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Oh, wait, I get it – once again, it’s all our fault

Yes, I’m going to rant a bit. There’s nothing more fun than that!

So there I was, reading The Savage Critics, like one does, and I came across this post. In it, Mr. Brian Hibbs reviews The Shade #2, and he linked to The Beat, where there was a link to a James Robinson tweet in which Mr. Robinson said that The Shade might not make it 12 issues because sales are so lousy. As I am one of the people waiting for the trade, this has a tiny bit of an impact on me. (In the sense that it’s a minor annoyance in life, not unlike when you’re cleaning out your garage and the people from St. Vincent de Paul can’t pick up some of your stuff for a week and in the meantime, you can’t really do anything else with the garage because that stuff is blocking everything else but you know it will be gone in a few days so it doesn’t really matter and no I’m not dealing with anything like that right now, why do you ask? I mean, I could live a full and happy life without ever reading a page of The Shade, so this rant isn’t really about possibly not being able to read it. It’s sort of about that, but not really.) But it still makes me grumpy.

I’ve ranted about the idiotic business practices of comics companies before, and as I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, I’m probably talking out of my ass, but this still seems idiotic. DC decided to publish a mini-series about a villain who hasn’t appeared regularly in a series in a decade. They decided to publish this by a writer whose most recent work in comics has been vilified, and a lot of people in comics who weren’t reading comics in 1990s wonder why anyone would enjoy this guy’s work.. They decided to publish this as a 12-issue mini-series, which is fairly ambitious considering the first two points. They decided to publish this very soon after a highly-publicized “soft” reboot of their entire line in which the foundations of this mini-series (the JSA, for instance) were wiped away. They decided to publish this in single issues when they have recently published the series out of which it was generated in handy, giant-sized hardcover formats (according to Brian Hibbs, the smaller, softcover Starman trades are out of print, so there is that). And now they’re surprised when sales of the single issues might not be as strong as they thought? Really, DC? How tone deaf are the people running that company?

According to that article at The Beat, issue #1 of The Shade actually did fairly well, with pre-orders in the 30,000 range. That ain’t bad at all. Perhaps pre-orders for subsequent issues were terrible, but we don’t know those numbers yet. One wonders what prompted Robinson to make the tweet – he must have knowledge that we peons don’t, because I can’t believe DC thinks this book will sell even in the 30,000-copy range – I would think it would be below 20,000, frankly. That they’re considering axing it means they know something. Or maybe Robinson is getting bad information. Who knows.

I’m not buying single issues of The Shade, as you might know (because I haven’t reviewed them). I’ve been slowly moving away from single issues, especially those from Marvel and DC, because so much of their output these days gets collected in trade paperback form, even books that get the axe (Xombi, for instance). As this has been advertised as a 12-issue mini-series, I figured there was less chance of it getting cancelled, because it had an ending built in. I’ve been doing this with the mini-series from the Big Two for a while, and all these cancellations and reboots (the big DC one, of course, but the Marvel one with the X-books) have given me a good place to stop the ongoing titles, too. I’ve reached the point where I’m tired of advertisements, the price of comics (trades are basically the same price – maybe a dollar less, even, or maybe a dollar more), and the storage concerns. I’d rather have a trade on a bookshelf than a bunch of single issues in a long box. None of these are surprising reasons to anyone – they’re pretty much the reasons anyone gives for switching to trades. But there are others, even. One is that the comic book companies themselves have made it easier – as noted, they release almost everything in trade, especially the new stuff. Even the old stuff is coming out of the archives, and often it’s in a very nice format (the Absolute Editions, the Omnibus Editions, even hardcovers). Scouring back issues boxes might get you the story for less money, but again, there’s the idea of having everything between one sturdy cover, which is an attractive notion. Plus, I would argue that the way companies have changed the storytelling in comics has led to it being easier to get trades. I’ll explain:

Back in the day, editors and writers tried to make sure continuity worked. I’m not talking about making sure that if two characters had met in some obscure comic fifteen years earlier, they’d still know each other if they turned up in another comic. I’m talking about making sure that the characters’ actions in one book had an impact in other books. In Secret Wars, for instance, Marvel tried to work around the fact that many of their characters were off-world for 12 months (not really, but there were 12 issues in the series). Chris Claremont began dropping Wolverine out of Uncanny X-Men when he got his own title and when he returned, he made some references to hanging out in Madripoor. Batman and Detective might have been separate titles, but if a new character was introduced in one, they might show up in the other or at least be mentioned. Over the years, that kind of continuity has fallen completely out of fashion. Now, Wolverine shows up in 32 separate books a month and never mentions the fact that he’s showing up in 32 different ones. Not once in the X-Men books does he say “Yeah, look, I have to go hang out with the Avengers for a bit.” He never mentions anything to the Avengers about having just come back from fighting Deathloks from the future (well, he might, because I don’t read any Avengers books, but I doubt he does). There might as well be 32 different characters named “Wolverine” with no resemblance to each other except that they’re bad-asses with a weakness for redheads. On the one hand, this is perfectly fine. Writers can just tell stories and not worry about where Wolverine is supposed to be. I just read the first trade of Uncanny X-Force and didn’t care what the characters might be doing in other books – it was just a good story about a group of characters trying to shoot a young boy in the head. On the other hand, this free-for-all has meant that the immediacy of comics is lessened. The idea that you must go to the comic book store every week to find out what happens next with your favorite characters simply doesn’t exist anymore. Comics from the Big Two used to feel like one giant organism, with the characters all moving forward at roughly the same speed, and events occurring that had ripples in other comics (that’s a messy metaphor, but you get the idea). This is more a Marvel phenomenon than a DC one, of course, but even DC had that feeling. That feeling no longer exists. DC, it appears, is trying to bring that feeling back, as their new 52 seems to be far more structured than anything we’ve seen in years from the Big Two, but I’m not sure if it will work. We’ll see, won’t we?

What this does is make it far more easier to wait for trades. I can wait 18 months or so to read “The Apocalypse Solution” in Uncanny X-Force because nothing these characters did during that book had any impact on any other ongoing books I was reading at the time. It’s a completely self-contained story. If any of the consequences of it are going to be explored, they’re not going to be explored anywhere but in Uncanny X-Force. Did anything that happened in that story have any impact on Deadpool’s ongoing(s)? It didn’t appear to have anything to do with Wolverine or Psylocke in Uncanny X-Men. So why would I rush out to buy the single issues? They were filled with ads, they were chapters in a story, and the trade even has the brief prologue about how the team got together, which isn’t terribly necessary but fills in a few blanks and appeared in a different title altogether. Why on earth would I buy the single issues?

The same thing applies to The Shade. Despite the effort of DC to tie it into the main rebooted universe, it seems like Robinson is simply writing a story about the main character and Opal City and it will have nothing to do with any other comic (I could be wrong about this, of course). It’s 12 issues, and a hardcover version will look nice alongside the Starman hardcovers I’ve been buying. Why on earth would I buy the single issues?

Well, because the series might never conclude, of course. This is where the new model of buying comics breaks down, because some things really don’t get collected (now that Flex Mentallo is – at last – getting a trade, maybe it’s time for a nice hardcover of Automatic Kafka?). In the post at The Savage Critics, Brian Hibbs points this out. He also makes the point that DC “has been cancelling at least a book collection a week for the last month or two, due to low orders, and it would again be my GUESS that the velocity on ‘old DCU’-driven backlist titles has cratered since the nuDCU launched.” This explains where the solicited trade of Knight and Squire went (I waited for the trade, but apparently the trade will never arrive, so I’m SOL, it seems). But it also seems that DC and Marvel have created this secondary market but haven’t explored it yet. Hibbs goes on to write (everything is [sic], by the way):

[A]s a retailer, it is overwhelmingly transparently shockingly true that virtual every book sells much much much MUCH better in serialization than in book format. There are exceptions, of course, and some of those exceptions are so awesomely slanted the other direction (your BONEs or WALKING DEADs) that that is the standard by which too many people assume that’s How Things Works.

Even books which I consider to be poor selling periodicals (say….BIRDS OF PREY), go on to be even WORSE SELLING perennials. While I have positioned Comix Experience as a BOOKstore specializing on comics, and we tried for a really long time to stock EVERY book available, I gave up on that one 4-5 years ago — we don’t even bother stocking a single copy of at least 25% of book releases (and it might be as much as half, I’m not really keeping records on what I DON’T sell), and at least a third (and maybe up to half) of the ones we DO stock never end up selling that one single copy (or do so long after release as to be an utter waste of working capital).

So, yeah, I go just a little nutsy when someone says something like “DC should man up” and just go straight to book, because a book on the scope of SHADE would have to be a $50 dollarish HC on release to have even a prayer of recouping creative costs, and that means it would be lucky to hit 5k sold in it’s first year on sale.

I’m certainly not saying that Hibbs is wrong, but what I wonder is how good DC and Marvel are at tracking the sales of their collected editions long-term. I’ve never been to Comix Experience, but despite what Hibbs writes up there, it’s a comic book store. I imagine most of his customers are long-term comic book fans who have been conditioned to get their single issues every week. Maybe a small percentage of them are figuring out that waiting for the trade is better, but I doubt if most of them are (Hibbs, if he gets wind of this post, can refute that if I’m wrong, of course). Do DC and Marvel do anything beyond retailers’ pre-orders to track sales of their books? This has been a bone of contention for years, I know, but I’m unsure if anyone has ever resolved it. Do DC and Marvel ask booksellers about their trade sales? I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t make any difference and the sales would still be sickly compared to single issues, but again, I don’t know. I would be very curious, though.

We also get back to the idea of The Shade as single issues and the cancellation threshold. What should readers do about it? Over on The Beat, our pal stealthwise writes:

What I never understood is why people who honestly love a title, and I mean they truly love it and would gladly pay twice as much to own it just to keep the book alive, don’t buy multiple copies and encourage other die-hard fans of the books to do the same? Trying to get DLers to buy a book seems like pulling teeth, and getting new readers on board on what seems to be a sinking ship can seem like an impossible task. If you really, honestly dig what’s being produced each month, then get out there and pre-order multiple copies and give them away to people to help sell them on the title.

That’s one idea, but I’m not friends with anyone who reads comics. The one person I’m friends with who does read comics doesn’t live anywhere near me. Anyone I would get this comic for would want a nice, thick book to read, not a single issue. And, for me, buying one copy ought to be enough. It’s really not my fucking job to promote a title that DC is publishing. I think I do enough just writing for a popular blog about titles that might not be as popular as the top sellers. But it gets back to the price of comics and the way they’re sold. I spend a lot of money on comics, and I honestly can’t buy everything, even some books I might like. So some comics that might “deserve” a chance don’t get one. Sure, that sucks, but that’s the way it is. Can DC and Marvel do anything about that?

The analogy I’ve used before is with television, which isn’t a perfect one but is better than some other ones. I pay about $100 a month for cable service (and I don’t want to hear that I’m paying too much; this isn’t about trying to get me to switch my service). For that, I get hundreds of channels. I can pick and choose what I want to watch. If I want to zone out with some dumb detective show like The Mentalist (which I do), I can, without ignoring “good” television like Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men. My enjoyment of big, dumb television shows doesn’t mean I have to give up smarter stuff. If I had to, I would choose the smarter stuff over the big, dumb television shows, but because I pay a standard fee, I don’t have to make that choice. Television doesn’t really do any better at tracking ratings than comics companies do at tracking sales – the Neilsen system is woefully outdated – but they do seem to give shows that are telling bigger arcs a bit of rope – in the past few years, we’ve seen shows that are poorly-rated but tell a long story at least get one season to get their shit together. I mean, thanks to the fact that one person who works for Subway apparently loves it, Chuck has gotten five seasons even though it’s been on life support for the last four. What’s that all about?

Have DC and Marvel considered anything other than an à la carte way to distribute their comics? I’ve said this before, but if I could pay a lump sum to DC or Marvel monthly, I’d probably read a lot more of their comics. I’m sure I wouldn’t begin to know how it would work with retailers, but if I could pay $100-$150 a month to DC, I’d read every single one of their comics. You could still choose to do it à la carte, but this would be another option. People have mentioned releasing every single issue digitally (at a reduced price) and then, if enough people wanted it, doing a trade. A lot of DIY cartoonists have already done this, of course. I know the economic realities of the market probably preclude this, but it gets back to the fact that DC and Marvel are still doing business as if it’s a Golden Age of comics reading, when in fact it’s not. They aren’t all that aggressive about getting comics into the hands of people who might be interested in them, which brings me back to the title of this post.

DC and Marvel want to make us think it’s our fault if a book like The Shade goes under. As a lot of people have pointed out in the comments sections of those two posts, DC did the book absolutely no favors by releasing it when they did and how they did (not in the single issue format, but without linking it to the DCnU), so fuck them. If they don’t want to figure out how to make sure people know about this book and make sure that it will exist in a format that will last beyond the latest weekly fix, it’s their fucking fault. If they want to accept a pitch that they know will probably be a tough sell and then release it when everyone is focused on the new, shiny toys DC just dropped on them, that’s their fucking fault. If I want to support independent comics where the creators don’t get paid up front but rely on sales to keep them going and DC can’t realize that the single issues of The Shade are a fucking loss leader, then fuck them. The co-publishers of DC, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, are apparently too busy writing and drawing comics to try to figure out ways to make sure that comics that might serve a niche audience get a chance to be read, and that’s not my fucking fault. So I’m sorry that The Shade might not make it to 12 issues. But you know what? It’s. Not. My. Fucking. Fault.

Okay, rant over. Thoughts?

77 Comments

Totally on point here Greg with just about all your points. I mean, the major appeal of The Shade in the past decade was how he was interwoven with Starman, JSA, and DC history for decades. When that link was wiped out (just like the JSA’s relevance) by the reboot, it made the character an enigma and I don’t know many of my fellow Starman / JSA fans who would buy The Shade on its own without those links. Books like Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Nightwing, and to a point, Justice League are hurt in eyes to varying degrees because of the reboot taking out the one thing that I treasure: interwoven history.

As far as the trade waiting goes, thanks to the economy and the ridiculous overuse of some characters that you mentioned and the seemingly lack of adherence to continuity, I have no desire to collect whole families of books from the big two. I have forced myself to choose quality over quantity in that respect where as in the past I would take up say, every x-book because of the ties and connections built up a feeling that everything mattered and affected everyone.

I know it can be considered nitpicky fanboy wank but heck, I am entitled to my opinion and as often showed by the Big Two, they don’t really care. Thanks for the venting time Greg.

Damn this is a long article. Is there a cliff notes version?

I think you are right about trades. I buy my trades often years after they are put out, and usually on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. They should’t be thinking of sales of comics like magazines and newspapers, but like books or DVDs. Comics don’t have to go out of date like a periodical.

I really think you have a great idea with the package deal. DC is already making all their comics digital. They could do something like Netfilx does with viewing movies online. A monthly charge for unlimited comics viewing, even if they only allow you to see perhaps that month’s titles and maybe the previous two months, then they go unavailable (until they sell them in book stories in collected editions.)

I actually stopped buying monthly comics a few years ago I had no room for the boxes, and if I missed a month I was screwed. It is much easier to read and store collected editions.

Wait wait wait. I dunno who told you what but the Knight & Squire trade came out MONTHS ago. We have a copy in the shop I work at.

R.: Dang, that’s weird. I pre-ordered it and it never showed up at my shop. Thanks for the info – I will ask my retailer what’s up!

We are in the middle of a recession, I have been out of work for two years, and I am really struggling to pay my bills. At this point in time, I can barely afford to purchase ONE copy of each of my favorite titles, and I’ve had to drastically curtail the number of books that I follow on a monthly basis. The idea that I should be expected to purchase multiple copies of the lower-selling titles that I follow is insane.

I was a HUGE fan of X-Men Forever. I bought ever single issue when it came out, wrote numerous online reviews of the series, praised it on message boards. Unfortunately, it eventually got canceled after about a year and a half. I am sad that it was axed, especially before Chris Claremont could resolve his second year plotlines. But the notion that I should have been buying duplicates to drum up sales is simply not reasonable. I’ve got to put food on the table first.

As far as “waiting for the trade,” well, if Marvel and DC are going to charge threee to four dollars per comic, the decompressed, padded-out nature of the writing means that it both takes me less than ten minutes to read a single issue and that it is going to take twice as many installments for the story to conclude, well, I just don’t see the point in following it in monthly increments. It’s too easy to lose track and, worse, lose interest in the story that way. So yeah, a lot of times I will wait for the trade paperback, so I can read it in one sitting, and have a nice book to put on my shelf.

The idea that we should be buying multiples of titles is damn insulting. I pay what seems to me a lot of money already to read these books and I’m not going to prop one up because the product isn’t a wide sell. People in the industry (creative and retail) seem completely oblivious that they have customers to sell to. It’s not our job to give The Shade some face time. It’s entirely theirs. Its just more of the Big2 trying to figure out a way to expand a business on the backs of a shrinking customer base. I’ll pass.

None of this is news to any of us who write about the industry, but once again, I feel like I have to point out that this is endemic to any fan-run business. I know that if DC and Marvel were run by people with a background in actual grown-up publishing instead of people like, well, us, they’d have a much better sense of how to get books in front of people who might like them. I still can’t believe that after all these years, no one’s managed to figure out how to move some percentage of the millions of people who love the Marvel movies over to reading some of the Marvel books. Instead, the publishers are spending every iota of their marketing energy just begging us not to leave. It’s getting kind of embarrassing. I love superhero comics and even I am starting to feel like DC and Marvel are an old girlfriend drunk-dialing me at 3am to tell me we had some good times, maybe we could again.

In this particular case, I don’t know why DC is even trying to push The Shade on to a superhero audience. Yeah, okay, it has superhero roots, but hell, so does Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Marketing 101 suggests that you look at what your thing is, figure out what demographic would most likely be interested, and then let them know your new book might be something THEY like. People keep trying new concepts out on the hidebound every-Wednesday-comics-shop superhero junkie, and then complaining that they’re not interested. The Shade strikes me as much more of a Vertigo-type comic for people who snoot superheroes. Why aren’t they going after that audience? Oh wait, because DC’s busy trying to co-opt all their Vertigo escapee characters back into the mainstream DCU again. Because, you know, that’s what we all really wanted. The intervening two decades of non-superhero interaction at Vertigo was just a phase, we were just experimenting, honest…

I agree. I’ve been a big fan of the JSA, Starman, and the character of the Shade for years now. Also, I am a fan of Robinson’s writing. Since DC’s relaunch I’ve been spending a good deal of money on trying out the new titles. I did read Shade #1 and enjoyed it quite a bit. However, like many, I decided that the story would probably be better read in trade format. Hopefully DC realizes that trades are not are an afterthought of the comic book market.

Well said, Zach. I’ve been reading comics for decades, but I’ve always thought of myself as a “reader” as opposed to a “collector,” meaning that I buy and read them because I enjoy the product, not because I feel like I owe some existential allegiance to the industry or the creators. If a product sells poorly, then the company producing it should either (A) find a way to get it to sell better or (B) stop trying to sell it. The idea that the customer has some kind of duty to step up and bail them out has never made much sense to me.

Hey there guilty conscience—no one is blaming you for the potential cancellation of a book whose numbers you’re contributing nothing to but yourself. This series was something for the supposed legions of Starman fans, and apparently those legions are a little lighter than DC thought. It happens. Books don’t sell, books get cancelled.

Disagreement with your premise aside, you essentially just made an overly long petulant message board post into content for this site. Comics Should Be Good! Should Be Good! And this garbage isn’t.

Okay, I’ve not followed the specifics of this one, so I may be speaking out of turn, but is this another instance of a book being cancelled based upon low advanced orders before the first issue even had a chance to make a splash on the market?

I’m sure the sales folks at Marvel and DC have reasonable forecasting models on this…but still, you can’t blame the audience if the book is cancelled before they could even read the darn thing.

Call me crazy, but I like to read individual issues as they come out. If I really liked them, I re-read them in order in as few sittings as possible. I repeat this as necessary.

Okay, I’ve not followed the specifics of this one, so I may be speaking out of turn, but is this another instance of a book being cancelled based upon low advanced orders before the first issue even had a chance to make a splash on the market?

No, the orders were #1 were fine. The drop-off was extremely steep for the later issues.

“I am starting to feel like DC and Marvel are an old girlfriend drunk-dialing me at 3am to tell me we had some good times, maybe we could again.”

That’s an amazing metaphor, Greg! Sums it up so very well.

I agree with Josh. No offense but you blew a tweet into a thirteen paragraph diatribe. Mostly railing against straw man positions that you invented out of your “knowlegde” of the industry.

When have half-cocked rants on the internet ever been a good idea?

Brian Hibbs’s point is interesting, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I for one always buy trades from Amazon, and I’m sure a lot of other comic readers do. What would those numbers add to the “wait for the trade” argument?

Josh and Paul: Well, as I mentioned, I’m not really that bent out of shape about it – I have a lot of other things in my life, so the idea that I might never get to read The Shade ranks waaaay down on my list of things to get upset about. But I don’t think I’m railing against straw men, as Paul put it. It’s fairly obvious that comics readership is down, so the question becomes, what to do about it? I just wondered, as others have, if DC and Marvel couldn’t do more. And Josh – I don’t really have a guilty conscience. Bigwigs at DC have made statements before about publishing other things than just straight superhero books and then blaming consumers when they don’t work. Kelly points this out with girl-friendly material – DC or Marvel publishes it, expects girls to flock to comic book shops, and when they don’t, they claim girls don’t read comics. Maybe they should figure out better ways to get comics to people who want to read them?

Marc C: I wouldn’t call you crazy, because I buy plenty of single issues. I love re-reading them, but as I’ve gotten older and I have less space for my stuff and my family’s stuff, it just becomes an inconvenience. I don’t blame people for buying single issues, I just wonder if DC and Marvel are clinging to those people so much they ignore that people would read comics in other formats.

Greg: Yeah, I know I’m preaching to the choir a bit, but I think issues like this need to be brought up every so often, just to point out how the Big Two seem to be missing the boat with regard to potential readers.

I think comics are in a weird situation when it comes to making money.

In most situations, you want the “source” of a character to keep going in order to keep making money off of it. TV shows tend to last a few years. Books can last longer, but make less money in general, and even series that a writer dedicates their life to tend to end after that writer dies. Movies have a few years to cash in on, as well.

In the cases of movies, TV series, and the like, you could argue taking a loss on continuing to produce a story because that product will allow you to make more money on merchandise, DVD sales, syndication/rebroadcast rights, spin-off novels, videogames, and everything else.

But Marvel and DC are established. The “universe” doesn’t really end, even if it gets rebooted or remodeled. Characters themselves don’t end, even on death. Books may be cancelled, but they can come back, or the characters can reappear in another title. The most popular characters are ingrained in our culture. The less popular characters are still under the umbrella of “Marvel characters” or “DC characters”.

The result is a situation where monthly comics aren’t *needed* to sell the characters. DC could cancel all their Superman books, and it wouldn’t even affect whether/when Superman got a new movie or a new game. DC could cancel all its Batman books without even phasing Batman as a videogame property. Whether Spider-Man has a monthly series isn’t going to affect whether a kid buys a Spider-Man figure based on a new Spider-Man cartoon, nor will it affect the cartoon either. (Heck, DC got a Teen Titans cartoon when they didn’t have a Teen Titans book in publication, then got a Young Justice cartoon years after cancelling their only series called Young Justice.)

And once the books aren’t needed for merchandising/spin-offs, it becomes a lot harder to justify their existence when times are bad.

[...] A late Sunday opinion on The Shade (and industry lunacy) from Comics Should Be Good. "DC decided to publish a mini-series about a villain who hasn’t appeared regularly in a series in a decade. They decided to publish this by a writer whose most recent work in comics has been vilified, and a lot of people in comics who weren’t reading comics in 1990s wonder why anyone would enjoy this guy’s work.. They decided to publish this as a 12-issue mini-series, which is fairly ambitious considering the first two points. They decided to publish this very soon after a highly-publicized “soft” reboot of their entire line in which the foundations of this mini-series (the JSA, for instance) were wiped away. They decided to publish this in single issues when they have recently published the series out of which it was generated in handy, giant-sized hardcover formats (according to Brian Hibbs, the smaller, softcover Starman trades are out of print, so there is that). And now they’re surprised when sales of the single issues might not be as strong as they thought? Really, DC? How tone deaf are the people running that company?" [...]

When the contracts with Diamond are up, they should go back to newstand returnables again. At least they’d g
et impulse buys!!!!!

I do find it annoying when bloggers blame us readers for books getting canceled. It’s not my job to promote comics. I also don’t have any friends who read comics, so who am I going to share my comics with? Also, how out of touch is it (in this bad economy) to tell us consumers to buy multiple copies of a product so that a major corporation makes enough profit to decide not to cancel the product? (Isn’t that what caused a crash in the 90s?) Comics are expensive, by my reckoning they cost more per hour of entertainment than movies or video games.

I usually buy trades as well, but the TMNT and DC reboots have me buying 3 series in singles. I think it would be a good idea to bundle monthly series in a larger format that costs less per issue. For example DC could bundle all the bat-family books in a given month into a big magazine released at the end of the month. Another good idea would be an online netflix-style subscription. You’d pay a flat monthly rate and get complete access to DC’s entire online library. This is way better than paying 3.99 for a DRMed file that takes 5 minutes to read.

All the entertainment companies are charging more for their content than we consumers think it’s worth. Also, they are trying to exert too much control on how we experience their content. These reasons are why I think piracy is so prevalent.

The death of continuity is such a recent thing at DC that I don’t think it should be hard to get back. The line during the runup to Infinite Crisis was very contiguous.

“Now, Wolverine shows up in 32 separate books a month and never mentions the fact that he’s showing up in 32 different ones. Not once in the X-Men books does he say “Yeah, look, I have to go hang out with the Avengers for a bit.””–Not completely true. I don’t know, maybe it’s true now, I don’t really waste me time with many Marvel books as a rule, but when someone like Morrison or Whedon (even Casey, as I think back) writes Wolverine in a team book, they do often make sure to mention that he gets around. Morrison and Casey would even write him out of their books on occasion to reflect his reality, having him flit in and out of the books the way Batman did in Morrison’s JLA. But you’re right that, in general, writers don’t seem to care.

I agree that it is partially (maybe even mostly) DC’s fault for the way things have shaken out with The Shade, but I do blame comics fans as well, and here’s why: comic book readers read dumb comics. They do. They reward cyclical, stale, formulaic, shamelessly recycled comics by writers who are too stoked that they get to write for DC and Marvel to remember to learn a single damn thing about the craft of making good art. In a world of more erudite, interested, considered comic book fans, The Shade would be one of the top-selling titles on the market, while Red Hood and the Outlaws would be canned so fast it wouldn’t merit a trade collection. And I blame comics fans for the fact that we don’t live in that world. It’s not like DC doesn’t give readers the opportunity to have nice things. They give it a shot. They publish things like Automatic Kafka. Final Crisis. Anything from Vertigo (although recently the quality seems to have dipped in general at the imprint.) Even Marvel puts out a comic book worth reading a two or three times per decade. And with a few notable exceptions, almost all involving writers and/or artists who are established superstars in the field, readers inevitably fail to give a damn.

It isn’t the same as it is in the other arts. With books, film, TV, the great art is often ill-promoted, confined to arthouse venues and indepedent shops and premium channels with a lower general viewership. Research shows that Americans want better art but don’t know where to find it. Comics fans are the opposite. When the Big Two publish great art, it’s right out there, front and center, and everyone knows it’s coming out. Although you do sometimes find books not being well promoted, it’s hardly legitimate for anyone to claim they didn’t know about Xombi, they didn’t know about Automatic Kafka, they didn’t know about Dysart’s Swamp Thing, they didn’t know about Aztek, they didn’t know about Hourman. If the Big Two publish it, we all know about it. And readers just say “Nah, I don’t wanna think hard.” So for THAT part of it, for the fact that there just is not a solid readership for good comics unless they’re produced by absolute superstars–and even then, if the superstar tries anything particularly innovative or fresh or new, the readership evaporates–I blame the fans.

Totally agree. I’m quite tired of the fans being blamed every time something goes under. Yes, there are a lot of titles that fans could support more. But at some point, you have to wonder at what point is it the fan’s “fault,” and how much is it the fault of the company. If a title succeeds, it’s because of the company. But if it fails, it’s because of the fans. It’s starting to get ridiculous. And perhaps part of the reason that comics are in such a bad state is because too much time has been spent assigning blame instead of actually hammering out what works, what doesn’t and what will actually sell.

There is a very important reason to support the monthlies that you do not address: diversity of reading experience.

If I have $40 a month to spend on comics, and monthlies are $3 (across the board, for the sake of simplicity), and a trade is $20, the breakdown goes like this:

Monthlies: I get to follow 13 different titles/teams/characters for my $40.

Trades: I get to follow 2 different titles/teams/characters for my $40. Furthermore, as my “buy in” is over 6 times higher, I am far less likely to try out a new book.

Then there is the issue of the “casual buy”. Spreading out 13 books over 2-4 weeks gets me into the LCS more often where I am exposed to more books that might catch my eye and result in a try out.

“Trade waiting” has done horrific damage to the industry, and the Big 2 encouraging it only makes that damage worse.

your second paragraph is dead-on, man. No one at DC thought to make the series 6 issues and see if the character caught on before continuing his adventures? A 12 issue commitment right out of the gate for a character that hasn’t been seen in years, except for his appearance in a couple issues of JLA that were, without question, awful? Oh, and the guy writing the “mini” is the guy that wrote the awful JLA issues. Great. And if you’re gearing your re-booted comic line toward the video game audience, maybe you should wait to trot out the guy in the top hat and coat tails. Bad decisions all around on this one.

I bought it. I read it. It was dull, especially in comparison to the new 52 stuff. I can’t reread my starman collection either. Oh well, maybe one day.

Comics marketing seems pretty bone-headed to me. If I were in charge, I would have included a free digital Batman comic in every copy of Batman Arkham City. I guarantee that more people will experience Batman this year in video game form than in comic form. A free digital Batman comic have steered some players over to DC’s digital comics. If they chose a really good issue to give away they could probably get some people hooked on comics. (This would be better than free comic book day because in that case you have to hear about FCBD and know where the nearest comic shop is and care enough to go out of your way to go to the shop to get your free comics.) DVDs and Blu-rays of the Batman movies should also come with a free digital issue.

On the DC side the animation people seem to be doing a much better job than the comics people at growing their audience. I grew up knowing the DCU through the cartoons from Batman: TAS onwards through Justice League. I saw hundreds of episodes of DC cartoons before I ever read an issue of a DC book. To me the animated universe of Bruce Timm et al. is the definitive version of the DC universe. I would hazard a guess and say that a lot of the younger fans like me feel the same way. I would have rebooted the DCU to continue the animated universe.

It seems to me that an omnibus-style book would have been the way to go; I honestly can’t see the series appealing to many folks outside of those who would already be buying the Starman Omnibii. That said, the price for an original 400-page book would undoubtedly be higher than $50 USD.

@Ben Herman
I you are looking for a book that does not do decompressed stories I suggest Savage Dragon. Mile a minute storytelling and you never know what is going to happen. Great series!

I agree with everything Greg up there just said.

Marvel seems afraid of continuity, probably with the belief that continuity and “decades of history” are why people won’t pick up titles. DC seems to have the same belief, but are also stuck with the realization that their existing fanbase wants continuity (thus the half-reboot DCnU).

Speaking of Wolverine, I’ve read that the first issue of Schism is set after the story arc in Wolverine #11-16. Why is this important? That Wolverine arc is apparently supposed to be a major part of why Wolverine acts the way he does in Schism. But Schism mentioned nothing about it. Marvel didn’t either. And it certainly didn’t help that the first issue of Schism came out around the same time as Wolverine #12, with Wolverine #16 (the end of the arc, and apparently the only place to confirm the connection to Schism) came out a week before the final issue of Schism.

Hey Greg – you kiss your mother with that mouth? : )

I never had any intention of reading The Shade, let alone buying it. I don’t feel that I am letting down diversity in the comics industry by not trying books that feature characters or stories I have no interest in whatsoever. It’s not my job to prop up the comics industry. It’s not my job to support a writer who wants to try and write stories about characters I have no interest in. You want my money write about a character I like, or intice me to try a book about a new character. I buy what I like, and what interests me. Many books I have bought in the past have been cancelled. It’s annoying, but not surprising. At the end of the day life goes on, ’cause after all – it’s just a fucking comic. I read many others. After a few weeks I’ll likely have forgotten all about that cancelled title anyway.

When Smith Crisps brought out “Meat Pie” flavour I really enjoyed them and bought quite a few packets while they were one the shelves. Did I buy them for other people in an attempt to try and ensure their longevity as a product? Fuck no – that’s not my job. Expecting me to buy a comic for others to keep it on the shelves is a fucking stupid thing to ask. It sounds like the kind of comment a dipshit who doesn’t have a mortgage, a wife, kids, and a desire to actually feed himself and his family would suggest. If I have a few extra dollars around (which I rarely have) I’m not going to waste it on buying multiple copies of a comic no one wants to read anyway. I’m gonna splurge on the wife and kids. Trust me – James Robinson makes, and will likely ALWAYS make more money than me. And Stealthwise, where were you when my Meat Pie chips went under? Did you buy multiple packets to disperse among the masses?

Greg’s right – sometimes it’s fun to rant : )

[...] Oh, wait, I get it – once again, it's all our faultComic Book ResourcesSo there I was, reading The Savage Critics, like one does, and I came across this post. In it, Mr. Brian Hibbs reviews The Shade #2, and he linked to The Beat, where there was a link to a James Robinson tweet in which Mr. Robinson said … [...]

Burgas:

I just sort of had a similar discussion about who’s ‘fault’ it is whenever anybody’s book is failing. The truth is, it’s everyone’s fault, to varying degrees. Yes, including the fans.

While yes, DC maybe should not have launched this project, given that the Brand Name appeal isn’t necessarily there (as has been pointed out, Robinson’s been vilified lately and the lead character isn’t exactly a major fan draw), it’s up to a retailer to know who amongst their clientele still likes Robinson and the character in question, and also who to target out in the real world. It’s up to the fans who like the Shade or Robinson to try to talk it up in store before it comes out, and to talk about it outside of fandom. Fandom is the converted, but you’re also an ever-shrinking niche audience that simply cannot sustain the bulk of the market.

That means you have to show your enthusiasm for the medium outside in the real world, not just on websites doing columns, or chatting on message boards, or in your little clubhouse comics shops. You guys have to stop behaving like you’re some secret society of geeks and embrace the world and show the rest of the populus how cool comics are and that they’re missing out.

That IS part of your responsibility as a fan who loves this medium, Greg. It’s all of your responsibility. Whether you choose to accept it and do it, that’s another thing.

“If I want to support independent comics where the creators don’t get paid up front but rely on sales to keep them going…”

How about instead just subscribing up front to creators (based on a free preview that lends you to have an interest in the product, of course) so that they have the money to go to press and make a living in the first place, Greg?

How’s about actually buying the product you claim you want when the creator(s) produce them instead of flaking out and leaving the poor creator holding the bag? (Not that YOU specifically have done this, Greg, but I’m currently sitting on 300+ copies of a 350 copy run of an art book that was ‘demanded’ by you ‘fans’…)

If it wasnt for trades comic book companies would not be getting any money from me. Trades got me back into comics and continue to keep me reading comics (though if Marvel keep charging more for 4 issue arcs than they used to for 6 issue arcs my amount of purchases is going to continue to drop). I mostly buy from Amazon because its cheaper and I dont have a comic shop close by anyway. Its eems weird that these sales are never mentioned.

Greg said: ” If I have $40 a month to spend on comics, and monthlies are $3 (across the board, for the sake of simplicity), and a trade is $20, the breakdown goes like this:

Monthlies: I get to follow 13 different titles/teams/characters for my $40.

Trades: I get to follow 2 different titles/teams/characters for my $40. Furthermore, as my “buy in” is over 6 times higher, I am far less likely to try out a new book.”

Maybe you have more diversity in 1 month, but over the course of the year you would follow just as many books. I buy in trades for Walking Dead, Scalped, Chew, Morning Glories multiple Marvel titles and I pick up the odd random trade too. Thats fairly diverse, iI just tend to get 2 complete stories twice a year instead of 12 chapters of a story every month.

The last sentence in my previous post is a bit jmbled but I hope you get my point. Say I follow 12 books. I get two collected arcs for each book over the course of the year rather than 12 chapters split across each month of the year. So the amount of diversity is not really an issue.

Wait, you mean you actually pay full price for trades at the comic shop. Of all the hundreds of trades and hardcover that I own very few came from the comic shop. I buy the bulk of them online because Amazon and other online retailers usually sell the books for less than what my comic shop pays for them. Why would I pay full price for a book when I can order it for 20-33% off (and sometimes even more)? Here’s the link for K&S from Amazon btw.
http://www.amazon.com/Batman-Knight-Squire-Paul-Cornell/dp/1401230717/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1323082848&sr=8-13

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Shade was chopped to pieces at the end of #1, people thought ‘Golly they killed the fucker, i’m not buying #2 lol.

Wolverine, in the Avengers books, has made references to going off with the X-Men. In X-Men, he made mention of going off with X-Force and the Avengers. If you’re not going to READ the actual books, you have no business claiming what’s in them or isn’t in them at any given time.

Just saying.

Couple thoughts:

1. I’m a fan of the property “The Shade” and of James Robinson’s work on “Starman”. Even picked up the original Shade mini from back in the day. I haven’t picked up a single issue of the new one. Why? I have no confidence going in of DC’s support for the title. I’ve been burned on several recent lower tier acquistions (such as “Xombi”) that were cancelled before their time whether by editorial fiat, low sales, or what have you. I’m not willing to go in on a 12 issue miniseries that might not survive to completion. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me seven or eight times, and something about fools being parted from their money seems appropriate. I’d rather wait for the trade at this point – it’s the whole story in one sitting and it’s easier to move after the fact if I don’t feel like holding on to it. In fact, I would say 9 out of 10 of my attempts to try new properties are in trade only format. I only get a handful of floppies a month. “Usagi Yojimbo”? Only in trade. “Walking Dead”? Only in trade. “Chew”, “Skullkickers”, and on and on…and if I don’t like them, there are places on online I can get rid of them significantly easier than I could single issues. My risk as a consumer is a lot less.

2. Marketing – I think DC’s marketing department is part of the problem. I still remember laughing out loud when DC announced it was going to advertise its 52 relaunch comic books in some other format other than in-house ads and trade publications like Wizard. I wanted to grab the lapels of their marketing department and shake them, yelling, “You’re part of Time-Warner, you own your own movie studio, as well as TV station…why the hell did you wait this long to come up with this ‘genius’ stroke?”

At the end of the day, Marvel and DC advertise like crap – I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw an ad for a DC cartoon that was currently running. Same for Marvel. Hell, “Smallville” was on TV for TEN YEARS and I can’t remember ever seeing an ad for it during primetime TV (and Time-Warner even owned the station it was on!). I remember also that in the early 1980′s, GI Joe was one of Marvel’s top-selling comics. There were ads for the comic books on TV, but the property was also helped immensely by toy advertising, so Marvel pulled back on its own advertising. Once the toy advertising dried up, so did the property.

Marvel has been putting out fairly good toys for years now, when was the last time you saw an ad for them outside of Previews? They don’t even advertise them in their own comic books. And their web/online media presence is anemic (sure, they each have a twitter feed, they have no reason for you to follow it when it’s almost identical to their facebook wall and it reads like a corporate shill put it together).

A paradigm is in need of some shifting here.

if there is one comic you should buy monthly it’s x-force. You’re missing out

Aaron Scott Johnson

December 5, 2011 at 6:33 am

@Louis Bright Raven: I still think placing blame on fans is misguided. Apparently you’ve had some personal, bitter experience that leads you to think this way, and that’s a bummer, but blaming the very small, niche audience that is already supporting the industry seems to me short-sighted. Comic fans supporting comics, in any way, is a positive for the dying industry.

As for fans needing to do more to promote comics, I’m an English teacher and use comics and graphic novels to appeal to reluctant readers in my classroom. It works, and in the short time I’ve been in the classroom, I’ve already converted a few students into fans, who ask me about new books coming out, what comic shop I go to, etc. I keep trades and graphic novels on my bookshelf in the classroom, right next to all of the traditional literature, and let students borrow and read the books as they please. I talk about comics on facebook, despite the fact that I know only 1 or 2 of my ‘friends’ on FB actually read comics. Again, I think you’re generalizing and making arguments about all comic readers in an attempt to justify your disdain (or whatever it is) for your own plight.

It’s fair to wonder why Marvel and DC aren’t capitalizing on the copious amounts of opportunity they have to get people reading comics. The very limiting Direct Market system is certainly part of the problem, but with 200+ million dollar movies, gigantic game franchises, TV and the like, it’s hard to understand why more of an effort isn’t being/can’t be made. Whether that’s the publishers’ fault or not, I can’t say with any certitude…but I certainly wonder.

Bottom line, fans, being the only people left who support the industry, aren’t to blame; they’re the only people keeping it alive.

I think this runs deeper than what we may think. In a tough economy in an even tough market, it’s hard for any business to change with the times. Comics is no exception in my opinion. Change can be a scary thing for any business. If this economic system works for Marvel and DC on any level, it’s somewhat understandable. I do get a little annoyed when they put burden on the fans for not supporting a series or characters. It’s not our job to sell these characters. However, that also puts into question any sense of ownership fans feel toward a particular series and character. If we as fans can’t support a series or character, we can’t crucify either of the Big 2 for doing something to a character we don’t want done. When you look at it, it’s a no win situation.

And I see from Hibbs’s comments that he is, once again, abiding by the fallacy that his store is a reliable microcosm for the entire direct market, and also implying that companies shouldn’t bother making product that won’t succeed in the direct market, even if it might succeed elsewhere.

Also, bugger continuity. I don’t care if, in the comic I’m reading, Wolverine mentions his other gigs. I care if the comic I’m reading is any good or not.

I agree with most of what was said, but has anyone considered subscriptions as a way to save money on comics. I subscribe to about seven or eight of Marvel’s 3.99 titles. That frees up cash to try out stuff from independent presses that I wouldn’t normally buy.

There’s a lot to wade thru here, and I will, but I want to make my #1 point before the conversation rolls too far along.
I simply prefer single issues. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but if so … whatever.

However, as Greg says, 3-4 bucks for a 20 page story Just. Doesn’t. Cut. It.
The return value for cost isn’t there, and in response to this, I buy my single issues in discounted back issue bins; usually getting complete runs of the stuff I’m looking for for, before a year a year has passed since their initial publication.

The wheels are off the cart, and no amount of rebooting is going to fix it.
This industry is headed of a huge correction/contraction that is not going to be pretty.

Doug Hancock: Well, my retailer does give customers 20% off everything they buy, so there’s that. And I do try to support local businesses where I can. That doesn’t mean I won’t get stuff on Amazon, but I try to go through my retailer first.

Charles: I do point out that I don’t read the Avengers, but in the past year of Uncanny X-Men, I don’t think Wolverine once mentioned the Avengers. He may have alluded to X-Force, but that’s it. I’m talking about specific storylines, too, as I noted. Writers don’t do that because they never know if a storyline will be delayed, which I get. But it weakens the overall feeling that it’s the same character.

Braun Rodman: Why is that? X-Force is perfectly fine, but I like a lot of other comics more. And if Remender is going to write an 8-part story, which I think he’s doing right now, I think it’s better to read it all in one sitting than spread out for so many months. But that’s just my opinion.

Michael P: Sure, that’s something I pointed out. I certainly have never cared about continuity. But one thing tight continuity did was make the single issues seem more important. These days, they just don’t feel that way.

JRC: I tend to prefer single issues, too, but as I pointed out, it’s gotten too much of a pain in the ass to store them and re-read them. I’m definitely old-fashioned in that regard, but sometimes, reality slams you in the face!

The biggest problem for this Shade mini series is that the people excitedly reading it were big fans of Robinson’s Starman. I tell everyone how great Starman was but until the HC came out, you couldn’t find the story. And $49.99 is STEEP for a book. I asked DC if there was a softcover coming out and the said there is no plan for it. So how am I supposed to get people interested in the Shade.

The other problem is limited series in general… who cares? If I have $12 a week to spend on comics I’m going to buy ongoing titles, I’m not going to try a limited that may not or probably will not be a better product than an ongoing. Got a great mini series to tell, put it in the back of an ongoing book.

I often wonder why there are sooo many books. If you have an Avengers ongoing, and suddenly someone comes up with a great Luke Cage story idea. Put it in the main book.

In this day and age comic buyers have a budget, they are going to spend that same amount each month. If they pick up something new, chances are the drop something else. I’m seeing that now with the New 52. Many customers are dropping minor Marvel titles in favor of a high profile DC title. Yet Marvel still insists on introducing a new Fantastic Four SKU.

Where are the days of the “catch all comics” where you can do a 3 issue run of one story, a six issue of another, a one shot, then another six parter?

not to sound like a commercial but preordering online you can buy all of the new 52 books at half off (which is around 80 bucks i think) so including veritgo and the remaining bits the total might be around 150.

Granted this will hurt brick and mortar stores.

randypan the goatboy

December 5, 2011 at 8:25 am

I have been on the trade bandwagon for years. Single issue comics are way to expensive in this economy and since people are creatures of habit and tend to follow the same characters anyway…buying storylines in bulk is just good business. I see trades as like big stores like costco or sams warehouse. no one needs a 12 pound bag of corndogs, but why pay more for less. if you look at the cost of a monthly comic and then wait a few months to buy the trade you will see a huge difference. especially if you wait a little while longer and buy the trade at a discount price from amazon or ebay. Its also good to wait on a trade to get feedback from other sources about how good the book is. if i was going to buy a new book [say something along the lines of one of the new 52] i would rather wait to see if this book is going to suck worse than a celine dion cover back in black and avoid it all together than buy it in smaller bites and find out for myself that it reeks of ass.

“Trade waiting” has done horrific damage to the industry, and the Big 2 encouraging it only makes that damage worse.

Yes. This is why I only read novels in their serialized form in the newspaper.

And Stealthwise, where were you when my Meat Pie chips went under? Did you buy multiple packets to disperse among the masses?

There is no “I” in “team”, but there is an “I” in “pie”. There is an “I” in “meat pie”. And “meat” is an anagram of “team”…

Oh, and, uh, buy Atomic Robo, watch Community Thursdays at 8 on NBC, or &:00 PM in Mountain Time, which exists outside of clocks.

Great thoughts, Greg.

I don’t know if anyone mentioned this, but you can subscribe to Marvel Digital Unlimited for about 40 to 50 bucks per year and it lets you access a huge library of back issues. They take awhile for some newer stuff but like you said, if you can wait a year and nothing being done now (like Fear Itself) is that worth getting right now, no problem. Plus, storage is no longer an issue. Marvel is also pretty good about offering discounts. I think of the the Big 2, Marvel is definitely ahead of the game.

I guess the choice is obvious, blame DC for a botched marketing job or blame readers for not buying a Vertigo book published as a DCU book amid Nu52 hype. Why can’t we just blame it all on Greg Burgas?

Packaging a digital download of Batman Forever with the new Batman game was kind of boneheaded. They could have included a digital download of Morrison’s first arc on Batman or something similar easier to dive in to.

And yeah, Wolverine does mention that he’s on different teams in his various books, but he’s never not in that book. Back in the 80′s (as Greg mentioned) if Wolverine was in Japan in his solo book he would not be in Uncanny that month. I always thought that was cool as hell. I suppose it’s easier to do when you only show up in 2 books a month that are written by the same guy.

Man, this is shades of the ‘You Are Not Helping Comics’ article from the author of ‘Bomb Queen’ a while back.

It was said before, but I guess it bears repeating;

It isn’t the fault of the fans if a book fails! There weren’t enough sales, but I can’t see how that becomes the fault of the readers.

Do professional sports teams make a habit of blaming the fans? Do automobile manufacturers? Restaurants?

It’s somehow *my* fault? Because I didn’t buy multiple copies to hand out? Because I don’t shout from the rooftops? Because I’m not strong-arming friends and family into comic shops?

Really?

Marvel and DC aren’t responsible for their product? For the advertising? The content?

*I* am?

Wow, I had no idea it was my responsibility. Toyota never sent me a letter telling me that buying my Corolla wasn’t “enough” — like a reference from the earlier thread (but with Ford, I think). They just make good cars. I was never asked to buy an extra car or two. Heck, they never even demanded I give people rides to show off their product …

I thought things like the Direct Market, writing for the trade, (excessive) story decompression and a climbing cover price well in excess of inflation were more to blame than I was. I won’t go into the idea of better storytelling, because that’s just too subjective to really insist on (aside from decompression. I miss the done-in-one stories).

I’m sorry, I know this is a little overly sarcastic, but how ANYONE can get off blaming the readers is beyond me. No other product that I can think of seems to have this kind of expectation of their customer.

DC? If you’re listening? How about a few minor suggestions?

Bring your costs down. A candy bar costs between $0.75 and a dollar or so. That’s probably three to four times what it was in the 80′s (about a quarter, if I recall). A comic was about $0.60 in 1984 (New Mutants #1). Why are comics between $3 and $4? Shouldn’t it be about $2 or $2.50 assuming the same markups? When the books were cheaper, I could afford to blind-buy and experiment with new titles. Now, with the prices where they are, added to how quickly a modern comic reads, and I’m either skimming at the LCS, or just not bothering.

(and yes, I know, there are lots of reasons why the comics are pricier, but when you lay it out like that, AND heap on the realization that the books today read far faster, it does stand out)

Get the books out there and in the public eye somewhere. Spinner racks, Toys’RUs three packs, something! Maybe the grandparents, or aunts and uncles like me would see them and pick some up for our faily kids for Christmas or something!

Why didn’t you even advertise that the DCU was being rebooted before the Green Lantern film? I know, you likely didn’t know then, but it would be nice to hear about comics, to know they exist, outside the confines of my LCS.

I know, nothing I’ve said is new and groundbreaking, I admit that.

But really? It’s *our* fault again? The end-user is to blame? Man, that just gets my hackles up.

Take it and run,

AH! Here it is;

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/11/28/jimmie-robinson-on-you-are-not-helping-comics/

Five years, almost to the day, wow.

Like the BSG reboot;

“All of this has happened before. And all of this will happen again.”

Take it and run

The only LCS in my area burned me pretty bad a year ago. I get my trades from the library and if I really really like one I’ll buy it from Amazon. There are very few comics/trades that I feel I need to own a physical copy of…but I’d totally buy tons of digital comics if the price was cheaper than a dollar and the comic was downloaded to my computer.

My comic reading experience has competely changed from several years ago to when I’d buy 10+ titles a month, every month.

On a sode note, Marvel failed when they stopped releasing new monthly Runaways material.

Since you called me by name:

“I’ve never been to Comix Experience, but despite what Hibbs writes up there, it’s a comic book store.”

More of our square footage is given to graphic novels than to periodical comics. More of the dollars we sell as in graphic novels than in periodical comics. I believe I am a bookstore, that specializes in comics…

“I imagine most of his customers are long-term comic book fans who have been conditioned to get their single issues every week.”

Most of the periodical buyers, to be sure, but not “most” of the customers, overall.

The difference between periodical buyers and book buyers is that most periodical buyers come in about weekly, while book buyers tend to make visits more like monthly or quarterly. There are FAR MORE people who buy books, than periodicals, but not only do they buy FEWER, but they also shop less frequently.

“Maybe a small percentage of them are figuring out that waiting for the trade is better, but I doubt if most of them are”

“Better”? That’s an overly broad word, me thinketh. Certainly a meaningful percentage of customers have shifted to book format over the years, but there are several drawbacks that come with it: less frequent filling of thier fix, missing on the “shared world/continuity hit” that only periodicals can deliver, losing interest once the collected work finally is released, not being part of the weekly conversation, finding out that work with never be collected due to poor sales/bad reception/whatever, and so on.

“Do DC and Marvel do anything beyond retailers’ pre-orders to track sales of their books?”

Is that a serious question? Really?

CLEARLY, Marvel and DC have up-to-the-minute access to current order data, and no retailer is going to reorder work that didn’t sell in the first place. DC, at least, often sets print runs for long term (5+ years) sales, based on sales velocity reports of comparable books. I’d bet on Bob Wayne’s ability to set a print run any day of the week.

On the bookstore side, publishers pay to access BookScan, which has up-to-date reports of what’s SELLING THROUGH to the consumer.

So…. yes, OF COURSE they do. They couldn’t stay in business otherwise.

(I access BookScan yearly, and I can tell you, for instance, that in 2010, bookstores [including Amazon] sold 622 copies of STARMAN OMNIBUS v1, in total — MOST books have very low day-to-day velocity after they’re “new”)

-B

@Busterchops

Savage Dragon is actually one of the few titles I still read. Erik Larsen does great work on the series. I’m looking forward to the revival of Supreme because of his involvement in it.

Brian: I wasn’t sure if DC and Marvel checked BookScan, but that’s good to know. I know that book publishers do that, but with DC and Marvel, you can never tell.

Thanks for stopping by; I was kind of hoping you would, because you write about this stuff so often and know better than I do what’s going on. I know you’ve discussed some of the models for changing the way comics get to customers, and I’m glad you do. I wonder how most “real” fiction books sell, both when they’re new and as they get “older.” I know some sell in the millions, but I doubt if that’s the norm. I don’t know how they compare to comics in that regard.

Mr Freeman said:

Maybe you have more diversity in 1 month, but over the course of the year you would follow just as many books. I buy in trades for Walking Dead, Scalped, Chew, Morning Glories multiple Marvel titles and I pick up the odd random trade too. Thats fairly diverse, iI just tend to get 2 complete stories twice a year instead of 12 chapters of a story every month.

That’s all well and good so far as it goes, but it’s terrible business for the LCS and the publisher who need steady cashflow month after month to pay the bills.

It also isn’t good for the reader who has to wait months and months for his next installment of [insert title]. It kills momentum, and makes it a heck of a lot easier to just drop a title over one bad story.

Lastly there’s still the buy in issue. I’m a lot less likely (and most people would be) to chance $20 on an impulse buy. $3 is a lot easier decision to make. Furthermore, going to trade hurts the heck out of the small buyer, who may only HAVE $6-12 a month disposable…that means at BEST the LCS will only get them in every other month, and only sell one trade. Again, bad for business.

I totally only buy trades at this point.

[...] Oh, wait, I get it – once again, it's all our fault In it, Mr. Brian Hibbs reviews The Shade #2, and he linked to The Beat, where there was a link to a James Robinson tweet in which Mr. Robinson said that The Shade might not make it 12 issues because sales are so lousy. As I am one of the people waiting … Read more on Comic Book Resources [...]

Gavin said: I totally only buy trades at this point.

Then you’re part of the problem.

I like reading my comics in trades. I have an amazing looking bookshelf and regularly re-read my books. If I like a comic, yes it can be frustrating waiting 6 months to a year to get anohter book but I find it less frustrating than getting a partial story every month (or 2 for those titles that get delayed). I agree sampling new material is a bit more difficult, but if the publishers do it right then its still possible. I picked up the first Chew trade based on good reviews (including on this site) and the factthe first trade was available for around £6 on amazon, a single issue at a comic shop here is £2.80 or something, so thats not to bad when I I’m trying a new book that Ive heard good things about. Thats not always the case though.

Anyway, to say Gavin, or myself are part of the problem because we like a product in a format that is not suiting the LCS then thats not my fault. Its not my job to buy something in a formaty thats less suitable to me just to keep someones business running. I dont buy my DVD’s in store rather than online to keep the DVD store business going, why should I do it for comics. I buy in the format thats best for me at the best price.

All around, blaming your customers seems like a bad idea.

I gave up on single issues years ago. If I buy anything from the big 2 it is in trade or hardcover format. Even then I usually buy them second hand and usually it is stuff from their back catalog.

@Aaron:

“I still think placing blame on fans is misguided. Apparently you’ve had some personal, bitter experience that leads you to think this way, and that’s a bummer, but blaming the very small, niche audience that is already supporting the industry seems to me short-sighted. Comic fans supporting comics, in any way, is a positive for the dying industry.”

It’s not just personal experience, Aaron. You can walk into just about any comics convention and find that half the creators who’ve done sketchbooks are sitting on dozens to hundreds of copies unsold. At any level of the business. It shouldn’t take Sanford Greene nearly two years to sell out of 300 copies of a hardcover limited edition art book featuring Marvel, DC, Disney, and other high-profile character properties. But it did. Al Bigley is still sitting on more than half his print run of an ashcan sketchbook he published back in 2004, with nothing but Marvel and DC characters in it. You bugged him for two years at every show. “When you gonna do a sketchbook, Al?” So he does it, and you don’t buy, and now you’re asking when he’s going to put one out again. Hello? Buy the one he’s already offering, first!

“Bottom line, fans, being the only people left who support the industry, aren’t to blame; they’re the only people keeping it alive.”

Which is, of course, why Randy Zimmerman couldn’t get but 500-800 copies on average ordered from “the only people keeping comics alive” through the Direct Market system, but now has 17,000 readership strong and growing by blowing you all off just like you ignored him, and taking the same content and making a comics newspaper magazine and distributing it out in the local community himself.

Frankly, Aaron, Fandom is not keeping the industry alive. Fandom is what’s enabling the industry to stagnate and slowly, inexoriably destroy itself from within. At all levels. In order to save the industry, we’ll have to save us from ourselves. Attitudes have to change.

As for your remarks about the students… I’ve taught English as well; been there, done that. As you say, it’s a very effective method to connect with struggling students.

I won’t go into all the other things I’ve done to promote comics. It’s not a pissing contest.

*******************
Earl Allison asks:

“Why are comics between $3 and $4?”

Because Diamond wants 65%-72% discount off the cover price, or they won’t carry it. In other words, Diamond buys the books from everyone at 1/3rd cover price, who then sells to the retailer at 45% to 58% off cover price, so say 1/2 off the cover price. If a publisher tried to make comics $1.95 to $2.50 cover price, they’d have to sell it at .75 to .90 a copy, and the printing alone is averaging between .58 and .85 a copy today, depending on the production values. How, pray tell, do you think the publisher is going to make money then? That was just printing cost, remember. You haven’t added in the cost of the creators’ salaries into the equation, or the shipping costs from printer to Diamond (or to their warehouses). You haven’t included the cost of any advertising. Etc. etc.

That’s why the comics are $2.99 to $3.99, and higher yet.

“Well, can’t the retailers just order from the publishers direct for cheaper?”

They could, and believe me, plenty of us indie creators have offered, individually and in coalitions, but comics retailers don’t want to have to keep track of multiple accounts. Now while I can understand not wanting to do it for every individual title, when the coalitions were trying to get launched originally in the early to mid 90s even before Marvel bought out Heroes World and started the debacle that is comics distribution today – oh yes, we could see it coming, those of us who were paying attention – the retailers should have been more open-minded. They weren’t, and never have been. It’s been attempted dozens of times by regional pockets of established indie creators over and again during the past fifteen years, all for naught. The retailers insisted – DEMANDED – we all just go to Capital or Diamond (which of course turned out to be just Diamond).

But mainly, the reality is, Diamond and the retailers only care about the Big Two*, and so there’s not a whole lot you can do about it as small press. Even if we tried to get in and could price point it lower and make some level of profit, undoubtedly fandom’s reaction would then not be to support us because we were cheaper, but remain loyal to your books because ‘obviously’ your current choices cost more because they’re ‘better’ / ‘more popular’.

* = and by association, you fans only care about the Big Two, primarily as well.

If you guys really wanted comics back down under $2 a copy, all you’d have to do is walk away from Marvel and DC and go pay the indie creators direct for mail order subs / downloads. But therein lies the rub. It’s not that you want “comics” for under $2, it’s that you want *Marvel and DC content* for that price.

It’s this stubborn hypocrisy that I ‘disdain’, as Aaron describes it. Comics is comics. If Marvel and DC product ‘sucks’ / costs too much, then screw them. Walk away. There’s plenty of other comics products you can choose from and at a much more affordable price. Fandom simply has to grow up and make the choice to do so.

Louis Bright-Raven wrote:

“Earl Allison asks:

“Why are comics between $3 and $4?”

Because Diamond wants 65%-72% discount off the cover price, or they won’t carry it. In other words, Diamond buys the books from everyone at 1/3rd cover price, who then sells to the retailer at 45% to 58% off cover price, so say 1/2 off the cover price. If a publisher tried to make comics $1.95 to $2.50 cover price, they’d have to sell it at .75 to .90 a copy, and the printing alone is averaging between .58 and .85 a copy today, depending on the production values. How, pray tell, do you think the publisher is going to make money then? That was just printing cost, remember. You haven’t added in the cost of the creators’ salaries into the equation, or the shipping costs from printer to Diamond (or to their warehouses). You haven’t included the cost of any advertising. Etc. etc.

That’s why the comics are $2.99 to $3.99, and higher yet. ”

Thanks for the information, I very much appreciate it, as well as your other experiences.

Take it and run,

This is not a rant. This is a whiny tirade from a clueless, talentless asshat.

Brandon: Exactly how is a “rant” different from a “tirade”? They’re almost the same thing. If you’re going to insult me, please try to be more clever. It’s all that separates us from the morons of the world.

What you defenders of trades CONTINUE to overlook is that it’s the monthlies that determine the trade. I poor-selling monthly is unlikely to make trade,

Monthlies are where the publisher makes it’s money back on it’s initial investment. Trade sales are “gravy”, as the monthlies already paid back the costs of art, writing, etc. Those costs are less because they are amortized over the span of the book. Prices would have to increase sharply in a “trade only”/OGN world to ensure the company had enough cash on hand for continued operations.

And there is STILL the issue of “buy in”. I’ll sample a book at $3 if the cover or the character catches my eye. I won’t do that with a $20 buy in, esp considering that for me (and a LOT of others) $20 may represent a significant wait to save up for it.

Yeah but when DC cancels books or changes creators in the middle of a story, what is the use of buying the single issues? I have been cheated so many times recently by DC starting to buy books and then not having a complete story because the artist or writer I liked couldn’t finish the project that I’m done. If it makes it through a complete story and is worth reading, I would rather read it in a trade.

Greg, you can buy my extra singles from Marvel and DC for me to keep the sales going. I’ll buy the trades.

Aaron Scott Johnson

December 8, 2011 at 6:17 am

So, the general consensus of these comments seems to be: people who buy single issues are idiot enablers who allow the big 2 to take advantage of their base, ruining comics’ potential to grow, and people who wait for the trade are asshole enablers who allow serialized storytelling to die and are killing the industry.

Am I reading this right?

[...] and saw this on November 26th. The story was further picked up at The Savage Critics, The Beat and Comics Should Be Good at Comic Book Resources. I'll let you read those links if you want, but the gist is if sales don't [...]

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