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Some small notes RE: DC (& Digital) from this year’s ComicsPRO meeting

Brian Hibbs

I’m just back from Dallas and the 2012 ComicsPRO meeting. I forgot that the laptop didn’t have any of the log-in info for the Savage Critic site, and I forgot to write it all down, so, gr to that!

I have an entire Tilting column that I’m going to write which is sort of kind of “about” the meeting (but not really, since that won’t be for three more weeks, and then we’re talking about the past, which no one ever likes!), but I don’t think I’ll have any room there for any of this stuff.

I wrote these all down on scraps of paper, but I did ask that I can report them… but I might have made a transcription error somewhere here. If so, I trust someone from DC will send me an email!

• DC’s John Rood, on digital: “We were surprised to find out that the conversation we’re having about digital is about aiding physical (format) growth, NOT managing physical decline; this is utterly different than any other media’s results” (Actually, that clause after the semi-colon might be my own thought, and not a quote, I can’t quite tell from how I wrote it down. A reporter I am not!)

This is important stuff, and I think it changes the conversation completely.

 

• The redemption rate on the combo pack for the digital codes in JUSTICE LEAGUE? It was just 20% on issue #1, and it has dropped to just 10% (on #4 or #5, I don’t think was 100% clear) — it appears that DM consumers bought those AS COLLECTIBLE VARIANT COVERS, rather than because they wanted a digital copy!!!

I also have a note here that there were 15k combo packs for #1, and it’s down to 5k now (so, actually, those might be semi-legitimately rare covers)

 

• The single best sales day for day-and-date DC digital comics has been and continues to be the first Wednesday of release; when the price drops by a dollar there’s a teeny spike in velocity  — evidently it is the 10th best sales day (Is that “on average” or for a specific title? I don’t think that was clarified) — but not any kind of a huge surge; this would seem to indicate that digital buyers are just fine paying the full print price, so that they can be “part of the conversation” at initial release.

I, for one, think that IF the “99 cents!” crowd were even CLOSE to correct, that $1.99 day would be the strongest day of release. It isn’t. It’s #10. You get what your behavior indicates.

“New” comics will never been 99 cents on an ongoing basis, ever, if you ask me — it would just be leaving money on the table; and it means you can never do anything to stimulate sales by putting material ON SALE!

 

• It was indicated that New 52 digital books were remarkably consistent and in parity with their print brethren — drops in sales of print were mirrored in similar proportions in digital. They gave us an average percentage-of-print for digital, but I lost the piece of paper I wrote that on (I told you I suck!), so I can’t remember if it was average across the board or on a specific title, or, really what the exact number was. It was very low, however — I want to say somewhere between 10 and 15 %.

 

• DC is actually going to release the full results of the Nielsen data, generally. Next week or something — they showed us slides, and some of that has been reported anecdotally, but we were assured of a FULL release of ALL data to ALL retailers, not just ComicsPRO.

Which means everyone in the world is going to see it soon.

This is AWESOME on DC’s part; and when it happens, all you internet pundits should try really hard to NOT be assholes about the data points, and, y’know, maybe THANK THEM for sharing something very very expensive, instead of complaining about things you don’t like about it.

(I know, I know: “good luck with that”)

FURTHERMORE, DC has every plan to continue to FOLLOW UP on the surveys with more surveys — this is NOT a one-shot thing. DC flew two Nielsen employees to the ComicsPRO meeting to help gather opinions about what the next questions should include; that should indicate that they were pretty serious.

 

 

Outside of DC, most of the digital points were seconded by every other publisher in attendance

 

That’s what I have for you today; time to try and stuff my leaking brain back into my ears…

 

-B

36 Responses to “ Some small notes RE: DC (& Digital) from this year’s ComicsPRO meeting ”

  1. Three questions/comments on a couple of your points, Brian:

    1. How does Rood’s statement “change the conversation completely?” Not that I doubt it, but Rood/Wayne/DiDio, and their counterparts at Marvel, have been saying very similar things in every interview I’ve read with them on the subject. Is the “physical format growth” the difference here, and how exactly is that defined beyond the already-known New 52 sales?

    2. In light of the above, and your conviction that digital consumers aren’t price-sensitive, why, in your view (well, I assume that this is still your view – correct me if I’m wrong) shouldn’t DC experiment with pricing new digital comics at $1 off print, and see what results that produces? If the sales don’t increase enough, thus resulting in a net loss in digital revenue, they can raise it back.

    3. By some sources, that “very low” percentage of digital sales would actually be quite large in comparison to what it was – the ratio was reportedly 630 to 1 as of last year:

    http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/06/28/dc-relaunch-sampler-comics-in-july-the-dc-retailer-roadshow-in-chicago/

    I doubt that digital sales actually rose as much as 63x, but I think it’s reasonable to conclude that there is indeed considerable growth potential in digital comics. (Whether that growth potential equals or exceeds that of print comics is another debate, though I don’t make much of a secret which side I fall on there.)

    Nathan

  2. Hey dare DC being transparent with us about their sales! They obviously don’t care about longtime readers.

  3. Good questions there Nathan (er Barry?)

    1) Yes, the difference is the physical format growth — that does/has not happened in any other media category that we can think of; and it’s entirely in the context of New52.

    I think it is pretty clear that a significant reason FOR the reboot was to jump start digital, and I think that (though this is belief, not stated) the fact that PRINT is what soared, and that digital is just trailing in its wake was NOT the expected result; quite the opposite in fact. And, in any other medium, I’d think an analogous relaunch would be primarily digitally driven.

    2) We in no way want to encourage “channel creep” – where PRINT customers get tempted to drop print in favor of digital purely on the issue of saving $1.

    Frankly, I want them to test it the OTHER way — test a few books at 90 days before the price drops, and 180 days, and 365 days, and see if velocity and revenue change in any substantial way. 30 days is (from every publisher, because I brought this up individually with most) a purely “intuition-based” guess at the “sweet spot”.

    I’m willing to bet that if they WIDENED the window, revenue would go up as a greater number of $1.99 buyers would opt to become first-Wednesday buyers instead of waiting 3+ months, than would quit buying entirely.

    3) I’m willing to believe that there’s plenty of money in digital, but mostly on a Long Tail basis.

    -B

  4. Don’t worry, Comics Alliance already had a predictable op Ed about the Nieslon results

  5. Brian,

    Thanks for responding. I don’t really agree from any of DC’s words or actions regarding digital comics that that trend is contrary to their expectations or original intentions, but we’ll agree to disagree on that; I’m also still curious what the definition of “physical growth” is, since the fact that the New 52 has significantly boosted print sales over the last five months isn’t exactly news.

    Re: #2 and #3: There seems to be something of a tension, if perhaps not an outright contradiction, in your views on digital vs. print. On the one hand, you’re implying that if DC/Marvel abandoned day/date price parity, digital sales would grow very quickly through print cannibalization, to the point of destroying much of the DM business. On the other hand, you’re arguing that digital sales will never grow beyond their current status of an ancillary revenue stream for print comics, and that if price parity were abandoned, sales of cheaper day/date digital comics would never reach the point where they would make up for the loss of print revenue.

    That would be logically consistent if you were arguing that new mainstream comics, as a whole, have no growth potential and that digital vs. print is a zero-sum game with two formats competing for the same fixed-size audience, but you aren’t; you’ve already conceded that digital sales have grown significantly in the past year, and as for print, you’ve previously posted a number of anecdotal reports about getting new readers into Comix Experience.

    Considering that, I’m not really sure what the basis of your third point is – if digital sales have already grown significantly in the past year thanks in large part to linewide day/date (not to mention the increased penetration rate of tablets), what about digital makes it inherently incapable of reaching an equivalent size to the current direct market in, say, the next 4-5 years?

  6. So nobody buys digital comics… (because reading comics on a computer screen sucks)

    OK, let’s bury the idea once and for all and move on.
    THANK YOU!

  7. [...] speaking of Brian, he posted some of his notes on DC Comics from the meeting, including some digital information and the fact that they plan to release the [...]

  8. I know I’m going to be burned at the stake for this, but I sorta think DC analysis is locked in the “Wednesday” bubble. Long time comic readers know Wednesday is the big release day and they’ve been buying their print comics on Wednesdays for so long, why would they want to change? It makes sense to me a small part of that audience would be curious about trying out the digital version, but changing consumer habits is hard.

    If anything, these results tell me DC didn’t succeed in reaching out beyond their normal consumer base. Barry has a good point that the audience for digital comics has grown in a huge way. I don’t expect new readers would be anxiously awaiting price drop day the way enthusiasts wait for new comic Wednesdays. If DC was succeeding in growing their audience, and digital supported print, I would expect to see higher sales on a collection of titles and then those titles see a spike in their print sales months down the line.

    I hope that read as polite and offering insight as opposed to an attack on anyone or any points. I worked late last night and I’m on my first cup of coffee, so I apologize if that seems at all adversarial.

  9. Positive thought…it is really cool DC’s releasing the Neilson info. That’s very, very interesting stuff! YAY transparency!

  10. I do think there are the digital readers who “want to get in on the conversation” but like digital enough to pay full price to get it day and date. And the there are those who just want to read comics, and don’t mind waiting. But if there’s absolutely no urgency to read the material, why wait a month to save a buck, why not wait for a 99c sale, or until there are x number of books published, and ultimately you get into the “waiting for the trade” mentality that Brian has mentioned before where, by the time the trade comes out, the excitement about buying the book has passed and you’re on to other things. Plus there’s no danger of that issue getting sold out or the trade going out of print, it’s there.

    I, myself, had been collecting, in print, about a dozen DC titles at some point last year before the change, and saw this as the perfect point to jump off. I figured I’d pass on full price digital and pick some stuff up a month later and save a buck, but the urgency never came back, and it’s like I’m off the hook unless I read really, really good things about a collection and get hooked again. So I can understand why the month-old discount surge is not exactly performing what they’d think it would. It’ll be interesting to see if the trades and hcs of the new 52 will bring some kind of surge.

    Speaking of digital, I wonder how Viz’s Alpha experiment is coming along, in terms of subscribers, and how that will eventually impact their sales (do people just want to read this stuff, or collect it?)

  11. I’m swamped for time, so I can’t get into as nuanced debate as I would like, but yes the brief version is that I think there’s only a little of “outside growth potential” for mainstream superhero comics because of the inward-looking and serialized and inter-connected nature of most of the product.

    That’s why the “growth” appears to have mainly come from either the lapsed, or from people without a store near them (or one that refuses to sell them the goods they want)

    I think that the “they should be 99 cents for the mass market to snap them up!” argument is really a self-serving “*I* don’t want to pay more than 99 cents for them” one, rather than something with any other basis in reality.

    IF people outside of comics were going to start reading digital comics in any great numbers, they would have done it when DC restarted everything from #1 and ADVERTISED that fact. Since there does not seem to be any kind of a surge of truly new digital readers, that would suggest that there’s not likely to every be one for that particular kind of a product.

    I think that digital can double “every year” for the next 5-10, but I think it’s mostly going to do that from hoovering up all of the pennies out there for selling the back back catalog, rather than on the frontlist day-and-date material. That’s all money that publishers currently see ZERO (or near zero) of, because those are back issue sales, really….

    That is to say, I think that DC can make a shitton of money from mining their 75 year deep backlist, but that the number of people willing to digitally jump on the soap-opera front list is much smaller than the readers of that material who want to stay with print.

    ***

    The crazy thing about Laura’s little rant to Alliance was that it was arguing based on incomplete reporting of one narrow segment of the survey results. When the FULL results come out, she’s going to have to retract quite a bit of what she knee-jerked into…

    -B

  12. Thanks for the response, Brian. I know today has to be miserable for you.

    On the pricing point, I’m more of the Scott Kurtz model of we won’t know what 99 cent pricing will do if we don’t try. Maybe nothing, but I don’t feel comfortable saying we’ll gain a huge amount or readers or, conversely, lose comic shops left and right without dipping our toes in first and seeing what happens. Of course, I don’t derive my income from running a comic store, so I’m looking at it from a whole different, and much safer, angle.

    I do think it’s a bit…I dunno, incorrect?…for anyone, including DC, to say DC tried to reach non-superhero readers by pricing digital comics the same as print, adhering to the same Wednesday new release model, and saying “Looks like no one wants digital.” It seems to me no one wants to pay full price for a digital comic they could get as easily by sticking to their normal consumer habits. I realizing changing the Wednesday model would break everything…I’m just saying you can’t do the same thing with a new medium and then expect different results.

    There’s no easy answer or instant fix. I’m also not saying I had these thoughts prior to reading your piece…but reading your piece has helped me see flaws in DC’s approach rather than drawing conclusions about the results.

  13. Well said, Chris. What DC has done thus far is mostly a literal, 1:1 translation of a print business model into digital – and while that’s a step in the right direction from what they were doing before, it’s also a guaranteed recipe to ensure that digital remains an ancillary revenue stream to print, hence my “agree to disagree” comment above. (If Brian is right and DC actually expected a surge in digital sales that would quickly generate more revenue than the attendant increase in print sales, then Rood et al. are so utterly deluded as to be unqualified to be running any kind of digital business. But I digress.)

    This isn’t a perfect analogy (Brian’s criticisms of the content being offered are largely legitimate, and neither DC nor Marvel is doing enough to address them), but Brian’s line of argument here is sort of like if iTunes had launched a decade ago selling only albums and a handful of singles at CD prices, sales underwhelmed, and then he used the resulting sales figures as proof that digital wasn’t the future of the music industry.

    There’s certainly no magic bullet that will result in some vast expansion of the audience overnight, but hopefully we’ll see more experiments along the lines of DC’s weekly, digital-first 10 pgs./$0.99-a-chapter Justice League Beyond, though their utter failure to promote it doesn’t make me terribly optimistic about the near future.

  14. Brian,
    Do you know if the Wednesday of release with digital comics is the biggest due to numbers sold, or due to dollars made?

    On the comixology app, there is nothing to mark the DC books as dropping in price – you have to be aware of it, and track it yourself – whereas the first day releases are pushed on the Featured page, new release page, DC’s own page etc.
    (Of course, you just wait until they start pushing the new issue, at full price, and then you know the last issue has dropped down. A cheaper price just makes the Green Lantern books read better.)

    As for the 99c “crowds” arguments… I can get games for a dollar or two, songs etc. How is it self serving to expect that price for a single issue of a comic – an item that historically has always been on the cheap side?
    I understand why a retailer might not like it, as they compete, but they systems being sold to people (ipad/Android) are desgned, or at least are operating on, a micro-transaction model – why is it so self-serving/unrealistic for comic fans to expect comics to follow the successful commercial media?

    @Barry Convex: I hope we don’t see anymore experiments along the lines of the Justice League Beyond – it’s terrible!
    The digital book is clearly made up of pages from a print comic (or at least were drawn to be one) cut in half.
    Thus, the halfway point in the page (vertically) becomes a cliffhanger… well it should, but as the book wasn’t created to be read that way, it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell if best intentions led them wrong, or if this was an accountants idea to maximize profits they had to begrudgingly trial.
    It’s sloppy, and not worth the buck – I’m not surprised they didn’t promote it.

  15. @Ben: Which further supports the notion that DC isn’t exactly putting their full weight behind digital comics. But I maintain that that price point/page count/schedule model is ideal in theory, as long as it’s not botched in the execution.

  16. On the price point issue, folks should remember that most print comics today (not just super-hero stuff) are written and drawn for the Direct Market audience and are not really suitable for the general populace. The editorial, narrative and artistic tastes that have developed as comics devolved from a mass market item to a niche product, and the social and cultural reputation that has come with them, serve as a barrier to any “normal” reader. So even if you got the price point right, the industry really isn’t making the sort of comics that would appeal to the mainstream audience.

    Furthermore, even if you got both the price point and the content right, it might take a long, long, loooooooong time to pentrate the market and rebuild a broader, more diverse and more casual customer base. We’re talking years before you start to make genuine headway.

    Frankly, I’m not sure comics (as opposed to comic strips) are well suited to the digital format. On the other hand, I would think the proliferation of tablets and e-readers are the greatest opportunity short stories and novellas have ever had to reassume a bigger role in entertainment. I don’t think too many people are going to read Moby Dick or War and Peace on their Kindle or iPad, simply because there’s so many other things tempting their attention after the first 150 pages. On the other hand, a new Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft might offer the exact balance of brevity and sensationalism.

    Mike

  17. @Brian – based on your analysis, perhaps it makes sense for DC to sit on its digital archives for awhile, letting the digital comic audience build organically — and then sell Netflix-style all-you-can-eat subscriptions through retailers? If Apple can sell gift cards in retail aisles, why couldn’t DC allow its primary distribution channel to make some money from the back catalog?

    @Barry – If you think you should be heading up DC’s digital comics group, well then you should put your hat in the ring. ROTFL

  18. I thoroughly embrace Chris Butcher’s thoughts here:

    http://comics212.net/2012/02/13/our-digital-comics-strategy-is-an-evolutionary-dead-end/

    ****

    I find it hard to engage with Chris and Barry on this (honestly, I’ve started writing responses like 6 times now and thrown them all away) because they appear to want comics to be something that it isn’t, and is unlikely to ever become — that is to say, a robust mass market oriented product enjoyed on equal footing with film or music.

    If you need to have someone explain why such things are not only beyond unlikely, but a wonderful way to pour millions of dollars down a rathole, then I’m not certain it’s even worth discussing comics business with you in the first place.

    (See, that’s the kind of thing that made me throw out all of the other tries… I’m being far too mean, and neither gentleman really deserves my scorn!)

    @Ben Lipman asked: “Do you know if the Wednesday of release with digital comics is the biggest due to numbers sold, or due to dollars made?” and the answer to that would be “pieces” — we were clearly comparing Apples to same in the conversation.

    @Hebitudinous: DM retailers aren’t going to promote Gift Cards, they just aren’t. Maybe if you could get them into Best Buy or something… but, again, I don’t think that “All You Can Eat” really works well as a model… certainly we’ve not heard the “millionth comic read!” press release or antything from Marvel’s All You Can Eat plan, and they like to send out press releases about ANYthing!

    -B

  19. @Brian

    It’s ok. We can agree to disagree. I’m cool with it and I’d rather have your thoughts than you holding back out of concern for scorn. I understand where you’re coming from – you’re a retailer and it would be insane for you to support any business model that cuts you off at the knees. Professionally, I’m an engineer. I have no monetary stake in this, so I have that luxury when giving my opinions. ^_^

    I want to stress just because we don’t agree on everything means we have to not like each other. ^_^

    But I do think comics are already a robust mass market project as supported by your Bookscan analysis. I just think it’s unfortunate the DM is removed from that world. I no longer think it’s the fault of retailers…I think it’s unfortunate all around.

    Eventually there will be a digital comic with the success of something like Bone or Naruto, but it’s going to be a black swan – something no one could have seen coming and the current market wasn’t built to support.

  20. What I mean, Chris, is that the THOR film grossed about $450 worldwide, theatrically. If the “average” movie ticket is, dunno, $12, let’s say? then 37.5 MILLION people saw that film. Once it gets going on DVD, etc, that will certainly climb to, what, maybe 50-60 million people, in a 2-3 year span.

    DC is proud that WATCHMEN has sold 2.5 million copies over the last TWENTY years.

    The scale is just flatly different.

    -B

  21. I see what you’re saying about the scale being totally different, but I think I disagree with you on which scale to use. I’m looking at the Bookscan analysis you wrote up and it just strikes me that there’s such a huge gap between the large sellers and the Marvel and DC stuff.

    And like, look at Penny Arcade. They get something like 5 million unique visitors a day, can support two conventions a year that bring in around 60,000 people, and sell books and merchandise like crazy.

    I agree with you the superhero stuff will never be mainstream but I don’t agree that comics as a whole aren’t. I think superhero comics are so busy selling to a very small audience that no one looks outside that bubble and sees the mass consumption outside. Eventually someone’s going to tap into that and change the game for digital comics. Just because no one has yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

  22. Penny ArcadeComics
    Penny ArcadeWebcomics
    Penny Arcade==Penny Arcade

    Yes, there is a “black swan” out there. But it will be a black swan for black swans. It will not raise up an entire medium, any more than “Walking Dead” has made print comics mainstream.

  23. Brian: No, of course I don’t believe that it’ll ever be possible for comics, particularly DC/Marvel superhero fare, to become nearly as mainstream as movies/TV/music. That’s a silly straw man, frankly.

    What I do believe is that the right combination of reasonable pricing, accessible content and promotion, with a business model designed for the digital market, could eventually reach a small but significant (relative to the current direct market) percentage of those who are fans of DC/Marvel characters in other media, and who have never really considered comics as an entertainment option.

    Beyond getting a small portion of the superhero film audience, this approach could also open up a significant new market for books that skew younger and/or less male, which would be guaranteed to bomb in the direct market – i.e. a new RUNAWAYS or AMETHYST series.

    The other portion of this, and the one that there’s even less chance you’ll agree with, is that I honestly believe that the future of serialized comics is either digital or no future at all. If the value proposition of DC/Marvel comics deteriorates significantly further than the five (or less) story pages/$1 that Marvel is currently charging for much of its line – and I’m fairly certain it will, within the next few years – I don’t think it’ll be that much longer after that before the DM’s customer base shrinks down to the most hardcore of collectors and continuity fetishists, and that can’t sustain an entire industry.

    Sure, a digital-first approach would be a risk with no guarantee of success, and there’s no magic digital bullet that will add 50K-100K new readers within the span of a few months. But I simply don’t see the direct market being a viable revenue stream for the major publishers a decade from now, regardless of what happens with digital or what the better DM shops like yours are doing.

  24. “DC is proud that WATCHMEN has sold 2.5 million copies over the last TWENTY years.”

    And in the 20 years before that? I just went over to John Jackson Miller’s site, which reminded me I need to get the latest edition of The Standard. Anway, with just a few clicks I found the following average monthly sales figures for Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman (taken from the Statement of Ownership in each book).

    Ghost Rider

    1979 – 135,107
    1980 – 132,129
    1981 – 121,227
    1982 – 117,769

    Spider-Woman

    1979 – 126,875
    1980 – 128,006
    1981 – 102,474
    1982 – 99,713

    I’m unsure if these books were monthly or bi-monthly at this point but even if they were bi-monthly, in 1979 both C-List low-sellers were moving around 800,000 comics in one year. THAT’S a mass market, mainstream product.

    Now, I’m not a complete idiot and realize that about a kajillion things have changed in the comic industry and both the broader culture and economy since 1979 or even 1989. Perhaps those changes make it impossible to recapture what comics once were. What I do know is that for the last two decades, almost every creative and business decision made by the comic industry has been moving the medium and the business away from its mass market roots.

    Mike

  25. @Chris: How much does Penny Arcade make from selling Digital Comics again?

    Not saying they couldn’t, but there’s a pretty huge difference between a free strip and getting people to pay FOR THAT CONTENT. Hell, maybe all five million people WOULD pay to read the strip regularly, but until they do that, there’s no way to even guess what the paying audience might be.

    Selling merch is not the same as selling comics… speaking as a guy who sells comics for a living.

    @Barry: I don’t NOT believe that could happen, but I sort of fundamentally don’t believe that it can/will come from Marvel or DC, because their businesses are, at their core, print/DM businesses, and that they are therefore largely locked into incremental changes which therefore mitigate against it happening.

    Unless one has evidence to suggest that this new digital market will be no less than equal to their current market, why would they risk what they have already in chasing it?

    The reality is, as far as I can tell, that even short-content attempts (like the 10 pagers that both Marvel and DC have tried) aren’t putting enough “asses in the seats” to pay for the creative costs of the work, let alone generate a profit, without the print component (and even then? I don’t think Batman Beyond Unlimited will make it to issue #20, based on history), and, therefore, unless you’re treating it as PURE “R&D”, there’s no incentive there.

    I think the one place where “mass” might factor in is in adaptations of licensed properties that have current films, during the run of that film — cf IDW’s STAR TREK success during the Abrams movie, or TRANSFORMERS — but I think those are nearly pure “looky-loo” sales that you can’t build a business plan out of.

    At the end of the day, I think the biggest problem digital comics have for the lay public is the way they’re presented. Imagine if you’d never in your entire life ever once listened to music, and someone handed you the iTunes store. How would you even know where or how to begin?

    Anyway.

    @Mike: You can’t add the individual circs of serialized issues together to come up with audience size!

    -B

  26. “I don’t NOT believe that could happen, but I sort of fundamentally don’t believe that it can/will come from Marvel or DC, because their businesses are, at their core, print/DM businesses, and that they are therefore largely locked into incremental changes which therefore mitigate against it happening.

    Unless one has evidence to suggest that this new digital market will be no less than equal to their current market, why would they risk what they have already in chasing it?”

    I mostly agree here; as long as (a) DC/Marvel make the vast majority of their publishing revenue from the DM, and (b) the revenue from the DM is sufficient to keep the publishing division profitable, they have little incentive to drastically change their business model. The question is what they’ll do when/if (b) is threatened, which I expect to happen not too many years from now, and which I think will force them to (successfully or not) pursue revenue from outside the DM more aggressively than they’ve previously done.

    And I certainly don’t dispute that the digital market hasn’t reached the point where series like BBU can pay for themselves, but those serialization efforts have been poorly promoted, are poorly executed (in BBU’s case, by merely chopping print pages in half), and are being released in a digital comics market that’s still nascent. If such series are still selling poorly a few years from now despite a much larger tablet-using audience (and hopefully better execution and promotion as well), we can have a different conversation about that point.

  27. Hibbs – “You can’t add the individual circs of serialized issues together to come up with audience size!”

    Yeah, you actually can. I was reading comics back then and I can tell you that as a kid, I frequently would get a comic one month, not get it for another 2, buy it two months in a row, skip a month, etc. And I can guaran-damn-tee you that a significant number of the folks reading Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman in 1982 had not been reading it in 1979. All of which means that when a comic was regularly selling 100,000 issues or more a month back then, it’s total audience over time was actually much larger.

    Now, were there 800,000 reading Ghost Rider or Spider-Woman in 1979? No, but I can assure you there were substantially more individual readers than the sales figures show, and that’s not even getting into the whole principle that comics used to be cheap entertainment that was read by more than one person per copy. The old comics at the local barber shop where I grew up had to have been read by hundreds of kids over the course of time.

    The point being is that you’re holding up WATCHMEN’s 100,000 new readers a year average and I’m pointing out that Ghost Rider, for example, sold more issues than that every month for a decade and, with audience turnover and other factors, almost certainly racked up many far more than 100,000 invididual readers over its run. As many as WATCHMEN? I seriously doubt it. But 200, 300, even 400 thousand individual readers over the course of a decade for Ghost Rider wouldn’t be crazy. And that’s for a C-list, low selling book over just 10 years. Again, THAT’S a mass market, mainstream product.

    Mike

  28. I think that as far as “b” goes, the only way that happens is if they do it to themselves. Further, I think the harm that’s been done to now (no Marvel book selling over 65k copies in Jan ’12?!?), is purely as a result of their own actions.

    That is to say that IF it happens, they WON’T be able to fix it because the culture is far far too ingrained — witness Marvel doubling-down on shipping their best-selling titles more frequently, which is ONLY going to have the impact (in and of itself) in increasing the rate of the normal decay curve in circulation… hastening the very problem they say they’re trying to fix.

    But I very very very much think that print comics are far far far from doomed, because as inbred as things have become, we’ve just demonstrated that it is absolutely possible to get the “lapsed” to return… and the “lapsed” potentially number in the millions.

    The problem of our audience size comes down to content and the value of that content. Those problems can be dealt with in sensible ways.

    -B

    -B

  29. “But I very very very much think that print comics are far far far from doomed, because as inbred as things have become, we’ve just demonstrated that it is absolutely possible to get the ‘lapsed’ to return… and the ‘lapsed’ potentially number in the millions.”

    And that’s the most fundamental agree-to-disagree territory of all, isn’t it? Well, we’ll see how things play out over the next few years.

  30. I don’t think print comics are anymore dead than books are, but the writing’s on the wall for print. I think the future of e-books and digital comics is very, very bright and I think we’re seeing that now with webcomics.

    I guess I see comics as a subset of books. Just like most people don’t read books for leisure, comics aren’t going to attract some huge audience of people who don’t enjoy reading. I think comics are quickly breaking out of their isolated world, though, due to many avenues of exposure. Their are readers who just read romance novels, or sci-fi novels, or military non-fiction, but I think most people think of books as this big area where they can read a lot of different things in a lot of different formats and comics is now one of those formats. And I think superhero only readers are already a subset like people who only read Warhammer books or Harlequin books.

    I think digital comics are already reaching out to more readers and normalizing comics more than anything else ever has. My guess would be Penny Arcade, Sinfest, Achewood, etc, have far bigger readerships than any comic has had in decades…if not ever. I think they’re actively changing the business model, too. It’s no longer about paying for a serialized bite, it’s what you can do with a large audience that wants to buy in. Look at the Order of the Stick Kickstarter thing. It’s about to come in just shy of $1 million!

    I think the paradigm of selling comics as serialized pieces is going to go away. I also think it’s a matter of time before that audience that’s buying all ages books in droves is tapped into with digital comics.

  31. And to be clear – when I disagree with Brian’s “print comics are far far far from doomed,” I’m referring specifically to the single-issue “floppy” pamphlets that are the lifeblood of the direct market, not taking the phrase “print comics” literally. Paper OGNs and collections of serialized (digital?) comics aren’t going away anytime soon, nor should they.

  32. certainly we’ve not heard the “millionth comic read!” press release or antything from Marvel’s All You Can Eat plan, and they like to send out press releases about ANYthing!

    I imagine that when (and if) they make Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited work on an iPad, it might get a lot more popular. For now, the Flash-based interface makes that impossible.

  33. @chris

    >>>My guess would be Penny Arcade, Sinfest, Achewood, etc, have far bigger readerships than any comic has had in decades…if not ever. < <<

    Than CALVIN & HOBBES or FAR SIDE or PEANUTS? Because that’s the proper “apple” in that comparison.

    There’s a big difference between four-panels-and-out and a long-form narrative

    @barry

    Yeah, “agree to disagree”, I guess. Periodical comics aren’t going away anytime soon, as far as I can tell.

    -B

  • @Brian

    Achewood isn’t a long form narrative? Apparently I’ve been reading it wrong. Order of the Stick isn’t a long form narrative? So that Kickstarter drive just shy of $1 million isn’t to bring long narrative books back in print?

    It’s kinda hard to discuss this if you keep moving the goalposts.

    It would be insane of you to agree print serial comics days are numbered. I get that. So, I’m not even sure why I’m having this discussion with you.

  • I’m sorry. That last post wasn’t very polite and you’ve done nothing to warrant sarcasm. If I could delete it, I would.

  • [...] the ComicsPRO meeting earlier this month, DC’s John Rood revealed some vague statistics that some are interpreting to mean that digital comics might be helping print. Somebody suggested that this [...]

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