Thursday, March 05, 2009

So tell me about these here comic books...

I have been involved in a lot of conversations about the comic book industry in the days leading up to the Watchmen Movie and at one point I always shoot off about how the industry is due for another very large change.

Before I start let me say two things:
1. I no longer have the source for this, I think I may have gotten a lot of what I am basing this on from a pod-cast interview and not something I read which is why I can't find it.

2. If you think comic books are about nothing but people in spandex shooting 'beams' at each other (pew pew), I'll bet you money I can find you a comic that isn't about super heroes that you will read and then say to me, "Wow, that was good! What else can you recommend?"
The first big change in this chain was when comic book publishers decided to keep the price of comic books low. They were for kids and 25-35 cents was what kids could afford. Because of this the newsstands started to stock fewer titles. They have only so much shelf space and a regular magazine that sells for more, means more profit for them.

This caused the appearance of comic book specialty stores. In some ways this was good for the industry because it allowed the independents to come in, but it also meant that the sales numbers for comics dropped to a fraction of what they had been doing. In order to maintain profits they had to raise prices to the few bucks each issue costs today.

But now a lot of people think they are too expensive and look for ways to save money. Enter mail-order places where you can order your comic books online, pay much less, and have them mailed to you. Adding to this is the number of people who have stopped buying individual issues and have ‘gone to the trade’ as they call it. Meaning, they are buying the trade paperbacks (aka graphic novels) which reprint a run of the issues usually encapsulating one story arc from 6-8 issues. They can be bought in the comic store but also in major bookstores and even from those mail-order places for much cheaper.

This is where we are at now. The problem I foresee is that comic book stores operate on a very tight budget and they are always at risk of going out of business. Let me also throw in here that the collectable market is dead. If you are saving those old comics thinking they will make you rich one day you are sadly mistaken. If, like me, you are just bagging, boarding and collecting them because you can’t stop then you are just sad. Actually, I am going to start ‘going to the trade’ myself. Seriously, I’m tired of lugging those big white boxes across the world.

The point of the collectable market being dead is to point out that the comic book stores aren’t making a lot of money buying and selling back issues.

What I see happening in the future is comic book stores going away, more trade paperbacks and such in bookstores. Currently the Manga books from Japan are doing incredible in bookstores and the U.S. comic publishers are going to find the formula to match that. I think this will herald a giant change in how books are produced, written, serialized, advertised, etc. I think that independent publishers are going to be hit very hard by this and won’t come back into serious play for awhile. I do however, think that after all the turmoil, say 10 years from now, that things will be better than they are now.

Comic book publishers are also trying things with publishing online, but I don't think that is going over to well. People like to hold something in their hands and read it. Snuggle up in bed with a book. But, if we can get some advances in electronic paper anytime soon, that may change. We will also need some better way of handling electronic purchases - I bought the damn thing, it's mine, I should be able to control how I store it and be able to get at it later. I'M LOOKING AT YOU ITUNES!

The wild card in this mix is the movies. Lots of movies based on comics, doing well, is keeping the publisher's (more specifically the major corporations who own the publishers) profits up.

But that’s just my opinion and I reserve the right to change it as new evidence is presented and time goes by.


Evan said...

Totally unrelated, but you'll love this:


Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Cameron sent me another link to that earlier today.

As funny as it is, I commented that we need to be very careful because if the movie does well and some network corporate exec sees that, it could wind up being an actual Saturday morning cartoon... except it's not a joke!

Cap'n John's Blog said...

So you're saying it was a mistake to bring back from my last trip to Australia those 6 photocopier paper boxes (the ones that normally contain half a dozen ((or more)) reams of A4-sized paper) filled with comics?


Maybe I'll stuff them up in the attic where they'll stay nice & dry, until one really hot Summer day when they'll spontaneously combust :P

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

6 paper boxes? Only 6 paper boxes?


I moved to Australia with 1 long box and 2 short boxes. I moved back with 16 short boxes, and 6 long boxes. That isn't counting the graphic novels which filled up 2 magazine boxes and were also stuffed into lots of other book boxes.

...please help me...