Saturday, February 21, 2009

Comics Recession "Doomsday" Scenarios

Get it?

We brought this up over brunch:

What if we had a "doomsday" scenario in the industry and Diamond suddenly folded (or massively scaled back)?

Would this interrupt the shipping of comics until it was all sorted out? Or are there backup plans?

Would the major players go through other, separate distributors to get their comics distributed & shipped? Like DC would turn to Random House for example?

When I was working at a comic shop in the early 1990s, I think we had several comic book distributors sending us books (though Diamond was the main one). Would things go back to this arrangement?

And would such an event rapidly accelerate the mainstream comic book industry's turn to digital? And if that is the case, what happens to the retailers?

One of the conclusions we made was that paper comics will always exist, but there will be a greater "prestige" factor to them. You own a "hard copy" of a comic book or collected edition/graphic novel because you really really like the content. Comics (the pamphlets, at any rate) become less "temporary." The product themselves become more elaborate with higher production values. Card stock covers. Higher-quality of design. And the prices rise on individual issues.

I see this approach extending out to all "hard copy" media. Like DVDs. The casual movie fan will probably choose to stream/download their movies in several years, not purchase them (unless the price point was really low). But the film buff will still want to buy collector's editions of DVDs. These will be more elaborate DVDs -- think Criterion Collection. And you wouldn't just get a DVD -- you'd get a book, film cels, collectible posters, etc. -- all in one package.

In the same way, paper comics would need these bells and whistles too. "Why should I buy this comic for $4-5 when I can download it for $1?" Well, because you get all this other stuff. Plus, you *love* this title, the creative team, the characters, and this is a way of tangibly keeping a piece of them.

Of course, when bells and whistles are packed in, you could in theory rise the price quite a bit.

Now, if the comic book industry can continue to build new readership through outreach and movie/TV/video-game adaptations, this would increase the amount of fans, which would send more of them to the direct market to spend $9.99 on "World of Superman" #1, a slim but trade-paperback formatted monthly/bimonthly book of all-new content that has a supplemental DVD packed in with a new episode of some cool Superman-related thing you can't get anywhere else. (I totally made up that comic, btw, just so there is no confusion)

So to save the Direct Market, then, you need more Fans and less casual readers (because the casual reader is more likely to opt to download). Does this defeat the "placing comics in Wal-Mart & supermarkets" theory of increasing readership? The idea that you make the comics super-accessible so they become something casual that everybody reads -- like newspapers?

I think you need to increase the readership by using these markets, but only with cheap digest-sized collections of the best and most new-reader friendly material. In terms of a $3-4 22-page comics in Wal-Mart enticing new readers? No way. That's too much money for a non-fan/reader-new-to-comics to spend on an unknown quantity. That boat has sailed.

I mean, I buy the paper edition of The New York Times every once in a while. It's kinda pricy, all things considered (considering I can most of this stuff free online). I don't buy it because I need to. I buy it as a luxury for a long train ride. I buy it for the brand. I buy it because I'm a "fan." Similarly, if I buy a copy of Fangoria -- which I think is up to around $8 an issue now -- I do so because I'm a fan. There is no way in hell I would drop anything more than $5 for any magazine unless I *loved* it.

Anyway, though the title of my post included the word "Doomsday," I do not see an apocalyptic end of the comic book, or paper comics, or comic book retailers. But I do see a change of focus. And I do think that you will see a drop-off in overall customers due to the digital downloads. The lost revenue from these customers might be made up by the higher-priced "collector" comics, and by increasing the # of fans through outreach and adaptations in other media. And, of course, there is the Ancillary Merchandise. Toys. Posters. T-shirts. Statues. Magnets. Etc. You can't digitize that stuff.


  1. Well, isn't a more likely scenario that Diamond would be BOUGHT? That being said, I like your prestige model; it allows floppies to continue & recreates the collectible market-- & not artificially.

    I still say I'd buy trades, but not floppies. Webcomics-wise, I like shirts? The occasional collection, too.

  2. The Doomsday scenario isn't that Diamond would fold; it's that it would be bought by DC. Back in the 90s, when Diamond secured the exclusive agreement with DC, one of the parts of the contract was that DC could buy Diamond outright. That option was never exercised, and it's possible that their current agreement doesn't have such a clause.

    But it's probably the most likely scenario if Diamond crashed, and the idea of the Direct Market being run by DC brings back memories of the comics market of the early 60s, when DC controlled newsstand distribution of comics. That's why the Hulk, Namor, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Captain America, SHIELD, and other Marvel characters shared anthologies- DC wouldn't allow them to expand their line to create new titles. Once DC lost control of the newsstand market, new separate series came out from Marvel.

    I doubt DC would try to inhibit Marvel's growth. But what about, say, Jeff Smith? What if Diamond refused to distribute Bone unless Jeff Smith signed a separate deal with DC? It's not out of the question for DC to go all-out with big name creators- look at their purchase of Wildstorm, which was really all about Jim Lee and Alan Moore.

  3. Yeah, I've long thought we were due to a return to the 60-page comics of the Golden Age (though they'd be prestige format now, and with one story instead of five). I'd happily drop $5 for something like that. I'd also like to think it would force creators to scale back on decompression, that they would see storytelling possibilities of one coherent volume a month.

  4. At HeavyInk we're starting a project to offer publishers storefronts (with us doing fulfillment services) so that small and midsized publishers can sell their products directly to consumers, or to stores.

    This is mostly intended to help these publishers rack up extra sales over the web, but in the event of a Diamond collapse, I think it would be a lifeline for folks other than Marvel and DC.

    Travis, President
    Heavy Ink

    Your Comics Are Here!

  5. Just got my Kindle. If I could download comic books onto that I don't think I'd ever set foot in a comic book store again - I love reading comic books, but I have no interest in collecting them. I think the comic book industry has to many collectors and not enough readers. If I want something one of a kind, I'll save my money, buy TPB's rather than new or old floppies, and put the money toward the purchase of original artwork.

  6. I think one important factor that you failed to mention is the library factor. I'm of the camp where if I want to read a newer trade/graphic novel, I'll see if the library has it (my local county library system has a pretty good selection of comics/graphic novels). So If I like a title, creator, publisher, etc., I'll check out the book from the library. If it's something I "love" (and if I have the money), then I'll buy it.

    I wonder if (how?) we'll see more floppies at libraries? I've only seen a couple (Black Panther #1, I think), but I think it would be great to have comics next to the magazines at libraries. They already order a ton of periodicals each month, why not a dozen or so comcis?