Wednesday, October 31, 2012
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.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
On October 24, 2008 I lost my job.
Four years ago I thought I had a chance. I thought I'd be able to turn things around. I fought hard working towards getting another job, and towards a career in PC repair.
I was also working on the side towards building up a career as a writer and self-publisher.
Now I’m this close to losing everything again.
I’m down to my last few hundred dollars in the bank. Unemployment exhausted, savings exhausted. No job prospects, no options.
I got turned down from Target of all places. Twice.
Everywhere I go looking for work I run into excuses, excuses, and more bullshit. People want everything but the kitchen sink on these jobs. What the fuck do most of these employers want? The ability to turn water into wine? To turn stone into fucking bread? To part the Red Sea?
Others like CUNY just want to play bullshit games like stacking the deck where they pretend to consider applicants but already have who they want in place but want to make it look like they’re playing fair.
I've spent years of my life chasing these raggedy jobs and have gotten nowhere.
On top of it, I haven’t had a paperback sale in a year.
EBook sales are the only money I make these days. And that’s not enough to live on. While I’ve sold close to two thousand titles, at a forty cent royalty barely adds up to two hundred dollars.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep my paperback catalog in print. I’m cutting living expenses back to the core to get that $24 to keep All About Marilyn and The Temptation of John Haynes in print for next year.
|Not a single copy sold in paperback.|
It'll be discontinued in 2013.
So if you want it, buy it NOW!
The poor selling All About Nikki-The Fabulous First Season Paperback will be going out of print in July 2013. Two years in print and no sales means it’s getting discontinued. If I don’t see any sales soon I may be forced to scrap the other titles in paperback the year after that.
It hurts my heart that there may be the possibility all my work in self-publishing could all go down the drain. In spite of all my best efforts to reach Black readers I’ve practically gone next to nowhere.
It seems not too many people want positive African-American fiction or African-American fantasy fiction or screenplays. My mistake was thinking Black people wanted to read different types of fiction. That’s a sad lesson I’ve learned four years later after spending thousands of dollars.
The sad truth I’ve come to learn is that Black America loves coonery, and that’s all brothers and sisters will buy, and that’s all they’ve been buying since the Harlem Renaissance. I was wasting my time and money trying to give African-Americans an alternative.
I feel like I’m in a bad spot right now. And I’m headed back towards rock bottom again.
I remember where I was from 2003-2007 living on $2 a day handouts from my family for odd jobs.
I’d rather die than go back to that again.
It was frustrating and aggravating to be that powerless. To be dictated to by others and being disrespected at every turn. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no place to go. Begging people for help only to have them turn their noses up at me.
I realize that in a year I’m screwed if I’m not screwed right now. No one wants to hire 40-year old Black males. Right now no one wants to hire 39-year-old Black males.
Especially Smart Black men like myself. Men who bring something to the table. Men who want to stand on their own two feet. Men who improve the quality of life in their communities.
No, the only Black men who are hired in the White Supremacist job market are Uncle Toms, Simps, Manginas and Coons. People who make White People comfortable. People who are consumer whores who spend their money on bullshit.
It seems Shawn doesn’t make White people comfortable. Because he’s too smart.
The American job market in my eyes is just a sham. People talk fairness and equitability but in actuality it’s all friends, cronies and associates regardless of their qualifications. It’s a God damn social club. High School 4.0
And I’m not one of the cool kids. So I’m not getting hired.
Nor am I cool enough to get people to buy my works in large numbers.
At this juncture I feel like giving up. That it’s a lost cause. I’ve been swimming against the current for four years now and I don’t see any land ahead or a ship in the distance. At this point, I don’t have the strength or the resources to go on.
This is Shawn’s last stand. And it looks like he’s going to lose.
It frustrates me that I just can’t get anything to break. Four years later I’ve made progress, but not enough to make a decent living. I make all the right moves, but nothing goes anywhere. People don’t see a value in my books or what I have to offer in the job market.
Unless I can I can find that day job soon, this may be your last chance to read a work by Shawn James in paperback. In the past four years I’ve done my best. And that’s all I can do. It’s in God’s hands now. I don't know how much time I have left to stay in this game at this juncture but it ain't looking good...
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Clark Kent announces he’s quitting the Daily Planet. He says he’s tired of writing fluffy news stories. Y’know stuff like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. Stuff that really isn’t news.
Ironically, this makes my paper.
Is this really news?
In the panel where he announces he’s quitting, Clark comes to work at the Daily Planet unshaven and dressed in a hip n’ cool red hoodie.
I think they’d have him smoking a blunt if they could get away with it.
Is this Clark Kent or Ashton Kutcher?
That’s how half-baked this story premise is. It just reeks of desperation. I love how Clark wants people to take him seriously as a reporter when after not showing up for a WEEK he comes in dressed in a red HOODIE.
Yeah, that’s what all the hard-hitting journalists do.
Maybe Superman ought to take back to the road to find himself again. Because he’s fuckin’ LOST.
Who's quitting a job during the WORST economic downturn since the Great Depression?
(Some advice to you aspiring journalists: If you don’t show up to work for a week and haven’t submitted an article since then, don’t show up for work unshaven in a hoodie. Then get into an emotional philosophical argument with your boss about journalistic ideals.
Because you look like a Bitch-Made™ JACKASS.
Do what us responsible adults would do: Put on a suit and tie, apologize and then write the best article you possibly can. Then people can take your comments about “fluff” news more seriously. Maybe you’ll even get considered to write one of those “hard-hitting stories” once you prove you can manage writing “fluff”)
After being chewed out by Perry white for not submitting an article for a week, we get a rant about The Daily Planet not producing quality news stories. That he wants to write stories about “Truth, Justice and the American way.”
DC Comics is just trying too hard to make their characters relatable if you ask me. Way too hard.
I’m really getting tired of this attention whoring by DC Comics. First Superman was dating Wonder Woman. Now he’s quitting his job.
I wonder how he’s gonna pay for those dates with Wonder Woman now. Diana looks like she has expensive tastes.
According to the whizzes at DC 27-year old Clark is looking to set a standard for journalistic excellence.
With a blog.
Seriously with a blog?
Oh to be this young and dumb.
Oh, wait, I was back in 2000. Living in poverty for the past decade and a half me change my perspective on the ideals of being a writer.
Here’s Shawn’s advice to you aspiring writers: If you luck out and get a day job writing, KEEP it. And write whatever Paris, Britney, Kim, or other bullshit story those editors tell you to pay your bills. If you want to write that other hard objective journalistic stuff, write on the side under a pen name. That’s how you build your reputation. Don’t go to the readers, Let the readers, come to you.
Seriously, not that many bloggers make enough money to live off their writing. Hell, most writers don’t make that much money from their writing in general. Most writers have day jobs in addition to their writing. Others take editing, consulting, and free-lance commission work to pay their bills.
Google ads aren’t gonna pay enough money to cover the rent in Metropolis. Trust me.
I guess Clark is commuting to and from work from the Fortress of Solitude. Cause he ain’t gonna have a place to stay in Metropolis.
Now Clark has walked away from the Daily Planet before. From 1971-1986 he worked for WGBS as a TV reporter. And a few years ago he was laid off in a couple of issues of the previous Superman Volume cancelled back in 2011.
So this setting change is just re-hash for me. Nothing new and improved here.
Except the stupid part about quitting a job without having another lined up. That’s just fucking retarded. Even when I was 27 I was smart enough to know not to do that.
Seriously, I just get tired of the attention whoring by comic book companies. Is this really news? Does this really deserve press?
It seems like every week or so DC Comics or Marvel Comics is announcing something BIG is happening in between the pages of their comics.
When it’s really something really insignificant and unimportant.
Didn’t Professor X die for the third time last week? Wasn’t that last week’s big news story from comic book land?
Now I have no problem with change. If Clark had started working for a Daily Planet similar to the new online subscription based Newsweek that was announced last week that would be an interesting story development. An inspired reimagining that would organically fit into our changing world.
But this is half-assed hackneyed storytelling. The second “bold new direction” for Superman 13 issues into his fifth reboot. Basically a new writer (Scott Lobodell) is on board and DC wanted press for it so that sales of the book wouldn’t tank hard like most books do when they get a new writer and creative team.
A deflection to keep people focused on the crumbling structure of the Stale 52. The same fluffy journalism that 27-year-old Clark Kent vehemently protests about being against in the pages of Superman #13 unshaven in his hip n’ cool red hoodie.
A story like this wouldn’t have gotten press in 1971, and it doesn’t need it now. With the country in economic dire straits, a tight presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and cities like Chicago and Detroit becoming war zones, I’d think there would be more important things to report on.
A lot of readers will notice over the year that some of my eBook titles aren’t available on certain sites.
The reason for this is that they’re not selling there.
I’ve had some titles get no sales over the course of six months. Others over the course of a year.
When a title doesn’t move in a venue, I have to make efforts to get readers to discover them like the eBooks for under a Buck Campaign. Sometimes that means promoting them hard on Twitter and Facebook every day. Other times that means doing a YouTube Commercial.
If efforts to promote a title through social media don’t work I have to do something to get the sales. I’ve moved poor selling eBooks like All About Marilyn to KDP Select I can get some readers to try a digital copy of a title or two.
Hoping they may even buy a paperback version of the title.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
If none of these efforts work at getting new readers, I have no choice but to pull a title and take it out of print.
Now I don’t like discontinuing an eBook or a paperback. But I can’t afford to keep titles in print that aren’t selling.
In the case of paperbacks self-publishing them costs money. I need sales to cover the maintenance costs to stay on the Lightning Source Server.
This year has been a struggle for me. With my savings shrinking I’ve had to take a long hard look at the future of my catalog. And looking at the weak paperback sales I may be forced to cut some titles.
So far The Temptation of John Haynes has made enough sales to cover its print costs for this year. Unfortunately, All About Marilyn and All About Nikki-The Fabulous First Season still haven’t sold enough paperbacks to cover their maintenance contracts. In fact, All About Marilyn hasn’t sold any this year, and While All About Nikki is an international smash hit as an eBook, the paperback hasn’t moved a single copy.
Paying for a year on Lightning Source costs me $12 a year. And I only need two sales of a paperback title like All About Marilyn, The Temptation of John Haynes or All About Nikki-The Fabulous First Season to cover those costs.
Each paperback you buy helps me keep my titles in print for another year. It keeps positive African-American fiction available in the marketplace. And it helps me stay in business working towards publishing more positive, inspiring, and uplifting African-American fiction for people all over the world to read.
I’ve got a lot of great new titles I’d like to offer readers like The Sisterhood. But the only way I can get those books to the marketplace is with the support of readers like you.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Dan Didio doesn’t like Stephanie Brown. He didn’t like Ted Kord, Ralph Dibney, The JLI, or just about everything in the DC Universe during the late 80's and 1990's.
So he worked to take those characters out of existence.
Joe Quesada didn’t like Peter Parker being married to Mary Jane Watson. Nor did he like the concept of Spider-Girl.
So he retconned the marriage out of existence by having Spider-Man and Mary Jane make a deal with the devil.
Sorry, but that’s not professionalism.
A Comic book editor’s job is to be objective. Their job is to be fair and impartial when they read a story, and to maintain a level of integrity in a story structure. To make sure that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. To make sure that a story progresses organically and builds to a satisfying conclusion To make sure that stories follow a series of continuity with other stories in an ongoing series. To make sure the best stories go to print.
Moreover, an editor’s job is to make sure that characters stay true to themselves. To make sure that a character’s current actions remain consistent with their past actions. To make sure that a character’s motivations for acting in such a way follow a logical and natural pattern of behavior. And that their “voice” remains consistent even though different writers tell their stories.
It’s their jobs to reign in writer and artist excesses. To make sure that if multiple writers are working together on a series of connected titles or an event storyline that they’re communicating with each other so that the actions in one book line up congruently in other books.
It’s the editor’s job to read the letters pages. If they’re getting 500 letters saying something isn’t working, they have to be objective enough to say it’s not working and try something different.
It’s not the editor’s job to pick and choose what characters they like. It’s the editor’s job to make sure those writers and artists work with the characters presented to them.
For example, I may not like the New 52 at DC Comics. But if I’m assigned to work with those characters, as much as I hate them, then I have to work with them or find another job. As a professional, I can’t just decide these characters don’t exist or replace them with characters of my personal choosing.
If I’m paid to produce commercial publications with those characters, then I’d have to work with them.
If the editor can’t stay objective in examining other writers and artists’ work then they’re not doing their jobs.
And if they’re picking their favorites they’ve failed in their jobs as editors.
A professional comic book editor doesn’t put their personal preferences into a comic book. A professional understands that they are producing a commercial product for the customer. That they serve the customer, and that the customer doesn’t serve them. That they are the last line of defense for the reader in the face of the creative talent.
And as professional businesspeople it’s their job to make sure comic books are the best products possible.
A professional editor knows it’s their job to answer to the reader. During the creative process they are the reader’s advocate, asking those questions about logic and continuity they would ask. They’re looking at the art to make sure it tells a clear story and making sure it follows what’s written in the script. They’re making suggestions about where a story should go before a story is submitted to the printer for publication.
*Note that I said suggestions. A good editor knows to give their writers and artists SPACE and TIME to work within the guidelines established. Some teams need no guidance, while others need a little more supervision. As long as a team is working within guidelines they should have no problem meeting a standard of quality. There’s never a need to micromanage.*
Examples of professional editors are the late Mark Gruenwald, Julius Schwartz, Tom Defalco and Jim Shooter.
When an editor starts re-shaping a comic book universe to reflect their personal views they’ve put themselves above the customer. They’re making product for themselves, not the reader.
And that’s not professional at all.
It’s clear to me that there’s a need for an editorial regime change at the big two comic book publishers. That there’s no professionalism being performed in the editorial positions at Marvel and DC. That the publishing divisions of both companies are nothing more than frat houses.
Comic books are supposed to be professional commercial fiction, not glorified fanfiction. If the pros can’t maintain a standard of quality in their publications, then what’s the measuring stick between them and the so-called amateurs?