Sunday, July 14, 2013

Does the Comics Industry really need saving?

Up until a few months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the comics industry was a sinking ship and it was only a matter of time before:

A) There was an industry wide implosion and/or
B) The big two only published flagship titles and spinoffs with no B/C grade characters appearing on the racks anymore.

However, back in May, John Jackson Miller performed some serious number crunching on sales numbers and determined that dollar orders are nearly double what they were 10 years ago.

What's more, as of June 2013, comics shops have ordered $250 million dollars worth of comics and trades. This puts this year as the first time in 20 years that the industry is on track to having a $500 million dollar sale. To get some idea, this time last year, the industry had only ordered $222 million dollars worth of product.

And all of these sales do not take into account the now noticeable bump that publishers are receiving from Digital sales. While neither DC or Marvel have given any figures about their digital revenue (other than Dianne Nelson's vague comment about digital sales being in around a million each month) Image has been more forthcoming.

According to Image, digital sales makes up to 15% of comics sales and 27% of revenue.

Now, with all that said, where does that leave our dark prophecies of a apocalyptic industry? This all sounds pretty good, but there is one detail about sales that people are overlooking (I believe.) As Image Publisher Eric Stephenson says in this interview when talking about the appeal of digital sales:

"I mean, how many comic stores are there? Maybe 2,000 or 2,500 in the United States? There are more radio stations than that. If you’re trying to convince casual [and new] customers to find comics, we’d be better off selling to radio stations than comic book stores.”

At one time, the number of shops in America was close to 10,000 (at the height of the 90's) - and while we can all agree that number was more than the market would bear (without rampant speculation to prop it up) - you have to wonder how are comic shops doing now? 

If, as the numbers suggest, that comic sales are doing so well, then why are there so few comic shops?

I suspect the answer has to do with the way comics are bought by retailers - they are in of themselves speculators. When Marvel or DC announces a new title, they have to guess how many they will sale. Unlike graphic novels (which are a bit more evergreen) retailers have to sort of hope they have ordered enough Marvel Now Captain America or Superior Spider-man to satisfy their Wednesday clientele. Guess too little, and you end up with pissed off customers. Guess too high and you are stuck with a boatload of unsaleable product. For the digital vendors, no guesswork is involved. It's a no lose situation.

I think this is a situation that bears watching before we take the patient off life support.

What do you think?

Does it feel like the industry is A OK to you?
Do you buy as much stuff from your local comic shop as you did 10 years ago?

- Jim


Trey said...

Gross sales data says so little. Cover prices are up over the past 10 years, aren't they? I'm curious about the actual number of comics being sold.

Also, what's overhead like? Has it become more expensive to run a comics store in the present day?

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - Yep, there are a lot of ways that Gross sales data can be deceiving, especially in this day of variant covers and 4.99 cover prices.

Your question about overhead is a very good one. Since one of the main costs (that stores have little control over) is shipping, how has that changed in this era of 3.50 a gallon gas?

I will say this - the store I am most familiar with has reduced staff over the years from 6 employees down to 2, which doesn't bode well.

MattComix said...

The art-form and the industry as a whole is more or less okay but could be better. I think creator-owned ala Kirkman with Walking Dead is going to be the template for the future.

Really it's the Big Two that need saving. From themselves. ..and their obsession with making over-priced fanzines that have all the earmarks of awful fan-fiction. You will never get a customer base that extends beyond the usual crop of die hard Wednesday-Warriors with that.

What's the old Roger Stern adage? "The first story you write as a fan should be the last story you write as a pro."

I have not had a pull-box in over a decade because I reached a point where even though my love of the characters was still there I could not justify paying out to keep seeing them done badly. I can't just buy a book because Superman or a guy wearing a Spider-Man costume is in it. My love of those characters is not a brand-loyalty.

I want a good story. I want good art (I realize that one is subjective) and I want to feel like the company and the creative staff can be arsed to respect these long-lived and long loved characters they've inherited.

Jim Shelley said...

@Matt - I think a lot of comic fans feel the way you do. In thinking about people I know who have stopped buying comics from comics, a number I could think of, like you, have stopped buying them altogether.

cash_gorman said...

Not sure who's in charge of the statistics, but the first graph has a total of 101%.

Jim Shelley said...

good point cash.


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