CBR: Tilting at Windmills - Nov 14, 2008
How is the downturn in the affecting comics retailing? Brian Hibbs isn't seeing any contraction and he explains why, plus advice for publishers considering raising their prices in the coming year.
Full article here.
as always a nice well thought out and articulated article.
I just received in the few days the Gears of War comic book. I was very disapointed by what I get for a $3.99 price.
It was the same sentient I had with the NYX series from Marvel: 22 pages of story only, backgrounds of the comic book. For a mere $3.99.
What is this sentient: bad to medium quality paper and a ton of ads (I don't speak about promotion of a title but real ads) for a really expensive price.
OK, the technologies of printing full color titles are now digital ones. No more these little dots from the past, no more this so horrible newspaper paper quality.
Paper quality is better than in the past but when you "taste" some Indy comic books (for example DH Comics or Radical Publishing ones), you have a very good to premium quality paper.
OK (again), there are ads in the DH Comics. But the price is correct, it's the "standard price": $2.99.
DH Comics now produce 40 pages comic books: more ads. I'm not against it, I continue to pay the right standard price.
That's a trail that the big publishers could follow: more ads (and pages) in the comic books but always at the same price and a minimum of 22 pages of story.
Keep the $3.99 comic books for real quality ones: excellent quality paper, a lot a story pages (around than 40), ads (not a lot), prestige format and that will be fine.
I'm living in France. Comic books are not sold in the independent serial format. The publishers group 2 to 3 titles in a monthly/bimonthly comic book: the quality paper is at its best, so better colors on the pages, no ads at all, a lot of infos about the writers/artists... For a mere €4.25 (do yourself the US conversion! ), you have a what you call a prestige format which is our standard format. And we are not alone : US comic books published in the UK and in Italy are in the same format and sometimes less expensive (imagine a 80 pages comic book for a mere €3.00... Yes, you can cry!).
And that's great! It cost less for a huge increased better quality (and sometimes with corrected errors present in the US edition)!!
Why not follow this another trail?
I will continue to buy US comic books. But the $3.99 is the ultimate limit price I will put in them. No more. And only if the content justify this price...
Last edited by fredmanson; 11-14-2008 at 02:59 PM.
I'm pretty much out
I've bought comics, and loved them, for over 30 years now. They were a quarter when I started buying them. They've gone up and up in price, and that's fine, but I think I'm mostly done now.
In the last couple of years I've weened myself off of comics so I would quit buying, at least temporarily, and focus on cataloging and selling most of my collection to pay off some bills.
I still love the medium and characters but have been surprised it wasn't harder to quit. As I hear all the rumblings of the monthlies going to a new standard of $ 3.99 I've found my breaking point. For $ 4 I better be getting gold. There's so much proven material from the past that suddenly becomes more attractive as the newer stuff keeps getting more expensive.
Brian Hibbs' column is my favorite and I never miss it.
I'm often annoyed at the business mindset of "making more money this year than last year" because it's short-sighted and silly. "Money" is a fairly steady item. You can make more, but that usually devalues what existed before as well as what you just made. So wanting more of it means you're taking it away from somewhere else, and eventually that somewhere else is going to be your own company because no matter how good your business is doing it won't always make more money than the previous year.
Business people aren't reasonable. They're scavangers. They swoop in when there's money to be made and run away like rats from a sinking ship when it starts to go down, and they're quite often the only ones walking away with anything in the end. They really don't care how many people they've left in the lurch, and what those people will have to do now that the ship has sunk because THEY got out with all their profit intact. That's all they care about. It's an argument for Socialism all on its own.
What is enough for people anymore--business types or Joe Plumbers? When did two working parents just to get by become the norm, and why did we let it get that way? When did doing what is most profitable supplant doing what's right? That's what bothers me.
Don't worry, though. Comics WILL feel the economic upheaval. It's just going to take a while for it to reach one of the least popular and smallest industries in the country. Or if you want to look at it another way, most comics readers don't have jobs and live in their parents' basements anyway, so comics as a whole probably won't be affected. Whichever answer does it for you.
"Marvel is publishing a wider range of material than they ever have before"
For rather recent values of "ever", perhaps.
What about the period when Epic was in operation, publishing Groo, Moonshadow, Elfquest, Akira, etc? Or the 1970s, when they were putting out stuff like Tomb of Dracula, Conan, and Howard the Duck? Or the Atlas and Timely eras?
And overlaps with the era of Star Comics and Marvel's Robert E. Howard books, among other efforts.
Originally Posted by TVerBeek
Correct me if I'm missing something, but Marvel at this point is putting out superhero comics (admittedly with some range within that genre, including such things as Franklin Richards and Powers), adaptations of SF, fantasy, and horror novels, and adaptations of the great classics of the public domain. And... what? Am I missing something?
First of all, I want to say that I have the utmost respect for Brian Hibbs. I have been reading Tilting at Windmills articles for years, and his sharing of information and wisdom in these articles has been an inspiration to me in opening my first comic book store in Lihue, Hawaii, then later my second store in Pahrump, Nevada.
Having said that, I don't think that Brian Hibbs is going to be the norm here in not seeing any contraction in the industry with the recession. Comix Experience is a well-established comic store located in a large city, San Francisco, that has the third highest average family income in the country among cities of over 250,000 people. The second highest is nearby San Jose, from which I'm sure Mr. Hibbs sees more than the occasional customer. His store also benefits from the near-fame that he provides as the owner and author of these well-read articles. He also just plain knows what he's doing with business, loves comics, and runs a tight ship. He should be happy that in this case for once, he will not be on the cutting (or cut) edge of this economic recession.
Many other comic stores across the country, however, are not so fortunate. There are far more comic shops in rural areas with low volumes and growing unemployment rates, over-saturated regional markets with fierce competition between stores that are far too close to one another, under-capitalized stores that struggle to pay weekly bills and would have trouble obtaining credit even in a strong economy, stores where the owners are long past ready to retire but there is just no buyer for their business, stores whose owners have lived the dream and since lost interest or become jaded, and stores whose owners have made so many mistakes that they are just doomed to fail but it's only a matter of when... All these stores are in trouble, many of them with or without the economic recession, but a slow-down in sales could be the last straw for many of them or an acceleration of the inevitable for others. If too many of these struggling stores disappear all at once, this industry is going to have to find a way to adapt to the sudden loss of sales volume.
To survive such a disaster, distribution is going to have to move away from the predatory, volume-based discounts that punish struggling brick-and-mortar stores in favor of rewarding the online discounters with massive profits. Fair, low-volume discounts are needed to encourage new stores to open, and for comics to become a viable, profitable product at suburban convenience stores and corner markets, providing critical, entry-level access to the hobby in places where kids can ride their bikes to. The Comic Shop Locator Service needs to be free for every store that carries comics. Charging retailers money for a listing on what is basically a simple database is just extortion, and it actually hurts the sales of comics by telling potential customers for them that there are no comic stores near them, even though Diamond knows full well that there are.
Publishers, likewise, are going to have to start being responsible with their solicitations, and be held accountable for their actions, especially with regards to unjustified, across-the-board price hikes made to disguise slipping sales figures from their corporate masters. Also, Marvel specifically needs to stop directly competing with the back-issue and trade paperback market by making everything the local comic store sells of theirs available dirt-cheap through their digital comics subscription service, undercutting the retailers by an impossible margin. The content on that service should instead be limited to entry-level introductions to series', not the entire first 30+ issues. The service could become both more profitable and more useful to retailers by coordinating it better with major event releases and driving subscribers to their local stores. Through a combination of exclusive tie-in content not available in stores, to exclusive continuations of series that would otherwise be outright cancelled by running below minimum print runs, the service could become a separate, must-subscribe resource for die-hard comics fans, while simultaneously encouraging those fans to visit a local store to pick up the major releases and core titles that are not made available in digital form. As an added benefit, pre-releasing certain new titles or limited series online and tracking downloads or ratings as a sort of "proving ground" before going to print would cut down on the risk that retailers take by ordering lower-selling tie-ins that often wind up left on the shelf unsold, costing them money and shelf space. It would instead focus retail sales toward less risky, more profitable, higher-turnover evergreen titles. Benefit to retailers? More Watchmen, less "Big in Japan."
Well, those are my ideas, anyway. It may be a long ways off yet, but I definitely see this industry changing drastically in the future. The success of the Joker graphic novel pretty much proves that monthly comics are no longer the only means by which comics publishers can release new stories, and that change is coming, like it or not.