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  1. #16
    ... with the High Command Lemurion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schnitzy Pretzelpants View Post
    I think your point has more relevance with Marvel’s online system where they seem to be putting their entire back-catalogue online for $60 a year – a friend who has gone this route has been very pleased at the cost-benefit analysis.

    The thing about new releases as digital though is that at present – to digitally ‘recreate’ the comic book reading experience – you have to outlay at least $200 dollars for a tablet of some kind, and more for a good one. Of course if you have no issue with simply reading them on your computer then sure.

    I think what may happen is that the Kindle may soon offer a color version of their electronic ink.

    As a side note, it is weird, but I would rather read a print book – like a novel or history book – on a kindle, but if I start reading comics on a reader, I want it to be something like an ipad – shinny and glossy. Maybe if comics were still printed on newsprint I would feel differently.
    Just speaking to your side note - I have both an EInk Sony Reader and a rooted Nook Color that does ComiXology - and I agree with you completely. EInk is great for prose - but the colors really pop on the Nook. I actually prefer the glossy screen to glossy paper.
    Anyone who thinks DC is bringing back the Silver Age doesn't know what the Silver Age is.

    There is no such word as "persay," it's per se, two words, from the Latin.

  2. #17
    Ra's Al Cool
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    Hi Brian. Not my first time reading your column, although it is the first time that I finally connected enough wiring in my brain to realize that your store is the one right up the way from where I live. Like, two blocks or something. I don't hang on Divis much anymore, but I used to chuckle and walk past the "Art Thou Experienced?" Thor window painting all the time on my way to that rich-people grocery store by the panhandle that sells Humphry Slocombe ice cream (because whiskey-and-corn-flakes ice cream is divine.) So howdy neighbor.

    Anyway, I think you're really on-point here in general, but I think that there does need to be something of a middle ground in terms of what gets collected. Your strategy is mostly a good one, but Jonah Hex would have been canceled before hitting 25 issues if publishers approached the book this way. I can't remember what the numbers were off the top of my head, but I don't think he even makes it past two trade collections if DC doesn't collect things that don't sell well as floppies.

    So here's my proposed tweak: the publisher commits to at least one or two collections of a new ongoing series. There are some books, rare though they may be, that don't sell well as floppies but more than justify themselves as trades. Jonah Hex has been the most important example of that recently. I thought I remembered Manhunter being one of them as well, but then they canceled the most recent Manhunter trade, so maybe I was wrong.

    So in this paradigm, let's say we have three new ongoings. One of them is an obvious seller, like a new Legends of the Dark Knight, so its sales numbers are strong through 18 issues. The second one is a quirky title, let's say it's a Tom Peyer revamp of some old Golden Age character like The Wizard (which would be pretty cool), and it doesn't do well in single issues, and by issue 18, it's just dropping off the chart. And our third title is, like, I don't know, the most boring and unnecessary superhero comic book you can think of, like a book about villains for hire who for some reason want to name themselves after a teenaged superteam, and naturally its sales numbers aren't that good by issue 18 either.

    But DC offers two trade collections of each one. The Batman book, of course, sells the trades easily, so DC keeps on printing those trades until they don't sell enough to be justified. Surprisingly (I mean, not surprisingly to us, because we all knew where I was going with this, and because we know Tom Peyer revamping The Wizard is a great idea), The Wizard trades also sell pretty well. They might not do Batman numbers, but they not only make a good profit by themselves, but they make up for the marginal losses on the single issues. So DC decides, hey, let's keep doing those single issues and letting the trade make up the difference, because we know the trades will sell, even though the singles didn't. And then with Titans, obviously the trades don't sell, so DC doesn't bother collecting the book anymore, and it is allowed to mercifully die off by issue 25, and Scott Lobdell or whoever is boringly writing it gets to do something else finally.

  3. #18
    Ra's Al Cool
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs View Post
    Digital sales are LITERALLY meaningless numbers of copies sold. And while that could potentially change at some point, I think there are six dozen structural things that stand in the way of that happening.
    Isn't one of the biggest barriers to that happening the simple fact that no one needs digital? Digital music sales--not piracy, which is a different animal--didn't take off until we decided, en masse, that we needed digital music. And we decided that because one of the purveyors of digital music, Apple, made it a need by giving us the user-friendly, easy-interface iPod digital music player. Now we could take hundreds of songs with us anywhere we went, and digital became a need. The iPad--or even the oft-suggested pipe dream of a dedicated digital comic book reader--will never do the same thing for digital comics, because the demand isn't there, but isn't it conceivable that just not printing trades of low-sellers would create that need? Today, there are music artists who have the option of making a physical CD or vinyl record and they just don't, because they know they can sell it digitally. They would, undoubtedly, make less money on digital if there was a physical copy, but because there isn't one, digital is the only form in which the album is available, so the digital form sells.

  4. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jono11 View Post
    Isn't one of the biggest barriers to that happening the simple fact that no one needs digital? Digital music sales--not piracy, which is a different animal--didn't take off until we decided, en masse, that we needed digital music. And we decided that because one of the purveyors of digital music, Apple, made it a need by giving us the user-friendly, easy-interface iPod digital music player. Now we could take hundreds of songs with us anywhere we went, and digital became a need. The iPad--or even the oft-suggested pipe dream of a dedicated digital comic book reader--will never do the same thing for digital comics, because the demand isn't there, but isn't it conceivable that just not printing trades of low-sellers would create that need? Today, there are music artists who have the option of making a physical CD or vinyl record and they just don't, because they know they can sell it digitally. They would, undoubtedly, make less money on digital if there was a physical copy, but because there isn't one, digital is the only form in which the album is available, so the digital form sells.
    No one needs digital comics - but that doesn't mean there's no demand. The sheer number of illegal comic downloads proves there is a demand for digital comics; nobody would pirate them if there wasn't a demand.

    Whether that demand will turn into digital sales is a fair question, but there are people who want digital comics.
    Anyone who thinks DC is bringing back the Silver Age doesn't know what the Silver Age is.

    There is no such word as "persay," it's per se, two words, from the Latin.

  5. #20
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    Default Trades

    I noted at Wondercon that there were many stands of trade paperbacks (all at 50% off). Looking over the selections, it was clear that most of the product was junk: pieces of series that were insignificant, badly drawn, irrelevant to the current status of the star of the story. There wasn't much interest in these products there (generally), as well,

    So, yes, I agree that there is way too much overprinting in that market, and little interest in buying such.

    I would venture to state that TPs are suffering from a severe glut, and the publishers need to revisit the volumes of this product line.

    Few people are buying this stuff, so please publish the more significant titles only.... (Give us the good stuff!)

  6. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schnitzy Pretzelpants View Post
    I can scarcely think of one of these essays by Brian that I disagree with, but - at least on measure – this one I do disagree with.

    I’ve worked a lot of retail, so I can assure you that I have seen the bad side of ‘customer is always right’ mentality or ‘consumer comes first’ ideology, but some of his central ideas here are kind of flawed, and I don’t think he gets that ultimately comic book publishers should be doing all they can to address the wants and needs of their consumers, while also trying to entice people back or entice new people in. Other than doing all they can to ensure that Comic Book retailers have all the resources and means to sell their – the publisher’s – products I don’t think the publisher has any other responsibility (apart from fairness and honesty in their business dealings) with comic shop retailers.

    My local comic book shop keeps a pretty decent assortment of TPB and HC’s on the shelf, and he and his staff do a fantastic job of making any of us regulars aware that he can bring in anything that is in print. My guy Aaron seems to be the only comic shop in my city that is actually thriving. Some of that is that he’s got a small retail space (comparatively) - but man has he got a lot of toys and comics and books in that space as well as comics – and almost all of that in a really organized manner.

    Al lot of his success is that he seems pretty darn smart too. To us regulars with a pull list we pay US prices (we’re in Canada), and US prices on all graphic novels too. He recently brought in the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist Omnibus for me, and because he needed to add it to an order sizeable enough to save on shipping, I had to wait a few weeks to get it. Big deal.

    What Brian seems to be missing here is that there are many people that (1), he doesn’t need to bring a TPB unless someone requests it, and (2) There are some of us that even if we own the comics in question will still want to have a more readable copy on hand. I own the entire run of the Watchmen, the TPB, and the Absolute Edition. I’m not even a fanatic collector.

    Now last fall I began to get back into buying back issue comics – from the 1960’s and 70’s mainly. I can tell you that I may sit down at a thoroughly clean desk, and gingerly read some of the classic 1960’s Avengers and Sub-Mariner issues I’ve been buying, but I sure as hell am not taking them to bed to read before turning in, or taking them on a road trip and throwing them in the back of the car.

    It’s also highly unlikely that I’ll ever be in a position to buy any Avengers issues below #10 in the condition I want, and for a price I can afford, meaning if I want to read these, or own these, a guy like Brian is never going to get my business for these back issues.

    He will get my business in buying the Omnibus or TPB editions available.

    I think something that is bound to happen soon too – like in the next two or three years – is that the publishers, certainly DC and Marvel, are very likely to move towards a print-on-demand system for certain back-catalogue items, and this may ease some of what Brian is talking about.

    So, unless there is something I am missing in the comic book retailer equation, but I don’t understand exactly why this issue isn’t as simple as Brian simply not brining in TPB’s or collections that he doesn’t want to bring in.

    The final random thought to respond with is that I think digital is going to be Brian’s and other retailer’s real threat, because now that I have re-discovered the joy of collecting vintage comics, there is a strong chance that I will either look to moving digital with new releases or stop buying new comics altogether.
    I agree with this entirely. I can appreciate the difficulty retailers face in a situation like this, but graphic novels represent growth in a stagnant industry and a gateway to mainstream retailers on the part of publishers who have been ghettoized to a niche market for years.

  7. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian
    In fact, I think that the best and smartest thing that most publishers could do is openly announce upfront that only the most worthy material they publish will get a collected edition, and that consumers should not expect collections unless the underlying periodical does well. Obviously the best-sellers will continue to be collected, but low sellers that will just clog the system over the long run? Why even bother?
    Not really seeing this.

    Now, maybe your sales figures say otherwise, but it seems to me that the people who are buying comics because they're good are trade-waiters; and also have more disposable income. Whereas the weekly buyers are more buying for character, or for their collection.

    So if we went this way, the only things that went to trade would be what the trade buyers don't buy.
    one of the highest principles of America is that we're a nation of people from different backgrounds living in equal dignity and mutual loyalty - Eboo Patel.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by RussBurlingame View Post
    I agree with this entirely. I can appreciate the difficulty retailers face in a situation like this, but graphic novels represent growth in a stagnant industry and a gateway to mainstream retailers on the part of publishers who have been ghettoized to a niche market for years.
    Yeah.... not.

    Here's some salient data on the performance of books in bookstores from my annual BookScan report:


    Year # of listed items Percent Change Total Unit Sold Percent Change Total Dollars Sold Percent Change Av. Sale per title Av $ per title
    2007 13,181 ----- 15,386,549 ----- $183,066,142.30 ----- 1167 $13,888.64
    2008 17,571 24.98% 15,541,769 1.00% $199,033,741.57 8.02% 885 $11,327.40
    2009 19,692 12.07% 14,095,145 -9.31% $189,033,736.31 -5.02% 716 $9,599.52
    2010 21,993 11.68% 12,130,232 -13.94% $172,435,244.86 -8.78% 552 $7,840.32

    Hrm, hrm, that didn't format well, did it?

    Well, find the original chart here: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?p...ticle&id=30752

    Suffice it to say that comics are generally collapsing faster in the bookstore market than they did/are in the DM

    -B

  9. #24
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    Default The Hits Drive The Revenue

    Appreciate the financial analysis. Definitely some great insights into the different elements and how they interact with each other. But there's one thing you mentioned that is just not correct:

    "...(there) is a pretty large amount of titles that simply can't be making back their creative costs from the largest publishers, being followed by collections that barely make their printing costs back. This is a fundamentally foolish way to do business, because it simply isn't sustainable."

    Every media business is like that. Music, books, movies ... the profitability of every media segment is driven by the hits, because most of the other titles simply don't cover their own costs. Barely more than 3 out of 100 music releases are profitable.

    But unlike other media industries, there is a "war of universes" going on in comics where I'd bet only a small number of buyers are egalitarian enough to invest equally across the board. I would surmise most readers tilt heavily either towards DC or Marvel.

    There's a psychological principle at work. The average person only has so many favorite magazine titles, only so many favorite TV shows, and can only wrap their minds around so many continuities. A war of universes means that the winner keeps getting bigger, even if their product is slightly inferior, simply because the fan of the larger universe either shifts their spend to another part of the universe or opts out. I would hazard a guess that complete defections from Marvel to DC or vice-versa happen less frequently than someone dropping their LCS habit cold turkey.

    So how do we get more traffic? Actually, the question DC is answering is "How do we get more people into OUR universe?"

    Good books and events have always been jumping-on points into universes. Recently we have seen movies and videogames also drive new readers. The videogame is a huge front, and it will be interesting to see whether DC's MMORG is judged to be superior, for how long, and how it will influence overall sales of individual titles.

    But to sustain interest in a universe, you need a diversity of titles. For years, DC has been slowly drawing down the number of titles published, which leads to a smaller shared universe in which to explore, which in turn becomes a decline in overall share.

    At the same time, books that are irregular and cannot be counted on to be published as promised have been huge jumping-off points.

    Thanks to the Internet, people are increasingly living in "real-time". Across the board, the more "real-time" a media product is, the more successful it is. A monthly magazine that is actually released quarterly is shuttered quickly. In comics that practice is tolerated somewhat.

    SO.....I'd argue that more titles from a specific universe, released more frequently and more consistently, are more likely to reset reader expectations and lead to greater share. A larger number of titles gives you a larger number of entry points, and creates a multiplier effect for TPBs and digital comics. Ten different titles could produce fifteen to twenty different ways to purchase, each appealing to a different segment.

    (Then again, I could just be smoking a superior brand of crack.)

    Your thoughts?

  10. #25
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    I buy a lot of trades and I thought I'd chime in with my (probably useless) observations and complaints.

    One problem Hibbs didn't mention, is that the Big Two are using Trades as a market research method, rather than a revenue generating entity.

    A company will issue a trade. Observe sales. And then make decisions about whether to continue with the series and trades, or kill the whole deal. Which works pretty well for a company, but badly for a reader and worse for a retailer.

    So the companies have little motivation to making better trades. DC is almost de-motivated to making better trades since they've found ways to make money without issuing quality product.
    That BATMAN and ROBIN HC that sold 4000 copies? Yeah, great for DC since they made a small fortune on 4 issues (which have already been paid for) slapped together. But the retailers have to dedicate shelf space to something which did okay for them, diverting effort away from something else which may or may not have sold better.

    Readers that have been reading for a while might skip it, hoping for a better version later. New readers may pick it up only to feel cheated knowing they overpaid for a paltry product.

    Hibbs says that only top-selling series should get trades. I think he's mostly right. But I'll add this: Trades that get issued should be better constructed. Better paper. Accurate coloring. Don't skip parts of the run of a title. More than four issues. A lot more than four issues.
    Readers are always looking for a reason not to buy something. And when they come into the store, they've got plenty. The companies should not be giving them more reasons to not buy.

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by hebitudinous View Post
    Every media business is like that. Music, books, movies ... the profitability of every media segment is driven by the hits, because most of the other titles simply don't cover their own costs. Barely more than 3 out of 100 music releases are profitable.
    I would suggest to you that the potential audience for music is in the hundreds of millions, with significantly more potential revenue streams (eg, radio broadcast, licensing to film soundtracks, live performances, etc etc etc) to the point that the "upside" of a MAJOR HIT is perfectly capable of carrying 97 "flops".

    Same for film/TV. Less true for prose, but prose's "investment cost" is significantly less than comics for most participants (eg: advances on publication can be just a few hundred dollars, or maybe even nothing at all)

    Not so for comics -- comics have generally fixed costs of production as Marvel & DC at least have base page rates that they don't drop below, and even the biggest MODERN hit is only going to carry a few flops.

    Quote Originally Posted by hebitudinous View Post
    Good books and events have always been jumping-on points into universes. Recently we have seen movies and videogames also drive new readers. The videogame is a huge front, and it will be interesting to see whether DC's MMORG is judged to be superior, for how long, and how it will influence overall sales of individual titles.
    All available evidence says that videogames don't significantly drive new readers -- for example, the DCU Online comic is getting cancelled prematurely at issue #14 (it was a Day & Date comic, as well! So much for that theory!), and movies only positively impact a very small subset of titles.

    DC and Marvel, if they're trying for "civilians" should NOT be trying to sell them the "universe" -- civvies get confused by that. They want TITLES.

    -B

  12. #27

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    Here's my stumbling block for buying trades from a comic shop, or even from the book store like Barnes and Noble: I'm cheap.

    I usually buy them from Amazon because the discount is great enough. And usually, two or three trades (or two trades and a CD) will get me up to $25 for free shipping. Why spent $20 on that Watchmen trade at the store, when it's $13 at Amazon? Adding on the newest Fables or Buffy trade to get caught up, and I'm over the $25 free shipping threshold.

    Or sometimes, I'll add a newly released trade to my order from DCBS. Like the two Marvel Crossgen trades coming out in September. DCBS had them both discounted down to $7.

    Occassionally, I'll order them from somewhere else online, if Amazon is sold out, or there's a decent sale or discount.

    The only times I buy trades from an actual store are if there's a sale, or it's an older trade with a lower cover price (which is pretty much nonexistant nowadays. I think the last time I lucked out was finding an early printing of Lonely Place of Dying for $6 back in 2002). (Or even a newer one that's $10 or less, as Amazon usually doesn't discount those very much.)

    But two side notes here:
    1.) I do the same thing with non-comic books. If I know I can get it cheaper at Amazon, I'm not going to get it from the store.
    2.) A lot more trades now are not lower priced than the original issues. And I'm not just talking about trades of older material. I'm pretty sure some of the final Ultimate Spider-Man trades (before Ultimatum) had a higher cover price than the combined cover price of the issues within. So of course I'm looking for a discount on those, regardless of where I get it.

  13. #28

    Default Why no returns?

    This probably seems really obvious to people who have been following this column, but remind me again why Marvel and DC don't accept returns? It seems like that would be the obvious way for them to get retailers to try new titles. If the problem is the shipping cost, then perhaps they could provide a shipping label.

    If Marvel and DC really want to keep expanding their lines at this rate, it seems to me that the least they could do is accept more of the risk, at least on the newer/more risky titles. That goes for trades as well as comics.

  14. #29
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    Default digital is rental

    The comic publishers will get my digital business when a "digital sale" means that they've actually sold me a file, not just rental on a "cloud file" that they can revoke whenever they wish or that I can no longer access if they go out of business.

    I am an Amazon person, but I still do not own a Kindle, nor will I as long as they only sell DRM files that I cannot access or back up in any way that I wish.

    I can already access a digital copy of the book that I purchased in hardcopy, and I don't have to pay 99 cents extra, and I actually have a FILE that I can save wherever I want.

    With the reality of pirated copies, what publishers need to realize is that the collector mentality driven sales are pretty much gone. I used to buy titles that I knew were always good for future demand as back issues. Not anymore. Now I only purchase the titles that I want to read and support. It's a much more conscious decision, and it helped me realize how many books I was buying out of habit, not enjoyment. I buy fewer books today, but I enjoy them much, much more.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bluedevil2002 View Post
    Here's my stumbling block for buying trades from a comic shop, or even from the book store like Barnes and Noble: I'm cheap.
    Don't be upset when your local comic book shop goes out of business. I go out of my way to have a TPB/HC pull list from my local shop cause I appreciate the fact that they exist. If you don't value that, then, yeah, go with Amazon or whomever.

    If you use the comixology website as a tool to create a pull list for your local shop, it makes things even easier. A lot easier then just surfing Amazon for new releases and such.

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