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  1. #1
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    Default CBR: Tilting at Windmills - Nov 12, 2010

    Brian Hibbs returns this month with a look at the sales of "Superman Earth One," JMS' announced move to OGN and self-contained, shorter stories, predictions of the death of the monthly periodical and more.


    Full article here.

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    The analysis doesn't factor in profit margins (it can't, really) which may be far, far greater for one format than the other. Given the relative size of the OGN, if the writer and artist are paid the same page rate, I would expect that while the hardcover is more expensive to produce it's actually much greater than on the single issues, which may well explain why some commentators feel "monthlies is dead" is an accurate summation of the situation.

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    Brian, I always read your columns with great interest, and I respect your passion and perspective. But you seem to be a bit myopic when it comes to the single issue vs. OGN debate.
    I'm going to leave the quality issue of SEO aside (I read it and did not care for it a bit--much of my reaction was similar to yours) and just focus on where I think you missed the point a bit. I don't know how many copies DC sold of SEO (and honestly, neither do you) but it seems that they as a company are excited about the numbers they sold. Would they have sold more copies of a single issue of a SEO miniseries? Maybe. I have my doubts about your estimates given its proximity to Secret Origin and the sales of JMS's monthly Superman, but even if I grant your premise that SEO #1 of 6 would have sold at least 50,000 copies, the question becomes, who bought those copies? It would be, likely, roughly the same 50,000 people who bought Secret Origin. SEO the graphic novel received several days worth of news coverage when it was released. It sold out at Amazon.com. It made the NYT best-seller list. These are all things it wouldn't have done if it had been serialized first. (You can argue that DC could've serialized it first, then collected it, and all the mainstream press could've come out when the collected trade was issued, but that's not how newspapers work. They don't do big features on seasons of recent TV series being released on DVD; they want things that are new and news. Superman as Twilight? They want that story today, not seven or eight (or given JMS production history 12-16) months later.) It seems that this book had a lot of opportunities to be presented to the non-comics reading public. How many of the copies ordered from Amazon or Barnes and Noble came from the weekly comics reader? I don't know. But I don't think we have any evidence that ALL of those copies went to guys like you and me. And that's where DC is seeing their success, I would wager. This was intended as an outreach program, and as I said, I have my doubts that this particular book by these particular creators was the best foot forward, but the evidence that we're getting from DC is that they view it as a success (and I'm measuring that by their decision to try and fasttrack the second installment, not necessarily on any kind of editorial proclamation "we're very excited about blah blah blah") so I think they have some evidence beyond what we are privy to that this book did reach its intended audience.
    And I think that JMS's Superman run is a perfect example of why OGNs might be a big part of comics' future (not entirely, but a big part). 'Grounded' got some press, and had the benefit of having Superman travel to different US cities, allowing there to be an opportunity for stores in those cities to do promotional events. The local Cincinnati or Buffalo news probably would probably have time on a Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning newscast to cover "Superman coming to our town". So maybe people do come in to pick up that Superman comic they heard about, and maybe they like it and want to come back for the next one. But it's not written by the guy who wrote the one they liked. It's by G. Willow Wilson. And then the next one is written by the first guy, but it comes out two months later, and then the next one is by an entirely different writer all together and this new reader has given up. By presenting them with a complete story, you've cut down on the level of disappointment. Maybe they didn't like SEO, or maybe they did, but JMS never finishes SEO II; either way, they read an entire comic book story. They might think it wasn't good, but they don't think that comics is that industry where they make you waste your money on a story that they won't even finish. Do you see that point? DC had one day to get new readers interested in SEO. Yahoo News and USA Today, et al. had the space to tell readers about SEO once. Not once a month for six months. Just once. DC (and Marvel's) attempts to entice new readers into reading periodicals (I'm thinking of the Superman Wednesday Comics strip in USA Today, for example) have failed. SEO won't succeed in getting new readers into serialized comics, but maybe when SEO II comes out, some of those new readers will pick it up. Because the OGN is similar to formats they are comfortable with.
    You seem to be taking issue with certain internet wags and JMS himself talking about the death of the monthly, but I do think that's a bit of a strawman argument. First of all, internet wags represent the smallest fraction of a fraction of the already tiny comics reading public. I doubt the majority of your customers would welcome a total switch to OGN. And JMS claiming that it's the future of comics is a little suspect seeing as how he is one of the most deadline challenged creators working today. Of course he's going to embrace working in a format that allows him to work at a slower pace. When someone like Johns or Bendis announces they're quitting monthly comics for OGNs, maybe that would mean something.
    I understand that you are passionate about the serialized comic book and that it's one of the cornerstones of the Direct market. I love reading 22 page monthly comics. My point is that DC put out 5 or 6 monthlies related to Superman in October. Why can't there also be room for an OGN as well? Why does it have to be an all or nothing proposition?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zombie Uatu View Post
    The analysis doesn't factor in profit margins (it can't, really) which may be far, far greater for one format than the other. Given the relative size of the OGN, if the writer and artist are paid the same page rate, I would expect that while the hardcover is more expensive to produce it's actually much greater than on the single issues, which may well explain why some commentators feel "monthlies is dead" is an accurate summation of the situation.
    Actually, I'm glad you brought that up, because this was one thing I clearly forgot to cover in the column (this is what happens when you try to write commentary when you've got your 7 year old home from school thanks to Veteran's Day, *and* he's interrupting every 4 minutes with questions about his homework...!)

    I can call up Quebecor and find out what it would cost to print x of y in z format, but that's not how a publisher like DC buys press time -- they're leveraging their volume over everything they print, not just the individual title.

    So, it might well be that the HC format is marginally more profitable on a per-unit basis, though, of course, it is inherently more risky as well. Ask someone at DC about BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE, sometime!

    Still, having said that, I remain confident this would have made more money in the long-run had it been serialized first.

    -B

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    Junior Member MikeCr's Avatar
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    Hibbs,

    You're gonna get trashed for this column but I've been trying to explain the same thing in the Superman forum.
    ... and yet here I am arguing on the interwebs.

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    Man, brother, line breaks between paragraphs, please! Wall-o-text is hard to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    Would they have sold more copies of a single issue of a SEO miniseries? Maybe. I have my doubts about your estimates given its proximity to Secret Origin and the sales of JMS's monthly Superman, but even if I grant your premise that SEO #1 of 6 would have sold at least 50,000 copies, the question becomes, who bought those copies? It would be, likely, roughly the same 50,000 people who bought Secret Origin. SEO the graphic novel received several days worth of news coverage when it was released. It sold out at Amazon.com. It made the NYT best-seller list. These are all things it wouldn't have done if it had been serialized first.
    Y'know, CIVIL WAR was "serialized", and yet it got MASSIVE publicity... not once, but TWICE, during it's run (and again at the end with the Death of Cap) -- publicity that brought in many many "civilians" looking for it.

    Ditto for things like DARK TOWER or Obama meets Spider-man.

    So I think the concept that publicity can "only" impact *book* sales is pretty wildly off base.

    More importantly, and this is backed up by 25-ish years of retail, it is WAY easier to get a "civvie" to buy something that costs $3 (or equivalent, time shifted) than $20. I'm old enough to remember the massive lines and publicity for MAN OF STEEL #1... and most of the frenzy was NOT from current customers (at the time)

    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    My point is that DC put out 5 or 6 monthlies related to Superman in October. Why can't there also be room for an OGN as well? Why does it have to be an all or nothing proposition?
    That's not what I said at all, so no reason -- but periodicals are more likely to reach more customers than an OGN, is all!

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs View Post

    That's not what I said at all, so no reason -- but periodicals are more likely to reach more customers than an OGN, is all!

    -B
    Apologies for the formatting. But I want to disagree with this last point. SEO was available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com...all places my Mom knows how to go to. She wouldn't have had to find a comics retailer to sell it to her. If it was monthly, that would've been her only option. Now, obviously that works very well for retailers like yourself, but DC was trying to get new comics readers with this GN. I think a large part of its success was that the news articles about SEO appeared and people could go THAT VERY DAY to either a brick and mortar bookstore to pick it up or go to an online retailer and order it. And they got a complete story.

    Now, that doesn't help you as a retailer--obviously you want them to get the first sixth of the story and then have to come back to your shop every month to get the rest of it, but that's not really how people like my Mom or my wife or my cousin approach these things. They're not collectors, and if they hear about a movie or book or CD they're interested in, they know of several easily accessible ways to be able to purchase it. They aren't used to hearing about something, going to a specialty shop two to three months ahead of time and telling the owner that they want to preorder it.

    And you haven't really addressed what effect on a SEO miniseries massive delays would have. If JMS had created SEO as a miniseries and then it faced similar delays that his Superman run or the Twelve faced, how does that affect those new readers who have come in to your shop looking for SEO? "I know that you've purchased the first two-thirds of this thing, but we have no idea when the rest is coming out, if ever." A single OGN doesn't have that problem. Those new readers got a complete story. And they were able to get it the same way they get the rest of their media: when they heard about it and wanted it, not three months after that.

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    Brian has this 100% correct. DC completely dropped the ball on this but they're doing a great job trying to spin this as a success. If this had been serialized in a new "Earth One" imprint doing what Marvel did with its "Ultimate" imprint, they might have been able to get huge press and a 100,000+ selling new series out of it. When first story arc was finished and collected, they could have went after mainstream press with that release. I doubt the mainstream media would care that it had been previously serialized. They never know unless DC told them.

    However, you can't tentpole a new imprint around someone as unreliable as JMS and maybe DC realized this so it just went with an OGN. I mean let's be honest here, what are the odds JMS is going to get a follow-up out in a reasonable amout of time if ever. Not likely I'd say.

    I look at this much in the same way I looked at Ultimate Spider-Man when it launched and by Ultimate Spider-Man standards, this is a failure. DC is very short sighted and it's the main reason why they will always remain number two behind Marvel. It's too late for OGNs to be the future of comics. Digital comics took that future away.

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    Brian, do you feel that "Monthly periodicals as the driving force of the direct market" applies to independent comics as well? …Or to the same extent?

    As a retailer, are you less likely to consider stocking an OGN as opposed to a Limited Series from a lesser known/unknown creator?
    Eye of the Gods - A psychological thriller about a man cursed with the ability of remote viewing @ http://optichouse.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    SEO was available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com...all places my Mom knows how to go to.
    Your mom bought a copy?



    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    She wouldn't have had to find a comics retailer to sell it to her. If it was monthly, that would've been her only option. Now, obviously that works very well for retailers like yourself, but DC was trying to get new comics readers with this GN. I think a large part of its success was that the news articles about SEO appeared and people could go THAT VERY DAY to either a brick and mortar bookstore to pick it up or go to an online retailer and order it.
    Which is what happened with, say, Spider-Man meets Obama. Or CIVIL WAR. And those sold 10s or hundreds of thousands of copies to Civilians...

    I mean, 6k of SEO through BookScan -- even doubling that to allow for massive "fudge factor" -- isn't really all *that* impressive, relative to the amount of press attention the book received...


    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    And you haven't really addressed what effect on a SEO miniseries massive delays would have. If JMS had created SEO as a miniseries and then it faced similar delays that his Superman run or the Twelve faced, how does that affect those new readers who have come in to your shop looking for SEO?
    Why would it be late? If DC "banked" the series (LIKE THEY DID WITH THE OGN), there's no reason to think it would ship even an hour late...

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by optichouse View Post
    Brian, do you feel that "Monthly periodicals as the driving force of the direct market" applies to independent comics as well? …Or to the same extent?

    As a retailer, are you less likely to consider stocking an OGN as opposed to a Limited Series from a lesser known/unknown creator?
    I'm WAY WAY WAY less likely to stock an OGN versus a LS from an Unknown creator -- I've got three years of Point-of-sale data that shows that "unknown" OGNs have, typically, a shelf life measured in hours, not days.

    Now, that's not the same answer as the first question -- the profitability "tipping point" of serial v OGN is going to be much different for a "small publisher" than from Marvel or DC...

    -B

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    I don't know if I'm missing the point, but isn't it kind of like they sold 5 issues of singles for every copy of the SEO they sell? I mean, it's 136 pages and has a $20 price tag vs. a single issue of 20 pages @ $4? So in essence SEO sold 150,000 single issues. Not too shabby, imo.

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    I guess where we're differing is that I'm talking about releasing the work as an OGN being an efficient way to bring in new readers, since there are more outlets for things like OGNs that new readers already traffic in (e.g. bookstores, Amazon and other online retailers). You are talking about what is the more efficient way to bring in new readers to YOUR STORE. Which is fine, as your store is clearly how you support yourself.

    But could you imagine if Taylor Swift decided she was only going to release her album in small record shops? It certainly would bolster small record shops, but it would not be the best way to reach the most listeners. That's why Taylor Swift records are on sale at small record shops, large record chains, itunes, Amazon, Walmart, even some supermarket chains.

    DC's decision to offer SEO as an OGN I have to imagine is not an artistic one. They are attempting to reach a larger audience; the best way to reach a larger audience is to have your product available in as many outlets as possible. The graphic novel, for a variety of reasons, is a better product for those outlets.

    You mentioned how many "civilians" came in to buy the Obama Spiderman issue; but how many of those people came back to buy the next issue? You mentioned the Death of Captain America, but what's the % drop-off of readers from Cap 25 and the most recent issue?

    SEO might not create any repeat business, but it did generate more revenue for DC than a mini-series would, because while civilians might wander in off the streets to pick up the first issue of a SEO mini, how many of them would come back every 30 days to get the next installment? We all see the sales charts and see the rate of attrition over the life of a miniseries. "Civilians" don't consume media piecemeal every 30 days. They want to read a story, and they want to read it all at once.

    DC got all their money up front, the readers got the entire story up front. It seems like it's a win-win for both the customer and for those civilians, and if any of them come back for the SEO sequel, then all the better for DC. The comic book retailer would benefit more from a serialization, but I don't really see who else does.

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    Well, I reckon the top flaw in your analysis is going with the #1 of 6 numbers. 80k doesn't sound unreasonable -- but how many would #6 of 6 sell?

    My guess is that the sales would average out the same.

    And that's before we consider the likelihood of a second printing and hefty sales through Xmas. Because when we're talking about an OGN, first week (or first printing) numbers aren't important the same way that they are for the floppies.

    The bottom line, it seems to me, isn't whether or not the book would make money in the direct market, but whether it'll sell through book stores, airports, and Amazon -- and not just on week one, but in perpetuity.

    So it's overall a different marketing strategy, and one that's continuing to build a non-LCS contingency market. (And the trouble with using it as a belwether is that it's not a compelling book -- yet another version of a character that's already oversaturated with versions, by a writer whose popularity doesn't strike me as massively high.)

    And that's before we come to the interesting question that I didn't see you address, which is whether there's a digital edition available yet, or when one's planned for release
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    I guess where we're differing is that I'm talking about releasing the work as an OGN being an efficient way to bring in new readers, since there are more outlets for things like OGNs that new readers already traffic in (e.g. bookstores, Amazon and other online retailers). You are talking about what is the more efficient way to bring in new readers to YOUR STORE. Which is fine, as your store is clearly how you support yourself.

    I might possibly agree with you if it were so that serialized things only ever came out in serialization, but very very clearly they don't -- those serialized items go on, often in as little as a month after the serialization is completed, to be bound together and collected for the bookstore market.

    That book will STILL be sold in bookstores, regardless of its providence.

    To me, it's sort of (kind of, not really) like saying "Well, many people enjoy DVD box sets, so maybe they should just skip showing BATTLESTAR GALACTICA as a serial, and release the 12 episode box set directly?"

    Some people would certainly like that, but I'd be flabbergasted if anyone would make more money doing things that way, and cutting them off of all the sweet sweet money that serialization churns in.

    When you're talking about publishing, and the economics of it (rather than what an individual consumer might prefer -- I'd way rather see the last four episodes of THE WALKING DEAD right now than having to wait 3 and a half weeks for them to be doled out!!), "what brings the biggest audience/most revenue?" should be the operative philosophy.

    It is my firm belief that serialization-then-collection is, in almost every (but not all, no) circumstance, going to produce more revenue and eyeballs than skipping the serialization will.

    At the end of the day, SEO will end up on the shelves of B&N where your mom can buy it, even if it is serialized first.

    -B

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