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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sources and Stats for My Comic Book Industry Articles


Some comic fans think I’m talking out of my ass. That I gleam things from twitter.

The only reason I go on twitter is to promote this blog and to promote my books. And I usually do my book promotion from Amazon. Go down the log of my tweets and you’ll see a long list of links to my titles. That’s about it.

Sorry, but my research comes from over fifteen years of compiled data. I’ve been doing research on comics before Twitter was even a gleam in the eyes of its CEO. Before the internet became the next big thing in the late 1990’s.

I’ve been doing research on the decline of the comic book industry since 1997 with the first Marvel reboot. After Marvel executives drove the Marvel Entertainment Inc. bankrupt with their grand plan to buy Heroes World and distribute their own comics.

I’ve read articles in Wizard and Toyfare and I’ve read dozens of messages on message boards like Wizard World (now defunct) in 2000 and 2001 Newsarama, and the DC Comics Message boards (also now defunct) and the SuperheroHype bords and facts from articles on the corresponding sites for those boards.

I’ve also picked up facts from sites like Comics continuum, and toy collector boards like Raving Toy maniac, The Fwoosh, Action figure news, action figure times, and Action figure Insider. And I’ve been on some of those sites when they first started back in the late 90’s and early 2000s.

I’ve even read articles about comics like the New York Times, USA Today and the New York Daily News.

That piece about Work for hire stagnating the industry was partially based on a Wall Street Journal article about why creative types like myself were avoiding the comic book industry.

Along with those sites I’ve read the official sites of numerous comic book professionals. People like the late Dwayne McDuffie, Chuck Dixon, Norm Breyfogle, and John Byrne.

And I got information from Jim Shooter’s Blog. When Shooter was blogging a year ago, he went into great detail about the business of Marvel Comics and the efforts he made to make that publishing house run in a professional manner. Before Shooter, Marvel was a mess business wise. Thanks to him establishing a structure, Marvel was able to have the editorial and catalog management in place to direct it as a publishing business as it grew in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Moreover, on Shooter’s blog he also discussed the business model of comics. Many readers of that blog came to the same consensus that I did that the current model for publishing and distributing comic books was obsolete. That it was time to create a new business model to sell comics and to compensate writers and artists for their work. Personally, I feel that any model will have to feature profit sharing of licensing and merchandising to get top quality people involved in writing and drawing comics again.

I also got information from Bob Layton’s official website. When Layton was running his Future Comics imprint in 2002-2004 he detailed his frustrations about distributing comics through Diamond. He also went into great detail about the cost of printing comics and costs per unit. Moreover, he also discussed printing through Quebecor and the high printing costs associated with it.

Layton expressed the same frustrations many comic fans expressed about in 2000. The same comments people and publishers made about having to order comic book products through a Previews catalog and through one lone distributor, Diamond.

When I talk about demographics, my numbers come from those same sources plus this site. And those statistics paint a grim picture.

In 1987 the median age of a comic book reader was 13.

In 2012 that median age is 35 and heading towards 40.

And the median age of 40 is considered the age where products are discontinued. Because after the age of 40 there’s no room for a business to expand a products’ exposure in the marketplace with a larger audience.

After people turn 40 they aren’t considered valuable consumers to businesses. Because they’re old and set in their product buying patterns.

And with 25 percent of comic book readers currently being 65 and older, there’s very little room for the industry to expand to new readers.

So the overall industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

For every Bone, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Actually classified as Independent reader fiction by retailers and educators), Archie or there are hundreds of comics titles from dozens of publishers struggling to find an audience of readers in America.

In a country of over 300 million people, there aren’t enough people in the right demographics reading and buying comics to sustain the long-term growth of the comic book industry in America.

And with stiff competition from imports like Manga selling product to those right demographics of tweens and teens, that’s bad for the industry’s long-term future. Especially in a world where bad and mediocre American comic titles currently outnumber good comic titles 200 to 1.

When I talk about licensing of products like Marvel and DC action figures I talk about all the information I’ve compiled from attending trade shows like the New York International Toy Fair, a show I attended back in the early 90’s when I was a teenager.

And from what I’ve seen in the licensing arena the value of comic book properties is waning. Over the past two years I’ve seen action figures pegwarm for months at Targets, Toys R Us, and even comic shops as long-time collectors (mostly over 30) balk at paying steadily increasing prices for toys based on comic book characters.

While the kid oriented WWE and Monster High products on the pegs and shelves next to them are gone by the end of the day. Some are gone in over an hour! In fact, parents and kids are actively looking for these products while it’s usually older men looking for the comic-related characters.

And toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel don’t like those demographics. They’re bad for long-term business growth.

Having so many of those older customers mean that there’s no way for them to expand their business in the future. They want kids buying toys because they know kids will grow up with the product and consume other products from the Hasbro or Mattel brand in the future, while the old and set adults will just buy superheroes.

Again, the high median age range is leading up to shrinking demand for Marvel and DC related products. If not for the movie licensing, properties in Marvel and DC’s catalogs would have lost value.

Along with all that compiled information I come from my over twenty years of experience as a writer and ten years experience as a self-publisher. Before I began self-publishing my titles in 2009, I was working towards traditional publication with a trade publisher as far back as 1998. And over that past decade, I’ve learned the ins and out of the publication and submission process. I learned how books were published, distributed and promoted.

That’s how I know 90 percent of books and comic books fail in the first six months.

And how I know that books sell more during the Christmas Holidays and the summertime than any other period of the year. Times when people are looking for something to read and because they have time to read due to their extended summer and Christmas vacations. This is a time where people discover new authors. When they have cash loaded on gift cards they want to spend trying new titles from new authors.

That’s how I got a lot of my new readers over the last two years in the eBook marketplace.

But new comic book titles are still launched during August and September, the slowest periods in the publishing year. A time when most don’t have money after school clothes shopping and textbooks. A time when people stop reading for leisure because they’re going back to work and school.

And along with that business experience, I also know publishing is a long-haul business. It’s not a place where quick fixes like, new costumes, retcons, reboots or new number one issues, or Free Comic Book Days are going to get a publisher or an industry back on track.

So none of my comments about the comic book industry are unsubstantiated. They’re based on facts. Facts that anyone can go find on their own.

And those facts show it’s going to take years of hard work to get new readers readers to discover comic books again in this internet age.

Unfortunately, no one in the industry wants to do that hard work. Because that hard work is painful. It means realizing that the current business model is obsolete. That 32-page comic books are on their way out. And some current characters in Marvel and DC’s catalog may well be on their way to the Comic Book rest home to join Brenda Starr, Mike Motley, and Little Orphan Annie.

On the business side it means most in editorial will have to acknowledge that doing more of the same thing creatively doesn’t work. Stuff like 100 issue annual events crossing over 50 different titles and killing characters every week may have gotten publishers sales in the 1980’s but it’s not going to reach the readers of today who have shorter attention spans and have dozens of products competing for their attention online.

Making efforts to change is going to be a challenge. Why?

Because change is hard.

Coming out of the box means getting your hands dirty. Getting in the trenches and fighting behind the scenes. Working slowly to rebuild an international brand with a new generation of younger readers on media they use. Working with big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to get comics in the hands of younger readers. Creating products that new customers want like Manga sized volumes, not the 32-page comics fanboys are used to. Writing stories kids relate to and identify with. None of this is easy. And None of it is going to be easy in a turbulent publishing marketplace.

But that foundation can be built in the ruins of the American publishing industry.

I’ve watched the publishing industry change over the past four years. And I’ve watched the comic book industry stagnate in the face of all those changes. While most writers and self-publishers like myself are adapting to the world of Kindles, iPads, Nooks and e-publishing and are slowly building our foundations, the comic book industry overall has struggled to establish a foothold in the digital marketplace.

My fear is that the industry is so far behind in that it won’t be able to survive in the face of growing and changing competition. In a world where young customers have dozens of cheaper entertainment options such as video games, apps, TV shows, eBooks and movies fighting for their dollar who’s going to spend $3-$4 for a 32-page comic book that costs $1-$2 to print and another $100,000-200,000 an issue to produce? Books that are only sold in comic book stores? And 32-page digital comics that cost just as much as their print counterparts?

Doing the math producing print comics just doesn’t cost out. And it won’t cost out over the next ten years.

The business model has to change if the American comic book is going to survive. Unless efforts are made to create that new business model for the comic book industry, the Marvel and DC brands may go the way of Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Gimbels, Woolworth, and other relics of the 20th Century business world. Sooner or later the actuaries at Time Warner and Disney are going to look at these publishing divisions and realize that it’s just not cost effective to keep printing comics the same way Kraft realized it wasn’t cost effective to produce Crown Pilot Crackers and Royal Lunch Milk Biscuits to a shrinking audience of aging customers.

Some of this is stuff I’ve written in a dozen articles. And If I’m repeating myself that’s because it’s the sad and horrible truth. Whether comic fans accept it is on them. All I can state are the facts.

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