Brundle Guy writes:
The times, they are a-changing, as the man once sang. They certainly are for the industry I work in, comic book publishing. It’s odd, in a time where comics have greater cultural cache than ever before, the publishing end struggles. There are a lot of reasons. The direct market is having the same trouble all other retail businesses are and we don’t have many alternatives. Online store sales do all right for trades but not single issues, the benchmark of success for our industry. Digital copy purchases on the few titles available are nowhere near the cost of production, much less enough to make a profit, especially with how people don’t like paying full price for digital copies.
This leads to a lot of doom and gloom forecasting in certain circles, and while I might not necessarily say that the doom and gloomers are absolutely incorrect, I think they’re slightly off-base. I don’t think comics are going away, I just don’t think they’ll be exactly the way they are now for very much longer. And that’s probably OK.
Even in addition to the points above, the standard monthly comic increasingly seems like an outmoded form. In an age where people can throw down a few bucks a month to have instant access to hundreds if not thousands of movies and television shows, what sense does it make to pay four dollars for one part one of a 14-part story, like so many “decompressed storytelling” comics are today? And although bitching about how expensive comics are is a favorite pastime amongst fans, it’s really difficult to make them much less expensive. Instead of the old days, where a team of staff artists in a room made pages for comics that sold potentially millions of copies in groceries and corner stores in every town all over the country, now pages are drawn by incredible artists from all over the world for comics that are sold in a much smaller number of sometimes difficult to find specialty shops and are extraordinarily lucky if they have the very rare privilege to sell in six-figure numbers.
Also, our fans are getting old. A recent survey of DC comic sales found that only around 2% of their audience was under 18, and the average age of their reader was 35, I’ve even heard some say higher. A hefty portion of the fan letters I read begin “I’ve been reading comics for 25 years.” And there’s barely any attempt to reach a newer or younger audience. We’ll simply increase the age of our target marketing and ad sales.
It all doesn’t seem terribly sustainable. At the same time, comics were at this point before, and the change to the direct market turned it all around. Perhaps we’ll find that change again. But I think this time that change will not just be in the distribution method, but will change the very essence and nature of comics themselves.
I was talking about this with a friend of mine who is a big comic nerd, and she got terribly depressed. Even though I, too, love comics, and not only that, but at the moment they’re my livelihood, I can’t get too upset. Think about Vaudeville, I told her. I love the idea of Vaudeville, and whenever a show or film or play infuses itself with a bit of Vaudeville, it always makes me happy. But do I miss the Vaudeville circuit? Do I still wish there were entertainers out there pushing, struggling and starving to keep alive an art form whose best features were absorbed by other mediums decades ago? No, I don’t. I’m more than happy to see people like Jackie Chan and Jason Statham and Adam McKay keeping bits and pieces of that spirit alive.
So, is my industry dying? Yeah, maybe, kinda, in a way. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Nope, I don’t think so.
Still, it’s strange to be standing here at this odd moment of transition. No one knows what the landscape’s going to look like five years from now. That’s a bit wild, really. So perhaps I’ll write more on this, sort of keep tabs on an industry as it weebles and wobbles to see if it ever falls down.
Could be an interesting story.