, if your listening, it’s Clobberin Time@the ever lovin blue eyed Thing!
    Take it back Stan Lee! Don’t let Lucifers burn all the books! You can’t smell a digital anything, and remember in digital, a cookie is a potential threat, but in real life, you always want one as a friend for milk, or later on as an adult, a coffee(you might be on to the tea stage now though Stan)!

  35. Coy Schrage says:

    As a kid growing up, I had to buy comics from the newsstand, there was no other option, so I still hold the spinners dear. To answer the question of who killed newsstand comics (and not just comics, but newspapers and magazines as well).
    The answer is technology & money. Technology has given us everything at our fingertips, anytime we want it. Money controls everything now. We’ve created a monster, people don’t want to wait for anything and they sure aren’t going to pay full price for something they can get for less somewhere else, and the people selling the items are going to find the cheapest ways to produce it. News is available for free, so we don’t even need to buy newspapers anymore. Most magazines used to break news to us about non-essential news items, usually entertainment of some sort. Specifically books like People and Us Weekly, had the scoop about the latest celebrity gossip. Now people can read about what’s happening in Lady Gaga’s life 10 seconds after it happens by following her on Twitter. How does this translate to comics? Do consumers want to drive around to their local newsstands to find the next X-Men book and find out it might not be there? Do they want to pay $3.99 for it? No. They come to me and pre-order it and get a 20% discount and it’s guaranteed to be here. Sometimes these people are standing at my door when I show up on Wednesday, so they can get their books right away. If they wait until after work they might accidentally read spoilers about their favorite titles on the internet. You could say that proves the point about the direct market killing comics, but the direct market wouldn’t have been created if the demand wasn’t there, and the demand wouldn’t be there if we weren’t given the option to have everything all the time. Fast food, CNN, microwaves, cell phones, the internet, cars, I could go on, but each time something new is created it puts a nail in the coffin of the old way.
    In response to Glen Collins: you kind of proved my point before I made it. Digital is how kids will get their comics in the future. I hate to say it, and it will only get worse. Instead of waiting for a story 3-6 months after the creators turn them, they’ll be available the next day and they won’t have to wait 12 months to read the full limited series, it’ll be released all at once. And it works out for the publishers too, because they won’t have to pay to have copies printed.

  36. Mike S says:

    The problem with the loss of comic book readers and the loss of newsstands is exemplified in this discussion. Most of the focus is on superhero comics. Collectors care about superhero comics and what condition they’re in. But children are often exposed to other types of comics first before moving on to superheroes. Unfortunately, the move away from grocery stores, spinners, etc., has starved out other types of comics. I began collection comics with Warner Bros. and Disney characters, as well as Archie comics. While Archie is still published, I’m sure they don’t have as large a market share as they once did, in part because they aren’t the type of comics that people collect–no one dies in them, new characters are infrequent, they don’t have the flash of people in their underwear or armor punching each other in the face, etc. Archie relies on a simplicity that appeals to younger readers, but young kids are not going to go to comics shops by themselves, whereas they might go to the corner store.

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