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Can Comic Books Last? Publishers’ Views On Future of Serialized Comics

8 March 2017

From Newsarama:

With the growth of digital comic books and the perception that audiences are “waiting for the trade,” it’s easy to buy into a doom-and-gloom attitude about the future of print comic books.

But according to the retailers and publishers Newsarama surveyed, as long as the industry corrects some of its current missteps, the best years of the serial format could lie ahead.

. . . .

“We’ve seen steady growth in all markets over the last four years,” said Filip Sablik, president of publishing and marketing for BOOM! Studios, citing growth in both digital and book sales. “In the direct market, since 2012, we’ve outpaced the industry average growth consistently every year and in fact have been the fastest growing top 10 publisher in those years.”

“We had our best year ever,” echoed Jesse James, owner of Jesse James Comics in Glendale, Ariz. “We had a double-digit increase in store and triple digit increase online.”

Yet some of the issues raised during our discussions concern industry-watchers, particularly the oversaturation of the market, with the number of titles being released at record high levels. Add that concern to the rising number of variants, and both retailers and publishers are aware that the numbers might not tell the whole story.

Randy Stradley, Dark Horse’s Vice President of Publishing described the biggest challenge facing the overall industry right now as “the sheer number of comics coming out within a given month” – something, he says, that can affect quality and, in turn, the value of comic books as entertainment.

“All publishers have the responsibility of exercising quality control for all their offerings,” Stradley said. “When they put their logo on the front cover, it is a stamp that this is the best they have to offer. I’m not so sure that everyone is toeing this line.”

. . . .

“Periodical comics tend to get the short shrift from publishers, yet in many specialty shops, like mine, sales of periodical comics account for as much as 50% of total sales,” Field said. “We regularly see schedules go off the rails. We rarely get creative teams staying on a title for extended runs anymore. I’d like to see more value packed into comic books including less decompressed storylines, more actual things happening in every single issue.”

Link to the rest at Newsarama and thanks to Shirl for the tip.

Graphic Novels/Comics

12 Comments to “Can Comic Books Last? Publishers’ Views On Future of Serialized Comics”

  1. During the boom of print indie comics I asked a couple of creators if they made more from the serials or the trades. I wanted them to get as much of my money as possible. All the creators I asked said they made all their profit from trades. The serials were break even at best.

  2. Considering the relative profits of comic publishing vs. Hollywood, the entire publishing could be considered a sideline of the motion picture industry.

    Certainly, Hollywood seems to be mining the comics for major movies nowadays…

    • Felix J. Torres

      The relationship is mostly one-sided; from comics to movies.

      That is less true of Marvel, where they are really milking STAR WARS to the hilt. It’s keeping them afloat these days.

      DC is a bit more restrained. They do bring in a few elements from the higher profile video productions but mostly they run their comics business independently. They are more focused on their core demographics and experimentation than in trying to piggyback on their corporate brethren’s success.

      Both do put out movie tie-ins around their movie releases but comics and movies run on different clocks and target different audiences, which is why the movie versions tend to differ from the comics.

      Indies, of course, are more creator-driven and don’t usually have any video derivatives to “worry” about. 😉

      • Marvel seems to have gone full-on SJW these days. I’m not a big fan of superhero comics in the first place, but every story I hear about them seems to be ‘Spider-Man is now a Muslim girl! For Social Justice!’

        I did see an interesting indie digital comic the other day: you can read it as a normal comic, but you can also jump into some of the panels in 3D scenes in VR. I doubt any more likely to take off than ‘enhanced ebooks’, but it was an interesting use of the media.

        • Marvel has some good stories and some very good writers.
          They just aren’t the ones writing the big franchise characters like XMEN or Spider-Man. The former fan-favorites.
          Even the next designated Big Thing, INHUMANS, is sub-standard.

          They have most of their top talent on the STAR WARS titles.

          DC, on the other hand, has learned their lesson from New 52 and are doing some of their best work in years on Superman and Action Comics. This week’s ACTION 975 is scary good in all senses. Taps into the entire mythos from golden age to the present, comics and animation, and it all makes sense in context.

          Superwoman also. Very meta story. Breaks the third wall without breaking the third wall. The series has been inconsistent but Jimenez continues to surprise. No telling where he is going.

  3. I was a kid in the 80’s and recently made an effort to see what was happening in comics today. I paid $3.99 each for 2 comics last year. They were good, ad free, and printed on high quality glossy stock. But they also took 10 minutes to read. So I didn’t go back to the store. 4 bucks for ten minutes is not a good deal.

    Then, last month, I became interested again and found Marvel Unlimited for $6.99 a month. This is a Kindle Unlimited type service where you can read all-u-can-eat digital comics. I didn’t think I would like reading comics on an iPad. Wrong. Not only is the experience great (the app zooms in on panels and dialogue with each “page turn” to create semi-cinematic story telling) but the service offers ALL of marvel comics. I can read all the new Star Wars, catch up on the current state of the MCU, and also look back at nearly everything Marvel produced from before I was born to today. It’s like 20,000 comics for the price for 2 a month. I love it, and I’m using it.

    I can see how this digital model could work fine for them – after all, I am now paying the equivalent of 2 comics a month as opposed to 0 comics a month before. If they can attract more like me, they have something. But I don’t see how they can afford to sell all these things in print. They aren’t really worth buying, so I can’t see how it’s worth making and distributing. What kid could afford this hobby? Maybe they could do a hybrid model where many of their titles are digital only?

    • When the comics overran the bookstores in my area, their customers mostly seemed to be “investment collectible” buyers, not kids.

    • Felix J. Torres

      1- Yes, DC does do digital-only comics. Panel layouts are formatted for computer screens rather than print. They typically come out weekly. Some are collected in monthly print editions or graphic novels.

      2- The core shopper for weekly print comics these days is an older adult, not kids. The products aimed at kids are the animated series on Cartoon Network and the Disney channels. A good portion of the profits come from the trade paperback reprints collecting the monthly (or biweekly) floppies. Those are typically priced at $10-15 for 5-8 issues worth of content. The backlist does very well for them.

      3- The speculation bubble of the 90’s is long gone.

      4- The biggest challenge for the industry moving forward isn’t any of the things listed in the OP but rather ebooks. The bulk of the comics sales is serialized superhero fantasies and that genre is doing very well in Indie ebook land. $4 gets you a full novel good for hours of reading instead of 10 minutes so for those interested in story rather than art, ebooks are a far better value.

      5- Despite all that, the industry is relatively healthy. It is a very small niche but it manages to earn acceptable profits while generating potentially useful IP, especially for the big two. People have been expecting a collapse of the print business for over a decade and most especially since the iPad came out but so far…

      • and the collectors dont read their copy cause you need the comic in mint condition to get the $

        there are some kids in my brother’s comic store, but their comic buying parents generally brought them.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Speculators are up a creek now, with digital offering a permanent backlist, just like with prose ebooks. One of my cousins got hooked by the Marvel movies and instead of looking to the comic shop, he signed up for Marvel Unlimited.

          Collectors will keep on collecting, as a hobby. But buying comics as “investments” that was never viable and never will be. Which is fine.

      • RE: # 2, this was true even when I was in comics retailing in the 1980s and ’90s. Occasionally a toy spin-off title would catch the attention of kids (G.I. Joe, Transformers) but the majority of buyers were guys over 25. The really heavy hitters were in their 40s, guys who became fans in the early days of Marvel.

        • Just like with video games, the big money is adults.
          Kids can’t afford a $30 a week habit. 🙂

          Besides, there is no shortage of good kids stuff on video via Cartoon Network, Disney, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon… all much cheaper.

          Even the live action stuff on CW which is essentially free is pretty kid friendly.
          (As long as the kids aren’t too young. 😉 )

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