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  1. #1
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    Default Tilting at Windmills - Feb 14, 2013

    Brian Hibbs returns with TILTING AT WINDMILLS' annual analysis of the 2012 sales numbers for graphic novels in the bookstore market, discovering a few surprises in the process.


    Full article here.

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    A fantastic and informative read as always. Thank you.

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    Very interesting stuff that makes sense of Marvel's abject failure in terms of creation AND business model.

    Firstly Marvel's long, drawn out, decompressed, talking heads snoozefests bore people to tears. Whereas more action orientated, faster-paced books sell well.

    Secondly, Marvel's constant renumbering, rebooting and a general lack of an A-Z roadmap of title chronology only serves to baffle and turn away potential readers.

    Thirdly, Marvel don't appear to have plans in place to capitalise on their movie success.

    Fourthly, Marvel don't have the same back catalogue of classic, non-(ongoing) franchise affiliated material to draw upon (ie. like Watchmen).

    Fifthly, Marvel's comic sales success is propped up with "Events", Gimmicks and Hype, all of which only boost short term sales. A rubbish (but well hyped) movie might have a good opening weekend, but once word of mouth gets around it drops like a stone.

    Solutions:

    - Faster paced comics with more action.
    - Sort out the chronology mess (very easily done, but I'll sit on exactly how until they hire me)
    - Aggressive push of movie affiliated franchises (one problem seems to be that while Marvel have a Comic Event usually tied to that summer's movie, its never out in trade when the movie is released, its usually ongoing at that point)
    - Take a few more chances with (diverse) self contained stories to widen the catalogue. Get some top writers and just say, you have 6-12 issues to write a story you always wanted. They don't ncessarily have to be about Marvel characters, they could be What If's or whatever if the story is that outlandish (Iron Woman - where Margaret Thatcher was a British Superhero...Marvel Physics - where the 'villain' is realistic physics...or, you know, something with Marvelman).
    - Write better stories.

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    It was observed to me by a third party that for a good part of 2012 Barnes & Noble was not stocking the "top 100" DC Comics, which I entirely forgot about in my BookScan 2012 report.

    There are published reports that say that this ended at the end of June 2012, but there's also reports from everyone's favorite muckraker, Rich Johnston, that some/much of the books were returning to some B&N locations before 2011 even ended

    What does this actually do to the charts? I have no real idea. Typically 4th quarter is the strongest sales quarter, so, in theory, this should have impacted DC's 2011 numbers much stronger than 2012, but even that's uncertain -- how much demand was simply delayed until the books returned to stock, how much was shunted over to Amazon or indy book stores? How much unmet demand yielded no sale for DC? I have no frickin' idea, but at the very least it should have been NOTED in the column, and that's a lousy mistake for me to have made.

    There was just 12k difference (701k vs 689k) in sales between DC and Image this year, so it's possible, mayyybe even likely that DC actually "would have" been the #1 western publisher, but I can only analyze the numbers that are there, rather than the ones that aren't. Still.... asterisk that analysis, I think, to be safe.


    Thanks!

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Upper_Krust View Post
    - Faster paced comics with more action.
    - Sort out the chronology mess (very easily done, but I'll sit on exactly how until they hire me)
    - Aggressive push of movie affiliated franchises (one problem seems to be that while Marvel have a Comic Event usually tied to that summer's movie, its never out in trade when the movie is released, its usually ongoing at that point)
    - Take a few more chances with (diverse) self contained stories to widen the catalogue. Get some top writers and just say, you have 6-12 issues to write a story you always wanted. They don't ncessarily have to be about Marvel characters, they could be What If's or whatever if the story is that outlandish (Iron Woman - where Margaret Thatcher was a British Superhero...Marvel Physics - where the 'villain' is realistic physics...or, you know, something with Marvelman).
    - Write better stories.
    I think that this is over thinking a great deal of the problem -- I think the more likely culprits are no clear reading order tied with $25-40 price points.

    -B

  6. #6

    Default A DC Animation Effect?

    You point out that "Batman: Year One" did better last year. I wonder if sales last year were helped by the release by DC Animation of a "Year One" DVD. This year, Bruce Timm and Co. put out a two part "Dark Knight Returns," which may have helped push sales of the graphic novel a little bit.

    As always, a fabulously comprehensive job!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs
    I think that this is over thinking a great deal of the problem -- I think the more likely culprits are no clear reading order tied with $25-40 price points.
    I agree about no clear reading order.

    I'm convinced the decompressed style doesn't work for Events. Its noteworthy that the best selling (Marvel) trades were ones with faster pacing and more action.

    I agree with you that pricing is an issue - but often thats a by-product of decompression. Marvel Events are now taking more comics to tell the same amount of story, which means the eventual trade prices will be greater. In the past, comics would tell a story in 1, 2 or 3 issues with maybe the odd exception here and there. A 6 issue story was an Event (Infinity Gauntlet). A (rare) 12 issue story was a Mega-Event (Crisis, Secret Wars). Now it seems that every story in the comics is 6 issues and the Events are all 8-12 issues...and thats not counting the dozens of satellite titles that pop up surrounding each Event.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Upper_Krust View Post
    Very interesting stuff that makes sense of Marvel's abject failure in terms of creation AND business model.

    Firstly Marvel's long, drawn out, decompressed, talking heads snoozefests bore people to tears. Whereas more action orientated, faster-paced books sell well.
    Secondly, Marvel's constant renumbering, rebooting and a general lack of an A-Z roadmap of title chronology only serves to baffle and turn away potential readers.
    Thirdly, Marvel don't appear to have plans in place to capitalise on their movie success.
    Fourthly, Marvel don't have the same back catalogue of classic, non-(ongoing) franchise affiliated material to draw upon (ie. like Watchmen).
    Fifthly, Marvel's comic sales success is propped up with "Events", Gimmicks and Hype, all of which only boost short term sales. A rubbish (but well hyped) movie might have a good opening weekend, but once word of mouth gets around it drops like a stone.
    Solutions:
    - Faster paced comics with more action.
    - Sort out the chronology mess (very easily done, but I'll sit on exactly how until they hire me)
    - Aggressive push of movie affiliated franchises (one problem seems to be that while Marvel have a Comic Event usually tied to that summer's movie, its never out in trade when the movie is released, its usually ongoing at that point)
    - Take a few more chances with (diverse) self contained stories to widen the catalogue. Get some top writers and just say, you have 6-12 issues to write a story you always wanted. They don't ncessarily have to be about Marvel characters, they could be What If's or whatever if the story is that outlandish (Iron Woman - where Margaret Thatcher was a British Superhero...Marvel Physics - where the 'villain' is realistic physics...or, you know, something with Marvelman).
    - Write better stories.
    AvX, MARVEL NOW, etc. are proof otherwise that our books sell at a "fast-paced."
    Title chronology exists for the adventurous fan. I don't think any new reader or casual reader is starting from from materials 4-5-or 6 decades ago. They tend to read characters and or creators they like or via recc's or word of mouth.
    We are capitalizing fine off of Marvel Studios successes and other third party films. Remember digital is now a part of our planning.
    Marvel has a strong backlist. Is it as robust as other publishers? Yes and no. But we are working on it.
    Actually word of mouth has driven our periodical and frontlist collection sales, so I am not sure what you're basing your opinion off of....
    I'll be fairly honest our business model works. We are a margin driven business that uses tight controls on all COGS/COS like inventory to maximize OI. We had a correction at the end of 2011 and we've been off to the races again since.

    A lot of your "solutions" are qualitatively based and aren't derived from any sort of historical data or business acumen. While we enjoy seeing people give us suggestions of how to improve our business, you seem more than content to grind an axe for some unknown reason and insult Marvel in the process. We outperformed our quantitative and qualitative goals for 2012 and the objectives set by the Walt Disney Company and will continue to strive to do so again, again, again, etc. So while the naysayers keep naysaying, we keep succeeding. However I will definitely look at backlist chronology since that is part of whether retailers and consumers really need that level of curation these days. --Ruwan p.s. apologies on the typos!

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    Hi Brian,
    Just for you to note, we evaluate our business and the health of it by a number of different metrics. Overall retail revenue is one of them, but not the main determinant.
    I would say margin (operating margin) would be a more relevant number which you are not privy t. Despite the doom 'n gloom your article might kick up as it relates to Marvel trade retail business...I'd say from our perspective that we are really happy with our performance. Our ranking versus other publishing might be important to some folks, but it's not how I guide our strategy in a channel or retail space--or evaluate it for that matter. While being cognizant of our competitors and other performers is great contextual knowledge to have, it does not bend what we set out to do. Being that I have worked for Scholastic (before Marvel) and Marvel and for other reason are familiar with the publishing p&ls of some of the other publishers you discuss, I'll be quite frank...each publisher is operating at much different margins. And with that perspective, I am really happy with how Marvel is performing versus how I estimate other fellow publishers are doing, despite rankings.

    There's a lot of valuable data in your piece and as you state yourself it's important for people to draw their own conclusions and do more research...I am quite confident in what Marvel achieved in 2012 versus other publishers, but at the end of the day...we are judged on our own performance not other players.

    Cheers,

    Ruwan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ruwan View Post
    Hi Brian,
    Just for you to note, we evaluate our business and the health of it by a number of different metrics. Overall retail revenue is one of them, but not the main determinant.
    I would say margin (operating margin) would be a more relevant number which you are not privy t. Despite the doom 'n gloom your article might kick up as it relates to Marvel trade retail business...I'd say from our perspective that we are really happy with our performance. Our ranking versus other publishing might be important to some folks, but it's not how I guide our strategy in a channel or retail space--or evaluate it for that matter.
    Hi, Ruwan

    Am I correct in assuming this is Ruwan Jayatilleke, Associate Publisher of Marvel? If so, you may want to change your account's name to make this clearer. I believe that CBR can also give you a custom title or something to indicate your professional status.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, and, you're absolutely correct, I'm making no claim or warranty of Marvel's operating margins. What can I say? If Marvel and Disney management are happy with the company's backlist performance, I suppose I can't much gainsay that. I will, however, make a couple arguments why I think the backlist strategy is misguided.

    First and foremost: I am a retailer. More importantly, I am a book/backlist-focused retailer, so I hope you'll understand that when I say "you're underperforming", then it is coming from a pretty objective place -- Marvel is the "biggest name" in comics publishing, with the most popular characters, and an incredibly significant amount of general consumer awareness this year thanks to successful films/tv/whatever, and yet you're selling (dramatically!) fewer books on a per-title basis. You say that what's most important to your corporate values is operating margin, which I can certainly appreciate, but the hard fact of the matter is that as a retailer, OUR operating margin on backlist is generally the same from publisher to publisher -- DC or Marvel or Image or Dark Horse, the percentages are all the same.

    (in point of fact, I actually receive a lower margin on Marvel, though that's very tangential)

    I mean, certainly, I understand that you're concerned about your margin, fair enough! but from the MARKET's POV, Marvel is unambiguously a weak competitor in backlist support. And that then makes you an even weaker competitor as a result.

    Further, at a certain point, operating margin means far less than the absolute profit that can be netted out -- I'd rather earn 200% ROI on 100k copies than 300% ROI on 50k copies. That's just math.

    I firmly believe that Marvel could conservatively double or treble backlist sales, if it concentrated on market basics like keeping perennial material in print, having clearer reading paths, and more reasonable price points. This is quintessentially low-hanging fruit we're talking about here.

    At the end of the day, what I and most market participants care about RE: Marvel is how many copies of your books that we sell. These numbers are, I think, are substantially lower than they both could and SHOULD be, and, for us, that's the most important metric.

    -B

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    The main thing I want to say is thank you for putting together these analysis reports each year! I've been reading them for a few years now and look forward to the annual event of your posting them :)

    I also wanted to note that the 2011 numbers were left out of some of the charts (Yen Press and Viz, that I saw), and DelRey's "# of listed items" column looks off. It seems like these were just formatting issues and the percentages are calculated from the correct data, but it did confuse me for a bit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lys View Post
    I also wanted to note that the 2011 numbers were left out of some of the charts (Yen Press and Viz, that I saw), and DelRey's "# of listed items" column looks off. It seems like these were just formatting issues and the percentages are calculated from the correct data, but it did confuse me for a bit.
    Huh. So it is.

    Well, all I can say is that it doesn't look like that in my Master. I know this column is an EXTREME pain for Stephen and Jonah to format, and something must have got lost. Nothing I can do on my end to fix it, sorry.

    You can get Viz and Yen 2011, worst case, by looking at the previous year's report....



    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs View Post
    Hi, Ruwan

    Am I correct in assuming this is Ruwan Jayatilleke, Associate Publisher of Marvel? If so, you may want to change your account's name to make this clearer. I believe that CBR can also give you a custom title or something to indicate your professional status.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, and, you're absolutely correct, I'm making no claim or warranty of Marvel's operating margins. What can I say? If Marvel and Disney management are happy with the company's backlist performance, I suppose I can't much gainsay that. I will, however, make a couple arguments why I think the backlist strategy is misguided.

    First and foremost: I am a retailer. More importantly, I am a book/backlist-focused retailer, so I hope you'll understand that when I say "you're underperforming", then it is coming from a pretty objective place -- Marvel is the "biggest name" in comics publishing, with the most popular characters, and an incredibly significant amount of general consumer awareness this year thanks to successful films/tv/whatever, and yet you're selling (dramatically!) fewer books on a per-title basis. You say that what's most important to your corporate values is operating margin, which I can certainly appreciate, but the hard fact of the matter is that as a retailer, OUR operating margin on backlist is generally the same from publisher to publisher -- DC or Marvel or Image or Dark Horse, the percentages are all the same.

    (in point of fact, I actually receive a lower margin on Marvel, though that's very tangential)

    I mean, certainly, I understand that you're concerned about your margin, fair enough! but from the MARKET's POV, Marvel is unambiguously a weak competitor in backlist support. And that then makes you an even weaker competitor as a result.

    Further, at a certain point, operating margin means far less than the absolute profit that can be netted out -- I'd rather earn 200% ROI on 100k copies than 300% ROI on 50k copies. That's just math.

    I firmly believe that Marvel could conservatively double or treble backlist sales, if it concentrated on market basics like keeping perennial material in print, having clearer reading paths, and more reasonable price points. This is quintessentially low-hanging fruit we're talking about here.

    At the end of the day, what I and most market participants care about RE: Marvel is how many copies of your books that we sell. These numbers are, I think, are substantially lower than they both could and SHOULD be, and, for us, that's the most important metric.

    -B
    Hi Brian,
    Indeed it is I--or me--Ruwan at Marvel. I oversee the sales, marketing, and communications teams re: Publishing amongst many tasks and am responsible--along with my team and other stakeholders for the publishing p&l. Unaware on CBR and professional status titles and accounts...Jonah hates me so I don't see that happening. Kidding! Love you, mean it Jonah! ;)

    Hmm "strategy misguided"--bit of a reach as it comes to the business of creating publishing product. Selling yes--no one question your expertise as it relates to your store/s and sales patterns. But that is only one link of a very long chain of revenue chain--both upstream and downstream. Even the roughest "back of the envelope math" doesn't support what you're stating IMO. Sorry. Totally value your opinion, ideas, and attempts to educate and inform. Not trying to dismiss them outright. I can say from just looking at the proprietary info and other industry insider knowledge, you're backing out an answer based on loose assumptions to support your hypothesis. There's not even qualitative data to support what your stating.

    No it's not coming from an "objective place" bc it's coming from YOU (not actuals as it related to Marvel, its margins, actual sales, and all channels/product formats). On top of it not being an accurate sampling amongst a channel of retailers you can extrapolate from, and you're not being able to waterfall out revenue for a year of sales amongst different and divergent retail channels. While I respect your retailer perspective.

    "Further, at a certain point, operating margin means far less than the absolute profit that can be netted out -- I'd rather earn 200% ROI on 100k copies than 300% ROI on 50k copies. That's just math." Who said that profit or the weighted value of the actual margin means far less to me than x, y, or z metrics that we have batted about. I get "math" and we're (Marvel) doing a great job w/ the math to hit our goals which are aggressive. As I said before we use different metrics. I shorthanded operating margin as a main indicator and I should overstated there are more main indicators, but that is all I am willing to share online or otherwise. Until you are sitting in my seat or one of one of my colleague's chairs at any of the other publishers (you can throw the same thing back at me in terms of retail--I know)...all you're presenting is an opinion based on nonactuals and borderline back of the envelope math. Not trying to shut down this discussion, but this is going to get protracted for no reason. You'll have proved nothing to me by us trading who's right and who's wrong over a forum. And frankly I am not interested in that conversation bc it gets neither what you're trying to advocate further to me or my teams--or vice versa. I'll be at a fair amount of the comic shows this year. You can me chat w/ me about this offline at one of them f2f.

    Cheers and thanks for the dialogue,

    R
    p.s. apologies on misspellings, syntactical errors, etc. Fast no proofreading-less typing.

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    Hey Ruwan,

    apologies for the slow reply.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ruwan
    AvX, MARVEL NOW, etc. are proof otherwise that our books sell at a "fast-paced."
    Which Marvel NOW titles do you consider fast paced? Would you consider Jonathan Hickman's Avengers fast paced for instance?

    Or were you just making a rate of sales based quip?

    Title chronology exists for the adventurous fan. I don't think any new reader or casual reader is starting from from materials 4-5-or 6 decades ago. They tend to read characters and or creators they like or via recc's or word of mouth.
    ...and this is why its so confusing for new readers because there are no definitive timelines, just reboots/renumberings and these are becoming more and more frequent. I could understand it maybe every decade (since as you note; styles and tastes change, especially with regards art standards), but its every other year now for many Marvel titles.

    We are capitalizing fine off of Marvel Studios successes and other third party films. Remember digital is now a part of our planning.
    According to the original article Marvel are not capitalizing on the movie successes at all.

    I just want to point out at this juncture that I am a Marvel fan first and foremost. I own Civil War. I own Infinity Gauntlet. I understand why these are great stories, still selling well in the trades. I want Marvel to do well. But I am just being turned off by the amount of decompression in Marvel (and DC to be fair) comics which means I get less story at a grossly inflated price ($5.50 for a $3.99 comic here in the UK).

    Marvel has a strong backlist. Is it as robust as other publishers? Yes and no. But we are working on it.
    I wish Marvel every success, but it seems to me that while probably equal to DC in terms of Ongoing Franchise based stories, Marvel are far behind DC in classic books whichs operate outside the Ongoing Franchises.

    Actually word of mouth has driven our periodical and frontlist collection sales, so I am not sure what you're basing your opinion off of....
    I based my opinions from the article which states Marvel are #8 in Graphic Novel sales and only one such book sold more than 10,000 copies in a year when Marvel dominated the box office with the Avengers and Amazing Spiderman movies.

    I'll be fairly honest our business model works. We are a margin driven business that uses tight controls on all COGS/COS like inventory to maximize OI. We had a correction at the end of 2011 and we've been off to the races again since.
    Certainly the comics model seems to be working. The Event spawns New Title(s) spawns Event spawns New Title(s) repeat etc. format of the past decade seems to be working very well. In effect using Events to 'jump start' new titles (Secret Invasion leading to Dark Avengers just to highlight one such example) meant that DC had to reboot their entire line to compete again. Surprised DC never really figured that one out.

    A lot of your "solutions" are qualitatively based and aren't derived from any sort of historical data or business acumen. While we enjoy seeing people give us suggestions of how to improve our business, you seem more than content to grind an axe for some unknown reason and insult Marvel in the process.
    If I have an axe to grind it is only against the decompressed style of storytelling that (as far as I can see) dominates Marvel (and DC) comics. This was something the article itself mentioned.

    I certainly don't have a problem with Marvel itself. The prices are inflated, but I understand that with the current size of the market you need to turn a profit and people will answer with their money whether they like or dislike something.

    We outperformed our quantitative and qualitative goals for 2012 and the objectives set by the Walt Disney Company and will continue to strive to do so again, again, again, etc. So while the naysayers keep naysaying, we keep succeeding.
    I wish you all the best. I'm sure I'll keep supporting Marvel to some extent, since I cherish many of the characters.

    However I will definitely look at backlist chronology since that is part of whether retailers and consumers really need that level of curation these days.
    I have an idea how you could solve this problem (for future books and the past back catalogue) while simultaneously creating new revenue streams. Might just be a silly idea or it could be revolutionary (unlikely I know). Who knows. I could always private message you I guess...?

    --Ruwan p.s. apologies on the typos!
    None necessary.

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    Wow, that is a TON of data, sorting, analyzing, and writing, and you managed to keep me hooked all the way through. Thanks, Brian! You do know people pay good money for reports like this, right?

    One quick note on Ninjago #1 -- that was published in November '11, which explains the "sudden" sales spike in '12. I wish it was due to brilliant marketing strategy.

    Reading through the back-and-forth with Ruwan here reminds me of the Bookscan debate at The Beat that you linked to. Everyone knows the Bookscan numbers are inaccurate, but no one is too sure what that means. I think the problem is that people come to these charts and analyses looking for answers to certain questions that may not be possible, and the actual answered questions may not be important to everyone. Ruwan isn't really saying the report is wrong as much as it doesn't matter to him; he's got sales coming in through magazine subscriptions, newsstand sales, sales at Walmart, digital, licensed books, vertical non-comics books, and probably a hundred other streams. Bookscan numbers certainly aren't acceptable for measuring overall business performance or meeting maternal budget targets, and you weren't suggesting otherwise.

    Likewise, Bookscan numbers aren't acceptable for measuring audience reach, total "asses in seats" or anything like that (especially without Walmart and book fairs).

    As you said up top, Bookscan is a kinda sorta look at what might be happening in bookstores. That may have differing degrees of usefulness to everyone, but no one can say you weren't honest about it at the start of the piece. And if the point is to basically measure trends, it seems to have done the job: kids' books drive sales, as they do in all of publishing, as do media-supported books with good publishing and marketing strategies, and actual mainstream books (meaning books about real people doing real things) like Persepolis will always do will with enough critical acclaim and word of mouth. Or at least that's my analysis of your analysis. ;)

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