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More Hibbsian thoughts about the market and how it works

Brian Hibbs

One of the things that I keep thinking I need to break my habit of is writing posts in the comments threads of consumer news sites, because, frankly, most people really want to talk about Superman plotlines, or whatever.

Here are a couple of things I’ve been posting over to the Beat which quickly scrolled away with no, or few comments, that I thought might be more reasonable to “archive” over here (and, dunno, maybe generate some actual conversation?). They’re below the jump.

(Reviews? Later today?)

From the post “$143,379 Later, Lady Sabre’s Kickstarter Closes

Speaking as a retailer, there is not a single book that has been “kickstarted” yet that went on to sell a meaningful number of copies at retail for me. I’m at try #9 or 10, I think, and 10 and 20% sell-throughs are just death for us.

I attribute this to two main things:
1) The marketing attention, the “mindshare”, has already been long spent by the time that the work actually arrives, and it is tricky (though far from impossible) to get a second wave for the ACTUAL BOOK.

2) Kickstarter is, sort of by definition, the MOST PASSIONATE fans. Take them out of the equation (as they’ve already got the fanciest version), and you’re left with an anemic customer base for a work. Further, KS seems to invert the traditional publishing model where at least a certain percentage of customers are given the opportunity to double- or triple- dip through various incarnations of a work — serialization, collection, upscale collection, super-limited upscale collection — and if you’ve already given them the filet mignon, why would you expect to sell much skirt steak?

Someone, eventually, will crack the code on how to KS something that leads to long-term, lasting, and meaningful sales in a variety of markets, and I hope Rucka & Burchett are the people who can do so, but as the market stands this instant, KS-ing a book marks it as “super risky” in the retail market.

-B

 

From the post “Coloring books, Paul Jenkins and the Big Two” (Excellent piece, BTW)

In my experience (sorry!), the audience is really pretty good about catching sincerity (NOTE: this is DIFFERENT than “quality”), and books that are “coloring books” generally don’t have all that much sincerity.

This is why, say, in the last comparison here on the Beat, DC’s SUPERMAN is down 26.5% at the one-year mark (from #7 to #18) while AQUAMAN is only down 14.5% in that same time period — one has a creative team that would appear to just be hired by Editorial in order to fill a slot, while the other has a creative team that has some actual passion for the work/character.

In the long run, as a pure publishing concern, customers desire explicit passion, and there’s really only so long you can coast on “good will”/external-marketing-driven circulation stunts.

-B

 

One post down, in the same thread:

One other point: “Standard attrition” is NOT (*N*O*T*) a function of “retailers ordering less” in the manner in which you imply — it is a function of our guesses about the consumer behavior. The Diamond order numbers are reflective of WHAT HAD HAPPENED MONTHS BEFORE.

What I order of (let’s stay with SUPERMAN)#18 is “How many of #16 did I sell, plus or minus what I perceive the TREND to be” I actually think it’s pretty easy to parse out what sell-through was on any comic (typically after #4) by simply looking at what the next order is.

Here’s the data collected by Marc-Oliver from that report:

03/2012: Superman #7 — 66,588 (- 4.4%)
04/2012: Superman #8 — 64,486 (- 3.2%)
05/2012: Superman #9 — 62,232 (- 3.5%)
06/2012: Superman #10 — 59,081 (- 5.1%)
07/2012: Superman #11 — 56,066 (- 5.1%)
08/2012: Superman #12 — 53,326 (- 4.9%)
09/2012: Superman #0 — 60,493 (+ 13.4%)
10/2012: Superman #13 — 52,155 (- 13.8%)
11/2012: Superman #14 — 52,572 (+ 0.8%)
12/2012: Superman #15 — 51,225 (- 2.6%)
01/2013: Superman #16 — 50,621 (- 1.2%)
02/2013: –
03/2013: Superman #17 — 49,666 (- 1.9%)
03/2013: Superman #18 — 48,236 (- 2.9%)

See it? Everything that’s outside of ACTUAL “standard attrition” (1%-ish) is reactive to the issues before. DC gets that HUGE spike on the #0 because that’s SPECULATIVE — it’s *actually* “what we really sold of #11, plus 10% or so” of us HOPING that people might jump back on, but #13 warps immediately back to the level that #12 *sold*, since that was the most recent data point. The next little boost? #14, which is reflective of how consumers *actually* BOUGHT #0 — it worked a LITTLE, but not as much as WE were hoping.

By #16 & 17 there you’re seeing that, for the most part, we all guessed correctly on #13 & 14 (They are in “SA” range), but that the audience didn’t much like #16 (a middle point in the Superman “Family” x-over), because #18 takes a too large jump downwards. And so on.

If you’re seeing 3%+ drops on books on comics past issue (say) #6, that’s a fairly clear sign that the audience is not responding to the work. If MOST retailers are getting MOST titles MOSTLY right MOST of the time, they’re not going to be able to stay in business. The math is just too brutal otherwise for the (let’s call it) 6-700 SKUs that the “Premier” publishers flood the market with every month.

To paraphrase Mr. Miller, I’d say “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed in the comics publishing industry that can’t be fixed. With my fists.” — EVERY problem that (Premier) publishers have in selling comics comes down to their own behavior.

(Non-”Premier” publishers have a different set of challenges, but that’s a different essay)

-B

 

So, yeah, didn’t want that to scroll away and be lost forever.

Any thoughts?

 

-B

 

 

17 Responses to “ More Hibbsian thoughts about the market and how it works ”

  1. Should Kickstarter even be considered as a step along the path to retail? Isn’t it rather a way for Creator-Publishers to avoid retail altogether by having everything bought and paid for up front? If they happen to make enough money to print a few extra copies, that can then go sit on a shelf somewhere, well, sure, why not. But that is the afterest of afterthoughts, the stretchiest of stretch goals.

  2. *blinks*

    I’ll grant you that people may or may not be thinking out where they are meant to be, but Kickstarter shouldn’t be a means to only print enough copies for people who paid into the kickstarter, David. That would be pretty insane!!

    -B

  3. As you said, it is hard to get the Consumers’ attention a second time when you try to sell, having already sold the Kickstarter. Sure, the economics of printing mean it is easier to have a lot of books, but it will be equally hard to get the Creator/Publisher to care if they have already covered their nut. Even now there are Kickstarters that are less “Let’s see if we can cover printing costs” and more “Pay me a living wage for the 6 to 12 months that it will take to create”. If PDFs or POD ever become standard, I suspect the focus will be more and more on the front end.

  4. I totally understand what you’re saying, but to me the true value of work is the money it makes you into infinity, not just as a living wage in the short term.

    -B

  5. It has shown that various nerd interests do have enough of an existing fanbase to cover costs of production, which is a good start, and hopefully once produced exposing other people to it (on shelves, online) would grow the audience and more units will be sold. That part would always be a slow process, i suppose.

  6. I read the sales charts pretty regulary – the DC mostly for MOFs comments and the whining it mostly provokes -, but your remarks about 3%+ drops baffle me. I never understood the claim of the guys that a 50% drop over half a year is perfectly normal and expected; I always envision boxes upon boxes eating up the retailers money. But from memory there isn’t one Big Two book which sales are actually climbing. Is this the sign of a healthy industry? Where you will lose a lot readers regulary, one 3% after the other, regardless of the content?

  7. Hoorah! Hibbs on fire!

    Well, I dunno about this one…
    “…there’s really only so long you can coast on “good will”/external-marketing-driven circulation stunts.”

    Like about twenty years? With no end in sght? I guess you know AGE OF ULTRON #10 is going to be polybagged. Maybe it’s an honest attempt to keep the stink of it confined but the cynic in me thinks not.

    I enjoyed your paraphrase of mr. Miller.

    Cheers!

  8. @JohnK: to be clear, I meant it in the micro level of an individual book’s circulation, not on the macro environment (though, clearly, one impacts the other in several pretty complicated ways)

    @AndyD: I’m not very clear on your question. 12 months of 3%+ drops is NOT healthy (at all) — “Standard Attrition” is a sub-2% number.

    There IS a standard attrition, though — just like all systems eventually give in to entropy — you can see the same thing happen in, say, TV ratings. Slowly slowly slowly all books lose steam with VERY few exceptions.

    Most retailers are shooting for something along the lines of 90% sell-through — that’s generally profitable, while still leaving product on the shelves for the potential of growth.

    One complicating factor, especially with Marvel books, is that Marvel often gives “unreasonably high” discounts and other incentives on first issues to the point where it might be cheaper to purposefully overbuy and throw the remaining comics away. So those crazy 60%-ish drops on the early issues, the math works OK.

    The other factor is that the CUSTOMERS do a lot of sampling in the opening frames of a title. 100k to 80k to 60k is ENTIRELY NORMAL behavior in many cases… and, if anything, retailers as a class might well be ordering too formulaically.

    -B

  9. Wouldn’t the closer precedent for “Lady Sabre” actually be “Freakangels?” Both series originally appeared online for some time, so they had time to build up an audience of readers. In the case of the Rucka and Burchett work, the Kickstarter project is collecting the first five chapters of the serial, which has run at least a few months prior to the ask.

    I also wonder whether your comments on the effectiveness of Kickstarter also apply to projects from comics veterans. Kickstarter projects had been launched for a new Starstruck graphic novel from Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta, a new Wolff & Byrd graphic collection from Batton Lash, and a new Girl Genius graphic novel from Phil and Kaja Foglio.

  10. You gave a pretty good explanation of the monthly periodical comics version of Spinrad’s Publishing Deat Spiral – I say we name this version after you as it has distinct characteristics. The Hibbs Death Spiral has a nice ring to it.

  11. Re: “Standard Attrition” This is the big reason why I believe that only books with a long-term creator commitment and plan (2 years or more) should be released as “ongoing”. I believe Marvel and DC in particular would benefit from following the “seasons” approach TV shows have transformed into. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the only critically acclaimed and commercially successful TV shows that are dramas are serials. Even the most formulaic popular shows such as “House” or “The Mentalist” have at least a modicum of changing structure that apes serials (much like Bendis’ “Ultimate Spider-Man” has. I think Dark Horse has landed at this approach to (assumed) success. The series that aren’t a series of mini-series tend to be creator-specific (e.g. “Goon” and even “B.P.R.D.”). Even their bigger hits like “Tarzan” seem to have fallen to the standard attrition. DC almost hit this pattern of success in a realistic, if accidental, way, starting with “Watchmen” and “Camelot 3000″ and running through “Y the Last Man” and “Fables”, which are as close to creator-driven as DC can get. Then they dropped the ball and let Image pick it up. Yes, Image, who started trying to copy the Marvel/DC method and then seems to have got it right by being just innovative enough after the “Big 3″ method failed them. Now we have “Walking Dead”, “Chew”, “Fatale”, etc.

  12. [...] retailer Brian Hibbs, describing a troubling relationship between Kickstarter success and retail [...]

  13. How is Five Ghosts (Image) doing for you? Multiple direct market printings and a conversion to an ongoing would suggest that is a Kickstarted book that has had DM success, no?

  14. Didn’t know it was KSed — huh, for barely 3k at that. Well, I can add another caveat about small-time funding not impacting things, I guess…

    -B

  15. Wild Blue Yonder, IDWs new release this week, was also funded through Kickstarter, to the tune of $16.5K to fund the 5-issue mini.

    Again, not saying you don’t have a point. There certainly is plenty of material that can succeed on KS, and would collect dust on your shelves…just as there are plenty of comics that can be successful as webcomics or sell great at conventions, but would struggle in the DM.

    But, savvy creators, especially in the creator-owned space, where for most profitability solely through Diamond distribution is a financial impossibility, are going to continue to include crowd-funding in the mix of how they bring books to market. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways that retailers can benefit from this game changer as well.

  16. Mahalo Brian… Gave me lots of ideas for our kickstarter, and what not to do. Enjoyed your column in Comics Retailer too.

  17. […] Brian Hibbs makes a very smart point I hadn’t thought about: […]

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