Posted by: Brian Hibbs on July 15, 2011
You can find it at CBR, by clicking this link. If you don’t like to post over there, you have the option of posting comments here.
“People who waited for, dunno, the TP of the last RED TORNADO mini series are still waiting, and likely will until the end of time…”
Well, sure, but what about Marvel and DC’s midlist titles or publishers who have lower sales to begin with. At what point would you consider sales too low for a series to get collections?
Personally, I might draw the line at or around 25k in serialization, while carving out exceptions for “No, this is really VERY GOOD, it just hasn’t caught on yet” books.
Said it before, but again: maybe the overproduction of periodicals must be in no small part due to the shrinking of the readership. They need the same fan to buy lots of different books to keep their bottom line up because there aren’t enough fans to buy a limited number of books. That this isn’t the way DM retailers are traditionally set up to handle things is an unwelcome result the publishers can’t necessarily fix.
You hear it mentioned on occasion in interviews with editors. “I had a slot open, so I thought: how about a GHOST RIDER mini?” They have a certain number of books they have to create, which surely must be informed by how many copies of comics they must sell per month.
Trade paperback collections should be, for the most part, reserved for things that are going to be evergreen instead of flooding the market with trade paperbacks and hardcovers of last month’s big event that nobody will care about in six months time when the next big event rolls around.
Ideally, permanent collections should be reserved for high quality work that’s going to be attracting new readers and that old readers will want in a permanent, high-quality format. Watchmen, Sandman, Walking Dead, Hellboy universe titles, Vertigo series, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison – those kinds of things.
The trick is for publishers to be able to weed out the quality stuff that’s going to have legs from the dreck they churn out week after week. And nobody probably wants to admit that one of their titles is better than another.
Of course this puts Marvel in an awkward position because very little of what they publish would qualify as being evergreen, save for the Icon titles and a few runs here and there (like X-Force/X-Statix, Morrison’s X-Men, etc). They’ve never published anything that approaches a the crossover appeal of a Sandman or Preacher.
I don’t see why Marvel/Dc should be doing retailer’s jobs for them. They produced a (mini)series, why on earth wouldn’t they offer it again after it’s initial publication? Unless they end up losing a noticeable amount of money in the process. But it seems likely, that the trade works the same for publishers and retailers: printing money, after the initial cost has been covered.
Retailers not buying all the trades offered to them is fine, no other business offers everything it could conceivably stock.
(Unrelated to that: that’s where amazon has it’s place: No retailer can stock everything, but there’s one ”store” that can satisfy the long tail.)
The other thing re: that flooding-the-market idea is that it strikes me as quite possible, that this is – in part – an attempt to diversify. Clearly, within the limits of capes and tights, but that’s the business they know something about and it has a good track record.
But certainly, the cry for more diverse material is older than the complaint about overproduction.
Finally, an afterthought: What about the economics of the ”talent”? The current ”overproduction” seems to keep lots of people in viable jobs, rotating in and out but with some longterm stability. A return (however achieved) to fewer titles selling more would inevitably leave some of these people without a job (regrettable, but perhaps justified) but would also increase competition among the remaining creators, create bigger stars who need to worry less about the way their title fits with everything else … and so on. Not all of these changes would be for the worse, my point is just that there’s some ramifications beyond the retail level.
And, maybe, that these don’t seem to enter the Tiltings the way they used to do. But clearly, everything used to be better.
Pacer said, Trade paperback collections should be, for the most part, reserved for things that are going to be evergreen instead of flooding the market with trade paperbacks and hardcovers of last month’s big event that nobody will care about in six months time when the next big event rolls around.
For one thing, it’s hard to tell what is going to be an evergreen beforehand. Brian mentioned that Scott Pilgrim didn’t do all that good for him when it was new, but it now sells great. Another factor is that what is an evergreen in one store may not be one in another. I sell many more copies of the Lucifer series from Vertigo than I do of Transmetropolitan, and I can’t remember the last time I sold a Doom Patrol TP. Maus is amazing, yet I’ve sold 2 copies in 4.5 years.
As far as the "big event that nobody will care about in six months time" I sell good numbers of those. I’ve sold Identity Crisis, Blackest Night, and Civil War this week already.
Liking something (or not) is not an indicator of how well it will sell. Larry Marder’s Beanworld is always in my ever-shifting top 5 comics series of all time, but getting people to buy it, even people who inherently trust my judgement, is mind-bogglingly difficult.
“Maus is amazing, yet I’ve sold 2 copies in 4.5 years.”
—so, following the logic at play here, since you can’t sell Maus, Pantheon should let it go OP?
does the word “myopia” ring any bells here? why on earth are the results in an individual store being used as the basis for publishers making decisions? does it seem at all plausible that the overall numbers seen by publishers are not necessarily reflected in how Brian or Brian see books sell in their stores?
“Said it before, but again: maybe the overproduction of periodicals must be in no small part due to the shrinking of the readership.”
That’s fairly chicken-or-egg from my vantage point — certainly the overproliferation of titles is what is driving individual sales down, at least now.
There isn’t sense in publishing periodicals, for Marvel or DC, where initial orders are below ~15k.
“They produced a (mini)series, why on earth wouldn’t they offer it again after it’s initial publication?”
In short, they’re lowering their ROI (Return On Investment) — spending a dollar to make a 1c profit makes less sense than spending 50c to make the same penny.
“A return (however achieved) to fewer titles selling more would inevitably leave some of these people without a job (regrettable, but perhaps justified) but would also increase competition among the remaining creators, create bigger stars who need to worry less about the way their title fits with everything else … and so on.”
I’d disagree with that analysis, actually — the fewer titles, the more important each individually becomes to the bottom line, the less able to support prima-donna-ism.
“since you can’t sell Maus, Pantheon should let it go OP?”
That’s CLEARLY not what Brian is suggesting. He’s responding to another poster suggesting that “quality alone” indicates sales velocity.
Which it absolutely does not.
(Parenthetically, MAUS [v1] was the 15th best-selling comic via BookScan in 2010; I, personally, have sold seven copies in the last twelve months)
“does it seem at all plausible that the overall numbers seen by publishers are not necessarily reflected in how Brian or Brian see books sell in their stores?”
No one is suggesting using micro-numbers to make macro-decisions, but anyone who takes the time to actually look at the available numbers (which I clearly linked the DM ones on the article you’re supposedly commenting on; and the BookScan ones are also directly referenced — “And lest you think that this is just limited to DM stores, I’d like to observe that right around 90% of the graphic novels on the annual BookScan list each year sell under 1000 copies a year — and BookScan includes Amazon’s sales. Nearly 2/3rds of the 22k SKUs with a BookScan listing sell less then a hundred copies a year across the entire nation, including internet sales!”) it is INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS that most books being produced don’t generate enough revenue to justify carrying them. Just look at the underlying numbers for the entirety of the market!
Or you could just spout off, that’s cool too.
What I don’t understand about your argument, then, is why don’t you just order material you think you can sell? And let Amazon take care of stocking the rest?
And what about people who live in like rural Indiana and aren’t near a comic book shop and order trades online? By your metrics, since they don’t live near a comic book shop, and because what they want isn’t great/didn’t sell that well, comic book companies shouldn’t offer them a product that they can get because it makes your store too cluttered? Am I missing something in your argument?
RJT-well, you’re missing everything Brian said just above you, that the Amazon numbers are included and don’t add up to making more sense to publish in the first place. Do you want him to repeat it a few more times? “Or you could just spout off, that’s cool too.”
I wonder what this will look like in a few months with the online sales figures added in. Is that going to add to the numbers of single-pamphlet sales and maybe increase the possibility of trade-publication, or are people who would wait for the trade now catch up by buying the back issues online, and decrease the necessity to have everything available in trade?
“RJT-well, you’re missing everything Brian said just above you, that the Amazon numbers are included and don’t add up to making more sense to publish in the first place. Do you want him to repeat it a few more times? “Or you could just spout off, that’s cool too.”
But isn’t that the publisher’s decision? As much as Brian is a numbers wonk, I’ve got to imagine that he doesn’t know anything that the publishers don’t with regards to their numbers. I don’t think that the big two publishers would continue to publish trades if they consistently didn’t turn any profit.
The big two publishers have indeed canceled trades that didn’t reach a certain level of orders, so that must mean that they aren’t just throwing their money down the drain. If they want to publish a trade of some crappy series they did, and they receive enough orders, why shouldn’t they publish it?
Obviously they are certain titles that are perennial sellers, and there are others that are released and sell out of their initial print run and go out of print. Why don’t shops just focus on what they think will sell? It just seems like Brian is arguing that DC and Marvel (and Dark Horse and etc…) should stop printing so many trades because it makes his job tougher sorting through them all, deciding which to order. That doesn’t seem like a legitimate reason to not create product that publishers want to publish and some readers (although maybe not many, but enough to make it profitable) want to buy.
And despite your snarky response, I’ve read the article twice and all of Brian’s follow-up comments and I still don’t understand his point beyond that.
RJT–fair enough, the snark is my bad, and the question of why do DC/Marvel publish things that won’t/don’t sell is still open.
@RJT: In the other articles in this series (hotlinked in the first paragraph), Hibbs has made it clear why overproduction is a problem for *the industry as a whole*, not just for retailers.
A big part of the problem is that overproduction makes it impossible to promote titles properly — pretty much all but the 800 lb. gorillas get lost in the din.
A friend of mine was telling me about an economics class she took where the teacher offered to let a volunteer skip the midterm exam if the student could drink an entire gallon of milk during the lecture. Sounded doable, but nobody could ever finish it. No matter how much you think you want that gallon of milk there are physical limitations that prevent you from choking it down… and it seems like the publishers have at this point maxed out how much milk they can pour down the direct market’s gullet each month, until the gag reflex starts to kick in.
I don’t see how this isn’t a self-correcting problem. Publishers HAVE canceled trades that didn’t meet a certain order threshold, so can’t we infer that means that there is a break-even point for them, that they’re not throwing money down the toilet? Using the above analogy, the problem seems to be that the student is drinking all the milk, but getting terribly sick later. Is that the professor’s fault? Shouldn’t the student know he can’t drink an entire gallon of milk? Shouldn’t the onus be on the retailers to not order things they know they can’t sell? Aren’t we all adults in here?
Brian says that publishers should announce that only the most worthy of their material will get collected. What constitutes worthy? Sales? Critical acclaim? A certain je n’ai sais quoi? There are a bunch of examples of periodicals that don’t meet Brian’s sales threshold that still manage to do well in trade. Scalped is a book that sells well below 25,000 copies each month. Should that not get a trade? What about the latest Spider-man: Black Cat miniseries?
The quality control system that Brian is requesting (only publish the most worthy) already exists: it’s called retailers. I don’t see what the harm is in publishers soliciting trades and then canceling them if there are not enough orders. Brian seems to be asking that publishers protect his retailing brothers from their own bad decision-making. If retailers are ordering the latest Captain Universe trade–and they know they can’t sell it–then why is that Marvel’s fault for producing it?
“The quality control system that Brian is requesting (only publish the most worthy) already exists: it’s called retailers.”
The 1990s comic book business called. It would like its arrogant naivety about the how the marketplace actually works back.
“The 1990s comic book business called. It would like its arrogant naivety about the how the marketplace actually works back.”
Wow. I know this is the internet, but does everybody have to be so withering and bitter all the time?
I’m asking an honest question: if the big two are publishing trade paperbacks that are sitting unsold on the shelf, where is the retailer responsibility in that? They’re the ones who, by ordering hardcover collections of old Wolfpack comics, are telling Marvel that there exists a market for this stuff. If they don’t order those books, we have evidence that Marvel/DC will cancel the book. Nobody is forcing retailers to order a Gunfire collection, and if retailers do order it, why shouldn’t DC publish it?
The problem as I see it doesn’t exist on the publishing side, but on the retailing side. Setting up some kind of arbitrary system where the big two agree to only collect certain things based on sales levels (what if they wanted to collect Xombi, Brian? That certainly exists outside of the sales threshold you established, but I can’t believe you would have difficulty selling copies of that book if it existed)means that a lot of crappy stuff will never get collected, but also some good stuff won’t either. And who other than retailers, who interact with the customers every week, can best determine demand for certain product? And I missing something, or is everybody suggesting that retailers aren’t capable of rationally ordering product for themselves?
@RJT: Serious question, have you read the other essays in this series? Hibbs has already laid out some pretty convincing arguments about the inherent problems of overproduction. The discussion about trades builds on these previous essays, which may answer some of your questions including why Hibbs feels that the glut of material is bad for everyone — for retailers, for consumers, and, ultimately, for the long-term health of the market.
You raise some valid points, let me see if I can clarify a bit.
The first thing to consider is that even things that one doesn’t carry, carry a cost. For example, when I do an order every month, I have to look at, weigh and consider even things that I end up not ordering. It doesn’t take me less time to do the order just because I ultimately choose not to order a fair chunk of the books available each month.
By the same token, Diamond is CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED to list and stock every single thing Marvel DC Dark Horse and IMage choose to publish, regardless of whether it is profitable for Diamond to do so. As the number of SKUs have increased, so has Diamond’s OSD (Overage, Shortages, Damages) rate, and things get increasingly misbinned. I don’t love Diamond with all of my heart, but I’d very much like my distributor to be profitable on the items they carry, otherwise they start doing things like cutting off other books so they can Pay Paul.
Each and every new product steals a little eensy bit of the oxygen of the books around it, making it harder to sell ANY of them.
As customers have been TRAINED to EXPECT the TP, it reduces the URGENCY to make a purchase now and today — that is not an ideal situation for ANY leg of the DM stool because it means less sales today, and that means even less tomorrow.
It seems pretty obvious to me that publisher’s ROI on comics has dropped pretty precipitously over the last decade, and I think that *one* of the culprits (though, probably the largest) is over-production — and I don’t think that’s healthy for them, distributors, creators OR my brethren.
There are HUNDREDS of small impacts that overproduction have, even when you’re opting out of carrying the least commercial portions of output. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
“Am I missing something, or is everybody suggesting that retailers aren’t capable of rationally ordering product for themselves?”
I think it is more that (in this case) the nature of the backlist item means that the response-information publishers are getting is very limited, and possibly communicating the wrong information to them. As I said: 15% of the book format TITLES I carry (with trying to be extremely careful with what I bring in in the first place) end up selling no copies whatsoever, and get liquidated a year (or so) later. IF that is true for retailers-as-a-class (and I can’t say one way or another if it is or not) it may well be that publishers are publishing entirely the wrong books and allocating their scarce resources in the wrong locations.
“Brian says that publishers should announce that only the most worthy of their material will get collected. What constitutes worthy? Sales? Critical acclaim? A certain je n’ai sais quoi?”
I am definitely a “wait for the trade, then don’t pick up the trade” guy. I’m not a regular comic shopper anymore and I found this website because I was looking for quality books when I made my occaisional comic store visit. ( and I found Scott Pilgrim and the Sinestro Corps War from the buzz on this site). Now there is so much out there and so much hype about so many projects, that I end up buying less because I cannot figure out what is going to entertain me when I do make my purchases. I for one would be thrilled if TP’s came out 2-3 years after the monthly comics and only those stories that could stand the test of time would be reprinted. It would make my shopping easier.