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In regards to my previous post, pal Andrew had his own take on the decline of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and makes a cogent argument that it wasn’t necessarily Zero Hour what done the deed.
And hey, blogging brother Tim has also opened the floor to questions, so while you’re waiting for me to finish answering what you’ve asked me, why not pick Tim’s brain?
BIG SPOILERS FOLLOWING for DC Universe Rebirth #1 (like you don’t know ’em already) and…well, I don’t really spoil Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
So anyway, about this:
First, I’m not thrilled about full spoilers for this comic getting spread all over the place days before it’s even available for sale. Comics can be a hard enough sell already, without removing yet one more incentive for buying. “What shocking surprises await within? Well, read this website and find out…save yourself buying the comic.” Gee, thanks guys, not like I didn’t order a pile of these for my shelves.
There are a couple of things that keep this from being entirely disastrous, saleswise. It could be that said spoilers might encourage people to pick up the comic, in a “I gotta see this” kind of way. Not to mention, actually reading the comic is an entirely different experience from reading a list of plot points. And there’s the fact that it’s 80 pages of comics for $2.99, which is a swell deal, though I suppose the more critically-minded may be of the “the food was terrible, but such great portions!” opinion on the matter.
Plus, there’s the fact that, believe it or not (and as I’ve mentioned on my site before) some people going to comic shops aren’t plugged into every social network and comic website, and their engagement with comic news begins and ends with walking into the comic shop, looking at the rack and picking out their books, and walking out again. Oh, and reading them eventually, too, I guess.
Anyway, I enjoyed the comic, and hopefully my customers will, too. Oddly enough, it’s actually strangely touching at one point, when a character who’s returned from the pre-New 52 universe finally connects with one of the rebooted characters. It’s probably as emotionally affecting as it is because it’s not just that we’re seeing these two characters reuniting, but that the fictional universe we readers thought was washed away forever may have a chance at coming back. Yes, that’s a silly thing to get emotional over, but I’m not made of stone.
I know DC has tried to walk back, or at least refurbish, revamps/reboots before…Kingdom and “Hypertime” being the most notable line-wide attempt at doing so. That the New 52/Flashpoint reboot was so obviously a last-minute decision, with the cracks showing almost immediately, the overall story premise of “Rebirth” being a pushback against a timeline purposefully inflicted by unknown parties upon the DCU certainly brings all these shenanigans to an almost metatextual level. That these parties appear to be the characters from Watchmen, one of the sources of the “grim/realistic” superhero trend that “Rebirth” appears to be rebuffing…well, no danger of subtlety of theme here, I suppose.
And speaking of which…holy crap, they’re using the Watchmen characters in a DC Universe thing. And not in a dream sequence, either. My guess is the same as when “Before Watchmen” was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world — Watchmen TP sales are moribund, and this is a way of spurring interest in the book again. Or maybe someone figured, hey, what the hell, this will get everyone’s attention, and lo, they were right.
Yes, yes, I suppose I should be angry about the violation of the sanctity of a classic work, but I have to tell you, I laughed and laughed. Partially because I’m amused by the idea of, I don’t know, Batman vs. Rorschach or something, and partially because I love seeing everyone else’s reaction to it. Anyway, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted and I’m sure I’m a bad person for thinking so.
Seriously, though, this whole “New 52 was an attack on the DCU” thing is a weird but interesting way of dealing with continuity issues, and would be quite clever if it were the planned outcome of the New 52 way back when, and not just a way to directly address a rushed reboot that didn’t quite take. This Rebirth one-shot is still an entertaining read for the continuity-minded superhero fan, a snapshot of where the DCU is now, what brought us here, what problems need to be resolved, and the sheer hilarious gall of bringing Watchmen into it. That’s gotta be worth your $2.99.
And you guys had to go and try to spoil this story for everyone, too! CAN WE NOT HAVE NICE THINGS
“You probably covered this, but can you think of a time in early Mike’s comics retail career where something came up that completely junked how you thought comics should be ordered?”
I think I follow what you’re saying here, but let me give a couple of different answers to you.
One of the first lessons I learned from my old boss Ralph is “order with your head, not your heart.” And before anyone pipes up, that’s not a 100%, completely binary thing, by any means…yes, sometimes you order with your heart, because there are comics and characters and creators you like and want to support and of course you think investing your time and money in them is a good idea. I mean, we’re not machines, we all have our preferences and that informs our decisions. The trick is not to be stupid about it.
If you’re supporting a comic you like, which, oh, let’s say it’s Our Swamp Thing at War, and you’re ordering piles and piles of it, thinking “well, if I love it, surely all of my customers will love it, too!” Then, after a few months of not selling any, you’re still thinking “it’s gonna catch on, I just know it” — well, sooner or later your head is going to have to pull rank on your heart and cut those orders down to what you’re really selling versus what you think they should sell.
This is probably a “no-duh” kind of realization…I’m pretty sure I didn’t go into this thinking that it was all “la de dah, just get whatever” and throwing down whatever numbers you wanted on the order form. But I think I was surprised by the amount of number-crunching involved in actually ordering comics, with looking back at the sales histories of individual titles, at seasonal changes, at what creator or character’s presence in a particular issue might do its sales, etc. And sometimes this decision-making is crazily exact…I have, well, not agonized exactly, that’s too strong a word, but I’ve definitely waffled over the difference of a single unit on a comic for a longer period of time than I really should have. Like, maybe 20 copies feels like it’s too many, but dropping it down to 19 just doesn’t seem like that would be enough. No, I’m not exaggerating.
So maybe that’s the actual response in this first part of this answer: that I wasn’t aware at first of just how much work actually went into placing orders. I’m not sure what I pictured, but it was probably a lot more casual than the advanced calculus I’ve since ended up doing to figure out how many Marvel variant covers I can order.
The second part of my answer is more involved with the overall health of the marketplace. I am sure I’ve mentioned once or thrice over the years about the sudden seachange I experienced during the boom ‘n’ crash period of the early 1990s, when the latest Diamond Previews arrived, cover-featuring Dark Horse’s new superhero imprint “Comics’ Greatest World.” My memory is a little fuzzy on the details, but my recollection is that there were either multiple superhero universes launching in that same Previews, or that I realized just how many superhero universes were being thrust upon the stands. I do remember thinking “where are the customers to support all these new ‘universes’ going to come from?” and, perhaps on a more selfish level, “how are we going to have room on our shelves for all these different comics?” Now, as it turned out, the marketplace eventually took care of this problem for us, but that was still a bit of an alarming realization.
Now keep in mind the big comics boom was still in progress of becoming a crash around this period, so we had been more-or-less accustomed to (or perhaps spoiled by) the idea that there were plenty of folks in the marketplace ready to support nearly anything that was published. There was of course no shortage of clues that the market was sick…the prevalence of investors, the proliferation of gimmicks and enhanced covers…but for some reason, seeing that particular issue of Previews, with the promise of More of the Same Kind of Stuff Coming on Top of the Stuff That’s Already Here, was the literal final straw. The sorta vague feeling that things weren’t healthy, the one you could ignore because hey, look at all this money we’re making, now came into tighter focus. To try to bring it back to your original question, Brandon, is that this was the transition from “order lots because comics will always sell great forever” to “order what’s going to sell now, and be more picky about what you want left over for backstock.” Not the catchiest way of putting it, I suppose, but true just the same.
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Oh, hey, over at Trouble with Comics, to make up for all of us hatin’ on Jack Kirby in our younger years, we pick out our favorite obscure Kirby works
MrJM jams this question right in here
“T for D: Comics retailing and social media, i.e. In what ways have social media affected comics retailing? In what ways should social media affect comics retailing?”
I remember early in the days of what we once called “The Comics Blogosphere” there was a particular indie title that all of us comics bloggers were enamored of, and we would talk up and plug all the time, and that went on for months and months and ultimately the publisher said “yeah, it was big on blogs but still didn’t sell worth a damn.”
Things are a little different now, in that social media is only a pulling-the-phone-out-of-the-bag-or-pocket away for people, so there is that portion of the customer base now that is more immediately informed (or misinformed, depending on what sites they’re looking at). That requires me keeping more on my toes regarding the latest developments in the industry, or at least knowing where to go to look up anything that turns out to be news to me.
As a retailer, social media does allow me new, direct venues to contact my customer base. At the previous place of employment, we would mail out newsletters through USPS to everyone in the customer database. Now, with Facebook and Twitter and an embedded blog on the store’s webpage and many, many other communication options, I can have more immediate and consistent contact with customers. I mean, sure, none of this is particularly news to anyone, but I do marvel at the slow creep of additional online ways to maintain these relationships. Email access and a website to advertise the shop/plug our wares really were game-changers, in that I had no idea how I managed to do anything without having those particular tools at my disposal. The other goodies, like your “Twitters” and your “Instagrams” and “Facebooks” and such have gone from interesting gimmicks to near-essential tools to connecting to your clientele.
Now, MrJM, your question is how social media specifically affected retailing, and how it should affect it. Well, what it does and what it should do is what I mentioned already – facilitate communication between the shop and the customer. More communication = more positive relationships = more awareness of wants and needs of the clientele = more business. I mean, ideally, anyway. You always hear about someone representing a business saying ridiculously awful things online, and the comics business ain’t no exception, but so long as you’re not a dummy about it, social media is great.
Yes, I put my nickel down on the idea that the internet is useful. I’m cutting edge that way.
Now, whether or not the situation I described at the beginning would have been different today, with the expanded role of online discourse in our industry…I don’t know. I’d like to think so, with more avenues of information available to increasing numbers of potential readers, but information overload is also a problem. Yes, it may be easier to push information about your new book in front of more eyes, but it’s easier for everyone else, too, and “extra exposure” can quickly become “lost in the shuffle.” So technology has made it easier to make things not as easy, and doesn’t that just figure.
- I’ve been putting off any kind of review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of a New Film Franchise, We Hope simply because at this point, what’s to add, really. I liked it fine: I thought it was a valid and interesting interpretation of these characters, though I do understand the larger context complaints about tone and accessibility to younger potential viewers. Just taken as a film on its own terms, outside the criticisms of “I didn’t want this movie, I wanted a different movie,” it’s no better or worse than most big-budget blockbuster films. It’s certainly better made than the mishmash of Age of Ultron, and at least seems to have a vision and a point of view. Maybe not the vision or point of view people necessarily wanted, but I think there was some depth to the proceedings that made it worthwhile viewing, at least to me.
Yes, sure, I’d love to have a bright, cheery Superman movie. At least we’re getting a bright, cheery Batman movie (in the form of Lego Batman, guest-starring Superman!). But at least I think we can all agree that Wonder Woman was pretty great. And Lex is a hoot.
Here’s a review by pal Ragnell that I pretty much agree with.
- Free Comic Book Day plans are still coming along, and if you missed my announcement about my special guest that day, well feast your peepers on this. I don’t really have a lot of prep to do, as I’m not doing the age-appropriate packaging like I used to do…just setting ’em up on tables for free perusal works fine, and stretches supply out a bit longer. I certainly don’t have the same worries I did about getting a turnout at my new shop that I did prior to last year’s FCBD, given how things worked out. If anything, I’m hoping for a larger turnout.
I am a little annoyed that the special FCBD retail shopping bags haven’t shipped out yet…you know, those white plastic bags with the logo on ’em. That was a good advertising tool, and if I don’t get them until a week or two prior to the event, a fat lot of good that’ll do me. I contacted my distributor, and even they don’t seem to know when they’re getting to me. In the meantime, I’m passing out the bookmarks and the flyers I did get, and I’ll have some specially-printed Sterling Silver Comics-specific flyers to give away as well.
Just so long as I don’t have the stoned guy cycling around my storefront chatting people up about Herman Hesse again. That’s a Free Comic Book Day repeat I’d rather avoid.
- Haven’t really done a market report of late, I realize, but did want to note that the newest Star Wars spinoff, Poe Dameron, has sold quite well. Star Wars comic sales are still very strong, though they have softened slightly, now that they’ve been around a while and the new movie’s come and gone. But, with Force Awakens now available on home video and with hype beginning to build on the forthcoming Rogue One, maybe interest will rise again. It sure did for Poe Dameron, as I said, which I’m sure probably caught some folks at Disney by surprise just how much interest there is in the character. The strong creative team (Charles Soule and Phil Noto) and the accompanying freebie buttons and lithographs didn’t hurt.
We’ll see how sales go on next week’s arrival of the long-delayed C-3PO one-shot.
So this week’s Question over at Trouble with Comics is about “enhanced” covers (versus the variant cover topic we covered last week), and what we thought about ’em, and whether there were any we liked, et cetera, et cetera. I threw an answer or two into my response, including one cover I discussed on this site, lo, a decade ago now so I supposed enough time had passed to revisit it.
Fellow Troublemaker Logan had this to say in his own response:
“With the possible exception of the poly-bagged Deadpool card, can any retailer still move their copies of X-Force #1 at even face value? Yet it still gets mentioned in conversations regarding how many copies were sold, how popular the book was, and so on. The only gimmick to it was that there were different trading cards bagged with each issue,* and I don’t recall there being a shortage on any particular card, Mike Sterling would have a better memory of that though.”
The asterisk there was to an editorial footnote reminding us of the “reverse image UPC boxes” which I’d somehow driven out of my mind, though apparently that was a big deal in regards to how “collectible” and “rare” any particular variant of X-Force #1 happened to be. And by “collectible” and “rare” I mean “just slightly more copies of X-Force #1 out there than, say, grains of sand.”
Now, as I do recall, the cards themselves were available in equal numbers. It’s been a couple of decades, but that’s my recollection. But as I noted in this post from a few years ago (where I note the then-decline of Deadpool’s recent popularity and the lack of any kind of promised Deadpool movie…boy, that’s almost “political pundit” levels of foretelling, there), those comics sold like crazy, and even sells once in a while to this day. Yes, even at more than face value. Why, one can get upwards of $3 to $5 bucks per copy, even! Not very often, no, but it does happen.
There is still no shortage of these in the direct market, especially at stores that were open at the time, and even in new stores like mine where they just kinda turn up whether you’re trying to buy ’em from collections or not. And I think it’s because of that proliferation that, even now, even after an actual Deadpool movie is in honest-to-God real-life movie theaters and viewed by presumably willing audiences, there is, like I noted in that old post, still negligible interest in the Deadpool appearances in those early X-Force comics. I mean, people still want those New Mutants #98s with his first appearance, sure (I even had one in my shop for about five minutes last week before it was claimed), but that Deadpool trading card edition of X-Force #1, or that story with Mr. ‘Pool in #2…nope, no one’s biting yet, movie or no.
Dental issues have kind of thrown me off this week (and why not take a look at my eBay listings, he said completely coincidentally), but I’m still putting together material for this site, and, shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but I may have an End of Civilization post again soon, at long, long last. But, in the meantime, life goes on, and your pal Mike has been processing a few beat-up long boxes of what was once back issue stock for a long-defunct comic book shop. And in these boxes, amongst the copies of Serenity comics with Scotch tape affixed directly to the covers, and forgotten late ’90s Image books that will never ever sell again even in the bargain bins, I found this:
Now, there was a time when Warlord comics were, if not necessarily “hot,” but definitely in demand. However, it was not anytime during or after the release of this comic, which in no way, at no point, should have been priced anywhere close to $24.00. The current Overstreet has it at $4 in near mint, and was likely listed in the guide at that price or even less whenever the pricetag was actually affixed to this issue. Oh, and it probably goes without saying that the comic wasn’t anywhere close to near mint, and I suspect that wasn’t from mishandling in storage, but rather wear that was present when it was slipped into its bag and board.
I don’t think it was a case of switched bags or anything, given that I also found a few issues of Blue Devil, each with the proper issue number inscribed on the tag like above, also priced at $24. This is almost DC-obsessed-with-the-number-52 level, what with all the $24 pricetags. Suffice to say, any given issue of Blue Devil generally isn’t worth $24 even if you stuffed a twenty dollar bill into the comic bag with it. And hey, I love Blue Devil, but c’mon.
I don’t know if this was an honest mistake from misreading the price guide (unlikely, given the multiple instances), or, as was suggested to me, just wishful thinking (“only takes one person to go for it!”) much like the $5000 price tags you’ll see on, say, an issue of Care Bears on eBay or Amazon or wherever.
But don’t worry…I’ll be repricing all these at much more reasonable levels. I might even go as low as only $12 apiece. No need to thank me.
“What do you think about the three-month rollout of new titles? I would guess that’s a better system than dumping all 32 new titles, with Rebirth special issues, on the market all at once like they did with the New52. Could that make the ordering a little easier? Or could June be like those Secret Wars months when people are missing their regular books? (Assuming, maybe erroneously, that everything DCU not ‘Rebirth’ is ending in May.)”
The thing about the New 52’s month-long onslaught of new first issues is that it felt like a Big Event, nearly unprecedented in the comics industry. DC didn’t even restart everything after Crisis on Infinite Earths, when it would have been totally justified. The excitement over this weeks-long parade of #1s just kind of fueled itself, and I think I remember mentioning at the time that, when we opened the doors each Wednesday for new comics day, people literally rushed to the funnybook wall to get their hands on the latest DC debuts. People I’d never seen before, people who told me “I heard about all these new first issues on the news and wanted to see what was goin’ on” – the immediacy of all these new comics appearing on the stands more or less at the same time got people in the doors.
Of course, keeping them coming back was the real trick, which, um, didn’t work out so well, as New 52 sales eventually dwindled down to pretty much where things were before. And then Marvel attempted their own rollout of new #1 relaunches, but spreading them out over several months, with some titles ending in the midst of others starting and not having a clearly specified line of “everything before this point is old, everything after this point is new” like DC did with the new Justice League #1…well, that didn’t quite build the same kind of buzz.
And in the meantime we’ve had more relaunches and new #1s from both Marvel and DC and it’s all just business as usual, so I don’t imagine we’re going to have anything close to the same sort of excitement with this new batch of DCs. Which isn’t what you’re asking, Adam, I realize, but it’s just something I’m pondering as I think about what I may do in regards to ordering. Yes, rolling ’em out over a few months instead of dumping them all at once is probably the better strategy this time ’round, especially since this is aimed at growing readership out of a market that already exists, rather than trying to attract new readers from outside the market via a big splashy “TONS OF NEW TITLES, JOIN IN ON THE FUN” New 52-esque carnival. I mean, yes, obviously DC would love to get those new readers into the marketplace, but the concern right now is having a solid base of reasonably-selling periodicals in the direct market as it exists, and hoping to attract new readers with other projects and their trade program and what have you.
I don’t think we’re going to have a Convergence (or Secret Wars) style dearth of sales, where folks just kinda skip over these side mini-series while they’re waiting for the regular titles to return. These are the “in-continuity” books, so Superman readers will likely continue getting Superman, etc., assuming people don’t use these as “jumping-off” points (which some readers invariably do). Now, I have no idea what the actual directions/content of these new line of DC books will entail, and whatever is actually in the books will naturally affect that transition of readers from the old series to the new ones.
I probably should look a little more closely at what the actual plans are, but it’s my understanding that 1) the old series end, and then 2) the one-shots and new series come out over the next couple of months. But during this time, DC will surely still be releasing their Vertigo books, they’ve got those relaunched Hanna-Barbera books, they’ve got Dark Knight III (speaking of comics bringing in non-traditional comic readers!) and their other minis, so they’ll still have plenty of books on the shelves for their customers.
So ultimately, Adam, ordering is still going to be a real bear, but I’m not expecting any wild fluctuations in sales numbers. Unless there’s some mind-blowing stuff going on in these new launches, it’ll probably just keep on keeping on, with a slight improvement in profit coming from DC paring down their line to titles that are more or less proven sellers (with one or two titles in the new line-up that just feel like they’re doomed from the start, but we’ll see).
In conclusion: there’s still no new Swamp Thing series listed, so phooey.
Brad asked, in response to my Archie comments in yesterday’s post:
“Why do kids buy Archie Digests but avoid the same material in pamphlet or trade form?”
My guess is perceived value…digests may cost more, but contain a lot more content, and are closer to books than to periodicals in format. Just a matter of preferred packaging, I suppose.
“What DO kids buy these days anyway? The Disney titles from IDW? My Little Pony? Transformers? Manga? Captain Underpants?”
Yes to most of the above, as well as Sonic the Hedgehog (which is an Archie publication, so there’s that), Simpsons, Avatar the Last Airbender, Star Wars, Mad Magazine, Deadpool if the parents say “yes” — there’s a wide variety of comics to choose from, and kids’ tastes run the gamut.
Speaking of comics, as I usually do here making that a fairly redundant transition, DC Comics announced yesterday just what they were gettin’ at with that image they’d been posting in social media here and there for the last few weeks. As it turns out, it is another linewide relaunch, rejiggering the DC superhero line-up to snap the company out of the publishing doldrums it’d fallen into after the massive New 52 debut sales back in 2011 had since faded away into a distant memory. Marvel’s had line-relaunches for their own books since then, initially goaded on by DC’s success, and have had scattered relaunches of several of their titles before their most recent sorta-post Secret Wars first-issue fest which we are still in the midst of. Basically what I’m saying is that this was a swell time to open a new shop, where I have to make some wild guesses as to how a bunch of new #1s are going to sell.
You can see the list of what DC’s planning to unleash right here, and on one hand, yes, good, they’re standardizing cover prices at $2.99, kinda of like a few years back when they were promising to “hold the line at $2.99” until stuff got pushed up to $3.99 anyway, and well, what can you do. It’d be nice if maybe that would pressure Marvel to follow suit, but it’s more likely the DCs will creep back up to $3.99 before Marvel does any extensive price-drops.
On the other hand, about half those titles are planned to be biweekly, so instead of spending a pocketbook-punching $3.99 on a new issue of Action Comics every month, you’ll be spending the incredibly low price of $5.98 each month for two issues of Action, so, um. But on the other other hand, instead of 52 monthly titles, there will be only 32, and it’s not likely you were going to buy Every Single Title DC was going to publish anyway, so maybe it’ll be at least a wash, or perhaps even a small savings for you. Costwise, $6 a month for 40 pages is a better deal than $4 for 20 pages, if you want to look at it that way. And that’s assuming the format will still include 20 pages of story.
I suspect the schedules are not set in stone…if there’s enough resistance to these selected titles double-dipping each month, DC can scale things back. I’m also concerned about maintaining that cover price…DC cut a couple of pages from the books during that original “hold the line at $2.99” push, so I’m wondering if more page cuts are possible. I would certainly hope not…I would prefer a price increase to that, and hopefully DC will remember that “$3.50” is a possible price point as well.
On the whole though, I do like that the number of titles have been scaled back to a reasonable amount, so that even if readers do decide to follow the double-shipping series, it won’t be as much of an impact at it would appear at first glance. For example, looking at what I’m likely to continue reading after “Rebirth,” it amounts to four biweekly titles, one monthly title, and maybe two or three other of the new monthly titles, depending on just what the actual contents are since all I’m going by is the name (like whatever The Super-Man is). That works about to about 9 to 12 comics a month, which isn’t too bad.
Of course, this is just the main DC Superhero Universe line of ongoing books. This doesn’t count mini-series and special event books and all those Hanna-Barbera relaunches and Vertigo and whatever else.
I saw a lot of comments online about how we should wait and see the creative teams/contents before giving the People’s Eyebrow to DC’s latest publishing endeavor, but I don’t think that’s entirely necessary. The idea of making half your line biweekly is a challenging one, particularly in this marketplace where consumers are looking to spend less money. And, especially after Marvel’s oddball scheduling issues over the last few years (ranging from “every two or three weeks or whatever” to “maybe we’ll see another issue again someday”), the last thing anyone wants is to feel like Lucy and Ethyl staring down that conveyor belt feeding them more candies than they could ever hope to wrap. I mean, yes, maybe the teams on these books will be so amazing that we’ll wish they were weekly, but I don’t think we should judge if someone finds, just from purely physical/economic response, the new DC plans to be a tad intimidating.
For me, the hapless retailer, the trick is figuring the numbers to order. Now, when DC did their linewide New 52 relaunch, that was fairly unprecedented, and received a lot of attention, and sales, not just from the initiated but from non-traditional consumers as well, driven to comic shops for the very first time to check out what was going on. As noted, there have been several attempts at relaunches/reboots from both companies since then, with diminishing returns, so the crowds that turned out for the New 52 aren’t likely to rematerialize. But if this stokes the excitement of the folks already coming to shops, well, that wouldn’t hurt. I expect a small bump in sales, and if the books are any good, and hopefully they are, maybe we can get some medium-to-strong-ish consistent sales on the ones that survive. That alone would be a welcome improvement.
The most unexpected announcement was that Detective and Action would revert back to their old pre-New 52 numbering. Good…I despaired of ever seeing an Action Comics #1000, and it looks like my weird prayers have been answered.
So Chris in the comments to Monday’s post noted that he often wondered why superhero movies didn’t lead to higher sales on the related comics. His answers — price and availability — are part of the problem, clearly. The other answer, essentially spinning off the idea of availability, and one I’ve noted on this site before, is that it’s practically a lifestyle choice. Going to a comic book store on a regular basis to follow the serialized adventures of superheroes is a commitment, as opposed to seeing a superhero movie every few months or a TV show beamed directly into your lean-to every week, which is good enough for most people.
The other problem is, as Chris also mentions, is that the stories themselves often don’t tend to welcome new readers. I think it goes even beyond that…if someone sees an Avengers movie and comes to a store looking for an Avengers comic, there’s at least three or four to choose from. Or Batman. Or Spider-Man (which, for bonus confusion, has a side series numbered 1.1, 1.2, etc.). It can be hard to pick which one is the one to follow. At least in most cases, if someone comes in and says “I want a Batman comic” there’s usually a comic that’s just straight-up called “Batman” that I can hand them. And to Marvel’s credit, while their flagship Amazing Spider-Man title is doing some different stuff with the character, there’s a side-series, Spidey, which is a more recognizable version of old Web-Head that’s not tied into any post-Secret Wars, pre-Civil War 2 hoohar for the uninitiated to worry about.
Now, it’s not as bad as all that. I still do reasonably good business (and repeat business!) in folks young and not-so-young just popping in and trying out comics that look interesting. Plus, of course, there are always the trade paperback collections for anyone seeking out longer reads. This is generally despite the comics themselves, with confusing numberings and constant reboots making it difficult for titles to get traction and for new readers to catch on and catch up.
Anyway, as usual, there are no answers here. It’s a weird business, but generally a rewarding one for readers who decide to put the effort into it and figure out just how to keep up with the mostly-bonkers publishing end of things.
Be sure to go back and read the comments to Monday’s post…some good discussion there.
• • •
The latest Question of the Week over at Trouble with Comics is regarding favorite romances in comics, and while I considered the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, I went with the response that will surprise none of you.
So the other day a lad and his grandmother came to the shop to look around, and everything was going well until the grandmother took a close look at the new comics rack and exclaimed “comics cost $3.99!?” It was a bit of sticker shock for her, as that was quite a bit higher than the new comic prices she remembered from her youth.
I mentioned this on the Twitters, and as the discussion continued from my initial post there, I realized there were two different issues that were perhaps being conflated. The first issue, and the one of greatest interest to those of us who regularly consume this particular artform, is that of perceived value. “Did I get my $3.99’s worth out of this comic?” “Did I just blow through this $3.99 comic filled with splash pages and no dialogue in two minutes?” “Did I just spend 20 minutes slowly absorbing the intricacies of dialogue and appreciating the beautifully-rendered art?” All questions we’re familiar with, I’m sure. And it is an important concern, that everyone from the reader to the publisher to the retailer needs to worry about: is the product worth it?
There’s no simple answer, of course. Maybe you don’t like the all-splash page comic with no dialogue, but maybe someone else loves the art in that comic and is thrilled to have huge images and no text to get in the way. Maybe I like dialogue-heavy comics that take me a while to read, and maybe someone else thinks if they wanted to read a prose novel, they’d have bought one. Everyone decides for him-or-herself if the price they’re paying for a comic is worth the value they get from it.
Anyway, we’re all comics people, we know all that. But the other issue I was thinking about, based on that grandmother’s response to seeing the price, was the very fact that the price itself is a barrier to new readers, independent of whether or not the contents could deliver on the cost of admission.
This isn’t a very deep topic, admittedly. “High price drives away customers” – no dur-hay, right? But it reminded me of when I wrote about DC’s “The New 52!” slug that they had on their covers for the last few years. For those “in the know,” it told us “hey, this is part of DC’s newly-rebooted continuity!” For anyone else who hasn’t read comics, it told them “you have no idea what this means, so clearly this isn’t for you.” Even though the New 52 initiative is no longer marketed as such (ending when it did just as reader Ray predicted), the phrase still exists on back issues and on the trade paperbacks and I still hear “hey, what does this mean” from folks new to the industry all the time.
Basically, it’s something on the cover that warns people not already reading comics “this is not for you.” And maybe the higher price points on the regular monthly series (currently averaging $3.99, with Marvel slowly getting us used to $4.99) are yet another warning. Okay, maybe it’s mostly a warning to people who remember when comics were ten or fifteen or thirty-five cents and have somehow wandered back into a comic shop only to discover 1) wait, they’re still making Howard the Duck? and 2) it’s $4.99 a throw? And I don’t think four bucks is too bad a price point for what you’re getting…that’s like a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards (I think…it’s been a while since I’ve had to sell any), or…fancy coffee, I guess? But it’s not “toss the guy a coin and not think about it” pricing…it’s not a significant amount of money, but it’s not nothing, either. And that’s just one more barrier to someone new to comics trying to decide if he or she really wants to take the plunge.
Again, this is hardly a new observation, but it brought me to think once again about what the breaking point is going to be. I’m sure those of us who were around a couple of decades back buying comics for, what, $1.25 or $1.50 each, would have laughed in your face if told we’d be buying essentially the same comics for $3.99. But here we are. And so far any comics that have been $4.99 or higher have had higher page counts or nicer production or some other aspect that improved the perceived value of the item. But then, so did $3.99 comics at one point. And so did $1.99 comics.
My thought was that eventually periodical comics would have to evolve into thick anthology magazines, front-loaded with ads to keep costs down, but attracting advertisers is a problem now for comics, too. So who knows where it goes from here…moving to a trade paperback-only model? Everyone moves to digital comics? Your pal Mike shutters his store and has to find a real job? I don’t know…it’s a thing I have to worry about, and it’s a situation that’s coming whether anyone likes it or not.
Boy, that’s cheery stuff, right? Anyway, this isn’t a “comics industry is doomed” thing, since people have been saying for decades that the business’s death is “five years away.” I’m just curious about what’s coming next, and hopefully whatever’s coming will appeal to new customers rather than try to block them out.
• • •
I wanted to post a brief note regarding pal Dave’s decision to end his blog
, at least for the time being. He’s one of my favorite writers…smart, funny, and very
insightful, with plenty of interesting things to say on a wide variety of topics which as I type it sounds like a remarkably generic thing to say about someone, but it’s really true in his case. I’ve never been much of a gamer, but his posts on the various games he’s played were just as fun to read as his occasional comics or movie post, which fell more within my specific wheelhouse.
I’m sorry he’s taking down his virtual shingle, but I’m glad he shared as much with us as he did. Plus, I still get to bother him on Twitter, at least until he blocks or mutes me. Thanks for all the good work, Dave, and hopefully we’ll see more from you in the future.
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