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Some Thoughts Inspired By Betty And Veronica Digest #192

Not really a review, because seriously, it’s Archie Comics, and I’ll leave talking about those to the pros. I do have some musings loosely based on buying this stupid thing, though!

First; this is the only comic K-Mart carries, and they carry a ton of them. That combined with the cover, which mislead me in to think the Archies were going to Japan (turns out they were just visiting the only Japanese family in their whitebread town), got my $2.69.

Which leads me to get my bitch on about why Marvel and DC (and hell, Dark Horse, IDW, and Boom!, given their licensed comics stable) don’t produce these things. Of course, I’ve never understood why no one ripped off the Shonen Jump format with fat black and white reprints of American comics, either. I must be really missing something here. I mean, I know DC did digests back in the day, so calm down Scott. I just don’t get why they don’t jump on that train now. Is Archie really protective of that turf, to the point where they’ll hire goons to break anyone’s legs who tries to muscle in on it? Did they just give up? What’s the deal there?

I’m not talking about the issue because, aside from a rare evil Justin Timberlake appearance in the Josie and the Pussycats strip and the fact that one of Etrigan’s cousins lives in a cookie jar at Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s house, nothing remotely of interest to me happened. That’s because these comics are for pre-teen girls and all, so I didn’t expect anything other than offensively inoffensive all ages work, and that’s what I got. That said, I think Warren Ellis might be right about them anyway. Something to consider, at least, after the mob gets done with Didio and Quesada. If nothing else, the new look stories should be a nice rallying point. Those things are a hideous affront to the characters and the fans! Well, they’re ugly, at least.

15 Comments

DC used to produce them in spades back when I was a very young child (now an old child). That’s how I got introduced to The Legion of Super-Heroes and Superboy. I still remember the tiny reprint Jo-Nah fighting the Space Whale.

Also, Gladstone used to produce them too, IIRC.

But why isn’t DC and Marvel doing it now? Like Brad, I’ve noticed that if there is a comic book to be found in a Wal-Mart or K-Mart, etc, it’s an Archie Digest and nobody does anything unless their making money at it. If not, Archie wouldn’t be there. At under $3 a pop, an all ages Spider-Man or Batman digest would be a big seller, IMHO. Kids know Spidey and Bats, parent’s remember them too, so between kid appeal and adult nostagia, it seems to me a mass market digest at the check out counters would work. If DC or Marvel did an exclusive with just Wal-Mart alone, that would be a lot of exposure for either company and its characters. But the price model would have to be dirt cheap: none of this $6.99 to $9.99 for 6 issues in a digest which is just a trade paperpack in a smaller size. Go the Archie route: about 3 or 4 issues worth of material with ads (including house ads for the regular comics and maybe even regional ads for area comic books shops. Hook’ em with a digest, reel ‘em in to a LCS.)

Marvel seems to do alright selling large-dimension reprints of their MA books in target; for that matter, I see a good many DC trades there too, including those not aimed at kids (CHRONICLES, GREATEST ______ STORIES EVER TOLD, etc.). I’d guess that their presence at Target has something to do with their non-presence elsewhere; the big retailers, after all, are deepy in love with their exclusive deals.

Other than NARUTO, I don’t remember seeing any comics in Wal-Mart since about 2000 or so. I have fond memories of standing just outside the toy department reading blissfully while my mom shopped; in fact, that’s where I first saw BWS’ WEAPON X. I came in at about the next to last chapter, and it was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen.

It’s a shame the Big Two can’t drop the price a little on their digests and get those things into the grocery and department stores where they’d do some good. I’ve handed the recent POWER PACK books around to a lot of kids, and every one of them loved them. Heck, I can’t see how Gemstone’s Disney books wouldn’t sell there.

The junior books are generally good, and seem to click with the kids who get to read them, but right now they’re basically selling to the children of people who already buy comics, and those kids are growing up around comics already. Everyone says they want new customers, but no one seems to want to meet those new customers where they are.

I didn’t get into comics because I wandered into a specialty store. I got into them because they were EVERYWHERE; at Wal-Mart, at Piggly-Wiggly, at every dang gas sation you went into. I don’t think they were ubiquitous because there was a hungry readership just waiting for them to come; they built the hungry readership by making comics ubiquitous.

But I’m ranting … what was the question again?

As I understand it, it’s a cyclical kind of problem. DC and Marvel aren’t in the grocery stores because their price point is too high, but their price point is too high because they can’t get into the grocery stores and Wal-Mart.

Everybody seems to think that getting distributed by Wal-Mart will save the industry (or at least the company). I don’t know that it will. I think the issue at hand is volume. Some of the local Krogers in my area have one or two comics on their magazine rack, but 1) They’re generally smaller than all the other magazines on the shelf, and 2) there’s only one or two titles at any given time.

I think for comics to work at a Wal-Mart, supermarket or drugstore, There has to be a shelf or two devoted to them so they won’t get lost or buried, and people can have a selection to choose from. On the other hand, all the local big box bookstores seem to have a decent selection of the month’s super-hero titles, and I don’t see them saving the industry.

The real benefit Archie has over the Big Two is that these digests are totally disposable. Someone can pick one up, read five or six complete stories and be totally satisfied. They don’t have to read a dozen crossover stories to understand the one they’re reading. They don’t even have to pick up the next issue. Everything they need is right there in front of them.

Until DC and Marvel can start doing that again, I seriously doubt we’ll ever see them at Wal-Mart. The MA and Johnny DC collections (are Johnny DC in digest form?) are a start, but if we’re talking $4 for 120 pages of Archie vs. $7.99 for 90 pages for MA Fantastic Four, I know which one I’d think was the bigger bargain, if I were a buyer for Wal-Mart.

I remember reading a Miller written / drawn Daredevil, and liking it, and huting around various 7-11’s and other spinner racks for issues around the one I bought.

The local drug store sold comics. Grocery stores had spinner racks. Did I mention Spinner racks? Took up little space, and as a kid they were treasure troves to visit while mom shopped.

I started with Shazam (it was on Saturday mornings (remember when the big three all showed cartoons on Saturday?)) and graduated to Batman, and others.

One problem is that today’s “art” wouldn’t shrink down to digest size. many books would look all muddy. But work from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s would look fine. I remember being jazzed about World’s Finest Dollar Comics, and Adventure Dollar Comics. A variety of features for only double the price of a regular book. How about an anthology format with a mixture of characters?

An impulse buy item at the register- “Mommy I wanna Batman! Batman!” Give the kid a Batman digest so he shuts up!

How about a Trinity Digest, with older Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman stories? Or a JLA format with a classic JLA tale, and individual stories of various second string characters- throw in a big name once in awhile.

Why does this seem so simple for a company with 75 years of history to draw on?

Because, let’s face it, if comics only future is the children of existing readers, what percentage of them will be retained in the next generation? The number of people willing to walk into a local comics shop is dwindling. Maybe because so many of them are in crappy low rent areas….

What was the question?

My understanding is that the reason DC and Marvel aren’t in grocery stores isn’t that their price point is too high, but that their profit margin is too low compared to the magazines that can be carried in the same space. (Note that at least some of the newsstand editions that remain–such as those sold at Borders–cost more than their direct market counterparts.)

Recently Marvel’s tried that approach with their ” Your Universe ” magazines, which contain five issues of recent series for $6.99. A softcover trade paperback with five issues would likely retail for $14.99, so this is an excellent deal by contrast. The content isn’t kid-oriented, but then again, Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat are magazines targeted largely towards tweens and teens, who should do fine with this stuff.

Unfortunately, the content isn’t new reader friendly for that matter; the series that they’re reprinting are Ms. Marvel, Immortal Iron Fist, Nova, Ghost Rider, and X-Men: Legacy. These are largely good series ( Immortal Iron Fist and Nova are awesome, Ms. Marvel and Ghost Rider are decent, X-Men Legacy is a guilty pleasure ), but most of them have a high prerequisite for Marvel continuity knowledge.

That said,

distribution, distribution, distribution. There’s only so many slots in the checkout line, and what gets racked in those slots is serious business. You have to pay a fee to get put into those prime locations — so in addition to trying a completly new title that would have to build its market, Marvel or DC would also have additional expenses just to get it in the right places. And Archie owns those slots right now — they’re not going to give them up — the digests are where they make their money.

If I recall the discussions correctly, this is ultimately what did in Disney Adventure magazine — it sold enough copies, but the additional expense of racking fees made it not profitable enough (plus, Disney was pretty much getting out of magazine publishing at the time). If a Disney branded book can’t get enough traction in the checkout lane, Marvel and DC are probably right to be cautious.

Most of the prescriptions that people come up with — Shonen Jump style B&W book, digests, anthologies, etc. have the same problem. How do you get people to even know that they exist? Have you seen the newsstand lately? traditional magazines are dying left and right. When was the last time you bought a completely new to you magazine from a newsstand? (I’m a magazine nut and it’s been a long, long time — I pretty much just get the ones that I normally get — the ones like Classic Rock where I don’t want to subscribe because I don’t want to read the contents of some issues).

As one of the other posters said, when I was a kid in the late 60s/early 70s, comics were everywhere (and that’s when the publishers were crying that the market was drying up!). As I think back on my childhood, the grocery store, the drugstore, the variety store, the convenience store — all had comics for sale. Today, none of those carry comics to my knowledge. The bookstores do, and the comic books store does. How do you get a population that barely reads anything to begin buying an anthology that they won’t even see racked for sale? Honestly, whoever can answer that question can make some good coin selling the idea to one of the mainstream publishers. They want to know.

Publishers have kept their heads in the sand too long. there HAS to be some sort of digital initiative for future survival. Do the webcomics route and give the digital version away while selling the more permanent paper version — Heck, isn’t that what’s already happening with torrents and trade paperbacks? in order to sell, you’ve got to get eyeballs. you’re not going to get eyeballs when your product keeps getting more and more isolated due to changing retail environments. sorry /rant

Digital is not the way to go. Comic Books are a print media and that is how they should say. You say that a starter anthology book would not get noticed? How did Shonen Jump do it. I teach and see more of them in my school than I do regular comic books. Companies should pay the price to get racked, as you say, and if they stick with it long enough, then they will see profits like Archie does.

Comics used to be in every grocery and conveinience store down here as late as 2001. That’s how I bought most of them as a kid, and I was really bummed out that they started to disappear when I got in to comics again (I bought my first Grant Morrison issues of New X-Men at the grocery store).

And thanks for explaining why Marvel and DC aren’t getting in to grocery stores, guys that did that. I forgot about all that.

DC could pull it off by digesting the Superman and Batman stories from the mags that were based on cartoon shows. At least as a starter.

And whatever happened to those magazine-sized Hulk comics? You could find them right next to Heavy Metal. I realize those were adult versions back before the mainstream books started going adult, but they were still awesome.

Could you imagine that format now? Going further than todays mainstream mags?

FWIW I was in a local WalMart a few weeks ago and they had the Wolverine Magazine one-shot and an Amazing Spider-Man in the magazine section.

RS (f/k/a Lothor – yeah, I changed my name again.)

This topic seems to have struck a nerve (thanks, Betty & Veronica!). A couple of things:
1) Going with Bob’s idea above, the material from all the animation inspired Batman comics is more than enough to fill out an Archie style digest for well over a 100 issues. Superman Adventures only lasted 66 issues plus a couple of specials but add in both Justice League books, the Legion book, toss in the Krypto and Supergirl titles as well as Super Friends (current and classic 70’s Bridwell), that’s more than enough to cover about 70 or 80 digests. And that’s before using any material from the DC’s library from the 50’s to the early 80’s. And also not factoring in any new all ages material (both print and digital) that could be repurposed for use in a digest.

2) If DC or Marvel can make money dong this, great (and I think they can.) But the larger and more important issue is keeping comics in the public eye. A lot of us didn’t start in the comic shops, we started in the drug stores and the convenience stores with the squeaky spinner racks. Those days are gone so where are the fans of tomorrow coming from? The value of being in the eyes of millions of Wal-Mart shoppers (for example) is equal to if not greater than the actual profit DC or Marvel could make.

The packages available at Target were mentioned; they’re a great value and I’ve bought a few myself. But most Target stores I’ve seen these in, they are an after thought buried on the bottom shelf of the magazine section or the kid’s book section. The digest model puts the books where everybody has to go: the check out counter.

OK, I gotta let this go.

[…] Some Thoughts Inspired By Betty And Veronica Digest #192 […]

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