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About Waid’s “Print Math”

Brian Hibbs

Mark Waid has a very thorough post over here on “Print Math” that I think everyone should read.

I started to write this as a response in the comments thread, but then realized it would be quite a bit longer than a comments thread response should probably be, and, anyway, would almost certainly be down at response #80 or something by the time I finished writing it, so I thought it better to dance the dance over here, below the cut.

Let me say a few things up front so that there’s absolutely no confusion of any kind (though I imagine someone, somewhere will misinterpret this for the usual “Retails against digital! OOOg!”) – I absolutely and in every way think that creators should explore each and every way to bring their material to market. While I am certainly pro-DM, there is no doubt that the coverage of DM stores is nowhere near as strong as it could or should be, and that digital is certainly one of many tools that is available, and should absolutely be pursued.

Mark should be commended for getting out in front of this debate, and for trying to provide a real and solid basis of his perceptions of the market and the possibilities for the future. I strongly want to urge Mark to continue the blog posts on the subject, because more clarity can not help but be good for everyone.

(I’d also like to use this chance to apologize to Mark for being a techno weenie and running Firefox with just about everything turned off that can be turned off – I never ever see ads on the internet, for example – which includes virtually all scripts, and which I keep forgetting to turn back on when I comment at Mark’s site, which means my comments keep getting put into moderation, and he’s got to manually pull them out, which I am sure is a pain in his ass)

Mark, as I said, makes some wise points cogently, but I’m sorry to say that I think that several of the base assumptions that he makes about the market (both in function and size) are fairly drastically off.

The first place to begin, I think, is in access to the market – to any market.

I’ve been struggling with this thought for days, but I think I’ve come to the final realization that gatekeepers on a market are not inherently a bad thing. We all know Sturgeon’s Law (well, really Sturgeon’s Revelation, but that’s neither here nor there): “90% of everything is crud”, but I think that my personal Revelation is that in the absence of Gatekeeper’s trying to weed out the silk from the dross, that number really more properly becomes 99.999%. Have you read any of the horrific and mangled prose that people have out in the iBooks store? I’ve read a few, and, golly, much of what I’ve read is nowhere near professional quality.

More to my own point, as a guy who owns a comic book store I get a whole lot of samples and pitches from wannabe creators. Many of whom who have done print of demand (POD) comics and are usually trying to flog them outside of the traditional distribution system – either because they’ve been rejected, or would be rejected, by Diamond for distribution. I see a LOT of comics, and virtually all of them are NOT ready for primetime. Most of them are juvenile, poorly done, and just look or feel amateur.

There’s another hard truth about creative works that usually goes unspoken, and that’s that the creator is, generally, their own least reliable critic. In the comment thread linked above there’s an established creator who is lamenting what was poor sales on a particular release, and it took every single ounce of willpower I possessed to not post that the reason was actually because the work was a steaming pile of shit. That I took a chance on his comic, sold less than 10% of what I ordered because it was ludicrous, ugly, poorly plotted and motivated, and so on.

Comic book retailers really really like selling comics. It’s sort of what we do. For a living and everything. We all want to sell more comics. We all take chances on many things and try to find out what the floor and the ceiling for any individual work might be, if we think it is even REMOTELY commercial. And, if you have a comic that is sitting at issue #20 or something, and you’re only selling 5k copies, I have to tell you: that’s on you, not on the market for failing to recognize the flower of your genius.

Oh, sure, there are a few exceptions here and there, but that’s what they are: exceptions.

There was a point when Diamond, the big bad monopoly that they are, pretty much let almost any piece of crap come to market (I think mostly because they were concerned about being labeled as the monopoly), and what happened? The catalog swelled, sales collapsed, and suddenly they’re distributing hundreds of utterly unprofitable comics that simply didn’t have any commercial potential of any kind.

Even today I have to say I can easily think of at least 5 publishers who truly don’t deserve the privilege of access to the market, because in multiple years of publishing, they’ve never come close to publishing something of lasting value.

I’m not saying this to be a dick; I’m saying it because it happens to be true. (If it was to be a dick, I’d be NAMING them)

*I* think one of the biggest flaws with the current system is that Diamond done signed themselves a contract which basically says the premier publishers can do whatever the fuck they want with little to no consequences – What we really need is a distribution system that says: “new 52? Um, sure, if you feel like you must, but we’ve only got 16 catalog pages for you DC, and, frankly, we’re going to list Mr Terrific in a single line of 8 point text” – the worst thing that ever happened was Marvel and DC, et al being able to design their own catalog pages, with no real restrictions of any kind.

(Also? Diamond’s only sorta a monopoly — because DIAMOND has NO DIRECT CONTROL over roughly 85% of the volume of product it distributes. DC Comics can insist that every issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE comes packed with a literal sack of shit, and Diamond has very little option than to pack that shit. Diamond is AT LEAST as yoked by the terms of the deal as any given small publisher, believe it or not. Probably more, because they’re not, AFAICT, paid enough now to offset the tightness of that particular leash.)

Anyway, I’m dropping down a rabbit hole with this, can we go back to my long held notion that you are now competing against Watchmen and Dark Knight and Kingdom Come and (insert awesome, and awesome selling work here) – being “OK” is no longer good enough (if it ever was) to get you catalog and rack space if you’re not a publisher who can FORCE your work to be carried. You really do need to be exceptional. Most of the available consumer purchasing dollars are being soaked up by the Big Two, largely through overproduction.

At the end of the day, I think barriers to gain access to a market are (if they are reasonable barriers) not at all a bad thing – and, let’s be realistic, the barriers to NATIONAL DISTRIBUTION to a NETWORK OF SPECIALIZED STORES are, realistically, EXTREMELY low in comics. It’s certainly easier to gain nationwide distribution into retail for an unknown and untested comic book, than it is for a new print book, or a music recording, or a film. Like, 1000 times easier!

Let’s talk about books, because at least the book world is a little more transparent about how things work (I’ve spent hours googling music and film, and can barely understand most of what I’ve found… which is little) – I thought this post about the realities of the book business was sobering, especially when you consider that books are RETURNABLE and comics (generally) are not… what that means is that no comics publisher ever, anywhere ever has to ship an UNPROFITABLE comic book, whereas publishing a book is an extraordinary risk, one that you don’t even know if you’ve won or lost until many months later!

Anyway, you think Waid’s math is sobering? Try this:

“Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.  Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.  Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.  The average book in America sells about 500 copies” (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006).  And average sales have since fallen much more.  According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined.  The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

Now, this is utterly putting aside that BookScan is NOT 100% of book sales, of course, and also, as was pointed out by Justin Jordan in Waid’s thread, the other difference between books and comics is that a best-selling book can sell multiple millions in a few short months, while the top comic will likely top out at a tenth of that, so the theoretical payoff for successful prose is much much higher, but, even with all of that.

I can’t find anything similar for film or music, and, really, the best I can muster is an implication from this chart. I think (if I understand things correctly), that the “unrated” films are  movies that are not distributed with MPAA ratings, and thus, are, generally, not being distributed by one of the large dominant studios that would be roughly equivalent with Marvel, DC, all the way down to a Boom!-sized houses — a small number of firms which control the absolute majority of distribution. So, those 2279 released films? (roughly a quarter of the total) *They* only made an average of $773k per film. So, how many of those movies earned their costs back? Few, if any?

But the point that I want to make, again, is that no comics publisher ever need ship an unprofitable comic — these are firm sales, and, in fact, it at least has been entirely possible in the past to go to a printer with a Diamond PO, and an assignment of payment, and to not actual front ANY upfront cash in order to print and distribute your comic!

So, yeah, even with all of Diamond’s faults (and they are really myriad), I barely find them hard gatekeepers for the market. In fact, if I were to level a real criticism at Diamond’s Purchasing department is that they need to hire a bunch of 20 year olds with broader taste and then back up that initial inventory acceptance with aggressive purchase orders and to-retailer marketing. Diamond’s never really had a proper equivalence to what Capital City would do with “Certified Cool”, where CCD actually stood behind the product.

That’s the first bit.

The second bit is Waid’s printing costs analysis. His math is based on color printing, which has never been essential to self-published or truly small press books. Certainly, it has no long-term impact on the “real world” success or failure of a work, as we can clearly see with the Success of Manga, and MAUS, and WALKING DEAD, and FUN HOME and PERSEPOLIS (etc etc etc) out among the Mass audience.

Waid kind of just waves away black & white printing with a “You’d be surprised how little that lowers the cost.” and without backing that up, but I’ve been told that in the past that lowers printing costs anywhere up to 40% — I have no idea if that’s still true, however — and, of course, that’s one less potential creator to pay (or, “job to do”, depending on the creative set-up)

The third, and final bit is Waid’s comments about the DM retail community.

So, let’s put aside the hyperbole (because it looks like there is a place to buy comics in Tupelo, Mississippi, and there’s at least three stores within something like a half-hour drive of Pratville, Alabama, in Montgomery) — sure, there’s no doubt it is more difficult to find adequate access to comics the further you get from dense population bases. It’s also harder to find stores that stock ANY number of other things that don’t appeal to a mass audience. That’s kind of how supply and demand works.

What I don’t know is whether or not there are actually huge audiences out there just waiting, under-served. I actually wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of sales of Jazz or Poetry or Indie Films or whatever other clever-but-niche media, pre- and post-internet/Amazon/Digital to see if there’s any significant lifting of sales in non-mass things when there suddenly no geographic barrier whatsoever in purchasing them. I suspect strongly the answer would have to be “No”, because it’s often the availability of object in a community in the first place that creates the demand for more of it. If you’re not exposed to Jazz (or comics!), why would you ever begin to think you should seek out more? I actually find the internet to be self-reinforcing in terms of interests — while free things can pass virally, I can’t think of an example of a PAID object that has done so to a wider customer base that wasn’t ALREADY INCLINED to already want it (so, no, the Louis CK example fails — in fact, it’s probably a smaller audience than he would have had on HBO or Comedy Central or whatever).

Either way, this has always been the truth in brick and mortar comic shops — 75% of the eventual customer base of a new store ultimately is formed of new-to-comics customers.

To put this another way: while I do think that SOME “entirely new to comics” customers will inevitably be created in the digital space, you’re going to need to work really hard to convince me that this will be a truly significant number, worthy of minimizing print for.

Because, one of my largest concerns, as a print retailer can be maybe summed up by this article. The author discusses living in NYC (an area with many many excellent stores), and switching to digital, and how he’ll “always go back [to Midtown comics], at least for a look.” and I thought, “Well, no, if enough people do that, then Midtown comics won’t be there for ANYONE, will it?”, which is why retailers kind of cringe when creators stride forward with at least implied statements about why they think digital is better.

Mark “complains” that the number of stores stocking any given work is low, and aye, almost always that is true. Yet, the REASON it is true is not because the retailer is cruel, but because the CONSUMER AUDIENCE IS NOT THERE.

Let’s take INCORRUPTIBLE, for our example, because Mark used it as well. The most recent issue, #27, which came out six weeks ago, has only sold two copies at Comix Experience, so far, one of those to a preorder. There’s one more sub copy sitting in the store, unbought so far, but it is safe to say I will ultimately sell it, bringing the total to three copies. Keep in mind that I brought in five, which means I’m almost certainly going to lose money on #27 (though that’s my own fault because I misread the stronger sales on #25 as being permanent)

I’ve never once sold 100% out of an issue of INCORRUPTIBLE in less than 45 days, and the most I’ve ever sold of a single issue was 10 copies of #1 (on 12 ordered).  It’s just been a very slow leak over the last 2+ years until I’m down to 3 copies sold.

And I’m a reasonable sized store (#2, I think, in volume) in a major metropolitan market, and I can’t shift four copies with a subscriber base of 125, and a stores that handles at least 1000 transactions a month, and yet there’s an expectation that it’s somehow wrong that a store in Tupelo, MS doesn’t carry the book in the first place? That hardly sounds rational. It sounds more to me like the natural market response to a product that is aimed at a niche segment (people who want non-Marvel/DC versions of…) of a niche genre (…superheroes…) of a niche medium (…comics) and, as such, you should actually be THRILLED that as many as 500 stores carry it.

I’ve written elsewhere that you might want to think about comics in relationship to poetry. I have to imagine that poets and poetry fans would be ECSTATIC if there was a nationwide network (even with less outlets in Alabama than on a coast) of poetry stores that specialized in poetry and were passionate advocates for it. I’m further fairly certain that despite the many options for delivering poetry digitally, the overall economic market for poetry isn’t going to explode because “everyone” (ha) has an internet connection, and thus, can access poetry. I’m even willing to predict that the ease of digital posting of poetry is going to lead to much more doggerel, more than anything of lasting value that is providing a living wage for more than a tiny handful of poetry creators.

Now substitute “Comics” for “poetry” above, and you’ll see why I think we’ve actually got a fairly reasonable (but by NO MEANS “perfect”!) system of distribution in this country?

As far as I know, there are numerous studies that show that having the goods on display in a showroom ends up selling more goods — here’s just one example of that.

Mark’s Print Math shows that for $5k and the cost of a pen and paper, you’ve got a fairly reasonable shot at NATIONAL distribution to a network of dedicated stores that actually give a damn about the product they sell. How many media can legitimately say that? And we’re casting these things as negatives?

Can it be better? Damn right it can be better! But that doesn’t make the system without a strong set of clear positives.

In the end, my fear, like I said, is in that Kotaku column I linked to above — that JUST enough people will move laterally to digital that print WILL collapse, and then it won’t be economically feasible for the print OR digital versions of most of the goods we all love to be produced. Especially if you’ve convinced the world that (*snort*) 99 cents is the price point to be.

I could probably go on, but we’re at , jeez, I’m told 3.2k words already, and I wasn’t even smart enough to package this as a Tilting, and get paid for it….

(Hey, it’s the entire problem with digital, right there, isn’t it?)

-B

38 Responses to “ About Waid’s “Print Math” ”

  1. My fear is one of a domino collapse.

    It’s my understanding that a lot of comic shops (and probably publishers) exist on a knife-edge of profitability. I wonder how much of a decrease in sales (due to people buying digital instead of print) would lead to a store shutting down (and thus not buying any product!).

    Then I wonder how many stores would have to shut down before it becomes unprofitable for certain publishers to exist. And whether the loss of those publishers would cause more shops to go out of business, and so forth.

    Of course I’m a pessimistic doomsayer : ) If there’s only 500 shops that order “indie” books, how much does it matter if those tiny shops in small towns that only order Marvel/DC shut down?

  2. I’ve read your opinions on digital before and really disagreed with them, either because you weren’t direct enough in your argument for the Direct Market or I wasn’t paying enough attention (you Tilting articles can get long). But I have to say, this is one of the strongest arguments for the Direct Market I’ve seen, when the critical trend is trending so much in favor of moving towards digital.

    My own thing is that I came into comics through manga, and knowing the sales and the availability in Japan, then we must be doing something wrong in North America (I’m Canadian), right? The market was surely there, it just hadn’t been tapped. I realized a while ago that that was naive on my part, things had to happen the way they happened, but that belief in an untapped market was still there. The idea, however, that stores create the market is an interesting one, probably true to some degree, and one I hadn’t considered.

    On the other hand, I think quality can speak for itself, and reading a good webcomic would drive me to tell other people about it, and find more things like it. Schlock Mercenary, the only webcomic I’ve actually heard any numbers on, besides those crazy Kickstarter drives, pulls in about $100,000 a year in profit for Howard Taylor.

    I think you’re probably right about digital collapsing the comic market in America altogether. I think audiences are becoming more and more fragmented, and something like a comic market will fade off, and be replaced by a market that’s more like the webcomic market. I suppose that really just means the webcomic market will expand. The market for, hmm, pay-first comics? is one that can’t exist in a digital market, in my opinion, at least not at a comparable magnitude to the size of the Direct Market.

    Well, that was rambling.

  3. Matthew Murray:

    I suspect that just 10% of readers moving laterally could collapse stores, could collapse publishers, could collapse the rest of the stores, could collapse Diamond, rendering comics being unavailable for the other 90% of the population.

    Maybe maybe maybe half of those people would then move to digital, but since digital is “only 99 cents” thanks to Mark (I keed, I keed!), no one can possibly make any money from it, except for the single Batman and Spider-Man titles…. which are probably licensed out to a third party.

    Meanwhile, the “Marvel universe” which so many people love to death? Ceases to exist in any way that we understand. There’s never ever any chance of ever reading another comic starring Nova or Cloak & Dagger or Dazzler ever again, unless they’re done for free to promote the Marvel Adventure Ride at Disneyland.

    That’s the worst possible outcome, of course, and I think we’ll avoid that (because I’m a HOPEFUL little bitch!), but it is an ENTIRELY PLAUSIBLE situation.

    ***

    Matt Ishii:

    Japan is different than America (or Canada) because of geography and history, and there’s simply no way to map 1:1 experiences from one to the other (or Belgium or France or, hell even the UK and 2000 AD, for that matter) — for manga specifically, there’s NO WAY it would have developed the way it did without the population density, the “salaryman” and the commuter culture.

    People in America don’t need big thick chunks of entertainment to read on their commute (as a whole) — because they’re DRIVING on their commute! (and Manga NEVER would have developed TODAY, because people have MP3s and video clips to watch during that commute, instead)

    To the best of my knowledge, no webcomic of any kind makes a profit from the “comic” part — it’s from the merchandising, and the advertising. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a very different model than profiting from your actual work itself.

    The size of an audience, I think, for “something free”, will bear next-to-no relationship to the size of that audience if you have to (as you say) pay-first (unless, perhaps, if they “paywall” it AFTER achieving crazy-success for free, first!)

    As much as I admire things like Kickstarter, I really think that moving to that kind of individual patronage is incredible nervous-making for a professional cartoonist who JUST WANTS TO DRAW. The skill set for kickstarting (or thinking up catchy clogans for a coffee mug) is not the same as the one for being a kick-ass creator, necessarily.

    Anyway, you certainly weren’t any more rambly than I was :)

    -B

  4. “Meanwhile, the ‘Marvel universe’ which so many people love to death? Ceases to exist in any way that we understand. There’s never ever any chance of ever reading another comic starring Nova or Cloak & Dagger or Dazzler ever again, unless they’re done for free to promote the Marvel Adventure Ride at Disneyland.”

    I can’t say I’d see the loss of the shared universe as an unambiguous positive, but we already have a market in which it’s impossible for books starring B-list or new characters to avoid Marvel’s cancellation threshold, and where truly awful books like Ultimatum and Countdown (and mediocre ones like Fear Itself) fly off the shelves for little reason other than that they’re hyped as “mattering” to the broader universe.

    If we traded that market for a hypothetical digital market in which Marvel’s output consisted solely of quality Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and Thor comics (maybe with one or two broader-audience titles like Runaways), serialized in weekly/biweekly 10-page installments at 99 cents each, I’d consider that a fair trade. A pipe dream? Maybe.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to do this free Tilting, Brian.

    Ralph

  6. While the notion of a shared universe is what got me into comics (also: cliffhangers), it’s the self-contained series like Preacher, Y The Last Man, Fables, Sandman/Lucifer, Tom Strong, Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (yes, both of those were firmly set in the DCU yet at the same time did their own thing), Invincible, Umbrella Academy (which I want more of!), Walking Dead and so on that are really the ones I want to reread. Not to mention the oodles of Franco-Belgian stuff, but I’m biased there, I guess :)

    Sure, there are good solid superhero runs like Peter David’s Hulk and Supergirl, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Mark Waid’s Flash, but those are usually the exception, not the rule.

    DC and Marvel have proven repeatedly they don’t care about a shared universe because it means looking at continuity and upholding it, the last thing on most self-involved creators’ minds (latest example: Avengers vs X-Men and its description of the Phoenix. Doesn’t seem congruous with any story I previously read, about the same character, in the same universe, supposedly…)

    So it would actually be beneficial if they could just tell self-contained stories about their own characters that occasionally interact if the creators want to. And even then the creators will be likely to contradict their own stories and undercut their own previous stories, because what Brian describes as “I see a LOT of comics, and virtually all of them are NOT ready for primetime. Most of them are juvenile, poorly done, and just look or feel amateur.” goes for the majority of Marvel’s and DC’s output.

    It actually describes Avengers vs X-Men #1, supposedly selling a quarter million to the retailers, to perfection, from the plotting to the dialogue to the art (and I happen to be a JRJr fan, but I wasn’t feeling this one). I know, it’s not as bad as the stuff Brian sees, I’m sure, but it’s still pretty bad for being such a hyped product that will be a possible gateway comic for many (who might quickly be turned off by all the posturing).

    I don’t think the collapse of a shared universe would be such a tragedy. It would give more room for stuff like Daytripper and Joe The Barbarian. I enjoy reading current Flash, but not because of the universe, more because of the storytelling. So if someone crappy takes over next issue, then I’ll immediately stop enjoying it. My love went from characters to creators over the past 14 years, artists more than writers.

    So then what does it matter if they are drawing Spider-Man or Web-Guy? It’s really only the publishers that have anything to gain with their shared universe, to make things seem “important”. Yet it never is, because it usually tends to be swept under the rug right away rather than that they explore the consequences and actually tell stories about the new status quo. (Latest example of that to me is Schism: the X-Men break up, but now they have to team up to fight the Avengers? Oy)

    What Barry says about a digital market with more focused quality output could work for printed comics too: less franchises (too much money for too little story with rereadability), more series spotlighting specific characters that can only be seen in that book, and then you tighten everything instead of watering down. Less could mean lots more, but then of course far less people would have a job…

    And yet, despite all this, the shared universes have made me amass over 14k worth of comics. So it definitely spurred me along. And I do remember most of what happened (even in, say, Nicieza’s Avengers, heh). But the standouts are always the more self-contained stuff like John Ostrander’s Spectre or Suicide Squad, series that have a creator’s mark on it, where the character and the writer (and artist) just mesh perfectly. And then it doesn’t matter if it’s from a shared universe or a self-contained one. But then there’s no impetus to go from one series to another, of course.

    Gah, enough coffee-less rambling, sorry! Thanks for the read, Brian :)

  7. Is it just me or is Incorruptible kind of awful? Wanted to like it, but there was just nothing to like.

  8. I’ve gone 99% digital for a bunch of reasons — because I love the convenience, I love not having comics clutter everywhere, and because I like the lower prices on the sales and all the non-Marvel books. But I’m starting to realize that one of the best things is that now the consumer is ME, and not a retailer.

    From my perspective as a consumer, pre-ordering is no longer an issue. I don’t need a retailer who shares my tastes or runs a “good” store. And no one needs to have already risked sinking money into something for me to be able to buy it.

    (The most recent example of this, which is oddly relevant to the topic at hand, came last night. I bought the first collection of Waid’s Irredeemable on Comixology’s sale, read it, and really enjoyed it. So I was immediately able to purchase the next 30-whatever issues — which, based on the description of the sales/racking patterns for sister book Incorruptible, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do even at a quality store like Comix Experience, even if I had one in my town. And the .99 cent/issue price, which you seem dismissive of, was also a big factor in that purchase, as was the immediate delivery — with time to consider, I might have taken a more measured purchasing approach. Since it was also 9:30 at night, this was pretty much the perfect storm of what’s good about digital comics, but there you go.)

    It also seems to me that diminishing the middleman consumer were create more accurate data patterns for publishers (large and small) to mine for response to books. And that data will continue to be generated long past the original on-sale week, because books will still be available for purchase even if initial orders were low. That is, favorable response to “buzz” books can and will actually be noticed by publishers, possibly still in time to not cancel those books.

    Maybe I’m still in the wildeyed honeymoon phase with this purchasing style. I dunno. But I’m having a harder and harder time seeing the downside for anyone other than the retailers. It’s certainly improved my experience as a reader and consumer immensely.

  9. There is 1 point you didn’t address that I’d like to see you tackle. It’s the and I’ll quote the creator “The biggest problem is that the market is built and designed for a specific audience and trying to sell anything other than well-known superheroes to that market is like trying to sell pictures of naked men to Playboy readers.”

    I can already hear some people saying that publishers would need to get those new, non-superhero readers into DM stores through marketing and that comic shops love nothing more than somebody bringing in new customers to their shop.

    Outside of something like say Joss Whedon doing Buffy Season 8, isn’t it really unreasonable to ask that marketing convinces somebody who doesn’t read comics to..

    A. Seek out a comic shop and visit it
    B. Decide they are going to buy something sight unseen and pre-order it
    C. Come back and buy it?

  10. “I actually wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of sales of Jazz or Poetry or Indie Films or whatever other clever-but-niche media, pre- and post-internet/Amazon/Digital to see if there’s any significant lifting of sales in non-mass things when there suddenly no geographic barrier whatsoever in purchasing them.”

    Haven’t we already seen something like that in sales as comics shifted from the newsstand to the Direct Market? When comics were more generally available, not only did they sell a lot better but that sales strength was seen in work across the board. G.I. Joe and Transformers because huge best sellers in the 80s. Now, no licensed book of any kind can have that sort of success in the Direct Market because the general audience that might be interested in them has to go out of their way to buy them.

    In other words, you may be right that INCORRUPTIBLE wouldn’t sell much better no matter how widely distributed it is. But am I supposed to believe that THE WALKING DEAD, which now has a TV show watched by millions of people, couldn’t sell more than 33,000 copies if it were on every news and magazine rack that still exists in America?

    Mike

  11. >Meanwhile, the “Marvel universe” which so many people love to death? Ceases to exist in any way that we understand. There’s never ever any chance of ever reading another comic starring Nova or Cloak & Dagger or Dazzler ever again, unless they’re done for free to promote the Marvel Adventure Ride at Disneyland.

    Yes, but is there a down side?

    Seriously, if everything that ever was is made available on digital, then there would always be a chance of reading another comic starring Nova or Cloak & Dagger or Dazzler whenever we like. It simply wouldn’t be new content. Has lack of new content destroyed Tintin’s fanbase?

  12. I’m confused: You make the point that Waid’s non-Big Two comics don’t sell very well for you, but him moving such projects into the digital arena is going to kill the Direct Market?

  13. interesting response, but i think you’re glossing over a major part of the conversation.

    LCS owners are running a business, but so are comic creators and publishers. Its not really their job to figure out how to keep your independent, local shop in business. It’s their job to figure out how to sell and market their actual product (comic books) to maximize their own profit. Brick and mortar store or digital store….they have to take care of their own interests first.

    We have less record and indie book shops than we used to, but the ones that have survived are amazing places, with discerning clienteles and a global online presence. As much as i love comic shops, i see it moving more in that direction.

  14. “Even today I have to say I can easily think of at least 5 publishers who truly don’t deserve the privilege of access to the market, because in multiple years of publishing, they’ve never come close to publishing something of lasting value.”

    Isn’t that for the market to decide, not Diamond, you, or any other arbitrary gatekeeper? As you say, other forms of media don’t have a filter that functions like Diamond, and yet I still manage to keep my head above the effluent, and find things worth my time and money.

  15. Barry:

    “we already have a market in which it’s impossible for books starring B-list or new characters to avoid Marvel’s cancellation threshold”

    Solely as a result of Marvel’s oversaturation of their “core” product — that is not INHERENT in the market itself.

    “If we traded that market…I’d consider that a fair trade.”

    I believe that the majority of the existing market would overwhelmingly disagree with you; and that there is not a large enough market of “people-who-might-regularly-purchase-Marvel-superheroes” to make Disney happy…

    Peter:

    “I don’t think the collapse of a shared universe would be such a tragedy. It would give more room for stuff like Daytripper and Joe The Barbarian.”

    Remove every shared universe comic from the shelf and the sales of DAYTRIPPER are extremely unlikely to go up by even 10%

    Matt T:

    “But I’m having a harder and harder time seeing the downside for anyone other than the retailers.”

    Do you think that, without comic book shops, that IRREDEEMABLE would still continue to be published in the first place? THAT is the essential question.

    Jamie:

    “isn’t it really unreasonable to ask that marketing convinces somebody who doesn’t read comics to..”

    Flip that question, make it about poetry instead, and in bookstores, and you’ll get your answer, I think?

    AGAIN: let me be clear, THERE SHOULD BE DIGITAL options for those who don’t/can’t/won’t go to a comic book store. This is not an either/or.

    MBunge:

    “But am I supposed to believe that THE WALKING DEAD, which now has a TV show watched by millions of people, couldn’t sell more than 33,000 copies if it were on every news and magazine rack that still exists in America?”

    Who said that?

    (and it DOES sell in periodical form to a lot more than that…. it just happens to be in 120 page chunks…)

    What *I* am saying is that TWD is day & date on your tablet for… almost a year now? And there are no publicly stated indications that there is a meaningful number of people rushing to buy the periodical digitally — even better AND easier than the mag rack, because it is in your house at midnight.

    Maybe it’s just that they’re keeping it a secret, I guess? Maybe TWD sells another 50k issues every month digitally and they’ve just decided not to sell us… but I’d really strongly guess that this simply isn’t the case.

    MIchael Hoskin:

    “Has lack of new content destroyed Tintin’s fanbase?”

    You’re not seriously comparing the skill and artistry and sheer craft of Herge to Cloak & Dagger? Tintin abides for the same reason Michaelangelo’s David does.

    Chad:

    Yes, you are confused.

    Joey:

    Mark Waid makes most of his income from selling to DM comic book shops. QED.

    -B

  16. Simon:

    “Isn’t that for the market to decide, not Diamond, you, or any other arbitrary gatekeeper? ”

    There are publishers that are, mm, “grandfathered in” for market access, whom would almost certainly be rejected by Diamond for publication today. I won’t write names in public — publishers who are selling epically low numbers of comics but that Diamond won’t cut off like they should, because of pre-existing relationships.

    The market DID decide, already, for all of these books barely sell 2k copies…

    “As you say, other forms of media don’t have a filter that functions like Diamond, ”

    I did NOT say that — quite the opposite, in fact. The filter for TV or Film or books is, generally, much MUCH higher than in comics, for proper national distribution.

    -B

  17. @brian–of course, because there are no other options. Every time a noted creator or publishers tries to experiment with new digital products and new non-LCS customer bases, retailers get huffy threaten to boycott.

    I really do feel like the print comic shop store/customer is so much like the vinyl record crowd. Discerning connoisseurs and purists, but not so much the best option for the masses in the 21st century. A LOT of indie bands have found success by offering vinyl in shops AND mp3′s in the iTunes store. You can have both ways for both kinds of customers. Different products, different customers.

  18. But Mark just wrote an assay on why record stores are a lousy business, yes? It’s hand-bitey!

    And OF COURSE there are other options — primarily book stores. Newstand magazine distributors. Setting the world on fire over there?

    -B

  19. so basically insert a patented Lewis Black “WE”RE ALL SCREWED” right here then. I see the customer base as similar crowds. Discerning and passionate purists who love the form…but there’s not a huge amount of em out there. The business i guess is something else.

    also, take a look at how Art Books are sold. Many of the higher end publishers have stopped making their products returnable. For them small print run is a selling point. Returns create logistical nightmares and damaged product (remainders) they can no longer sell as new. As a result they are content to sell smaller quantities in non returnable fashion.

  20. >You’re not seriously comparing the skill and artistry and sheer craft of Herge to Cloak & Dagger? Tintin abides for the same reason Michaelangelo’s David does.

    My only point is the market doesn’t seem to think we need more Tintin, but someone thinks we need more Cloak & Dagger on the shelves. Then again, the market decided we had enough Northlanders but not enough Watchmen, so… I hate the marketplace is what I’m saying, I think.

  21. Is the direct market still really critical to the current comic publishing industry? Yes. But the direct market is also very clearly dying. Fuck, actual plain-old bookstores are dying left and right – I really don’t know why we find it so amazing that a business model premised on the indefinite existence of a loose and shrinking network of specialty comic book shops served by a single distributor might not be such a brilliant idea.

    It’s clear that comics publishers – which is to say, for-profit corporations who are in the business of making money for themselves, and not in the business of keeping local comic shops alive simply out of the goodness of their corporate hearts – are looking desperately for a way out of this, and have been for years now. Ten to fifteen years ago they started sluggishly moving to trades (only what, eighty or ninety years behind the rest of the publishing industry on that one) and now, faced with the fact that the market for actual physical books is drying up as well, they’re looking to digital. The question for them is how to make that transition, not whether to make it.

    I say this not to imply that the abuse and neglect of comics retailers by the big publishing companies is justified – far from it – but that it’s simply inevitable given the economic forces at work. It’s capitalism, and capitalism sucks ass.

  22. @Brian: “Solely as a result of Marvel’s oversaturation of their ‘core’ product — that is not INHERENT in the market itself.”

    Marvel has been winnowing down their line and will probably be publishing the same number of comics as DC this year, and I doubt that’ll change anything. I’d say that the $3.99 price point has a lot to do with that, but I don’t see any realistic possibility that they’ll lower prices in the current market. Even at $2.99, DC is apparently losing money on a number of lower-selling books like Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and Voodoo, and is keeping them around solely for the sake of the New 52 branding. And I would note that the audience buying mediocre-to-terrible comics based primarily on their real/perceived importance to shared universe continuity absolutely IS something inherent to the current direct market.

    “I believe that the majority of the existing market would overwhelmingly disagree with you; and that there is not a large enough market of ‘people-who-might-regularly-purchase-Marvel-superheroes’ to make Disney happy…”

    You’re undoubtedly correct on the former point, but I don’t see that market existing in a recognizable form a decade from now, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen with respect to digital. Could I be wrong? Perhaps.

    As for the latter – true of the digital market as it currently exists (in which, contrary to your oft-stated impression, I believe DC/Marvel have succeeded in their goal of establishing digital as a secondary revenue stream for print comics), not necessarily true of what things will look like a few years from now.

  23. “Marvel has been winnowing down their line and will probably be publishing the same number of comics as DC this year, and I doubt that’ll change anything.”

    Both Marvel and DC are oversaturing the market right now. You look at the times when comics were doing a lot better (speculator boom aside), and it was when Marvel and DC were only publishing 30 in-continuity universe books tops (and maybe another 20 licensed, reprint, non-universe, mystery, whatever books). Compare that to how many new comics are published now. And that doesn’t even take into account the further “splitting” of the comic dollar thanks to tpbs and the like.

  24. @Dave – Entirely reasonable point, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see DC and Marvel shrinking their lines further over the next few years. But when/if that does happen, it’ll probably make it harder, not easier, for books starring B/C-list and new characters to even get greenlit.

  25. @Barry, “books” yes, “stories” no. There’s no earthly reason to have say a Deathlok printed comic in the future unless it’s massively cheaper and more profitable digital version is popular enough to warrant it.

  26. A decade ago the idea of someone making a living as a cartoonist outside the newspaper syndicates was ridiculous. Now, there are probably more people working outside the syndicates than within and certainly the younger generation is almost entirely digitally distributed. The older model is going to disappear one retirement at a time.

    Yes, for the most part income for webcomics comes from merchandise and advertising rather than direct payment from the readers. On the other hand, how different is that from the current comics industry?

    Every comic book is packed full of ads. Far more so than any webcomics site would put up. The big two probably make more off of Batman underwear and Spider-Man action figures than they do off the floppies and you better believe that income subsidizes the creators paycheques. Besides, as many people further up this thread have pointed out,the readers are not even the real customers of the monthly comics, the DM stores are.

    If the current Direct Market system implodes it’s going to suck for a lot of people. But I think most of the creators and properties would come out the other side at least as strong as before. It would be the death of a distribution model, not an industry.

  27. Ryan H:

    “Every comic book is packed full of ads.”

    Not paying ones, though.

    Grabbing a random Marvel and a Random DC>…

    TEEN TITANS #7: inside cover: Collegehumor.com
    Page 5: We Can be Heroes
    Page 7: Joe Kubert School
    Page 10: DCcomics.com
    Page 12: Night of the Owls x-over
    Page 16 & 17: New 52 TP ad
    Page 22: Batman B&W statues
    Page 24: Heroes of the DCU busts
    Page 28: DC Digital
    Inside Back Cover: iFanboy.com
    Outside Back Cover: C2E2

    So, of these 12 “ad” pages, 7 of them are house ads (10, 12, 16/17, 22, 24, 28) which earns DC nothing.

    One of them (page 5) is almost certainly a straight up donation which, at best, gives them a tax write off.

    I’m pretty sure that at least three of the other four (page 7, and the back covers) are either outright donations (in the case of the school) or are “ad swaps”, where DC trades the ad for ads or other considerations at the site/event. DC *might* be making a small amount on those ads, but probably nothing even remotely like “full rate”

    That leaves one whole ad (the collegehumor.com one) whihc it’s likely they’re getting full rate on the ads… and even that one *could* be a swap.

    On the Marvel side…

    DAREDEVIL #10: Inside Frpnt Cover: Avengers vs X-Men
    Page 5: Marvel vs Capcom video game
    Page 9: Avengers-based Wyndham hotals
    Page 10: Midtown comics
    Page 12: Halfpage Monsuno Card, Half Hulk #7
    Page 14: Avengers X-Sanction HC
    Page 16: C2E2
    Page 20 & 21: More Avengers/X
    Page 24: Wolverine #305
    Page 30: Captain America & Hawkeye #629
    Inside Back: Hulk #50
    Outside Back: Spider-man Season one HC

    Of Marvel’s 12 pages of ads, eight & a half are house ads.

    The two Marvel-related ones (5 & 9) look like they’re part of a sponsorship package/licensing deal — I’m not sure if those are gimmes or not (sometimes they pretty clearly are, like when it is Hulk Birthday cakes or something), but the gaming one might not be.

    The C2E2 one is an ad swap (16)

    Which leaves one and a half pages as likely-to-be-fully-paid — the Midtown Comics ad, and the half page card game one.

    I’m willing to bet you that the revenue that either company is booking from the paid ads barely pays for the cost of printing those ads, let alone the time for the employee who has to sell those ads!

    THIS is one of the reasons Marvel announced they’ll be going to a 24-page “no ad” format on $2.99 books — “ad” revenue is essentially meaningless.

    “The big two probably make more off of Batman underwear and Spider-Man action figures than they do off the floppies and you better believe that income subsidizes the creators paycheques.”

    The first part of the statement is unequivocally true, but I believe that the second part is 100% false — the publishing divisions within both companies have to make a profit AS PUBLISHING COMPANIES, and basic math’ll show you more or less where the break-even point for any given comic might be.

    To whit: estimate $300/page creative costs x 20 pages = $6000 creative costs. Estimate 20% gross profit margin on a $2.99 comic, or 60 cents a unit — therefore “break even” is in the 10k copy range, give or take. (it’s probably 15k, actually… because, huh, that’s right were Marvel and DC actually do start cancelling books!)

    What would be more accurate to say is that JUSTICE LEAGUE or AVENGERS vs X-MEN subsidize the poorer selling comics — the action figures and underoos are PURE GRAVY.

    -B

  28. Hibbs: “Do you think that, without comic book shops, that IRREDEEMABLE would still continue to be published in the first place? THAT is the essential question.”

    I do, yeah. Maybe we’re not quite there yet, but it seems to me that books like IRREDEEMABLE are perfectly suited for the digital market, honestly:

    It’s a quality read that scratches the super-hero itch without requiring a multi-title commitment.

    It’s by a writer with a remarkably high strike rate.

    It has a distinct hook and point of view.

    On the shelves in your average comic shop, it’s going to be all but invisible, buried under an avalanche of product from the Big Two. In most shops, it’s probably also going to have the stink of doom about it — probably just a single rack copy (at best) that gives off the stench of inevitable failure. Maybe the TPBs are in stock for catch-up purposes, maybe not, but I can’t imagine that they’re the sort of evergreen seller that a retailer is going to DEFINITELY want to keep money tied up in.

    In the digital marketplace, retailers don’t need to make an upfront investment in a book to make sure that it’s on the shelves — and NOTICEABLE on the shelves. Potential buyers don’t see a single lonely copy sitting there and make the subconcious calculation of just how doomed this book must be. If buzz is good, people can pick up from the beginning without having to wait six months for a trade — and I think interested readers are more willing to gamble the cost of a single issue than the cost of a TPB anyhow. Plus you know that if you DO like the book, you don’t have to remember to get your retailer to order it (or to HAVE a pull box, or even a “home” retailer).

    Basically, it seems to me that the digital marketplace has the potential to remove a LOT of the barriers to the success of an IRREDEEMABLE-type title, especially among the not-every-Wednesday crowd. (SAGA, for example, was the top book on ComixOlogy’s “Top Sellers” page the week of its release.)

    And if one of these books went 100% digital, I presume they’d eliminate all the costs associated with printing and distributing the comics, which would in turn either allow them to lower the price point OR break even with fewer sales — either way, it makes success for a book like that seem more achievable.

    Maybe I’m misreading things badly, and you’d certainly know better than I would, but it seems to me that a world without comic shops is much more dangerous to the DCs and Marvels of the world than to books like IRREDEEMABLE.

    (Unrelated side note: I have yet to spell irredeemable correctly on the first try.)

  29. [...] Retailing | Brian Hibbs questions Mark Waid’s math, both with regard to comic shops and the cost of self-publishing, and brings up a number of arguments in favor of the Direct Market. He argues that having gatekeepers in the market is a good thing and that rather than refusing to take a risk on a new or different comic, retailers will go out of their way to stock comics they think their readers will like. [Savage Critics] [...]

  30. “What *I* am saying is that TWD is day & date on your tablet for… almost a year now? And there are no publicly stated indications that there is a meaningful number of people rushing to buy the periodical digitally — even better AND easier than the mag rack, because it is in your house at midnight.”

    You’re conflating two separate issues. There’s the link between availability and sales and then there’s the appeal of monthly comics on digital platforms. That THE WALKING DEAD digital comic may not sell better doesn’t say anything about whether THE WALKING DEAD ink-and-paper comic would sell better if it were more easily accessible.

    Frankly, 20some pages of text and art delivered once a month does not strike me as a great fit for digital media.

    Mike

  31. “In the comment thread linked above there’s an established creator who is lamenting what was poor sales on a particular release, and it took every single ounce of willpower I possessed to not post that the reason was actually because the work was a steaming pile of shit.”

    Is that the guy who claimed to be selling within in a couple of hundred copies of a much better writer on the same franchise?

    Because going by Diamond estimates at comichron, at the start of his run he just got within in 10K difference of the bigger writer, but by the time the other writer left the franchise there was more than 20K difference.
    Which I guess means there really are some serious flaws with the DM if he was within a hundred copies of Mozza all-up as he claims – Maybe he also sold an extra 20K of Worldwatch outside the DM? – either that or the dude is just continuing with his long line of revisionist history, where he was the best-selling and most popular writer in the world, it’s just haters won’t let the truth out.

  32. The Direct Market has been optimized to sell superhero comics made by superhero publishers to specialty retailers who will then turn around and sell those comics to superhero fans. As far as the larger publishers are concerned, the monopolistic effect that this has created is a feature, not a bug – it limits entrance into the market by entry-level creators. But it has also painted the Direct Market into a corner, demographically-speaking.

    There are some stores that have made a name for themselves by selling more diverse products, but the point is that these are exceptions, not the norm. Default comic book store patrons are largely readers of the superhero genre; males between the ages of 18 and 50. As far as everyone with no more than a cursory knowledge of comics is concerned, this is who reads comics and, by implication, this is who comics are made for.

    As a result, anyone who decides that they want to create comics for any demographic BUT this core demographic faces a tough business decision. On the one hand, trying to market to anything but the target demographic is about as effective as burning money in the parking lot. On the other hand, comic retailers are really the only game in town. (This would explain why everyone and his brother has forced their work into an unweildy monthly format that will be largely ignored simply because it isn’t a superhero comic by a known entity.)

    Except that retailers aren’t the only game in town, not anymore. For a creator seeking to find an audience – especially an audience that is not targeted by the Direct Market – a free webcomic is a much safer bet. At some point, those creators will have to figure out how to get collections of those webcomics into retailers, but that is still a marginal prospect for books aimed at other demographics. In essence, entry-level creators have to market by genre, not by medium. After all, if it has to be explained that there are other genres besides superheroes, non-comics readers are usually going to be a much better prospect than superhero readers.

    I am extremely frustrated by the fact that comic book retailers don’t seem to be making more of an effort to get other demographics into their stores. Yes, everyone who wants to read superhero comics is reading superhero comics. But not everyone who is, in theory, sympathetic to the idea of comics as a medium is currently reading comics – mostly because they don’t know that there is anything available that they would be interested in.

    The Direct Market isn’t going to do anything to dispel the idea that superhero comics are the only thing available – that is the core message of the Big Two. But retailers do have a choice as to whether they should be tethered to the Direct Market to the exclusion of all else or if they should make more of an active effort to get other reader demographics into their stores.

  33. I don’t think you can lament the audience for wanting what it wants, RM, *even if* it isn’t what you want.

    This isn’t “the fault” of the superhero publishers (both have time and time and time and time again TRIED to publish things other than superheroes, and both have lost a lot of money doing so)

    I can tell you, as one of the “exceptions” (when L&R and HATE and EIGHTBALL were coming out as periodicals, we’d sell more copies of any of them then we would of X-MEN or whatever… shit, not to mention SANDMAN, that flew by the caseload!) that even WITH those “willing to buy other things” audiences? THOSE READERS STILL BOUGHT BATMAN AND X-MEN.

    I can tell you, however, that I do NOT even begin to understand a statement like “For a creator seeking to find an audience…a free webcomic is a much safer bet.” that only can make sense if your goal is not not realistically make money.

    At least Waid’s trying to monetize it.

    -B

  34. I’m going to preface this by saying that there is anything inherently wrong with the superhero genre. Nor is there anything wrong with people who like it. What I am saying is that it is important to recognize who that audience is made up of, demographically. Maybe even ask the question “are there other readers and could it be that they don’t know other kinds of comics exist?”

    Allow me to lay out a scenario for you. I want to make a comic that is aimed at housewives. It has a very good artist and a strong storyline that I think will resonate with them. If it is marketed properly, I have a strong sense that this will sell really well and generate commercial demand. The long-term sustainment plan for this series is to get collected editions and merchandise on retail shelves because that’s where the money is made.

    However. Getting my series on retail shelves in Direct Market-oriented stores is problematic. First, my series is not aimed at their core demographic. Maybe the retailers could try and sell it to the wives and mothers that come in, but maybe only goes so far and that could be awkward.

    The larger, systemic problem is that the core demographic for my series would not ever dream of going into a LCS to pick up anything, much less my product – which is specifically written with them in mind. In fact, they would never dream of picking up a comic book at all, because they have not ever had a reason to believe that comics existed that they might remotely be interested in.

    Therefore, not only is is not necessarily a good idea to put this product in stores – it’s probably not a good idea to make this product, full stop. Which is, frankly, asinine. Especially if there is solid commercial potential.

    But the structure of the Direct Market has reinforced this situation. By keeping one demographic in, they have shut out practically every other demographic – the casual walk-in customers who might turn out to be serious fanatics if exposed to just the right book.

    For those of us who have no other recourse (because the retail environment does not support “discovery” growth of a new series that isn’t targeted at the core demographic, remember) webcomics are an alternative. And they happen to be free. I can get housewives to go to a free webcomic easier than I can get them to go to a comic book store that may or may not have the comic I put out.

    At some point, it would be hoped that the audience built on a free platform would be willing to pay money for a collection – especially if there is an obvious value add that comes with the print edition. And, to be honest, it’s easier to sell a retailer on a book with a proven audience than it is to sell a retailer on a book for any demographic but his core.

    But there has to be room for that growth to occur. The Direct Market is hostile to that growth by its very nature. It’s not anyone’s fault – that’s just the way it is. But it’s important for this little creator to understand that a large multimedia corporation is not really geared to act in my self-interest.

    I’m not arguing for the end of the retail establishment. I love to visit high-end comic shops whereever I go in search of obscure and interesting comics. (I really enjoyed the post-it note comic that I picked up at CE in February, btw.) I would be extremely sad if I could not buy physical books.

    But at the same time, I have to be honest about what kind of demographic constitutes the vast majority of the purchasing power in these retail establishments. I believe, based on market research, that there is a disconnect between this group and the kinds of people who would probably be interested in comics if they knew that they existed.

    If the retailers have indicated through inaction that they are not going to focus on any audience but their core demographic of superhero readers, I don’t see why they should have a problem if I go searching for those other people myself. Especially if the second part of the business plan is to bring those audiences to their stores to buy my stuff.

  35. @Brian Hibbs

    I can tell you, however, that I do NOT even begin to understand a statement like “For a creator seeking to find an audience…a free webcomic is a much safer bet.” that only can make sense if your goal is not not realistically make money.

    Seems like a fair statement to me.

    A little quick googleing leads me to believe that Marvel and DC each employ roughly 200-250 people. Might be a little off but a decent ballpark. My personal bookmark folder of comics I read every week represents the full time employment of at least 50 people. I do not consider my own webcomic reading to be particularly extensive.

    I would be shocked if there were LESS than 200-250 people who currently consider their online based comic to be their primary means of income. That’s as many people as either of the big two publishers, and represents a far higher ratio of creators.

    And if the income for many is marginal, well, its not like an entry position at Marvel comes with a six figure salary and job security. In fact, how little money and security even some well known comics professionals enjoy is a reoccurring theme on industry blogs and commentary.

    And at the other end of the curve I’d argue that people like the Penny Arcade crew are at least as financially successful and probably more culturally influential than any comics writer or artist currently working.

    So for someone trying to make a name for themselves it’s hard to argue that breaking in at the big two in order to land some backup work on a series that gets canceled after six issues is a better choice than creating your own content and building an audience. There will be a tipping point where anyone good enough to work for Marvel or DC is good enough not to need to.

  36. [...] lot of back-and-forth I have been reading recently about comic books. For instance, here, here, and here. It got me thinking about how my habits have changed over [...]

  37. RM:

    That’s a long post, and one that deserves more time than I really have to give it, but let me say this: for urban stores, at least, our customer base is “people” — not “superhero fans”, so I largely reject large swathes of your initial premise — that only certain “kinds” of comics can/do sell

    As I said originally, *I* find that most of the inability to find an audience comes down to marketing, or lack thereof. Yes, a comic aimed at “housewives” would probably sell pretty poorly in a DM store, but it would probably sell equally poor at a fried chicken restaurant or a klezmer music store. Not because “housewives” don’t shop in those venues, but because no one would expect to find such a thing in the FIRST PLACE. I don’t think they’re likely to expect to find them free on the internet, however, either — I don’t really see a lot of “housewives” sitting around surfing google and thinking spontaneously “Hey, I wonder if there are any COMICS aimed at ME?!?!”

    Ultimately, the bigger problem in producing a comic for “housewives” is educating housewives that they might even remotely be interested in such a thing in the first place. WHERE you send them after that is really a much much smaller problem.

    The benefit the DM has is that what sales you get there are FIRM SALES, and give you a certain, paid, base to grow FROM.

    What you are mistaking for “inaction” on the retailers part is almost always the lack of connecting the dots on the publisher end. It’s like…. oh, it’s like Milestone! Sure, that’s an interesting idea to produce comics “for” people-of-color, but they’re not going to sell, EVEN WHEN STOCKED and FEATURED, if you don’t bother telling the audience you’re aiming at that the works exist in the first place.

    -B

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