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Over/Under: The “Death of the DM”

Brian Hibbs

Every day, in thread after thread after thread I see people declaring the DM is “dying”, that “print is done” and so on and so forth.

Now I, for one, don’t think PRINT will every fully cease, ever, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the “Direct Market” might one day be done.

So, let’s have your prediction of the date that… hm, how to define it? The week that Diamond ships it’s last weekly comics shipment that includes periodical “floppy” (*shudder*) comic books from at least five distinct publishers, maybe?

You’re so sure of yourselves, here, try to pin a date on it: “winner” gets bragging rights.

If your date comes and goes, however, you have to promise to shut up on the topic forever afterwards, OK (because I remember people saying in 1985 that there was no chance comics had more than 10 years left in them…)

So: your prediction?



35 Responses to “ Over/Under: The “Death of the DM” ”

  1. June 27th, 2039.

  2. I’ll go with the week of February 14, 2032.

    And if it doesn’t happen, well, I’ll be 71. Good luck getting me to shut up about anything I feel like rattling on about.

  3. One of the major companies makes a movie that flops so hard (like they let someone direct a Fourth World movie or a Kree Skrull movie) and for so much money that either marvel or dc is sold off to its competitor to pay for it and/or to cover the shame, and either marvel or dc then overloads the market with crossover material which works for three months then the DM collapses, both companies go IP and reprint only forever. I mean if I’m daydreaming, that’s the ideal situation. And for art comix maybe we’ll have a world war or zombie apocalypse or something and journal comics will actually have stuff happening for once.

  4. Waaay ahead of you, Hibbs:


  5. 2025.

    (Other predicted and scheduled events for 2025 …

    January 1 – The character of Popeye, though not necessarily the media based on him, will enter the public domain in the United States.

    March 31 – Yolanda Saldívar will be eligible for parole after the 30th anniversary of the murder of American singer Selena, which Saldivar committed in 1995.

    Deep underground cities in Japan, new forms of plants and animals from genetic engineering, an artificial liver, and the extension of the human life span to over 100 are all predicted for 2025.

    Possible Chinese manned mission to the Moon.)

  6. Marc’s post reminded me, once again, that it’s high time a certain talkative comics creator was made to… answer for a few things. Maybe, say, drag him on stage at San Diego and allow everyone to pelt him with dodgeballs. I’d like that, and I suspect, so would many of his fellow professionals.

  7. Since late last year/early this year the music industry analysts have been pegging 2012 as the first year that digital music sales exceed physical music sales. So, roughly ten years since the iTunes store first launched.

    So I think that’s a reasonable guesstimate. One decade before digital sales are larger than sales to stores through the Direct Market for the big two.

    But I give it half that before typical independent creators and series no longer even aim for the direct market, having bypassed it completely. The DM will be a distribution channel for the legacy properties. Anything new will have more in common with the recent Womanthology project on kickstarter than anything currently offered in Previews.

  8. An enticing possibility would be the weak of February 21, 1932. If it doesn’t end then, I’d have a week to try to get Kurt to shut up (not because I don’t like hearing his rants but more for the immense challenge that it is), and I’d have a better chance at it because I’m 5 years older.

    But if it doesn’t end by sundown today, tomorrow morning would be just fine.

  9. Isn’t it dead already? I mean how “direct” is a market which exists only in large cities for the most part? I’d like to see a map of the US with all the comics shops indicated by red dots.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if there are States with as few as one or two comics shops.
    I used to go to a comics shop every week. It closed, the next closest one is really far away, and I wouldn’t even consider going that far to buy comics. I made the effort to get there once, and they didn’t even have basic things I had been buying for my kids like THE SIMPSONS comic books.

  10. The death of the DM is like predicting when “The Big One” will hit California. Everything is in place of it to happen but no one knows when.


  11. in exactly 4 hours.

  12. When people speak about the impending doom of the DM, I think it’s more important to listen to the why of what they’re saying. Some people just really want 99 cent comics no matter how they can get them. Others are not being served by the current infrastructure. I think that’s important because it would be counter intuitive for people to cheer the demise of something that serves them.

    I think the more interesting question is when will print newspapers be gone. Compared to the newspaper industry, comic DM stores are in the shape of Ironman triathlon winners.

    In 1998, no one could have foreseen record stores going extinct, whether it was CDs or vinyl. And yes, while you can still find vinyl if you look *really* hard, Record Time in Detroit closed last year. (Record Time was *the* vinyl store.) It will happen, but who knows when.

  13. I haven’t touched a 20-sided die in years but on seeing that headline, I was like, No!, role-playing games will never die!

  14. Not giving a specific date here, but the point where the DM shrinks to an extent that the major publishers can no longer turn a sufficient profit solely through the revenue that it generates? Within three years after one of the Big Two does another price increase and/or page count drop, so that a significant chunk of their line offers an even worse value proposition than Marvel’s current five story pages per dollar.

    The point where monthly comics cease publication altogether? Give it an additional ten years.

  15. Ryan H:

    “One decade before digital sales are larger than sales to stores through the Direct Market for the big two.”

    Respectfully, I don’t know that this is AT ALL the same thing as the “death of the DM/print” — that actually sounds resoundingly more like “the best case scenario”? Hell, that could include print GROWING from where it is now!

    Patrick Ford:

    “Isn’t it dead already?”

    If you want to call a $400+ million annual business (with, conservatively, another $200m in bookstore sales) already “dead”, then be my guest.

    *I* think that’s fairly ridiculous, however.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are States with as few as one or two comics shops.”

    Go to http://www.the-master-list.com/ and look.


  16. Barry:

    That’s what people said when comics went to $1 from 75 cents.

    Fuck, I bet people were saying that when they went from a dime to twelve cents, but I wasn’t around for that….


  17. “One decade before digital sales are larger than sales to stores through the Direct Market for the big two.”

    Respectfully, I don’t know that this is AT ALL the same thing as the “death of the DM/print” — that actually sounds resoundingly more like “the best case scenario”? Hell, that could include print GROWING from where it is now!

    I agree that this is a best case. And is probably the only way that the market as a whole can grow. But can this ever happen if any growth in digital is met with hostility from the Direct Market or through digital delivery carefully designed not to offer an equivalent experience? I doubt it.

    Instead the DM presents a choice of either/or. So when that 50% sales ratio is reached I suspect it will not be 50% of each title sold through each distribution method. Instead it will be 50% of the market being newer and growing titles sold mainly through digital with the remainder being legacy titles though the DM.

  18. The week of December 21, 2012. Because the Mayans said so.

  19. Physical media is dying.

    As someone who loves comics and books and CDs and DVDs and blu-rays, I always hated it when someone smugly insinuated that my beloved things were no longer going to be available.

    But I see it happening all around me. Last year, my city had two Borders stores and two Barnes & Noble stores. By that year’s end, there was only a single Barnes & Noble store left. And a sizable chunk of its floor space was now devoted to selling Nooks.

    The music stores and book shops in the malls all shut down years ago and they haven’t returend. The Circuit City and Ultimate Electronics chains went the way of Borders. And the CD/DVD/blu-ray sections of the stores that still carry such things are shrinking. At Best Buy, the section that sells DVDs, blu-rays, and CDs is now smaller than CD section was ten years ago. Target and Wal-Mart barely stock CDs these days, and their DVD sections are shrinking as well.

    One day, we’re all going to wake up to the news that Diamond is stopping shipments and shutting down, or that someone at Disney or Warners has decided to shut down Marvel or DC. And that will be that. It might next month, or it might be ten years from now.

    The industry has been fighting a war of attrition for years now as shops close their doors and aren’t replaced by new stores. Old readers leave at a rate faster than they are replaced by new readers. Cover prices keep increasing and print runs plummet. And the costs to operate shops keep increasing as the customer base finds its disposable income shrinking and being spread out among other interests.

    At some point, it’s just going to collapse. Don’t know how. Don’t know when. But I don’t believe the trend can continue forever.

  20. @Brian – In early 2005, an issue of New Avengers cost $2.25. Only seven years later, the same series has a cover price over 75% higher, in a period in which the inflation rate was only 17%.*

    Is price the only factor in the shrinking of the market since then? Of course not, but I find it hard to believe that it isn’t a major one, just as I would for any consumer product that increased prices to a degree similarly exceeding inflation and also saw its market shrink. So yes, I fully anticipate that the next major blow dealt by either Marvel or DC (more likely the former) to the value proposition of the average floppy comic will accelerate the downward trend, to a degree that many LCBSes will not survive.

    No, it’s not a new development for comics’ cover prices to increase at a rate above that the CPI measures – a 50-cent comic in 1981 would be 75 cents in 1991 dollars, but the actual 1991 cover price would be $1. But the broader problem is that the industry has never really found an equilibrium at which its pricing can keep pace with inflation, and that the rate at which price increases are exceeding inflation actually seems to be itself increasing. With more and more entertainment options competing for consumers’ time and dollars, I simply don’t buy that there isn’t a breaking point coming in the not-too-distant future.

  21. Pacer:

    “It might next month, or it might be ten years from now.”


    For the purposes of this thread, pick a date, or stay out.


    “The industry has been fighting a war of attrition for years now as shops close their doors and aren’t replaced by new stores.”

    That’s also a “No”. Diamond assure us that the actual churn of stores is statistically flat. Further, I can say that my individual store just had the best first quarter IN TWENTY THREE YEARS.

    Borders went out of business because it had a shitty and fucked up business model; ditto for Circuit City.

    Nothing is inevitable.


  22. Barry, Marvel’s $4cover prices are PURELY a function of GREED, not because that’s what they “need” to be to keep up with production costs/shrinking print runs.

    17% increase on $2.25 would be $2.63… but we, as an industry moved to $2.99 because that’s the next “good” price point” above $2.50.

    (Consumers don’t like “odd” price points, like $2.75)


  23. @Brian: I don’t dispute that greed was the primary impetus for that particular price increase, but that isn’t that relevant to my prediction – regardless of whether greed or necessity is the primary motivator, one or both of the major publishers will significantly reduce the story-pages-per-dollar ratio in the near future, and that will have severe consequences for the viability of the direct market as a whole.

  24. 10,000 years from now when the Green Orb hits and spews forth its Green Eruption from the mountain’s peak.

    I mean, if you’re willing to entertain the idea that the DM will end some day…and isn’t there something to addressing the current woes of the DM?…then I don’t see the need to engage in some ridiculous wager that tries to ensure shutting down the conversation. Not talking about it just leaves you with the Boiling Frog option.

    …And that’s just dumb. There’s some real rotten shit in Denmark with the DM. I get wanting to shut try and shut up alarmists but there’s alarmists for a reason, no?

  25. Tim NAILS it. Brian, this is downright childish.

  26. “and isn’t there something to addressing the current woes of the DM?”

    I really really want to roll my eyes and point out that nearly the entire point of my career for the last 23 (!!) years has been addressing the mother-fucking woes of the Direct Market?


    “but there’s alarmists for a reason, no?”

    Like Chris Hero observed, some people just don’t want to pay more than 99 cents for their comics, or think that superheroes suck, or just don’t live in a town big enough to support a specialty store (be it comics, or whatever), some people are just mean-spirited bitches, and some just don’t get How Things Actually Work….

    (Like… “hey digital music, w00t!” when global music sales are now down for the… eighth, is it? year in a row? Yay?)

    So if Chicken Littles like, say, Pacer above, or 60% of Mark Waid’s forum! want to try and panic and say “print is dead!”, then shouldn’t we actually try to pin down the when and what that actually means?

    Like I said, I’ve been hearing this shit for TWENTY-THREE years now (actually more, since I was selling comics for 5 years before I opened my OWN store), and it is really really starting to wear a little fucking thin.

    (Not that I need to defend myself to someone who refuses to even put a damn email address that no one but I can see on his post, honestly, but, really, what the fuck do I do all of this for if not to try and make this little market better, then?)



  27. I get it man. No offense meant. I’m not following the whole Mark Waid forum thing and I definitely don’t have to deal with as much of this stuff as you.

    I got the utmost respect for you Mr. Hibbs. Sometimes a guy’s just got to get some stuff off his chest.

    Sorry bout the email thing, I just don’t give it out to anybody I don’t know. at. all.

  28. I meant that I get you gotta get stuff off your chest. Not me. I didn’t really have to weigh in, I was just wonderin’ s’all.

  29. “I think the more interesting question is when will print newspapers be gone. Compared to the newspaper industry, comic DM stores are in the shape of Ironman triathlon winners.”

    Seriously? I can buy a print newspaper at any of a dozen places within a ten minute walking distance of my house. There are no longer any comic book shops in my city. Yeah, newspapers are dying, and have been for a while. So are comic book shops. So are bookstores, and record stores. Hell, this was the case before the economy crashed in 2008. To maintain that the comic book industry will survive in its current business model, relying on monthly pamphlets sold mainly in specialty shops, is simply to deny hard economic reality.

  30. (Like… “hey digital music, w00t!” when global music sales are now down for the… eighth, is it? year in a row? Yay?)

    Eighth consecutive year, but that’s due to a small blip year. Depending on how you adjust for inflation and what numbers you measure, music industry revenues peaked in either the late 70s or the late 90s.

    Sales of vinyl and cassettes were way down by the late 80s/early 90s when there was a big boom from the introduction of CDs. but sales were already trending steeply downwards by the early 2000s. Before digital downloads, legal or otherwise, could have had any real impact.

    The “our sales are down from a high of X” number that gets quoted is almost always the peak number from the 90s boom, but tying any decline from that number to digital is a tough sell. In fact some studies from the last couple years show that music pirates tend to also spend more than average on both physical and digital music.

  31. Yeah, my apologies, Tim… you didn’t even really push my trigger as much as Bob there cheerin’ ya’ on.


  32. No BS, I quit going to the comic book shop the day I rooted my nook. I used to go four to eight times a year and drop a couple hundred bucks on trades at a wop. I got too much access now, I don’t have to wait til I get time to go to the store.

    And listen, I been going to comic shops my whole life. I am a comic fan, always will be. But the shops where I live? Rough, man. Makes the old lady uncomfortable, you know? Hustle the black kids right the fuck out the door. And sure, I bet they have their reasons. But I personally just don’t feel the urge to support toy stores anymore, especially these.

    I think I seen that hibbs resists or has resisted doing the toy thing. Sounds like a store i’d like to see. I went back to the one I lived in during junior high,and they had maybe 15 trades and then toys. It is named “The comic grapevine”, but no comics. If it’s still in business.

    I haven’t done the math, don’t know the numbers, am not trying to start any shit. But if the issues were 1.50 or two dollars, well, then I could take my son and feel like he wasn’t wasting his allowance. I hear that is unfeasible, and sure, I’ll buy that. But as it stands? I take the boy to the library.

    But yeah, my prediction is never. There will be stores, carrying pamphlets, forever. I doubt we call them comic shops, but yeah, forever.

    I figure one straight-up comic shop for every 200,000 people can be a viable business model for decades to come. More than that, and somebody is gonna be borrowing from the in-laws, sooner rather than later.

    Anyone who disagrees with the hard science I used to generate the above is hereby challenged to a duel. Meet me and my new liver in the underground Japanese city at dusk/dawn in 2025. We can fight while Waid hucks dodgeballs at us from San Diego.

    Fregado rules. Super Young Team will never stop being funny. Prophet is back on the shelf. Comicz iz good.

  33. “Rooting a nook” sounds durty.


  34. “Okay, kids, I know grampa is sick and could pass away any minute, so let’s make a bet about when that’s gonna be, and if you’re wrong, you better shut up because grampa’s just fine, really.”

  35. You’re on the front lines and a critical voice for promoting a healthier comics medium, Brian. Everything you say about failing sales rings true. My comment on DM has nothing to do with believing printed comics are dying. They’re not. People saying the print medium is on its way out have little sense of history or cultural evolution.

    Printed comics will survive DC and Marvel’s iron fist to limit growth of sales in order to keep getting raw content for the cheapest price – with as little IP rights contention as possible. That’s the magic formula that allows them to reap enormous profits from other venues, while virtually raping the creators who come up with the invaluable properties and stories they peddle elsewhere.

    The Direct Market has been suffocating the medium for nearly 3 decades. The fact that it’s been shaped, and rigidly controlled by DC and Marvel, tells that they’re happy with the way things are. Which means they’re not interested in a growing print market. Early indications are that they’re likewise suffocating potential growth of the digital format.

    It’s the big two’s stranglehold on the industry that needs to die. A major re-think and overhaul of the DM is needed to raise it out of its perpetually dying stagnation.

    Fandom isn’t helping much, not anywhere near as much as it can. Neither are comics news sites, though some of them try. Comics creators, who suffer the inequities most, are the most guilty because we haven’t stood up in opposition to policies that have choked the industry we work in – and trampled the role creators play in the success of its byproducts.

    The only thing that’s ever swayed DC and Marvel to reconsider policy has been bad PR. The road to ending this abuse goes through creators, fandom and the comics press. We are the ones who can raise a staunch public outcry against industry leaders – and bring dormant public opinion out into the open.

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