For one of my freelance jobs I've been reading nothing but articles on how the "digital revolution" is revolutionizing media. And how Wall Street itself is putting the squeeze on mega-corporations like Time Warner & NewsCorp to break-up or downsize their other sectors in favor of beefing up their online presence & capabilities.
Of course, the important question is:
How Does This Effect Comic Books?
How Comics Make Money Today
I just read in "Alter Ego" magazine that the DC comic book "Captain Carrot" sold 100,000 copies on a good day. Now only the hottest, most heavily-hyped comics reach that number.
At DC I remember some staffers referring to our editorial department as the "research and development" wing of Time Warner's entertainment division. This was not news to me. That's how management referred to Acclaim Comics in relation to its parent company several years before.
Any smart comics publisher, big or small, realizes that you cannot get rich off of comics alone. That without the licensing, the movie deals, etc., you aren't going to make the big bucks that will allow you to quit your day job or please your corporate parent.
But now there are some additional complicating factors.
Free Comics On The Internet
In the future there is going to be a heck of a lot more webcomics offered both by indies and the big players. In fact, for smaller publishers, webcomics might become the necessary initial route. But larger companies like DC & Marvel might also more heavily use the digital medium to distribute their titles.
Now, according to standard media analysis, the pay-for-read paradigm for online newspapers and so forth is dead. In order to compete, places like The New York Times & CNN must offer their news for free on the Internet.
I know Scott McCloud has written about "micropayments" in conjunction with webcomics but I really think that the future of comics online is free access.
So I might extend that and say that the future of comic books period is largely online and for free.
Then there is the matter of illegal downloads of comic books. Illegal downloads in general have reduced the worth of media across the board -- music, movies/TV, etc. A whole generation is growing up with the sense of entitlement that their entertainment media must be available to them free to download. I don't see this attitude changing; I think we've lost the "war" on this one.
So here is another "crazy" statement, take it as you will --
The future of media in general will largely be product offered for free on the Internet.
Survival of the Awesomest
So how will these companies make their money?
Advertising, licensing, movies, etc blah blah blah. AND pricey "collector's editions" for the best stuff -- trade paperbacks, hardcovers, slipcase editions, omnibuses, etc.
So what product thrives in this new environment?
THE BEST STUFF.
In the new online comic book marketplace, only the most original, thought-provoking awesome stuff will be able to distract readers from the billions of choices on the Net and garner the hits & exposure necessary to make money.
That's why there is a "gold rush" of sorts with the comic companies now to acquire intellectual properties, etc. -- an unheard-of call for submissions.
Which means that the market currently favors the INNOVATOR & the GENIUS rather than those who tow the same line with "safe," so-called "marketable" comics.
Which means that the sort of raving geniuses you see on webcomic sites like ACT-I-VATE and so forth are the ones who are going to benefit the most, who are going to be approached by agents and publishers and be the next "rock stars" of the industry.
Forecast For The Future
1. Less superhero titles from the major companies.
2. Stronger push by the majors to acquire "quirky" genius-level talent from indies & webcomics.
3. More inexpensive "Essentials/Showcase" reprints done on cheap paper.
4. Conversely, less expensive "Archive Edition" books. (though more ultra-expensive "prestige" editions of very popular arcs & stories).
5. Conversely, more aggressive "archives on DVD" programs. You'll probably start seeing a spike in this late '08/early '09.
6. The publishing wing of Time Warner breaking-off from the main company.
7. The DC "Zuda" initiative mutating from an "American Idol"-type contest to a standard online vehicle for both new & established titles. In time, Zuda will simply be an important part of mainstream DC's content delivery system.
8. Marvel developing its own webcomic site.
9. Everybody else developing their own webcomic sites.
10. DC & Marvel branching out into paid comic subscription services for mobile phones/PDAs/MP3s.
11. A temporary "gold rush" hysteria hitting comics similar to the Dot Com craze in the 90s. There will be a lot of people with big talk of venture capital, the millions that are going to be made off of webcomics & mobile. A lot of IPs acquired, talent searches, etc.
12. When DC & Marvel find their "level" in the webcomic/mobile phone world, you will then see an implosion where a lot of smaller, newer "venture capital"-type publishers might spontaneously combust.
13. More established book publishers will have "indie"/manga graphic novel wings, giving new and edgy artists options so they don't have to necessarily turn to mainstream styles and companies. The Big Two, DC & Marvel, will furiously compete with these book publishers for talent & have similar graphic novel programs.
14. A tremendous increase in diversity in comic creators, and diversity in genres.
15. More mandatory "synergy" between the publishers and movie/TV adaptations of their books.
16. "Rebooted"/"ultimized" versions of traditional comic book characters for online consumption by new readers.
17. And, within 10 years: a significant amount of DC & Marvel's monthly comic output being run exclusively on the Internet. Leading to the breakdown of the "monthly" format in favor of the weekly or even daily.
You know, when I see the postmodernist chaos that is "Countdown" or various permutations of the "Marvel Zombies" meme, I can't help but interpret it as an unconscious acknowledgement of this fundamental breakdown of "old media" & "old comics" to make way for...
THE WORLD THAT IS COMING!
I think one of the best things about the digital age is that entertainment is once again becoming a disposable medium, in that the only items you own are the ones you create yourself - that is, the burning of the discs, dvds, etc. Otherwise, they are just files to be tucked away and ignored.ReplyDelete
This is the comic book industry's worst nightmares. One of the charms of the medium is that it used to be considered a disposable one and it took years to change that attitude among people other than the already converted. This is how it has made its profits over the last couple decades - and it's also the thing that has made the industry so scummy seeming . . . so crassly mercenary.
Except for the realm of self-publishing and the very small press, there is little sense that the people making DC and Marvel Comics would do it no matter what, even if there wasn't good money in it. The iffier proposition of digital comics for free - and profits through more creative means than direct sales - may turn out to be the great leveler. To make comic books, you will have to REALLY WANT TO. It will have to be your calling in life, the one thing you can do, the thing you must do - kind of like being a dairy farmer or missionary.
If that's the case, I think good times are ahead. They can't get any worse for storytelling, that's for sure.
I agree very much with a lot of what you say, but I definately don't think the print medium is in that much jeopardy. Within your well-reasoned argument, I'd predict that there will be a blurry "Archives/Essential/Absolute/whatever" trade market. Owning something in physical form will retain advantages until the components of digital storage & retrieval rival books. In fact, I'd argue that the status & prestige of owning physical comics (elements of conspicuous consumption & conspicuous leisure, both) are attractive elements to many readers- listen to the bragging of deep pocket fanboys & you'll know what I mean. So I'm going to guess something like- online distribution of periodicals, & secondary sales of trades. That is the next market, as far as I'm concerned, with a corresponding boom in publishing. The same holds true for books in general, methinks.ReplyDelete
um. What is OMAC throwing?!?!
"um. What is OMAC throwing?!?!"ReplyDelete
Kyle Rayner's girlfriend.
Please forgive me, I couldn't resist that setup.
everything sounds quite awesome. The future is exciting.ReplyDelete
i agree with mordicai. the digital market will replace a lot of the "singles" market, but there will still be the "trade" market. personally, i can only read very short things on the computer screen. yesterday and today i've been going through the activate webcomics, and some of them are very cool, but i keep stopping at page two or three, and thinking "i'll read this when it comes out as a book, b/c this scrolling sucks and my eyes are starting to hurt."ReplyDelete
I do agree about the short medium being replaceable and the readability of digital comics being questionable. The future of comics has always been trade editions in bookstores - the monthly format creates all the tiresome continuity noodling problems and also saturates the market with so much product that crap is inevitable. The monthly format also sticks in people's minds and keeps the medium in a ghetto that it has been slowly climbing out of for the past decade.ReplyDelete
As the cost of production (and talent) rises and sales get lower - and the outlet for purchasing becomes more and more scarce - I've never quite understood how the monthly format stays afloat.
I'd like to also think that library circulation of comics factors in somewhere, at least as a readers-end factor in the equation. I know manga gets very high circulation numbers, & other trades do alright, at least.ReplyDelete
I suspect you're about 50% right with your forecast. As to where you might be off, well... there's always ComicMix: Phase III.ReplyDelete
I dunno...I think the predictions of less superheroes/ more diversification is more wishful thinking and less reality. I think trying to parallel webcomics with monthly comic periodicals is sort of a broken analogy; webcomics are replacing daily comic strips in papers, not comic books. I think due to price, length, subject material, etc, the competition of comic books is still movies, TV, and video games and I think that war is lost. Comics are a bad value for the entertainment dollar and will continue to lose market traction as kids continue to live their power fantasies through video games.ReplyDelete
Moving on to the web does open up the workplace Market if my own experience is anything to go by. My workplace web access allows most on line comic strips but I can't access any form of on line video.ReplyDelete
Very interesting thoughts.ReplyDelete
A related possibility: Science Fiction author John Barnes recently wrote that the lifetime of genre, such as science fiction, is 70 years. By that reasoning, 2008 is really the moment for the final crisis of the super heroes... with Countdown and Zombies reflecting the awareness that their genre is about join the realm of, in Barne's phrase, "the undead."