CBR: Tilting at Windmills - Mar 19, 2010
In the latest edition of TILTING AT WINDMILLS, Brian Hibbs poses the question "Are publishers trying to kill the periodical comic?" and offers up examples of why it's worth asking in light of modern market realities.
Full article here.
Great article and very 'spot on'. I wish the editors and publishers out there read this and take it into consideration in their publishing plans.
A Splendid Article
Turkeys, it seems, do vote for Christmas.
The Big Two companies have been destroying their audience for years. It is a situation only explainable by a hubristic mixture of arrogance and incompetence. I guess that their executives are getting paid well, so they must be doing a good job, no?
That was a superb article. Every publisher needs to read it. And enlarge it and post it on their wall.
I've been a comic book addict since 1967. For decades I bought Every superhero story put out by Every company, plus as many other genre comics as I could afford. But the flooded market forces me to continuously choose a lesser percentage of what is published -- not only because of the cost, but because of limitations of reading time and storage space.
My comic book addiction is fading fast, though, because what kept me reading all these years was my interest in particular characters. And those characters have changed so much over the years that they are not the same characters that hooked me.
I don't recognize the Avengers. Who are these guys? I don't recognize either of the Captain Americas or the new Thor or the way Iron Man is now portrayed. That's not the Tony Stark or Steve Rogers I knew. The same thing has happened at DC. There's armies of Bat-People and Colored-Lanterns and Super-People and Flashes... and none of them are the true, original characters their creators gave us.
Right now I'm soooo far behind in my reading because there are just too many comics coming out. One of the greatest delights of the Silver Age was that you could actually keep up with them! If you were an Avengers freak, for example, you only had to buy one comic a month! You could read every thing happening in the Marvel Universe -- and you only had to buy a dozen comics a month!
They certainly succeeded in driving me away
I was spending at least $200 a month on comics. Then Dark Reign began and dragged on and on and on. By the time Siege got here I was already beyond caring and had dropped ALL my Marvel titles. Similarly at DC, I was loving Blackest Night but then the repetitive plots of all the tie-ins, none of which really mattered , followed by a skip month with the stunt of "undead" comics again most of which did not matter and I was done with DC as well.
I know I am just one customer but I doubt I am alone in having given up in frustration/disgust. I doubt DC or Marvel really care though as they make their real money from films and licensing, not from the relatively few fans left that actually buy periodicals.
I had been toying with the decision of "trade waiting" for a long time anyway before I cancelled my pull list. It turns out my library system has many of the trades and graphic novels available anyway so why should I clutter my shelves or drain my wallet? Final Crisis is a lot less disappointing when you can just return it in the book drop the next day.
First time I've ever agreed with 100% of what you wrote in a column. I hope the right people read it.
"...most retailers I spoke to saw sales weeks that were 75%+ of their "normal" sales..."
So Diamond's NOT shipping in that last week cost them at least 25% of their sales, yet you and they CELEBRATE this? Lost sales = lost profits.
About cramming certain books during just a few weeks, it's hard for Marvel to not cram some weeks when they are printing 100 title s a month.
Great article. I think it's interesting to me that your comments about readers demanding that the material "matter" come at the same time that I just debated the same issue with Tim Callahan in response to his latest column. You can judge that for yourself, but here is my observation...
You mention that you sold more copies of JSA when there was only one title. Once you started bringing in two titles, sales dropped. I know that sounds like I just said the same thing in two different ways, but the subtlety seems important to me. Did anyone say you had to order copies of that second JSA book? I'm not familiar with the intricate details of Diamond's demands when it comes to maintaining your account for major publishers, so maybe your hand was forced.
If it wasn't, though, I'd ask this question-- why did you order copies of the second JSA book? Why didn't you, with your insight, say "I think this is either going to be crap or it's going to choke the market for this property in my store, therefore I won't bring it in"?
You mention that on "lean" weeks, customers come in and grouse about the quality of the books. If volume isn't the key to success, is the ultimate volume of material pushed to the audience depdendent on the publishers or the DM retailers?
I look at it this way. Hanes boxer shorts may be the best boxers on the planet, but if Wal-Mart stopped carrying them, I'm going to switch brands because, let's face it, who wants to go to a different store for boxers? I think the analogy holds up because I'm personally not going to hunt all over town to find a single issue of something if the store I always go to doesn't carry it. Heck, that's assuming I'm lucky enough to live in a town with more than one comics shop. If you can't find it in Greensboro, NC (which, thanks to Acme, you can always find it) then you're driving to Charlotte. If you can't find it in Clarksville, TN, you're driving to Nashville. According to your "break the habit" rule, the 45-minute drive to Nashville breaks my habit for the McFarlane variant cover of Spawn 184. No, really, it did. I got in the car and decided it wasn't worth it before I got to the highway.
So, couldn't DM retailers act as a "filter" or a "first line of defense" to keep the junk that "doesn't matter" out of the stores so it doesn't ruin our experience? Would customers be happier seeing only one JSA book on the shelves? I guess that it's true that "loss of material = loss of profit", but it sounds like you're arguing that it's true only to a certain point. After all, Marvel wouldn't have to make such benevolent offers for 'Darkest Night' covers if the DC ring promotional hadn't "hung DM retailers out to dry".
I suppose that such a notion smacks of censorship, but while the big two continue to dominate ad space on this and other sites, Robert Kirkman continues to give interviews bemoaning the state of the comics medium in the same way you deride the activities of the comics industry. Kirkman wants to see more material aimed at younger readers and the proliferation of creator-owned titles. You want an array of content readers will actually buy.
As Bendis pointed out to Kirkman in their famous debate, no one's holding creators at the big two captive, it's just that the current market doesn't look promising for creator-owned ventures. Likewise, no one's putting a gun to your head and making you order these books. Then again, that second JSA title is selling eight copies a month. So what would happen if DM retailers responded to the upcoming Ironman surge by saying "we're not interested"? What happens when that shelf space gets taken up by things like "Crogan's March", "High Moon", "Okko", "The Killer", and "Atomic Robo"? If you left the Spider-Man poster up in the store, but replaced the Bat-clones and Dark Wolverine with Usagi Yojimbo and the Twilight GN, would that change the dynamic? If so, would it be better or worse?
If DC and Marvel are making poor choices about what matters, and customers seem to be willing to allow those poor choices to become profitable (by, what I assume you're saying, are also bad choices), then who makes the good choice? Can anyone "save" the customers, and therefore the industry, before the monthly comic book becomes extinct?
Thanks again and keep 'em coming.
You're not quoting the part about not having a Diamond invoice that week - that's almost certainly any retailer's #1 weekly expense -- thus the week was MORE PROFITABLE for most retailers
Originally Posted by Village Idiot
Short version: retailers like to let the market decide what the market wants. If JSA-Series-2 takes off in the hearts and minds of consumers, then you look a bit like a prat for not stocking *any* copies.
Originally Posted by Jim Gourley
Customers expect you to have x, y, or z (though those specific titles, naturally, vary from customer to customer) if you're a "real" store, in their mind. Not carrying "x", at all, is a good way to lose ALL of that customer's business.
True. I look at that as the side of the scoreboard we can see. What we can't see (because we're somewhat afraid to try to see it) is the wider customer base we'd bring in by diversifying the story content.
I would posit that there is obviously so much stuff out there that you can never carry everyone's "x,y, and z". I stopped going to DM stores looking for the next edition of "Lone Wolf and Cub" long ago. Borders is the only place for it. If I want "Cash: I See a Darkness" (a must have), I'm going to have to order it on Amazon, I fear. Meanwhile, the best part of living in Europe is all the Bandes Dessinees. We just don't know what we're missing in the states.
I maintain that if someone was audacious enough to put out a different offering of titles, they'd keep up sales. If you stock it, they will come. Europe and Japan prove that, and I think people who have been reading comics longer are looking for new fare. King's "Dark Tower" comics and "Scott Pilgrim" show that. I don't think Marvel would be getting in bed with Soleil unless they thought it'd be profitable. But, while I agree that the market should be allowed to decide for itself, there's a bit of brainwashing that's happened here. If you asked people in America to describe what happens in a comic book, I'm sure 99% of them would tell you they're about super heroes. You have to get a baby boomer to hear something like "Tales from the Crypt", "Sad Sack", "Amos and Andy" or the like. I really think if you look at the advertising in any store, it becomes obvious that the dominance of super hero books relies on promotion. Superman isn't powered by a yellow sun so much as a deluge of posters and shelf space. It's hard to miss seeing him when he's got eight titles on the shelf. That's almost 5 linear feet of shelf space to him, which makes for a big visual draw to that iconic "S" logo. If there's only one "Mouse Guard" book, and it's on the bottom shelf, it's a bit like that lone tree falling in a forest. You can't really hear it if there's 10 million chain saws buzzing around it.
I stopped buying Amazing Spider-Man during the dreaded clone saga. I stopped buying Spawn last year when Al Simmons offed himself. That didn't stop me from wanting to read comics, though. I just switched my pull list to include "Locke and Key", "Ultimate Spider-Man", and "Usagi Yojimbo". Over time, I've downsized the number of capes-and-tights titles I read, but my comics shop still increased their profits from me. I transfer my thought process and purchasing habits onto the greater population because I don't think I'm really all that different from anyone else. If average customer X, begins reading comics at a rate of 4 books a month at the age of 12, with the proportion of superhero titles being 100%, what is the proportion of superhero titles, y, being read by the time the customer reaches age 30? I doubt there's really an equation that can compute it, but it feels algebraic.
The average age of comics customers is between 18-26. Why aren't we pulling in more 12-year-olds? Why do the 30-year-olds fade out? I'd say the answer to both questions is because we're not offering them anything. The problem is that we've bought into a great corporate lie that there's nothing else to offer. Buying into that lie is an active, if subconscious decision, and it's not one made by the publishers or the customers. That one belongs to the retailers alone.
Unless it doesn't. You tell me.
I sell more copies of MOUSE GUARD than I do of SUPERMAN, so you're probably talking to the wrong person. In fact, there isn't a book you mentioned in either post that I don't do well with, in my diverse store -- I stock the Johnny Cash bio, and I've done well with it, and so on.
Originally Posted by Jim Gourley
But that still doesn't mean it's a good idea to NOT stock JSA ALL-STARS (at all)
Oh, and that's not even vaguely true for me -- I have plenty of, hell 60+ year olds shopping at my store, plenty of women, plenty of people who aren't interested in fights'n'tights even a little.
Originally Posted by Jim Gourley
So I think you're preceding from a somewhat false premise.
They'd stop putting that junk out, and that's really the key. It's not the publisher's fault here. It's the fans who buy that junk to begin with, and the stores who stock it. Can you blame the publisher for seeing the need and filling it? I don't think so. They don't do that on a random whim. They very carefully research expansion and have a calculated strategy all with the fan and store owner in mind. And we as the buying public walk right in and drink the koolaid.
Originally Posted by Jim Gourley
My suggestion is this: STOP STOCKING the junk books. Take a look at what's selling and what's not, and dump the stuff that isn't, or is selling low. Then, pay attention to your PREVIEWS and simply refuse to order the latest and greatest junk with a new cover. The concept isn't that hard. If you have three or four customers who come in and request the book, order to fill those requests only. You aren't out anything, you made the customers who specifically WANT that awful book happy and made them feel special for helping them, and you're keeping the rest of the buying public blissfully ignorant of the existence of a book that's not going to last 6 issues to begin with. You've done us all a service.
Something else I wonder about with the column...the lamentation about low or slower traffic on "bad comic" weeks. We're tying that back to the publisher somehow as well? I can't see that. I've been to literally hundreds of comic stores all over the world, and seen all sorts of stores, from the truly inspiring to the ashamed to even be selling comics. The stores that WANT traffic get it. How? By going out and getting it. It's just like any other business, you have to work at it if you want it to prosper. The days of "if you stock it they will come" are over. Store owners could run promotions to get new and infrequent customers in the store. They could run in store signings and have them set up at times when you really want to boost otherwise slow traffic. Stores could showcase Indy and local creators and have them show up for appearances and do all sorts of cool stuff. Host 24 hour comic day. Whatever. But so SOMETHING. The publishers don't dictate how you run your shop.
And lastly, during the "no ship week" there were a number of books available through a grassroots indy comics movement called Indy Comic Book Week. They get largely forgotten for some reason in all the fuss made about Diamond and such, but for the people who wanted great comics that week, they were available. With any luck Diamond will pull another skip week and open the door a little wider.
Last edited by Cary; 03-20-2010 at 08:16 PM.
So, using internet logic, it would be better for comics stores to never have an invoice from Diamond. ;)
Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs
But seriously, it is still lost sales potential. You have to have product coming in to continue to have money coming in. Also, not having new comics every week helps to break the habit of "I have to come in every week because I might miss something and not be current", which fuels business.
It used to be that comics were only delivered 4 weeks out of every month. The fifth week, which happens 4 times a year, there were no new comics. Is this what you are suggesting should happen again? Eventually, the comics due to be delivered the 4th week were divided, and shipped half in the 4th week and half in the 5th week. Then each week became a full shipment week.