viagra 24 hours delivery

New TILTING up

Brian Hibbs

Good morning, internet! You know, I think Spurgeon just did a big disservice to Tucker by reducing 10k words (!) to “Tucker Stone: Various”! Foo! On the other hand, his defense of Alan Moore was the most right on commentary I’ve read this morning, so I guess it balances out…

(Has anyone noticed that Spurge actually sorts his links by character count? Sure, it makes it look a lot more readable, but mein gott that’s some OCD-ish-ness right there!)

Anyway, the newest TILTING AT WINDMILLS is up at CBR, go read it.

I think I might have touched a nerve this time, because it already has 20 replies on CBR (that’s rare, even after a week), and most of them are from people with under 5 previous posts….

Interested in your thoughts, as always.

-B

71 Responses to “ New TILTING up ”

  1. Great article. Financially, I have been out of the comics loop for many years. I do pick up trades from the library to see what is happening currently. I recently moved and the library has many more trades and this got me motivated as I have more disposable income. So, I went to a comic shop with my daughter with the intention of picking up a couple of titles. I walked in and looked at the cover prices and walked out without buying anything.

    My only guess is they are trying to force people to move to digital comics.

  2. I remember when the Ultimate brand was first hitting it big, Quesada would talk about how the “suits” wanted to expand the line like crazy, but he insisted on keeping it to four or five comics a month. Now, we’re apparently getting twice that just for Thor. What happened?

  3. You did a great job articulating what has been on the minds of many people who are walking away from periodicals. I bought that Punisher Max one-shot for $5 and I threw it in the garbage after reading it. I was so disgusted with myself for paying that kind of cash for something I didn’t enjoy. I’m actually having trouble distinguishing what you wrote from what Kurt did.

  4. Boy, I hope this gets discussed more than the Alan Moore interview did earlier. I don’t even mean that snarkily–I think this is a really substantive and important summation of where the industry is (and might be going), and I’d like it if the online pundits really examined some of these points and, hopefully, asked meaningful follow-up questions to the people in charge.

    God-damned stellar work, Bri.

  5. Budd:

    “My only guess is they are trying to force people to move to digital comics.”

    No.

    The economics of Digital would take a MASSIVE increase in sales to stay with parity with gross revenues from print sales.

    -B

  6. Jeff: “and I’d like it if the online pundits really examined some of these points and, hopefully, asked meaningful follow-up questions to the people in charge.”

    My guess is that they’d just respond that they’re publishing what the market will support, that nobody’s forcing anybody to buy any book, and that Brian’s experience is not typical of everyone. (For what it’s worth, the new X-Men book is doing rather well on the Diamond charts so far, although that’s with help from variant covers on at least issue #1, not sure about #2.)

    I don’t really envy the editors and higher-ups at Marvel or DC when it comes to these kinds of decisions. When a lower-end X-book sells twice as much as an Atlas or a Young Allies, it’s a wonder anything outside of a major franchise gets greenlit. (And if they weren’t publishing so many Thor books, we probably wouldn’t get the Langridge/Samnee one that people like.)

  7. I’ve stated in the recent past in the various comment sections of this stellar website, that I’ve lost interest in comics. I have given it some thought and have come to a conclusion as to why that is. I can afford weekly comics, but I suppose it is like anything else that I purchase and consume: I want value in exchange. That is to say, I want to be entertained. I want to be challenged. I want to be amazed. I don’t want to be able to predict the story and ending. I don’t want nostalgia. If a comic book can’t simply entertain me, no matter what price, I’m not interested.

    That’s just not happening these days.

    Buying a comic book is a simple transaction: turn over $3.99 (and in some cases $4.99) and you receive something which meets that price point or it doesn’t.

    If it doesn’t, what’s a consumer to do? Easy, not make the same mistake twice. Caveat emptor.

  8. Loved the latest Tilting and I read all the comments as well. It is sad that it appears so many people have become disenchanted because I love the art form.

    Like many others, price is an issue for me but the lack of quality makes it all too easy to drop titles like a bad habit. I wish it wasn’t this way because I would LOVE to buy more comics but I can’t spend money on stories that make no sense and insults my intelligence.

    It’s a funny irony what’s going on: many people within the industry blame readers, claiming we’re always complaining, that we don’t like change and none of that is further from the truth.

    Readers like change and will accept change when the change is good. A few quick cases of change that was embraced: when Dick Grayson grew up and became Nightwing, when Alan Moore reinvented Swamp Thing, Neil Gaimen recreated Sandman…

    Believe it or not, readers are desperate for change. In leadership at the big two, an end to the reviling violence, rape and unnecessary potty spasms (Kevin Smith), the amateur writers and artists to go back and learn the craft.

    What readers don’t like is change that is the same old, same old. Once upon a time, Peter Parker was a character that evolved and grew — that was the vital ingredient that attracted readers to the character in the first place… until someone decided to turn the clock back twenty years and then call it change: Because readers have already read about single Peter Parker and the kids and new readers it was done for, don’t care. They’re not buying. Not only because it’s been done before but because at 3.99, maybe that kid just can’t afford it.

    Industry insiders have been saying print is dying, comics are dying… well, if that’s true, it isn’t because people don’t want to buy them, it’s because the industry leaders are killing it. But, the road to hell was paved with good intentions…

  9. The greatest observation in the article, I think, is the one that notes how if you’ve really just lost Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid as readers, you’re truly SOL.

    As yet another of those lost readers, I can tell you your analysis is spot-on; this is why I quit: I quite simply feel like a fool spending that sort of money for that product.

  10. Thanks for sn excellent article, Mr. Hibbs. Really, really good stuff.

    Firstly, I believe it’s important for DC and Marvel to note that there’s a difference between comics not being aimed at an audience and comics actively repelling an audience.

    I think the price increase has done the most damage. It has had massive repercussions on sales, product diversity, audience morale, and probably lots of other aspects of comics I can’t think of right now. Historically I think this will be seen as a massive blunder.

    Primarily though, as you say, the shock of the price rise woke up the audience and made us actually consider value for money. When you are publishing efforts like Cry For Justice or Siege the very last thing you need is an audience that has become more discerning/selective than ever.

    To which the answer is – well they sell, do they not? And it looks like the answer to that is – it sells to retailers but maybe it isn’t selling to customers. As long as retailers continue to order like nothing has changed it’s going to look like nothing has changed to Marvel and DC. Kind of like a collective delusion. Those aren’t healthy.

    Good luck!

    (Also: Tom Spurgeon on Alan Moore was a triumph of reason. Thanks, Tom Spurgeon.)

  11. How can anyone compete with this: http://www.dodgemlogic.com/videoarchive.

    Dodgem Logic. It’s free and it’s Alan Moore.

  12. And to think that David Uzumeri is still credited as a critic on this site.

  13. at current price points this is true, but I can see them releasing a monthly title for $2 a month or a subscription for $20 a year. They then will not have to pay for printing or distribution. The ap already exists, so there is no overhead there. They already digitize everything, so no overhead there. They control the markup and can cut retailers out.

    There will always be collectors that want the paper books, but a digital version for cheaper will appeal to the masses.

    Currently the iPad is the best thing for reading digital comics and it is price prohibitive, but if they get something priced in the $200-300 dollar range and a lot more people are going to be interested.

  14. “They then will not have to pay for printing or distribution. The ap already exists, so there is no overhead there. They already digitize everything, so no overhead there. ”

    There aren’t Magical Internet Pixies that sprinkle pixie-dust and provide everything to the web for free — Apple takes a cut (30%!), Comixology takes a cut, files-to-print-from are not identical to files-to-download.

    At a 1.99 price point (for a print comic that is $2.99), they have to sell roughly TWICE AS MANY copies to equal print revenue.

    -B

  15. Sorry, that should read “$0.99″, I typed too fast…

    -B

  16. That Tilting was a great summary of how I’ve been feeling for years. It’s been more and more difficult to find comics that I enjoy that aren’t marred by a) constant crossovers or b) rotating artists (because the regular artist is pulled off for a higher-selling comics) or c) the story doesn’t really end because it’s being continued in another title — surprise! All I want is a high-quality, self-contained title that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Is that so much to ask?

    Which brings me to my next point: If you only stock titles that sell well, overlooked gems like Joe the Barbarian and DV8: Gods and Monsters would be harder to find for folks like me. Those books fit all the criteria I mention above, and that’s exactly why they’re not selling well. You don’t have to keep up with them to know what’s going on in X-Men or Batman or whatever, so they aren’t ‘necessary.’ And I have a difficult time finding them in stores that buy low numbers of non-mainstream, non-crossover books.

    And I know I could subscribe to those titles through one of my many local stores, but I don’t want to. I want to be able to change my mind about what I buy, and making a promise to a retailer that I’ll buy a certain issue before I even look at it rubs me the wrong way. More than once lately, something I was sure I was going to buy ended up being drawn by someone other than the solicited artist, so I reconsidered.

    My point being: It would be a shame if all comic book sellers took your advice and stopped stocking low-selling comics. I have a feeling that most of the really good comics out there would disappear.

  17. Brian, your latest Tilting describes my experience exactly. I go weeks between trips to the store now, sometimes a month, and I can still come away with only three or four comics. This week I tried to look for new monthly comics to add to my subscription and I couldn’t do it—not only is it hard to find anything behind the torrent of Brightest Day and Heroic Age and Shadowland and whatever else is clogging up the shelves at the moment, but current storytelling practices and price points make a deadly combination. I put Neonomicon back on the shelves after flipping through it, and while I wouldn’t say the $3.99 price was solely to blame, the prospect of paying that much for a boring, slow-paced introduction certainly didn’t make it any more attractive. (Whereas I had absolutely no hesitation about buying Bulletproof Coffin at the same price.) I want to buy more serialized comics, but the big publishers are trying to make that into an all or nothing proposition, and at their current level of output “nothing” looks a lot more attractive.

    Speaking of Alan Moore… I think the pendulum has probably swung a bit too far in the other direction from the early reactions to that interview. Yes, he’s been screwed by DC every time he’s dealt with them for the last twenty-five years, but the rational response is not to cut off all contact with any friends who still work for them (or who are insufficiently grateful for the money he believes he has showered upon them). It’s true that even paranoids have enemies, but it’s also true that even marked men can be douchebags.

  18. Thom, I can’t speak for Brian, but as I can speak as a retailer.

    Even with everything Brian’s noting in his Tilting article, there’s not some magic formula that can do his Previews order for him. Personal taste and expectations will affect every ordering decision. Not to dump on specific companies or creators, but there’s a big difference (or there should be) between new mini-series by Brian Wood or Grant Morrison, and, let’s say, a three-issue Shadowland spin-off. Cutting back on perceived deadwood won’t keep good retailers from trying out new series from a) established creators that already sell well in their store or b) intriguing premises that fill an under-served niche. And bad retailers already aren’t carrying books like DV8 and Joe the Barbarian, so it’s hard to see Brian’s attitude changing things for the worse.

    Great article, Brian. It echoes a lot of the discussions we’ve been having at our store. My only criticism would be, once you take the discussion from dollars and cents (it is economically ill-advised to stock every title from major publishers) into how Marvel and DC are creatively failing their readers, you tend to derail the conversation. It starts on solid ground, but gives way to a hundred people shouting “Yeah! Comics are terrible now!” or “No way! I love comics!” That discussion seems (to my reading) beside your main point. That main point is one I’d hate to see overshadowed by off-topic partisan bickering, you know?

  19. “The rational response is not to cut off all contact with any friends who still work for them.”

    And if your friend says, “Hey, for the 50th time, I want nothing to do with that company,” the rational response is to stop bugging him about that company.

  20. So the state of printed comics periodicals sold through direct market comics specialty shops is worse this year than it was last? Last year, it was worse than the year before and the year before, it was worse than it was the year before that. I’m guessing for next year… even worse?

    See how trends and patterns can be used to discern future outcomes? Is it possible that the death knell has been sounded and we’re all just plugging our fingers into our ears? It seems that everyone keeps saying “come on, folks, let’s get it together and FIX THIS” but the fixing isn’t coming. Are you rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?

    Why don’t we just face up to the fact that we’re on the cusp of a major upheaval… a shift in the way media, entertainment and communication is created, sold, consumed and enjoyed and there will be both survivors and casualties. It’s too big not to have major effects – this new era makes the advent of television or the popularization of motion picture look like minor blips in the forward movement of mass media. What if you’re just not going to make it? Printed comics periodicals sold through direct market comics specialty shops could just die off… hell, traditional book stores as we know them could just die off. Why continue to make these same complaints over and over and over… we’ve been hearing this same shit for years and nothing is getting better. Whether it’s this year or five years from now, you just might have to pack it all in and give up.

  21. Sorry to double-post but in the article you said:

    “I know some wag will pop up around here to suggest that customers are moving to digital, or, really, more specifically piracy – and I just don’t think so. Unless my customers are lying directly to my face about their interests, the overwhelming majority of current periodical readers in my store are vehemently in favor of print comics on paper)”

    Your customers represent the absolute tiniest sliver of a fraction of the total sum population. All polling your customers will do is give you an indication of what the desperate hangers-on think but we already know THEY prefer print on paper. The fact that you admit yourself that this audience is shrinking is the actual statistic at play here.

  22. Apologies again for TRIPLE-POSTING but it just occurred to me the folly of so readily dismissing digital comics. You mention the fact that it would require double the sales of any one current series to equal the gross profit they make off the print version. Double 200,000 is 400,000 and, maybe I’m crazy for saying this, but that doesn’t sound impossible to me. Of course, to reach that point, they’d need to start by changing the subject matter and tone of the comics to something accessible to people who aren’t card-carrying geeks. Perhaps, for example, instead of nothing but superheroes, they could attempt to publish comics that feature something other than superheroes. Just an idea. Also, require less back-knowledge of your characters and plot points for new readers. This might mean less connectivity between titles… I see the holy “shared universe” concept so beloved by comics fans being a downfall here. Done-in-one comics designed to be picked up and enjoyed by a mainstream audience, well-written and unencumbered by nerd stink COULD possibly be sold to an iPad user, yes, which would open up worlds of new possibilities and sales models.

    The chief problem with Marvel and DC’s digital initiatives so far is that instead of truly treating the digital landscape like a new frontier, a whole new medium that would require new ideas, new formats and new content, they are merely translating the product they have been releasing, ie. product designed for the increasingly peculiar and insular tastes of the direct market to a digital platform and doing so half-heartedly. DC and Marvel’s online ventures are just kind of an adjunct to their print business… sort of saying that if you’re ALREADY a fan but you kind of like the idea of reading comics on a computer and don’t mind that it’s kind of a crappier product, then hey, why not? That’s hardly blazing a new trail, winning new audiences and updating the entire artform for a new world and new media. Simply doing a bland “Diet Coke” version of your rapidly failing Direct Market strategy isn’t going to work in the long run, no, so you’re right to criticse what they’re doing now.

    But to criticize the notion of digital comics completely? Remember this: Digital comics created by and for an audience of everyone, reasonably priced, designed created and marketed for this new media landscape, has NOT BEEN ATTEMPTED. You can call the Big Two’s current efforts weak but they’re just replicating the weakness of the lines they’re already publishing. To say digital comics just suck and they’ve failed is to say you’re not open to something that hasn’t been fully explored yet, something that hasn’t been given a chance. Whereas to say that printed comics periodicals sold through direct market comics specialty shops have failed is just reading the very obvious writing on the wall, based on years of observation and unassailable, objective fact.

  23. Thom:

    “Which brings me to my next point: If you only stock titles that sell well, overlooked gems like Joe the Barbarian and DV8: Gods and Monsters would be harder to find for folks like me.”

    Well, yeah, except those are GOOD SELLING comics for me…

    D. Peace:

    “Why don’t we just face up to the fact that we’re on the cusp of a major upheaval… a shift in the way media, entertainment and communication is created, sold, consumed and enjoyed and there will be both survivors and casualties.”

    We are certainly living in a time of shift (though I for one certainly don’t believe that any specific aspect of that shift is absolutely inevitable or necessarily “industry-destroying” or whatever), but that really has nothing to do with the base problem — the quality is poor; there are too many unwanted titles; and so on. Don’t conflate the two issues — they’re UTTERLY unrelated!

    You could put all of the lousy comics in the world up for sale same-day digital consumption, hell, for a lower price, and they’d still be lousy, derivative and over-saturating, attractive only to a teeny tiny audience. How many “civilians” are interested in buying 10 different Thor comics in a month? (And, in fact, I think it decreases the chances that any of it will sell at all because this new audience has no clear way of telling what is what and who is who and which works they’ll be interested and which not…)

    I’m fairly confident that the potential “civilian” audience for work like that is not any larger than the current existing print audience, and, in all likelihood, much smaller.

    Changing the venue will not, alone, yield significant sales of this type of material. JUST LIKE IT DIDN’T YIELD SIGNIFICANT SALES IN THE BOOKSTORES — this is not product that the non-comics reading audience is going to be interested in.

    -B

  24. D. Peace:

    RE your triple post (which you posted as I was posting my last response…)… I’ve never ever ever EVER once said or thought or suggested that Digital was not something that should be perused. I even spent weeks of my life consulting on that very topic with major publishers…

    -B

  25. Brian: Fascinating piece as always, and I have no doubt your analysis of your customers is dead on. BUT:

    I just don’t see this reflected in the numbers.

    You probably saw this, but here’s a quote I posted recently from John Jackson Miller’s latest Comichron-Newsarama sales analysis:

    “July 2000’s top-seller was Image’s Spawn #100, with Diamond preorders of 143,500 copies. It’s of interest that, through July 2010,… the Direct Market has ordered almost exactly the same number of comic books that it preordered in the first seven months of 2000. Those comics are selling for 29% more now in dollars due to inflation — and, of course, the real growth in the industry is in the number of trade paperbacks sold, which is dramatically higher than it was a decade ago. Note the July 2010 trade paperback Top 25, which sold more than double the copies (for more than double the money) than the July 2000 Top 25.”

    Now I realize I’ve chosen a comparison with the “dark days,” and sales are down when compared with more recent years. But really: same unit sales as during our last slump — 29% growth in dollars sold — and twice as many trade paperbacks. If this is a dying industry, show me a healthy one.

    And, more to the point of your article: Someoneis buying these books. If you read all the comments here and on CBR — and clearly, you struck a nerve — you’d think the serial comic was a dying format being crushed by a lack of self-contained stories and/or inappropriate content. But I’ve said this for a while: There’s a newer generation of readers out there who don’t post on these sites, but who don’t mind reading this stuff in serialized form. I suspect most of them aren’t completists, either.

    I don’t mean to dismiss concerns about content. I like lot of what DC and (especially) Marvel publish these days; there’s some of it that I don’t like, any more than Kurt or Mark does. But I don’t think those latter books need the three of us as readers, in order to survive.

  26. And just so I’m not ONLY arguing with you this morning — regarding digital distribution:

    “At a 1.99 price point (for a print comic that is $2.99), they have to sell roughly TWICE AS MANY copies to equal print revenue.”

    Not only that: Unless you go ALL digital, your costs actually go UP if you’re printing fewer paper copies, because there’s a steep curve in printing costs depending on quantity. So if 20% of your business switches from print to digital, you’re making less money on each printed copy.

    This isn’t a reason not to sell comics digitally, of course! But it’s another cost factor that has to be figured in.

  27. Just wanted to say I’m enjoying your new recurring feature, “Complain about Tom Spurgeon.”

    PS — Good Tilting.

  28. Great article, Brian!
    Of course everyone has his own reason why they don´t buy comics any longer. For me it is definitly the price/value problem. Marvel and DC always used to put out a lot of crap, for every, say, Simonson´s Thor you also got Team America or Crystar.

    But – and this is the difference – these d-list series were also the place where something exciting could happen. A new writer, a new artist, something which was divorced from the main universe. And you put it into your basket just out of curiosity because you didn´t felt ripped off when you didn´t liked it. Today I wouldn´t pay 3.99 for that kind of experiment. Of course I will miss the next Miller or Ellis or Moore when they will happen, but on the other hand even that isn´t an argument any longer as they will surely be reprinted as a trade.

    And there are so many little things which used to alienate me to the point where I just stopped buying and caring. Rotating artists even on mini-series, busted schedules, the decompressed storytelling, incomprehensible story-lines where you need to spend half an hour on the wikipedia to just grasp the basics and so on, overhyped hollywood writers which are tone-deaf to the medium, the endless shallow crossovers, the endless and meaningless resurrections.

    I don´t have a problem with the grim and gritty – and I think this whole superhero decadence meme has been blown out of proportions by some bloggers with an agenda; if an non-comic reader would read one of those articles he would think that every other issue of Superman has at least one rape in it, which of course is complete nonsense -, but I am no longer interested in it because it has become just an endless and boring repetition.

    But maybe the current books are really not meant for us old readers any longer, that the shallow and empty event-driven comic is for a younger generation. As Stuart Moore wrote, somebody out there must be buying this stuff. And as long as this audience is buying 10 Thor books a month or 10 Avengers or 10 merchandise comics from IDW which for me are the epitome of mediocrity, the companys will publish them.

  29. Just to be clear: I am NOT condemning modern comics. I write some of them! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with five Avengers books a month, if they’re high quality and people like them. Not a thing in the world.

  30. “But maybe the current books are really not meant for us old readers any longer, that the shallow and empty event-driven comic is for a younger generation.”

    THANK YOU!

    bout time someone hit that nail on the head.

    graybeards need to let go.

    and they were JUST as many shitty comics back in the “hallowed” day as there are now.

  31. “the shallow and empty event-driven comic is for a younger generation.”

    Shitty comics are shitty comics. We don’t need them.

    If an event-driven come can be deep and fulfilling, great! But the fact that “they’re for a different audience” isn’t any excuse to produce shitty comics. Well, unless all you care about is the bottom dollar. And as a reader, that’s not my concern.

  32. That should be “event-driven comic.”

  33. Yeah, sure, hardcore superhero zombies are tired of Marvel and DC “growing like kudzu into every tiny possible niche, accepting sales that would have gotten you laughed out of Jim Shooter’s office in the Marvel Comics of 1987″.

    They are clamoring for the “big two” to streamline their bloated offerings.

    Look for instance at this recent NEWSARAMA REVIEW of
    “The Thanos Imperative: Ignition
    Review by Kyle DuVall

    “Since War of Kings, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have cunningly built a cosmic universe scenario that is big enough to fill three or four ongoing titles. Now, it seems, it’s all getting shrunk to a single six-issue event miniseries.

    The only worry is that, unlike War of Kings, or Annihilation: Conquest, where events unfolded in a main miniseries, a group of limited series and one or two ongoing series, Thanos Imperative will be restricted to a single linear miniseries.

  34. I don’t really know the sales numbers– equivalent unit sales as 2000 sounds problematic to me as I’d guess (without evidence; yay!) that there’s more material being produced and more creative personnel who’ve entered the market in the last ten years– seems like there’s more dudes trying to write comics out there, at least… and … where did the new readers who came on in those middle years go? But I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong– I don’t really know the numbers, or how to think about them, I suppose.

    I think I’m on record as thinking the mainstream space had serious self-inflicted issues for close to a year now (back in December it was all in my head ha ha), but I’m not the youngest guy– maybe there is some sort of “generational change” happening. Using as evidence of anything the fatigue of old dudes strikes me as open to critique, but what do I know? It seemed to me back when that the creative personnel in comics had happily participated in schemes with a long track record of alienating their audience in the long term, in exchange for their own short term-gain and out of some kind of grotesque egotistical pride that the audience wouldn’t react exactly like it did before to the exact kinds of mistakes made before due solely to their “Creative prowess.” But maybe that was unfair. Beats me.

    My experience of things lately… With everything that’s not a mainstream comic having been pushed into the original graphic novel space… My purchases are just haphazard. I buy Harlem Heroes; before that, It was the War of the Trenches or Peepoo Chan– there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. My purchasing is entirely arbirary and whim-driven. On the one hand, great for me: look at all the choices I have. On the other hand: I’m sure glad I’m not in the business of trying to predict or take advantage of my kind of buying habits. But maybe that’s not how other people approach all those choices…? I know that coming out of a comic shop with one thick book by one guy, instead of 6 or 7 smaller magazine-format comics… that when that one thick book doesn’t deliver, I’m MUCH more put-out by the experience than I would be if 1 magazine-format comic didn’t pan out… Plus: with just the psychological difference in ticket-price, and the added weight of not being able to throw a BOOK away as opposed to a comic when I’m done with it– it’s just a very different experience. But maybe that’s not germane.

    With all these corporate interests owning these companies, and their sets of goals, and with the creative personnel having the mindset we’d expect them to have, it seems like there might be incentives for at least the immediate future to continue this pretty unbelievable flood of material, and that their ownership by third-parties will unnaturally delay being impacted by repercussions of that decision. But maybe I’m wrong on that– I don’t know what’s going on with the Thanos books, or whatever. Marvel had a Brother Voodoo miniseries and a Beast miniseries last year (both by top-notch creators, granted), but I thought that one-two punch had to represent like a zillion canaries dying in a mine (not literally). But maybe they’ve already pulled back on that kind of thing and I haven’t paid attention…?

    So I don’t really know anything. What do I know? I know about love. Let me teach you all! No, I don’t know anything about love either… crap. I don’t know; I don’t know. Column was food for thought, though. Thanks!

  35. I think it’s hard to dismiss that the general zeitgeist seems to be that mainstream comics are spent right now. For the first time in 35 years, I have no interest in anything (mainstream) DC or Marvel is publishing. (Okay, not 100% true–I’ll probably pick up Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Batman & Robin collections when I find someone selling them for half or more off. Heaven knows it’s not anything urgent.)

    I would think that’s it’s somewhat disastrous that monthly comics sales are the same now as they were 10 years ago. If you’re making more money only by raising prices instead of moving units, then you’re heading down the wrong path. Where would Apple be now if they were selling the same number of iPods they did nine years ago but just kept raising the prices on them? I also think the doubling of tpb sales is a reflection of the flat sales on single comics and the transition of many publishers to tpb-only output, not OMG the industry is expanding by leaps and bounds!

    As far as digital goes, Brian is absolutely right about how casual readers will probably be discouraged by an overabundance of titles. Say the industry has made a full transition to digital by the time the Thor movie comes out. Someone comes out of the theatre curious about Thor comics and looks for them on their iPhone. If they find 10 different series and have no real idea beyond the brief descriptions what any of them are about, how many of those titles do you think that person would be likely to purchase? My guess would be 0.

    Personally, I think the biggest problem is really that the creative well is just not bottomless. Looking at the top 50 comics for July, for the most part those books represent characters that are 35-70+ years old. What more can you say about those characters? I think it might well be possible to tell one really good 6-issue Batman story each year worth buying. But next year will have (at least) 48 comics with Bats as the central character. If The Wire or The Sopranos had had an episode every week of the year for 5 years, how good do you think those shows would have been overall? As the output grows and the prices rise, there can’t help but be a huge correction at some point.

  36. An excellent analysis and throughly interesting read. Thanks for that, Brian.

    I’m in the Waid/Busiek camp of “comics not being aimed at my tastes” anymore. The difference between me and those guys is, I’m not in a position to do anything about it. My hope is that, as two very talented writers, they turn out comics that suit their/my tastes and give me a fix of an art form I love.

  37. It could prove disastrous, but maybe the big two need another collapse – they are both now being run by executives who only came on board in the last few years… these guys haven’t seen the market go bust, and possibly think in terms of cliches ‘those geeks will read anything we tell them to’.
    It’s quite possible that these guys don’t grasp that if you try and force the market, or keep pushing us to pay more for less, that the audience will leave, and might not come back.

    I mean, at least in the 90’s you got a trading card or shiny cover when they jacked the price…

    “And if your friend says, “Hey, for the 50th time, I want nothing to do with that company,” the rational response is to stop bugging him about that company.”

    Isn’t it amazing that nearly all of Alan Moore’s major collaborators are soulless sell-outs or back-stabbers.

    Maybe it’s all true, exactly like he says, but when someone starts telling stories where everyone is a bastard except for them – and they smoke a lot of pot – I tend to want someone else’s point of view on the matter before taking it as gospel.

  38. “Isn’t it amazing that nearly all of Alan Moore’s major collaborators are soulless sell-outs or back-stabbers.”

    Nice strawman argument there, but Moore hasn’t said that, and neither have I.

  39. “Nice strawman argument there, but Moore hasn’t said that, and neither have I.”

    What Strawman?

    Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Steve Bissette – he won’t talk to any of them for their transgressions against him.
    And they are just the one’s I know about.
    Ask them, they aren’t terribly sure what they did to get there – heck, go read Steve Bissette’s account of ‘1963’ and their attempts to get it collected.

    Could be everyone’s horrible except for Alan, but those are some massive allegations against DC, they don’t really fit anything else we’ve heard of the people there doing… and throughout it all, he’s been nothing but a saint.
    I just don’t think people should be up in arms just on his say so – maybe he shouldn’t be written off as a crazy man, but on the other hand, his entire argument against people in that interview make him sound like someone convinced everyone except him has ulterior motives.

  40. No, you said they’re “soulless sell-outs or back-stabbers.” Who’s said that? Who are you quoting?

    “his entire argument against people in that interview make him sound like someone convinced everyone except him has ulterior motives.”

    That’s not how I read it, or how Brian read it, or how Tom read it, so speak for yourself.

    I read from it that a good friend and collaborator bothered him on behalf of a company he’s made it clear for the last decade or two he wants nothing to do with. Business can easily come between a friendship, or at least permanently taint it. You’ve never experienced this? If not, I envy your choice of career.

  41. Great article.
    At the same time several weeks I read complainings about that the week is light in terms of comics released from you.

  42. This is a pretty fascinating article. I’ve been wondering myself how sustainable the strategy of releasing multiple books without focus is. Like you said, I can understand wanting to release more Thor product to have more TPBs available for the movie, but at $4/issue and with the content not really “mattering” in the shared universe, is it going to sell? And if it doesn’t, and retailers like you start cherry picking which books to stock the shelves with for whatever reason, I dunno, will the industry be sustainable? Will there be a crash?

  43. Stuart:

    “If this is a dying industry, show me a healthy one.”

    I don’t *think* I was saying this is a “dying” industry, but rather that we’re engaging in tactics that simply aren’t sustainable, and appear to me to be chasing away a number of customers.

    “And, more to the point of your article: Someone is buying these books.”

    Consumers, though?

    I just think when you start getting into less-than-5-per-store-on-average kind of numbers, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that those sub-15k books aren’t profitable for nearly anyone — many retailers order “by eyeballs”, rather than with cycle sheets or POS, so the numbers may be more inflated than the sales charts strictly indicate.

    We need, I feel, more 100k+ books not more 15k-, to be a healthy and thriving market. Crashes tend to have their root causes from the bottom (cf: “Death of a thousand paper cuts”)

    I’d also like to note that until the crash actually HAPPENED the last two times (that I have personal knowledge of, at least), the sales charts, as I recall, seemed to indicate that those strategies (“adj. adj. adj. noun” B&W books; and foil covers and polybags) were “selling” as well.

    Then, “overnight”, they weren’t any longer.

    Tom Spurgeon:

    “although he comes dangerously close to implying several times that the current system is awesome in part because of the way it manipulates readers into making purchases past their better judgment.”

    I don’t really think I implied that; though I accept you may have inferred it…

    -B

  44. “We need, I feel, more 100k+ books not more 15k-, to be a healthy and thriving market.”

    On a basic level, the comic industry is too full of people who don’t understand the difference between a 100k+ book and a 15k- one. They don’t have the slightest clue why (to use a TV comparison) a show like THE CLOSER gets a much bigger audience than a show like MAD MEN.

    Mike

  45. I thought of the consumers-vs.-retailers argument — i.e., are all these books being left in stores? — but I have to believe retailers are smart enough to cut orders on books that continue not to sell. That’s why I found John Jackson Miller’s year-to-date sales comparison the most interesting part of his piece. You can’t tell anything from a single month’s sales…too many variables.

    I guess it all just seems like smoke & panic to me…there MIGHT be a crash coming, this is a danger sign, the content doesn’t appeal to older readers anymore…and I hear that sort of thing all the time, every year. So do you. People drift out of comics all the time and blame it on the impending collapse of the industry! I realize you’re trying to quantify it better than that, but I’m just not convinced.

    And you know as well as I: The conditions in the early ’90s were very, very different. Books were “selling” in the millions to “retailers” who didn’t even have walls, and to speculators who were trying to violate the laws of scarcity vs. value. I just don’t see the comparison with this situation.

  46. Stuart:

    There’s two ways to look at the previous crashes: in the micro and in the macro.

    Yes, in the macro, there were a lot of “retailers”-who-weren’t, and so on, but in the micro I personally know that we shifted from “we can sell any ‘adj adj adj noun’ comic to actual readers @10 copies” (or whatever) to that being 5 copies the next month, to that being 3 copies the month after that, to it being none, in an incredibly small time frame. Same thing with the speculator-bait — the CUSTOMERS were with it, then, “overnight” they weren’t.

    Sharp, sudden losses of not-retailers certainly hurt certain publishers and distributors, but, to me, the real long-term damage was to the individual retailers who weren’t able to adjust fast enough, hard enough, and that was from a sharp hard throttling of CONSUMER demand.

    “but I have to believe retailers are smart enough to cut orders on books that continue not to sell.”

    I’d like to believe that, as well, but I’m not at all convinced that history shows that is true. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but we’ve been told a few times that retailers who, say, utilize FOC is some preposterously low number. Overall, I believe that the number of retailers who use cycle-sheets versus mark-one eyeballs to be pretty low.

    -B

  47. “And you know as well as I: The conditions in the early ’90s were very, very different.”

    How about the conditions of the late 80s? That’s a time when UNCANNY X-MEN was selling 400,000 copies a month, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 250,000, books like THOR and IRON MAN were regularly at 150,000 and even something like DAZZLER or ROM could nab 80,000+ sales.

    Mike

  48. Well, Mike, Marvel was only publishing, what, 25-30 titles total back then? Now they’re well over 100/month — OF COURSE the sales are going to be lower by 2/3 or more…

    -B

  49. This is some awesomely educational stuff here to be sure and I am enjoyably way out of my league.

    But…there seems to be a recurring theme/inference cropping up here and there that the lack of appeal of mainstream output to older readers is a concern deserving of emphasis. In truth, I myself am aged and I still read some DC/Marvel comics but I am totally fine with the fact that more and more they seem less and less aimed at me. For the most part they shouldn’t be and that’s healthy.

    I think, and please all of you do feel free to correct me, that the dastardly “40-year old fan” is a red herring. That the mainstream output is failing to satisfy/attract its intended (youthful)audience seems to be the more pressing issue. If they are actually aiming these things at “40 year olds”…well, I just don’t know…uh, more Gil Kane reprints would be good.

    These products just don’t seem to be aimed at anybody really. It’s just a blunderbuss approach when in 2010 A.D. they should be able to laser sight this stuff straight down the collective eye sockets of the biggest audience possible.

    There’s just not enough thinking going on in these companies. Heck, innovation, even. It just seems like flailing around and wishing really hard which even an old man can see isn’t an effective strategy. Unless you put the prices up but what do you follow that up with…? Shorter but more frequent events! We’re all saved!

  50. “Well, Mike, Marvel was only publishing, what, 25-30 titles total back then? Now they’re well over 100/month — OF COURSE the sales are going to be lower by 2/3 or more…”

    I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but I’m pretty sure that Marvel was publishing well over 25 to 30 titles per month in 1989.

    Mike

  51. Okay, I don’t have access to my comics but I just checked marvel.wikia.com. It looks like Marvel was publishing about 50 books a month in 1989, including graphic novels, sub-imprints and whatnot.

    Mike

  52. It certainly is a daunting time for retailers, with all these titles and our customers only able to support a fraction of them. I myself look at the titles that actively move here and the odd ones that are good enough in quality to push. That gives the big two about 40-50 per month, and the rest are racked by interest/quality. A lot of times, we’ll follow something like Shadowland for a bit, then gradually decreasing the amount of titles till we get the ones that we actually turn over. It takes a lot of inventory monitoring, a lot of reading comics & criticism on the net to find new stuff that we may have missed, but there’s a lot of books Marvel & DC publish that I just won’t try out anymore. The $3.99 price point hasn’t really hurt books that deliver the goods, but the economy is probably the biggest reason for the decrease in sales. Many are unemployed and underemployed, and the rest are very, very selective on what their discretionary dollars are spent on.

  53. “No, you said they’re “soulless sell-outs or back-stabbers.” Who’s said that? Who are you quoting?”

    That’s what Moore says.
    Not those words, but that’s the impression he’s giving.

    “That’s not how I read it, or how Brian read it, or how Tom read it, so speak for yourself.”

    I am speaking for myself.
    You, Brian and Tom can read it however you want – he sounds like a paranoid convinced the world is against him and everyone is horrible except for him.
    Why do I think he sounds that way?
    Because he sounds like people I’ve met who go on like that.

    (Please, don’t keep exaggerating, claiming I’m putting up Strawmen, or speaking for anyone other than myself. It’s silly).

    “I read from it that a good friend and collaborator bothered him on behalf of a company he’s made it clear for the last decade or two he wants nothing to do with. Business can easily come between a friendship, or at least permanently taint it. You’ve never experienced this? If not, I envy your choice of career.”

    So Dave Gibbons is an agent of DC, not just a guy trying to make a buck for himself (which I see nothing wrong with), David Lloyd can’t be spoken to because he didn’t ring Alan thanking him for money – I can’t believe he told Gibbons he had to on the day he got it – and what did Steve Bisette do again?
    He gave an interview.

    Alan’s a great writer – a genius of the medium, no question – but that interview reads like a stoned persons rant.

    He’s hooked on DC saying he’d be ‘quietly complacent’, convinced – with no evidence he mentions – that DC tried to leverage his friends dying brother against him – well, they did it through Warner Books, but it was SO DC punishing, not just Warner books canceling the novelization – that they inexplicably offered him back the rights to Watchmen in exchange for more Watchmen, then tried to buy it from him, that Watchmen is a bigger and safer franchise than Batman, that there’s no talent in American comics… even a late royalty cheque is seen as the sign of evil machinations – not just that there was a screw up in accounting (which if you’ve had any kind of career, you’d know happens).

    Sorry, but that sounds to me, like a Stoner whose upset – probably justifiably – but is now seeing evil patterns all around them.

  54. Let’s take the side argument about Alan Moore somewhere else, please.

    (Edited, after the deletions: Because I say so, Michael)

    -B

  55. “These products just don’t seem to be aimed at anybody really.”

    Indeed. Something like Shadowland seems to be marketed as, “If you like Daredevil, if you liked Marvel Knights from 10 years ago, if you liked that 1994 Daredevil crossover, you might like this.” But that just raises more questions.

    Who reads Daredevil and why do they like it?

    Who liked Marvel Knights from 10 years ago or that 1994 Daredevil crossover and are they still reading comics today?

    And more broadly, who are the current batch of comic book readers?

    Why do they read comics?

    What do they have in common that other potential comics readers might have?

    The question isn’t why people should like comics, but why do current readers like comics, and why isn’t their interest broader throughout the English-speaking world? (I know that people read comics, and American comics, everywhere, but since the main publishers of American comics are English-speaking Americans, their main target audience is English-speaking Americans).

  56. I’m surprised the August numbers haven’t led to more comments.

  57. Me too!

    -B

  58. I don’t know if I am falling into some trap my failure to correctly read the tone of the written word has led me to spring but…

    The August numbers will probably be dismissed as the result of no Big Ticket Titles shipping that month. Or naughty pixies.But certainly not Greed Fatigue (it’s like Event Fatigue but about prices…oh, you got that did you, Marvel.)

    I’m trying to process what these August figures are telling me, as I am not economically minded, but, to risk stating the obvious, it seems like copies sold were down (which would be expected given price rises) but more importantly dollars sales were down (which suggests less money is being spent on comics rather than the same money on less comics). I don’t know, I’m not going to be the first to start running for the exits but it should spark some lively discussion. Maybe.

  59. “As I see it, Marvel and DC have abrogated their role as gardeners, so maybe it becomes up to the individual store owner to cut that kudzu.”

    Well I’m sorry but it is and has always been your job and the job of any shop owners.
    What shop owner expect his providers to tell him what he should sell?
    Why most comicshops look like a Marvel/DC warehouse?

  60. All I can do is speak from personal experience, and all I can provide is anecdotal evidence from someone who has been a rabid comic book lover since I was a kid in the 1960’s. Last year, I used to religiously visit my local comic shop every Wednesday. I would buy anywhere from 7-10 comic books a week.

    Within the past year I have made one trip a month to my LCS and am lucky to buy a total of 5 comic books a month.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have lost faith. God is dead.

  61. JM Ringuet:

    “What shop owner expect his providers to tell him what he should sell?”

    I think you have a misunderstanding of how the market work. The forces that make a DM retailer wish to stock a full line have, for the entire history of the DM, have been driven by the CONSUMER, not the publishers.

    Think of it this way: if you walk into a video store you have a reasonable expectation, that you’ll be able to rent, say, any film released by Miramax. Same thing here.

    What I’m specifically considering is no longer racking certain books that have SOME sales, in order to reduce clutter.

    And, actually, I started pulling that trigger this week. I usually sell 1-2 rack copies of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL (on like 3 subs, off the top of my head) — well, I cut that one back to subs-only on this week’s FOC. 2-3 other books like it too. I could have cut (as I recall) another 5 more, but I think I’m going for a slower phase in, and see what happens.

    “Why most comicshops look like a Marvel/DC warehouse?”

    I suppose you’d have to ask them. Mine doesn’t.

    -B

  62. Hmm I get your point but I can’t relate to it.

    I would never walk into a video store and expect to be able to rent any film from Miramax. I know Miramax (which is not the case with most movie viewers I would think), but there are a lot of Miramax movies I don’t know about and wouldn’t be interested in.
    When I walk in the video store I expect to find cool movies that interest me, probably all the latest releases of course, well known classics, movies with directors and actors I recognized and probably a handful of movies I have never heard about but I want to check out.

    Seriously I don’t think there is anybody out there who would expect or want to find all the Miramax releases in a video store. That’s not the way video store customers think.

    And that’s my point really: it seems that comic shop managers think mainly about publishers (DC/M) and characters when they buy their stock, and that seems to be very specific to the comic business. I don’t think video store owners, bookstore owners, or any other store owners think in that way.
    To me there is an incredible psychological dependency between comicshops and the big 2.
    And I don’t think the big 2 will be always faithful to their cheerleaders.

    And of course I could be wrong.

  63. I get what you’re getting at, Brian, but your analogy isn’t that strong because comics doesn’t work like other media in that who ONLY watches Universal movies, buys Random House books or purchases Kill Rock Star albums the way some comics customers only buy DC or Marvel.

    And while I definitely understand your desire to reduce clutter, pulling a book that still sales off the racks seems like it could be cutting your nose off to spite your face. I mean, what if the two persons who buy BATMAN CON off the rack start going elsewhere because they can never find it at your store, taking their other purchases with them? Yes, the person could become a sub but when I worked at a comic shop I knew two regulars who didn’t want to becomes subs simply because they liked getting the comics off the racks.

  64. You have to admit, Brian, these fantasy customers are a lot more fickle than your real ones.

  65. I’m kind of amazed that you order rack copies of everything. I would think that it would be part of the retailers job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    There is absolutely no reason to have fifteen (or whatever) Thor books out per month, so you should absolutely pick the best of the bunch and push those. By all means let people special order whatever they want, but don’t clutter up the shelves with a bunch of crap!

  66. @Ralf Haring: that’s right! I think what customers should get from a comicshop is guidance rather than unlimited choice in only 2 flavors.

  67. JM:

    “Seriously I don’t think there is anybody out there who would expect or want to find all the Miramax releases in a video store. That’s not the way video store customers think. ”

    The point isn’t “Miramax” — think of it more broadly. The comparison I’m trying to make is “professional well known studio” as opposed to, dunno, “fly by night unknown one”

    I’ve not carried 100% of Marvel or DC’s output for nigh on half a decade, FWIW.

    ****

    DanielT:

    “And while I definitely understand your desire to reduce clutter, pulling a book that still sales off the racks seems like it could be cutting your nose off to spite your face. I mean, what if the two persons who buy BATMAN CON off the rack start going elsewhere because they can never find it at your store, taking their other purchases with them?”

    It is, certainly, a theoretical risk, but one, I think, that has less of a downside than, y’know, the majority of my customers being able to find the comics they actually are interested in. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or something…

    ******

    Tom Spurgeon:

    You win the discussion. You can pick up your trophy at Kurt Busiek’s house…

    -B

  68. Brian, now that I’ve thought about it some I think you’re doing the right thing. It would be one thing if Marvel and DC were putting out 200 masterpieces of art each month (or even just fun, readable comics). But since they’re only interested in pushing product right now it is time to fight back against them.

  69. On a different but related note, have you ever thought having ComicsPRO set up a section on their website where retailers could report sell-through of titles on a monthly basis? I think that would give us all a somewhat better picture of how the market sits if enough shops would participate.

  70. It is pretty expensive to do it in a way that satisfies anti-trust considerations — that is to say, ComicsPRO is still primarily volunteer-run, data collection is a big time-sink, and one member can NOT have direct access to any other member’s data, necessitating outside companies.

    It’s really something that will probably need to come from Diamond. Interestingly enough, the DID have a year-ish long run of collecting sell-0through in the 80s, but they stopped, I think, because it was SO labor-intensive (largely pre-computer, you understand), and because the resulting reports ended up getting terribly depressing (lots of stuff with 60%- sell-through… it was right in the middle of the first crash, as I recall — John Jackson Miller might remember more specific details…)

    -B

  71. […] a company’s output than a handful of titles. There’s almost an encounter group in the followup comments, as others share their similar […]

Leave a Reply


nine − = 8