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Black and White Indie Filth
January 21, 2009 2:37 PM   Subscribe

“It is going to be rough for us Top 20 publishers. It will be epic for anyone smaller. Lots of folks will vanish due to this, even some bigger guys.” - Hard times ahead for indie comics: Diamond Distribution, which has an effective monopoly on American comics distribution, will be raising it’s wholesale benchmark, meaning many of the comiocs currently available in comics stores will soon be dropped. In a further blow to the adult comics market Diamond will be dropping that section from the print version of Previews, in favour of a PDF only available to retailers. Comics are about to get a whole lot blander.
posted by Artw (76 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
The comic industry has been dying for years. Getting caught in this kind of economy will accelerate that process, but this would have happened anyway.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:41 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


more
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on January 21, 2009


And more comics gloom here.
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2009


It's amazing such a niche industry has retail distribution in the first place. If you sell 500 copies of a comic in the entire country, why wouldn't you just sell direct online?
posted by smackfu at 2:45 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Look, the PDF simply doesn't have the same credibility and honesty that it does in print.
posted by Corduroy at 2:46 PM on January 21, 2009


Of course the comics industry may actually be actively suicidal, what with the seeming consensus that 4 dollars is the new okay price to charge for a comic – individual comics being around 22 pages (unless it’s 16 pages and some “backmatter’, comicsese for useless padding) , and with modern storytelling being what it is that’s probably an average of four panels per page and about a five minute read.
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]




I do agree that charging $4 for a thin issue that one can read in a few minutes is a bit much; it's part of the reason I haven't bought comics in some time. The trade edition will be out eventually, at a better value, and I can sit with it for a while.

It is sad. The local comic shop just closed after 20 years, give or take. Diversification is but one strategy, but better that than a slate of only bigger names at near-uniform prices. Diamond has tried a lot of things to drum up interest. Free Comic Book Day comes to mind. A lot of print media is up in cost for individual issues. That's nothing new. Of course, comics generally don't take too kindly to the subscription model that other magazines do. But the industry (many print industries) are just bleeding right now, so maybe it is time to give a new model a look.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I haven't bought a regular monthly in ages; generally I just wait for the collected graphic novels to appear. (examples, Alan Moore's stuff, and Bone, back when it was still running...)

There simply isn't enough story in a single issue to make the purchase worth it to me.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2009


I always thought comics were coming back, and will soon be bigger than they have ever been.

Since the largest movies in the last 10 years were comic book based, adult comics are becoming more mainstream, and graphic novels in general are becoming more accepted.

My dad now reads comics!

I don't think the industry is going to have another bubble burst like it did in 1990, where comics were bought on speculation. I feel that comics are purchased on the quality of the work and not the imagined value of the work.

Just because the big time distributor decides to raise the bar, it doesn't man that these awesome small time comics are going to fail. It simply opens up the door for smaller distribution companies that offer fantastic quality work to take up the slack.
posted by joelf at 3:12 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you sell 500 copies of a comic in the entire country, why wouldn't you just sell direct online?

The cost of labor and postage would kill you. If $4 per issue is a lot at a shop, who's gonna pay $10, including S&H?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:12 PM on January 21, 2009


Oh, I also never buy the single issues. They feel so weak and flimsy, I like my books with a spine!
posted by joelf at 3:14 PM on January 21, 2009


Image does it right with 16-page + backmatter books (the "Fell format") at a buck ninety-nine, as far as I'm concerned. With plot-intensive stuff like Casanova, 22 pages would be brain-melting, and Fell just works as a neat little slice of detective story/ police procedural in that sort of truncated space.

Plus, Fraction, Ba, Moon, Ellis, and Templesmith can make backmatter that's actually worth reading (same with Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie in Phonogram), unlike 90% of the crap Marvel throws in the back of their unending stream of Stephen King and Laurell K. Hamilton adaptations. I actually like The Stand as a book. I'm not sure how much longer I'm willing to commit to the comic at that price, in that format, without a very firm "we're going to adapt this for X many issues" statement from Marvel. The parade of Dark Tower books just seems like a War on Novel Adaptations-- unending and poorly-defined-- and I suspect The Stand is going the same way.

And then there's shit I really would read every month if it would show up every month-- Ellis is notorious for good starts and schedule-hell finishes, like Planetary and Desolation Jones, something bizarre keeps happening to Jonathan Hickman's work on Image's end that results in "special editions" of Pax Romana that are actually "here's two issues of the comic we didn't put out, in one book, for nearly six bucks," and the third issue of Atomic Robo: Dogs of War apparently never happened in my neck of the woods, forcing me to go and order it.

Perhaps I am a sucker for liking to get my comics fix weekly, instead of in a mail-order envelope, as a TPB after waiting six months to a year, or in PDF. But I think there's a lot of shortsightedness on the industry's part as to what comics fans are willing to shell out for-- I could get right on board with Atomic Robo without having the first TPB, but Green Arrow and Black Canary #16 last week required me to have Wikipedia open for the sake of context, and I'd read all 15 prior issues. "Continuity-driven" comics are not excuses for crappy, contextless writing when I'm paying $3 and up a week to read the stuff.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:14 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


$4/book is completely insane.

Inflation calculation:
$0.10 in 1966 --> $0.68 today
$0.35 in 1977 --> $1.32 today
$0.95 in 1988 --> $1.80 today
$1.99 in 1999 --> $2.62 today
Thing is, they should have held the line on prices through the mid/late 90s. That's when fans were fleeing and a price policy change might have held onto some of the readership. At this point, I can't see how reducing prices could do much good.
posted by Chuckles at 3:18 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have a vague feeling Print on Demand will be the salvation of paper comics, especially the PoD services that integrate actual printing with distribution, listing on Amazon, and so on.

Warren Ellis started a thread for people to describe their experiences with PoD on Whitechapel, the forum on his FreakAngels site, just yesterday. People seem to have had somewhat mixed experiences, but it's at least not totally useless, and I assume there's still quite a bit of development going on.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:23 PM on January 21, 2009


The last monthlies I bought were Morrison's 7 Soldiers miniseries-es, and only because I was too impatient to wait for the trade paperbacks. Almost anything worth reading eventually makes it to trades.

That said, this is horrible news. Doubly so for the few underground comics that still linger on; making a 22-to-34 page comic is difficult enough for the amateurs and semi-pros, making a trade paperback-length finished product without a guaranteed publisher or distribution network is pretty improbable. Phil Foglio has stopped producing individual issues of Girl Genius entirely, opting to put pages online and sell collected volumes, but he's been at this forever. I suspect that a lot of the established, self-published creators will be moving to that model, but that may not work out for the aspiring Hernandez Bros. of the world.

I wish there was a viable distribution alternative to Diamond.
posted by lekvar at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to collect comics, but got out back in the early-ish 80s. I've gotten back into a bit recently, but it's mostly for investment purposes now. Not that I wouldn't like to read my purchases, but I just bag and board them, then read the trades later.

I wouldn't proclaim the death-knell for comics too hastily. We've had a nice assortment of comics-related movies of late, some of them pretty good (and some of them less so, to be sure). And now we've got a comic-collector in the White House. It could be that the comic industry, after toiling through this economic downturn like all businesses will have to, will be well-positioned for a significant revival. I wouldn't bet on that, but I also wouldn't bet against it.

I do miss the simpler days, when comics had one (1) cover, and you either had it or you didn't. Now to complete a run you might have to get a variant or three, signed copies, specials released only at conventions and so on. I realize this is an innovation with the purpose of driving sales, but I personally find it rather annoying.

On the plus side, man, the artwork has really improved over the years, especially some of the covers. And that they're occasionally bringing in top writing talent is nice too.
posted by jamstigator at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2009


Chuckles, does that calculator factor in paper costs, which have been steadily rising over the last few years? If not, it's probably not an accurate estimate of the proper pricing for a comic.

Lekvar, don't forget Carla Speed McNeil's Finder, another popular indie comic that went to the web around the same time as Girl Genius.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]



If you sell 500 copies of a comic in the entire country, why wouldn't you just sell direct online?

The cost of labor and postage would kill you. If $4 per issue is a lot at a shop, who's gonna pay $10, including S&H?


I think the bigger question is, if you're only selling 500 copies of your comic, why don't you offer it up free online first to build an audience, because print is clearly uneconomical at that point.
posted by Oktober at 3:33 PM on January 21, 2009


By abandoning direct sales and embracing print on demand comics could reach the same level of success the RPG industry is currently experiencing!
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


The cost of labor and postage would kill you. If $4 per issue is a lot at a shop, who's gonna pay $10, including S&H?

I guess this is one of the symptoms of continued speculation. If you are doing mass mailings with minimal packaging, looks like shipping can be as low as $0.25 (play with the rate calculator yourself). Thing is, the comic will not be in CGC 9.8 when it arrives..
posted by Chuckles at 3:34 PM on January 21, 2009


Chuckles, does that calculator factor in paper costs, which have been steadily rising over the last few years?

What makes you say that? Looks like newsprint prices have held steady since 1981 or so, with a brief spike in 1995. Another spike in 2008, but I bet that spike is already easing.
Another source of prices from 1998-2005

After adjusting for inflation, even the peak 2008 prices were cheap compared to historical prices.

Add to that the dramatic reduction in printing costs...
posted by Chuckles at 3:58 PM on January 21, 2009


I sometimes think about getting back into comics via the graphic novel format, but I'm completely out of touch with what's going on in comics these days. Is there a good source of reviews for new graphic novels?
posted by maurice at 3:59 PM on January 21, 2009


Damn, that should be "newsprint prices have held steady since 1981."
posted by Chuckles at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2009


And damn again, it should also be "prices from 1998-2005". But, the link I put under that title is good for current pricing, so I guess it is useful.
posted by Chuckles at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2009


jamstigator: Really? There's still a speculators market in this day and age? Are you talking about picking up classic comics or are you talking about collecting new comics? I'm sure there's a market for Golden and Silver Age comics, and probably a decent market for comics from the 80's (does that era have an "age" yet?) but I have a hard time believing that there's much of an after market for anything published after '95 or so. But, of course, comics were better in my day, get off my lawn, you damned kids, etc.

fairytale of los angeles: Cool! I didn't know Finder had migrated to the internets. Thanks for the info.
posted by lekvar at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2009


So how does print on demand work? Why don't we just sell comics through Kinkos / FedEx print-on-demand?
posted by jeffburdges at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2009


Which is pretty much how the UK small press scene works. Been there, done that, had an amount of fun that made the losses worthwhile.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on January 21, 2009


Chuckles' raw numbers look saner than my impressions from reading comics industry bitching, but a little more digging uncovers some direct quotes from a printer, for single issues and GNs in black and white or color, in this PW Comics Week article.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:29 PM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Comics are about to get a whole lot blander

Admit it: They were pretty bland to begin with. For me, it started in the mid-90s, when there would be four Jim Lee covers for the first issue of a new, lame $2.50/issue X-Men offshoot. When spectacle and collectibility overshot readability and enjoyment, the mid-90s bubble began, and Marvel and DC never looked back.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 PM on January 21, 2009


fairytale of los angeles - VERY good link.
posted by Artw at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2009


Blazecock Pileon - yeah, shitty franchise servicing comics with prices inflated by “extras” will probably be last to be effect though – in fact the market gets to be smaller and smaller and self-selects itself down to being hardcore lunatics with too much money and no taste we’ll probably see more far more fan servicey X-Men spin offs printed on special paper for increasingly ridiculous prices, shortly before the whole thing disappears up it’s own arse.
posted by Artw at 4:45 PM on January 21, 2009


The problem with a lot of comics these days - and, indeed, for the past 20 years - is what I have just now decided to call Lost Syndrome. You know, the television show. The television show that has been going for, what, four or five years now, I guess a hundred or so episodes, but only half those episodes actually useful for moving the plot along, with the rest of them serving only as pointless filler. That's what comics are doing. I started reading Y: The Last Man and a lot of those issues were just filler, to stretch the run, and I lost patience with it. Same with DMZ and The Exterminators and, god, a bunch of others, I don't know. Point is, it's bad enough waiting a month for the next five minute read, but then to find that that five minute read doesn't even advance the plot one iota is just a real pain in the ass and it's why people don't bother with it.

One-shots are different. I remember Lapham's Stray Bullets, that was a fucking awesome series.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:47 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think writing episodically has become a bit of a lost art, with people writing for the trade and letting the individual issue fall aside a little. It doesn't have to be that way - and TBH I think with the best writers comics work well as singles and in trade.

Other people are finding DMZ a little draggy now then? Or does it just seem that way because I'm comparing it to the first two trades?
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on January 21, 2009


fairytale of los angeles - VERY good link.

I'll say that again!

Selling 3,000 copies at $3.99 is only worth 2/3rds the income of selling 5,000 copies at $2.99. If you can manage to sell 10,000 copies, you can drop the cover price to $1.99 and still make 26% more than you did selling 5,000 copies at $2.99.
That's assuming the distributor will take your business at $1.99 cover price..
posted by Chuckles at 4:58 PM on January 21, 2009


Might be a good opportunity to graduate to books!
posted by magic curl at 5:20 PM on January 21, 2009


Other people are finding DMZ a little draggy now then?

I admit I only made it through a couple of dozen issues before becoming disenfranchised, but perhaps more with the conceit than the execution.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2009


I would never download them, of course, but what do other MeFites think about the DCP sets floating around on bit torrent? I hear the scans are pretty high quality. And they might lead to the future of comics distribution if Diamond is trying to flex its monopoly...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 5:32 PM on January 21, 2009


turgid dahlia - I loved the first two trades, and started picking it up in singles soon after that, and did okay with it, but recently my interest has been seriously flagging on it.
posted by Artw at 5:41 PM on January 21, 2009


Warezing comics – don’t do it.

But if you must do try and think of it as research and buy the decent stuff once in a while, ok?

I’m also not sure that reading material intended for print on screen gives the same quality of experience – you loose the details, or you’re scrolling around a page losing all the timing cues and other finely balanced storytelling tricks that make the comics reading experience what it is, and the whole thing seems to lend it’s self to distracted skimming rather than reading.
posted by Artw at 5:53 PM on January 21, 2009


Isn't anyone gonna call them "floppies"?
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2009


The DCP and Minuteman scans are great, by and large the scans are top quality, and make it extremely convenient to catch up on storylines. I have no need to scroll to see 2 full pages on any of my monitors at home (a 15.4" laptop and 19" widescreen LCD). That being said I definitely find reading comics in dead tree format to be more enjoyable.

Scans are good for filling in the blanks but where they really win is for out of print/hard to get stuff (such as Miracleman) and for translations of manga (appearing well before dead-tree copies appear outside of Japan - if they do at all).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:11 PM on January 21, 2009


BTW It sounds like the cut-off thing would affect trades as well. The first Scott Pilgrim has been given as an example.
posted by Artw at 6:12 PM on January 21, 2009


$4/book? And I thought they were too expensive when I quit getting a pull 7 or 8 years ago. It also seems like that number is way out of whack with the cost of trade paperbacks. How many issues in a TPB vs the cost per issue again?
posted by immlass at 6:19 PM on January 21, 2009


Actually I think the quality is going to go up dramatically after a short period of total suckage. The real artists who love the medium will figure out a business plan in the ashes of the collapse of all dead tree media in the next 18 months. A new more efficient distributor based online, but providing print on demand or some other distribution mechanism will be there. Comic book stores may survive by growing the miniatures and collectibles tie in market.
posted by humanfont at 6:35 PM on January 21, 2009


The cost of labor and postage would kill you. If $4 per issue is a lot at a shop, who's gonna pay $10, including S&H?

I'm sure there are services that will print and ship the whole thing for you. I remember the last comic I bought. This was in the '90s. It cost $3 and took me 10 minutes to read. And it sucked. They're much too expensive for kids, at least ordinary kids. Especially when you look at the amount of time it takes to read. I did recently purchase a copy of The Watchmen off amazon.com and I enjoyed that. The graphic novel seems to be the way to go. That, or PDFs.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 PM on January 21, 2009


This seems like it's going to be the end of comic book stores, but I don't really see why it has to be the end of comics, as long as demand still exists.

I find it pretty hard to believe that you couldn't do Internet-ordered/mail-fulfilled stuff for less overhead than the total B&M chain. For that to be true, the current B&M system would have to be ridiculously efficient, with practically no margins at all, anywhere. (Which I guess might be the case, but unless the stores are selling books at a loss and making the money up somewhere else — which seems doubtful from the ones I've been in, at least — I don't see it happening.)

The bare minimum to do POD/mail-order seems really low: you need a decent duplexing printer that can handle 11x17, a folding machine, a big stapler, and probably a postage meter, a label printer and a stack of sheet-size envelopes. It's not lemonade-stand trivial, but it's less overhead than a retail store — you can probably even rent most of the equipment if you wanted to — and you can serve many more customers from a single location.

I'm not sure the quality would be great compared to what people are used to (although some color lasers are pretty good), but it would probably be a lot nicer than reading on screen, which seems to be the alternative.

Of course, all this speculation depends on the existence of a market at all, and I admittedly haven't bought a comic book in years (though I've bought the trade-paperback collections from time to time).
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:09 PM on January 21, 2009


Fundamentally the problem is that the top comic of the month sells around 100,000 copies. This number should be at least 3-10 times higher. If the big two can get this to happen then they've saved the American comic book industry. If they can't then the industry will be where it is now (at best) - putting out some amazing stuff, but still barely treading water.

Everyone who cares about comics has their own ideas on what would "save" the industry here's mine:

Single issues printed as they are now, glossy paper with the nice colouring - this is for the speculators/collectors and would only be available at comic shops (which is pretty much the only place you can get new comics now anyways)

Every week put out a digest that has all of that week's issues in one book (like they do in Japan with manga magazines such as Shonen Jump). Do this in black and white on the cheapest paper possible. Bind it as cheaply as a Wheel of Time paperback. Just make it easy for people to be caught up with what's going on in the universe and expose them to stuff they might not be noticing otherwise. Make sure this gets to every convenience store in the country. Make a deal with McDonalds/Pizza Hut/Any other family restaurant to carry them there as well (with all the movie tie-ins that shouldn't be difficult).

A month after the issue hits the stands make it available online. Do it via the publishers web-site, via itunes, whatever, but get it out there, and because production and distribution costs are lower than paper comic books make the issues a dollar at most.

Bring out the softcover collection a month or two after the storyline it collects is finished - print it on newsprint and keep the price low. Send this out to bookstores and comic shops.

A year or so down the line bring out a nice hardcover edition if sales warrant it. Make it just like the Absolute Editions: oversize, glossy acid-free paper, better colouring, extra covers/pin-ups/backmatter, the works. Again, this gets sent out to bookstores and comic shops.

* I'm focusing on superheroes because that's what the big 2 do best. If they really want to think long-term and grow the industry then they should be licensing as much manga as possible (especially the stuff for girls) and put it out here for as close to cost as they can.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:44 PM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I disagree about not warezing comics. I never knew much about the scene but Diamond's monopoly means warez comics are the only moral alternative. It's almost always morally worse to pay off the monopoly then to not paying them and not pay the artist too.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:45 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's anything necessarily immoral about a monopoly. A monopoly that pockets the majority of the profits from a creative medium is immoral though. I don't know whether or not that is the case here.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 9:55 PM on January 21, 2009


I love going to the comic shop, but honestly, I don't even look at the new releases any more. O bought 3 copies of the Beanworld Christmas issue, but that is the first new, single issue comic I have picked up in…the better part of a decade, at the very least.

How can comics be saved? I don't know. Can comics be saved? I don't know. But the super hero crap Marvel and DC are pushing these days, I wouldn't buy for a buck an issue, honestly. The art sucks, the stories suck, and, worst of all, the writing really sucks. If nobody can come up with anything new and interesting to do with Batman, then really, I would be better off reading any old back issue. And the "new" super heroes are just re-treads of the old ones. And the Universe has no reliable continuity worth a god-damn, and hasn't in my life time.

Here is an idea: what if raising the barrier to get comics out there is the exact wrong approach? Maybe they need to lower the barrier to Farnsworth-like levels, and get as much new, different, weird shit out there as possible, for tiny, tiny bargain basement prices, to get people back picking up random issues, just out of curiosity.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:07 PM on January 21, 2009


I remember Lapham's Stray Bullets, that was a fucking awesome series.

If you enjoyed the trippy Amy Racecar stories from SB, you may enjoy Lapham's Young Liars, which is sort of fucked up in a charmingly similar manner. A TPB of the first arc is available.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:13 PM on January 21, 2009


I would never download them, of course, but what do other MeFites think about the DCP sets floating around on bit torrent? I hear the scans are pretty high quality.

I download many, many comics and base most of my purchases on them (Sorry, Artw). Honestly and truly, I would spend far less on comics if I didn't use scans to separate the good from the dross.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:25 PM on January 21, 2009


Well, there's CafePress, Lulu and MagCloud isn't there?

Anyway, if this means that Beanworld gets cancelled just as it's starting back up again, I will be beyond angry.
posted by JHarris at 12:07 AM on January 22, 2009


I think I can count all the single issues of comic books I have ever bought on my fingers. My first comic was a Batman where he fought the KGBeast (sigh). Ten years later, I picked up all the Johnny the Homicidal Maniacs in single issue. Ten years after that, I bought the reissue of The Amazing Screw On Head so I'd have something for Mignola to sign at a talk he gave. Most recently, it was the New Frontier follow-up that was release around the same time as the DVD.

But I have at least two bookcases full of trades, Absolutes, Essentials, Showcases, Dark Horse Presents, and supplemental books on the history of the genre.

My wife (!) on the other hand, buys roughly two single issues a month: Buffy and Umbrella Academy, sometimes more (Supernatural).

I am not the market for comic books. For comics, sure. My wife, who also buys random copies of celebrity gossip mags, is the market for single issue comic books. She'll buy a comic just because it looks cool on the shelf. I need to poll the Internets to make sure a trade is worthwhile before I even start to look for it. My wife is much, much more in line with what the traditional comic issue buyer has been over the years. It has been interesting to see the comics world through her eyes.

Since she buys single issues, she gets the ads. And yet of all the ads that accompany her purchases, there are none that interest her, none that are even directed at her. Instead it's all ads for Star Wars games.

In order to get the comics she wants, she has to brave Comic Book Shops where she doesn't feel particularly welcome* and whose layout is not conducive to the uninitiated. She doesn't think in terms of release dates and the like. Instead, she thinks "Oh, I wonder if there is a new _____" and looks for it. 'New' to her could mean the issue that came out Wednesday or last month, but she doesn't instinctively know to search both New Releases shelves AND back issues.

Every time she buys a couple of comics, she gets hit by sticker shock. "These cost how much?" She pays because she wants the comic, likes the cover, and so on. After all, she buys those gossip mags which are pretty disposable and may look at comics the same way. If they go up in price to surpass a cheap beer at a bar, I'm not sure how long she'll keep it up.

This entire setup seems to be designed to turn my wife from a monthly single issue customer into a trade person like me. With trades she can order them online from Amazon, thus avoiding confusing release schedules and shrugging comic book store employees, for less and avoid all the Star Wars ads that she doesn't read anyways.

But without the single issue sales, there won't be any trades for her to buy. So the entire system seems to be self defeating.

If comic books stores (and thus Diamond) want to survive, there needs to be more of an effort to entice casual buyers like my wife:

- Comics need to be available incidentally to other products sold (like, say, Newbury Comics in New England - come for one dying form of media [CDs, DVDs], stay for another [comics]) in a more impulse purchase type scenario.
- As impulse buys, comics need to be more self contained. A six issue story arc is fine, but no more sprawling Mega Events.
- Make sure the ad content is as general as possible, that stuff can help determine the audience as much as the content of the comic itself.

Comics have managed to hold off their decline for years by doing trick after trick. Killing off iconic heroes in a New Coke/Classic Coke switch, enticing speculators with foil covers, and most recently by being incubation chambers for Hollywood. Problem is, continual comic book buyers have become jaded to all these things (just look at the amount of eye rolling with the death of Captain America or Batman). It's the casual buyer that flocks to purchase these issues (Obama and Spider-Man!) and once they have that single specialty issue in hand, more needs to be done to get them to buy a second or a third from another series.

* I'm looking at you, Comicazi in Davis Square - after several unpleasant visits, we go to Harrison's in the Meadowglen now, which sucks as we walk by Comicazi on the way home and need to drive to get to Harrison's.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:24 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am confused when people say "comics suck" and "I haven't bought a comic in ten years" in nearly the same sentence.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:38 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's the casual buyer that flocks to purchase these issues

What's interesting to me is that I've heard several reports of comic shops screwing over regular buyers and selling the gimmick issues to the prospectors. Which is crazy dumb. It's not really a semi-interested fan who buys these comics, it's the guy who thinks he can turn around and make big profits on e-bay. Comics need to lose the "this will be worth something" mentality, and get over themselves.

I am confused when people say "comics suck" and "I haven't bought a comic in ten years" in nearly the same sentence.


I'll say it. Lots of comics suck. I like big events, but Marvel's been fucking up every single one since Civil War. Eight special issues, with a crapload of crossovers, and the end result is basically the same world as before? Fuck you, Secret Invasion.
posted by graventy at 6:21 AM on January 22, 2009


iFanboy comments on the issue as well:
"Recently, fans of Phonogram The Singles Club learned that the second issue will be delayed because artist Jamie McKelvie had to take paying work on other projects, because the monthly sales of the first issue weren't quite high enough for him to pay the rent. Now, this isn't necessarily anyone's fault, but it isn't like book publishing where they can get an advance. And this is an Image comic book. If it were self-published, they'd be lucky to get to the point where they can even put together a trade paperback. It's a strange system."
posted by angry jonny at 7:41 AM on January 22, 2009


Lots of comics suck. I like big events

I think I see your problem.
posted by Artw at 8:32 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'll say it. Lots of comics suck. I like big events, but Marvel's been fucking up every single one since Civil War. Eight special issues, with a crapload of crossovers, and the end result is basically the same world as before? Fuck you, Secret Invasion.

Hey, at least you are READING them and finding them sucky.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 8:41 AM on January 22, 2009


Comics need to lose the "this will be worth something" mentality, and get over themselves.

I can totally understand this sentiment, with the way speculation screws up everything that's good, but.. A reasonable market in back issues adds a ton of extra interest all around. Also, for more than half of the time comic specialty stores have existed, they depended on back issue sales.
Presumably depending on back issues ended with the 1995 crash, and then higher issue prices and more diversified product lines made up for the income gap (or didn't..).
posted by Chuckles at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2009


does anyone have the stats on what people are reading? I always figured the comics industry saw its way out of the 90s bubble by promoting more varied titles, and not relying on 5 Spider-Man books to keep Marvel afloat. but honestly, that's pure specualtion on my part and I could be completely wrong.

are people really just reading every Spider-man book still, but not the excellent additional stuff?
posted by shmegegge at 1:45 PM on January 22, 2009


Also, for more than half of the time comic specialty stores have existed, they depended on back issue sales.

wait, really? for every back issue I've even seen someone LOOK at in a store, there are 3 people on line with a stack of the latest monthlies. is this really true?
posted by shmegegge at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2009


(Disclaimer: I have owned and run two comic shops for over 20 years, so anything I say is strictly my experience. Our business has been based on reading not collectibility, at least for anything published after 1970 or so. We rack and have racked nearly ALL comics in ALL genres from ALL publishers... we love comic books, and particularly those outside the mainstream that show creativity and talent. LOVE & ROCKETS is what brought me back into the industry in the early 1980s after all.)

are people really just reading every Spider-man book still, but not the excellent additional stuff?

Yes and no. It's kinda apples and oranges. Mainstream superhero books sell at much larger numbers than even the best of the "non-mainstream" comic books. Where we might sell say 100 BATMAN comics monthly, it is a bit of work to hand-sell 50 copies of something like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' CRIMINAL or INCOGNITO, no matter how much we love them.

wait, really? for every back issue I've even seen someone LOOK at in a store, there are 3 people on line with a stack of the latest monthlies. is this really true?

When we opened in 1988, probably close to 15% of our sales was back issues. Today, it barely pushes 3%. The back issue market has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Pre-1975 comics are in demand (the older the better and harder to find), whereas anything from 1990 up to last year is pure ballast, and we treat it that way. We have two very distinct back issue sections... basically the old good stuff, and the stuff left over from the racks that we eventually relegate to the 2/99 cent bins...

(As a side note, every time someone proclaims the comic industry dying, I point them to THIS SITE, where actual piece sales and dollar sales of comic books have been rising since 2002. Additionally, graphic novel and collected edition sales have also climbed steadily. The tenacity of the idea that comic books are fading away frankly puzzles me.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 3:02 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


This thread has reminded me how much I lived for new comic Wednesdays in high school. I used to spend up to $300 per week at the peak of my comics obsession in high school. Looking back through those boxes is just sad now, too. I was at my peak from 1992 to 1995, so you can imagine how lame those 15 or 16 boxes full of comics are. I got a lot of pleasure out of collecting and reading them, and I guess about 20% of it is good enough to sustain some re-reading. Whenever I find myself crashing at my parents' house on Xmas eve or something, I usually dig out some old DC annuals or something (Armageddon 2001... best "event" ever!).
posted by autodidact at 4:12 PM on January 22, 2009


My favourite "event" was Lifeform, which jumped across, if I remember correctly, Silver Surfer, Punisher, Daredevil, and Hulk. Wicked cool!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:50 PM on January 22, 2009


Ron Thanagar, thanks for commenting!

For the record, I get my comment about the back issue market from Chuck Rozanski's column. Here is one example:
Ironically, the primary reason for my wanting a better discount on my new comics was not so I could earn a greater profit on my new comics sales. Quite the opposite, in fact. I wanted a greater discount on my new comics cost because today's new comics became tomorrow's back issues. Like most comics dealers of that era, I regularly speculated in new issues, setting many thousands aside for future back issue sales. By reducing my cost of setting aside new issues for backstock by approximately 17%, I greatly improved the overall economics of my speculating.

Along that same line of reasoning, one factor I cannot stress enough is how marginal the new comics business was during the period of the late-1970's. Even with a 50% discount, our earnings on the sale of a 40 cent cover price new comic were only 20 cents. Even selling many thousands of new comics each month didn't provide the operating earnings required to cover even our store rents, much less any of our other operating expenses. New comics were great traffic builders, however, and the only store in Denver that tried to live without them soon failed.
Ron Thanagar: When we opened in 1988, probably close to 15% of our sales was back issues.

Interesting that 1988 is exactly at the beginning of the trade paperback era. For good or bad, trade paperbacks have obviously had a big effect on the back issue market.

anything from 1990 up to last year is pure ballast,

Rozanski seems to believe that there is a period after the crash (from 1997-2001 ish, maybe?) where back issues are hard to find and selling well. Sounds like you don't agree?

Also, I'd love to hear your impressions about CGC, and slabbing in general.
posted by Chuckles at 7:59 PM on January 22, 2009


Chuckles!

Chuck Rozanski and Mile High Comics are a completely different animal than my retail operation... he's THE back issue guy from waaay back. He is the benchmark for selling back issues since he started, and still is. Most comic shops aren't like him. He's got a lot of great stories about the industry and has the knowledge and resources of the ultimate guy to get back issues from. He's truly legendary. We live in his shadow.

In 1988 there wasn't the "Diamond Catalog" that we all now know so well now. It was literally a bunch of stapled-together sheets of colored paper with listings like this: BATMAN #478 $1.25 and you're right, there weren't any "graphic novels" or collected editions. In fact, there was no "STAR System" (a catalog of graphic novels or collected editions that we could reorder) at all. When we got solicitations for something like the DARK KNIGHT Trade Paperback, we had to gauge how may we might sell over a year's time and had to order accordingly. There was very little of "get one for the rack, reorder as it sells"... you had to figure how many of any item that you might shift in a year's time because they wouldn't offer that item again for months... it was a very different time. The day Diamond Comics Distributors created the STAR System was the day we could reorder anything we had sold out of, and that was quite a leap.

Rozanski seems to believe that there is a period after the crash (from 1997-2001 ish, maybe?) where back issues are hard to find and selling well. Sounds like you don't agree?

No, I was generalizing. Once the spate of crappy, overproduced comics with shiny covers crashed the market in the mid-'90s, then all those speculator/buyers went away and comics book sales settled back down to what the readers were buying, with little extras printed, thus leaving that era with some of the hardest-to-find issues. Stores were ordering minimally and therefore publishers printed only what was ordered. I guess as far as valuation of comics due to scarcity, stuff printed post-bust through the present may (and I stress MAY) be the hardest to find in years to come. I dunno.

Also, I'd love to hear your impressions about CGC, and slabbing in general.

I am of two minds about "slabbing" and CCG.

First, slabbing makes sense for things like baseball cards... there's only two sides, and it makes sense to put them in a case that protects them, plus you can look at and enjoy both sides. And yet slabbing comic books makes no sense to me... you can't see all the stuff in the interior of the comic once it's slabbed, so you lose that joy.

Second, if you have a "key issue" in high grade, then by all means have it placed in a CGC slab so that you can insure it at a proper value and/or sell it... CGC is a standard for high value selling that ensures both buyer and seller understand each other.

I do not have any "slabbed" books in my stores and probably never will.


Now, to get back to the topic of the post: Once again I am of two minds about Diamond raising the bar (which I haven't actually seen because I'm not a publisher).

I figure this will make it harder for new publishers to get in. Absolutely. But you know what? I'm also tired of new publishers who think that their responsibility ends when they produce a comic... the "build it and they will come" mentality doesn't work. Publishers need to generate interest in their comics. I look at 5200 items a month in the Diamond catalog... 5200! Publishers: Don't spend money buying a nice one-page ad in Previews... sell your comic to readers who will come in my store and ask me to get it for them. Is that so hard to understand? Don't sell ME. Sell your readers, and they will let me know that they want it. It's crazy!

Seriously, comic books are very vital no matter what the internet guys say... there's a lot of cool stuff out there, and I see no lack of interest.

But of course, your mileage may vary. Sorry to go off on such a long rant/screed but it is what I do.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 10:19 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and HERE'S Bill Schanes, Vice President of Purchasing at Diamond answering a few questions about this.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:39 AM on January 23, 2009


~ I am confused when people say "comics suck" and "I haven't bought a comic in ten years" in nearly the same sentence.

I assume that this was directed at me.

First of all, to clarify, I have a hard time going into a comics shop without picking up a graphic novel or three. When I said "comic" I meant specifically a single issue. But what I was really trying to convey was my overall unwillingness to shell out 4$ for less than two dozen pages of something that may will be complete crap; the graphic novels I buy are things I know about before hand.

The reason behind the seeming contradiction is simple enough: once or twice a year, boredom besets me, and I wish I had a nice pile of new comics around. But, in an effort to avoid wasting a ton of cash, I download the latest DCP pack, and read through it, looking for a few good titles. I start with either the biggest names, to see what the companies are putting into their flagship lines, or with my favorite characters, to see what is being done with them.

In either case, no matter how appealing the idea of the comic, I keep winding up feeling disappointed with the art or writing, and most of the time with both. (And, to be honest, I never make it half way through the packs, those things are massive.)

That said: I'm sure there are some interesting, compelling comics out there, but with the price of comics, and the bargain price of trades, I can't get myself interested to go out and spend spend spend until I find it when the alternative is picking up a huge book of Zot in black & white and knowing before it is even in my hands that I will love it.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:01 AM on January 23, 2009


Are comics dying?
posted by Artw at 10:11 AM on January 23, 2009


Bob Schreck laid off
posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on January 23, 2009




Shout out to Justin M: The Comicopalypse Has Arrived
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on January 30, 2009


Dear Publishers: Girls Read Comics, Too
posted by Artw at 12:06 AM on February 10, 2009




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