Friday, 17 September 2010

Too Much of Not Enough

There's been quite a bit of talk on the internet about the cost of comic books these days. A price-rise of a dollar on most Marvel and DC books sees them going for the princely sum of $3.99 now days - some say this is too much.

Main concerns are that at such a cost the number of books which people are willing to take a chance on will fall dramatically. This is compounded by the publishing practices of these two companies, spreading titles out thinly, pushing multiple same-character books, focussing too much on the "big-event" or "trade edition" decompressed story telling.

Comics do not sell anywhere near as many as they once did. There are more comics now available than before. Prices have risen. Seems to be a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the supply/demand mechanism.

From the fan point of view, and as someone who has collected, read, loved comics since he was four or so, I find it hard to find an in to most books. I find the continual sense of performing an illusionary motion-without-moving trick on most characters very un-charming. The number of books I am asked to invest in to follow a single story line is too many, the rotation of artists is jarring and the bland corporate feel to the overall theme unappealing.

Countering this, I appreciate that they are companies that need to make money, I appreciate that these characters are saddled with 80 years of baggage, I appreciate that artists are working slower to create better art than before.

However, some of these counters ring untrue in some respects.

The big two companies have painted themselves into a corner in many ways. In striving to create high end books, they have set the bar at this level, causing publishing costs to outstrip income returns. Too many self-publishing and alternative publishing methods now exist, and the comic book world community really is one that utilizes the internet very effectively. Marvel and DC have been left behind in some respects. Their great strength, in their hold over the distribution model, seems to be weakening somewhat too.

Marvel and DC have left a void at the back end of their business plan, and have not put anywhere near enough interest in recruiting future fans compared to their interest in tapping other markets and wringing as much out of their current readers as possible. As prices rise, this will no doubt catch up with them.

I've seen a lot of smart suggestions, and would offer my own as follows:

Create a core, cheaply produced, disposable weekly book (for DC something like The Superman Files, Batman Files etc) for their main properties. Containing a high page count, it could have 12 pages of current story, 12 pages of reprinted story, a self-contained showcase of new talent and one or two lesser-character back up stories (Supergirl, Batwoman, Robin, Green Arrow etc). Keep it as an all-ages title, and sell where you can (news-stands, supermarkets, toy stores etc).

Have a monthly title as per usual as they are currently producing - just less of them. Some of the stories can be the same as those that feature in the weeklies - keep ahold of your current floppie-collect market.

Have high end, one-shot or original graphic novels produced on a quarterly basis, targeting book stores and the like.

Continue to produce the TPB's as usual.

They both also need to produce a coherent digital model. At the moment it seems too scattered to get a flowing interest.

From an indie-creators point of view - it is a shame to see the market in such disarray, but the only effect it really has in that the volume of books that Marvel and DC put out and the cost of these prove to be a big interference in getting across our own titles - be it shelf space availability, interest from readers, reduction of risk taking new readers and so on.

Indie creators do have two major strengths - we are freed from corporate dictate, and so can tell freer stories than creators stuck trying to crowbar in three pages of cross-over every issue. We are able to use the network of creators whose work we appreciate, and fellow creators whose ideas we share to spread the word on our own work and the works of others.

Reputation is a big component of the last point being a major strength, it being the cache of the information age.

1 comment:

pdore said...

Didn't understand too much of this, but I enjoyed talking comics with your friends last weekend!