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Friday, July 30, 2010

20 Future Trends For The Comic Industry

The following 20 future trends for the comic industry (and fandom) is scheduled roughly for the next two years -- by 2012. They are based on a combination of market research and intuitive insight. My track record for previous predictions is quite good, as I have successfully predicted things like the DC restructuring and Disney buying up Marvel a couple of years before they actually happened.

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1. SDCC Name Change:
By 2012, the San Diego ComicCon will have a name change to either something like "Comic & MediaCon" or just drop the word "comic" out of the name completely.


2. "YouTube" of Comics:
I compare this upcoming online database of comics to YouTube only in terms of its large breadth of material and ease of browsing. It will be initially "seeded" by a significant collection of unlicensed scanned comic material, but will be open to user uploads. This collection might also be part of a larger "YouTube" of books, or inspired by it. Much different than Scribd, Scans Daily, Google Books, etc. in terms of its scope of material and popularity. So say you want to read something weird like "Man From Atlantis" #3. You type it in, the comic comes up, and you have the option of either viewing it in a reader or downloading it. Look for this by end of 2011.


3. West Coast as Center of Comics Publishing:
The West Coast will largely be the destination for comic book publishing by 2012. California, Oregon, Washington, but mostly in CA. This is largely due to its proximity to movie studios, but also to that of Silicon Valley.


4. Non-Localized Comic Publishing Staff:
During the next two years, the trend towards non-localized staff at comic publishers -- telecommuters -- will increase. This might be in part due to the exodus to the West Coast, but it also follows general trends in employment.


5. iPad/Digital Reader Mainstreamed:
By the end of 2011, the iPad and other digital readers will be "mainstreamed" as the method of choice for reading books, magazines, and comics. By 2012, printed material will have the same status CDs have now.


6. The Big Changeover:
The changeover from print to digital in the comics industry should happen quite suddenly, by SDCC (or, "SDCMC" or "SDMC") of 2012. It will seem very sudden, but will have been planned out beforehand. By "changeover" I mean:
  • Standardization of day-and-date digital release
  • Sharp decrease in # of print titles

7. Centralization of Digital Comics Distribution:
Though there are a number of digital comics distributors at the moment, this will whittle down sharply by end of 2011. The corporate partners/parents of major comics publishers might want to provide sole digital distribution themselves, or one central distributor will emerge.


8. Narrowing The Talent Door:
While the comics publishers will still scout for new talent, they will also be more likely to do so through talent agencies than comic cons. Prospective freelance talent might start needing professional representation in terms of literary or art agents. "Talent pools'' will be created to serve the needs for specific projects created by editorial/marketing staff, rather than new projects being brought to the major publishers by talent. Access to editors will be at an unprecedented minimum.


9. The Blurring Of Job Duties:
  • Editors will often find themselves as the first uncredited "writer" or "plotter" of a comic.
  • Comic creators will also increasingly be expected to do the jobs of editors -- if there even is a true editor on the project.
  • Marketing professionals will be an integral part of the project creation process. Editors will be required to have the instincts of marketers.

10. Buy-Outs by Entertainment Conglomerates:
The trend of comics publishers being purchased by larger parent companies will continue. Mid-level comic publishers might suddenly become top publishers through buy-outs and increased money from these parent companies. The need of a "research and development" wing and a dedicated "studio" to adapt their movie/TV/videogame properties will be a major factor for these conglomerates. Watch for a couple of major purchases by end of 2011, especially concerning publishers who already put out a lot of licensed material.


11. Buy-Outs by Traditional Publishers:
Traditional publishers, hurting from the digital revolution, will increasingly turn to the comic publishers of reprint materials and original graphic novels. This is because a large, folio-sized reprint edition or lush, tactile hardcover graphic novel provide an experience that an iPad or eReader cannot. Look for one major purchase by a traditional book publisher of a very established "indy" comic publisher by 2011.


12. The Broadening of Genres:
The digital revolution -- and increase in the mass market comic audience -- will necessitate the cultivation of comics in genres outside of the traditional superhero narrative. The most up-and-coming genres are:
  • Children's
  • Teens/Romance
  • Fantasy/Sword-and-Sorcery/Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland (pre-2012 anxiety)
  • Biography/History/News (somewhat of a "new category")
  • Licensed Movie/TV adaptations

13. The Changing Demographics of the Comic Reader:
By 2012, the demographics of those reading comic book material will more closely resemble that of the Golden Age 70 years previous: sharp increases in females and especially children. This will be due largely to the rise in digital comics, and the opening up of the industry to the masses instead of a specialized sub-group.


14. The Split In Comics Markets:
The market for comic book material will be split into two main segments:
  1. Digital comics delivery, on a day-and-date basis
  2. Elaborate collected editions and first-run graphic novels

15. The Comic Retailer as Book Retailer:
Any smart comics retailer right now is cultivating a customer base for collected editions and first-run graphic novels. Digital comics can never replicate the lush and tactile feel of a hardcover book. Certainly, book editions of comics are not a mass-market product category -- yet. But this is where the biggest growth will be for comics retailers.


16. The "Core" Print Floppies:
The market for print floppies will shrink to a core group of tried-and-true brands: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, etc. Any titles that are not immediately related to the core groups will be released in digital first, then (if sales warrant it), print collected editions -- the floppies will be skipped completely. There will also be a smaller core group of children's titles based on well-known children's properties.


17. Midwest & The South: The Floppies' Last Stand
The market for monthly print editions will continue in the Midwest & the Southern regions of the United States longer than any other. This follows the general stable/upward trend of print periodicals in those regions (while print in the rest of the country continues to plummet). A traditional comics retailer in those regions might flourish far longer than those in New York or California. But this might also then create an overall more conservative audience for mainstream superhero comics.


18. Increased "Fanboy" Insularity
In the early stages of this overall sea change in the landscape & character of the comic book industry, the former "core" comics market of hardcore male fans (25-50) will get more insular and resistant to outsiders. This will even be the case, to a much more limited extent, with the remnants of old-school types from within comics publishing itself. There will be a last ditch effort to "kill" progress for comics from both these fans and on behalf of those still within comics publishing. The mentality is that of: "if I cannot control it, it is better off dying with me."


19. 2011: The Year Of Superhero Movie Fatigue
The general wisdom is that the success for superhero-based films is what makes the comic publishers valuable to Hollywood. But after the year of "Superhero Fatigue," this will be reversed. Then the comic companies will become more valuable for Hollywood as multi-media producers of spin-off entertainment based on pre-existing movie & TV material.


20. Aging Freelancers In Crisis
Due to the above developments, many freelancers will increasingly find themselves cut out of the loop. This will be the combined result of:
  • More writers being cultivated from TV, Movies, and Books
  • The near-complete digitization of the comic art creation process and delivery
  • The increasing requirement of having an agent or other representation
  • The direct access to editors being blocked in favor of "talent pools"
  • General "ageism" in the industry
The amount of aging freelancers unable to find work in their chosen field will skyrocket, even greater than it is at present. There will not only be financial but health crises as well. Assistance and education will be crucial.

There is so much more I could touch upon, but these 20 will do for now. Hope it helps, or at least gives you something to think about!


7 comments:

  1. I can see 6, 12, 14 and 16 kind of being the same thing. I think the logical progression puts comics in a place much like it was oh, about 70 years ago. Then you had comics in two spots. Newspapers and the news stand flopies which started out as collections of the newspaper comics. I can see a world where millions read digital comics and then... thousands buy collections of those books on the news stand or in book stores. I could see Marvel and DC having dozens or hundreds of digital titals but just the core books in magazine form. Marvel is kind of already doing this with the magazines they market toward Wal-Mart, Target and the Scholastic book fairs. I could see there being one Spider-Man mag, one Superman mag, one Batman mag, an Archie mag (it launches in August acutally) an Avengers mag, Shonen Jump, a Disney comedy mag, a Disney TV/Movie tie in mag, Mad Magazine etc. So, a dozen or so core comics mags. Maybe with a print only lead feature. Some magazine style exclusive stuff. Etc. Etc. To make it work they are going to have to get off their asses as periodical publishers and do what all the other periodical publishers do and by that I mean deal with regional distributors and get the books back in the grocery stores and gas stations. I kind of like the idea of that world. Of course, the big loser in all that is the direct market retailer. But, maybe they should not have abandoned the kid market 20 years ago when the first generation of their customers graduated high school.

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  2. Shannon, that's a really good point about the magazines. They might be easier to penetrate different markets with.

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  3. I'm not sure I see Comic-Con changing their name. I understand that it would make sense from a descriptive standpoint, but it's become sort of a brand name. I mean most people don't even call it Sand Diego Comic-Con anymore, they just call it Comic-Con like it's the only one out there. They're the Kleenex of conventions.

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  4. The magazines do work and they do penetrate markets but you have to get them there. My kid buys those big comics magazines at Wal-Mart and school book fairs etc. And we would buy them at the grocery store too if they were there.

    I think one big symptom of comics reliance on the direct market is that they have become really lousy at selling magazines. And yeah, the economy, print is dying etc. etc. But magazines still sell. You just have to put them in front of customers. Comics used to be good at this but they either lost the know how or got lazy. They don't know how to sell ads, promote subscriptions or work with regional distributors. They put all their eggs in the direct market's basket. Losing subscriptions is a big loss for comics. It's as if by the early 90's Marvel and DC did not even want you to subscribe to their books. And how could you? How can you subscribe to a cross over event mini series? You can't subscribe to an event. "The Family Handyman" can distribute over a million an issue but there is only one place on earth you can distribute garbage like a summer crossover event and that is the direct market. How many shops are even left? What a nightmare.

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  5. I'd also have thought that the Digital Revolution (for print material at least) will also include emerging markets. In the UK and the rest of Europe comics are still very niche and where imports are the only real way to become a reader. Apps for mobile devices will become key, and the best marketing strategy your massive American powerhouse comic makers can do to grab potentially millions of readers across this side of the pond would be to make hundreds of back issues no longer print available free to draw people into a mis-understood, mis-represented and original industry.

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  6. No name change for San Diego, Valerie. "Comic-Con" need not specifically reference "comic books" any more than "comic books" need suggest "humor." It's the brand, it hasn't been an impediment to them in any way, and they'd be idiots to change it on some pedantic notion of content representation. It's now just the name of the shop. (You overemphasize how much comics' role in the show is diminished anyway, less a fact than another sign of the inferiority complex that always plagues the comics business.)

    Most of your other predictions I'm not compelled to quibble with, save your presumption of superhero movie fatigue. It won't be superhero films that trigger any fatigue. It'll be BAD superhero films. I wouldn't imagine a slate of good films would do anything other than engender more customers. It's never the good films that kill a genre; it's the crappy, unimaginative and derivative cash-ins. (Along those lines, though, I don't predict a long life for ABC's No Ordinary Family. Coming off Comic-Con, it seems to have generated a sheer void of interest. Not even hatred, just no interest at all.)

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  7. The shift to the Pacific Coast you call in #3 is well under way. Another huge factor in this that deserves mention: this is where the Asian comics industry meets American shores.

    You mentioned the proximity to Hollywood. The success of animation studios like Pixar owes much to the inspiration and expertise provided by anime artists in Japan. The influence of Asian style on American popular media in the last three decades has been immense.

    As it has been with animation, so it is now with books. Manga publishers have much to show their American counterparts about meeting the needs of a great variety of readers. In Asia, female readers are as enthusiastic consumers of manga as male readers. Titles cover a wide range of subjects, styles and tone. Age-appropriate titles exist for minor-age readers at every level.

    Manga titles are guided creatively much more like American HBO TV series than American comic books. The creator of a series tends to be its editor and even its chief writer. When that person no longer wants the job, the series ends. The team of artists and writers assigned to the title is kept as stable as possible. A 'successful' series run is generally thought of as five to eight years of popular storytelling that explores the characters and possibilities well and leads the saga to a satisfying conclusion. After that, one moves on to new projects.

    As you notice, this approach resembles the one taken by J K Rowling to her 'Harry Potter' books. She didn't choose to milk the idea indefinitely, keep Potter a newbie at Hogwarts for four decades before letting him move up to second year, hand off the writing to others who may or may not even be familiar with her characters, and just generally mine the lode of ore until nothing remained but dirt. She said what she had to say. She made her promises to fans, kept them, tied it up neatly and let her fans take it away. It's no coincidence that the 'Potter' books are hugely popular in Asia. That's how you do it.

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