Let’s do what nobody seems to be doing and project how our hobby will look in twenty years. Fear that due to some outside and inside factors that we are in trouble.
We have been in a period of transition for what seems like a decade at this point. Digital, Small Press/Indie, Big Three, all are evolving, or attempting to evolve, to fit the times.
Are we succeeding?
Are the times changing too quickly?
I have my concerns that there are a couple of trains leaving and we aren’t on them.
Let’s look at format to begin with. The monthly comic. Is it working? Sometimes yes but more often than not we are seeing fall offs in sales after the release of the first issue and that merry-go-round of reboot after reboot. A desperate attempt to recoup sales that is a currency of slowly declining value and return.
So, what are selling? Some comics that are on a hype train or have a big name or event behind them. But they are not selling for long. There are a couple that buck the system like The Walking Dead or Saga but even these are falling a little bit out of the public view. It feels like the days are numbered for both these titles. Saga is being released irregularly and the inevitable fall off in sales that the Walking Dead will feel with the decline and cancellation of the tv series is only a couple of years away.
I’ve seen a few reports that digital is slowly improving? But is it at a fast enough rate to help the industry? I myself finally gave in a couple of years ago and buy and read a pile of comics weekly in a digital format. However, I rarely buy anything that isn’t in an, at least, half price sale.
Do we go to a digital only deal on the singles and then the trades are the physical copies? I can see a plan for this beginning to form in a few minds. There are quite a few digital only series being released on ComiXology from Marvel, DC and Valiant at the moment and more on the way. There will always be a market for physical comics from the odd weekly to the prestige hardback but as a mass market venture it seems that the medium’s days are numbered.
Remember when they had that mass market appeal? You could pick them up anywhere. You wouldn’t care about condition and as I am fond of saying you would roll them up and stick them in your back pocket to read on the bus or in the playground or on the commute. Some of my happiest memories of comics are reading them sat in the back of my parent’s car on the long drive on holiday. Or in a cafe covered in a towel, shivering a bit after playing in the sea in Clacton or Great Yarmouth.
So there are a couple of main factors that are preventing comics returning to what they were before.
They are obvious.
You pretty much pay a minimum of £2.65 (more normally) for the average comic book and that is honestly far too much! They are being treated as speciality purchases, artefacts, collectors items. This should not be the case. The printing is currently in my opinion at an all time low. The paper that the majority of Marvel and DC Comics are printed on is toilet paper thin, doesn’t hold the blacks, generally due to a combination of art style, house style and printing processes looks muddy and due to the surface shine on the paper is difficult to read in direct light. How did we get to this point? What was wrong with the newsprint. It seems to have in the most part disappeared and was last seen in some Vertigo trades giving the finger and running off over a hill ....
What is it with trade paperbacks these days? Marvel and DC and some other companies will often charge more than the amount that it would cost you to buy the single issues for a trade with very little else.
Here’s an example of a comic that is thirty years old. How has it got a RRP of £35.99?! It is sixteen comics collected. These comics were created decades ago! That’s a price of £2.50 per issue! What on earth is that all about? To buy a Back Issue of any of these is pretty much £0.89 a piece on Ebay!
To buy a digital copy of this book is £13.99. That works out at £0.87 per issue! These single issues (or single issues of a similar age/company etc) go in sales for £0.69 regularly on ComiXology.
This is not a solitary example I’m afraid. Listen I love Marvel Comics. They were literally my first love and I buy them every week still to this day.
But.....Look at the above and tell me that we are not being ripped off.
Yes, I know that some companies are keeping their prices down. My pals at Nobrow for example offer a good price for a beautifully presented hardback. £13.99 for an oversized, colour interior, bound hardback is a great price. But sadly this is not a trend followed by many of the larger corporations.
I’ve also seen recently a trend to overprice a lot of the comics coming out of the Small Press scene. £3 for a photocopied A6 comic that has black and white interiors and is eight pages long is just plain greedy. £5 for your digital Kickstarter tier for a forty page comic is also far too much. Keep the prices down might mean that you’ll sell more in a Comic Village or at a Convention.
Here is another recent example that I saw in a Sheffield Forbidden Planet and was so incensed/amazed/dumbfounded that I took a photo of it in the wild. A comic series that you can pick up at a Comic Mart for 50 pence an issue. This collection has eleven comics (yes, I know that four of them were prestige format) and it costs £33.50 for a physical copy and £13.99 to buy digitally. Yes folks, that’s just over £3 an issue for the hard copy and £1.27 for online reading! This comic came out in 1989!
Next up in the inadequacy box is Distribution. Where and when are comics sold? Ask the average person in the street and you are likely to get the reply:
‘Aren’t they on the computer now?’
‘I don’t know, you never see them in the shops these days.’
The truth is that they are mostly sold in a dwindling number of what used to be called Direct Market Comic Book Shops. The location and existence of these shops feels like we ought to treat them as if they are part of The Official Secrets Act they are so well hidden.
The Diamond catalogue is such an antiquated and overly complicated way of preordering your comics that it still looks like something from the 1990s. Yes, I know it’s available online but being expected to pick up a phone directory every month and go through the list of reboots and variant covers to order your comics at minimum three months down the line is just plain idiotic. It puts people off! Then we also get a mess of delays and cancellations to contend with.
I’ve got high hopes for the direct to supermarket DC Comics project that is happening in the states at the moment. I’m also hoping that we get them over here as you can’t actually order these Comics at the moment. Another obvious hiccup in the system.
So what happens? Prices have to come down, the companies have to take a short hit price wise in order to shift much larger numbers down the road. They also have to sort out a distribution model that doesn’t entail you being in an inner sanctum just to know how to order the stories.
The price of digital is also unrealistic compared the price of movies, albums and even fast food. What does a kid spend his money on? It sure as fuck isn’t Comics.
I totally understand that we need to obtain enough money to pay the creators a decent wage for what they do. This is twofold. Firstly the art that many (most) create is of an incredibly high standard. Work that is composed of multiple images for the cost of only a portion of that in may cases paid for a single piece of illustration or fine art. And secondly we need to keep these people, we don’t want them running off to the games/storyboard industries for a quicker and better pay check.
Growth is obviously the solution.
Movies that have millions of people see them need to start advertising and being completely integrated with the comics that spawned their existence. Why aren’t we giving away comics at the movies. Why don’t kids get a free copy of The Avengers at those characters’ movie? Why isn’t there a copy of a magazine with pages from Wonder Woman at her movies!? Add some articles on Chris Pine and Gal Gadot and teenagers will look for more on their movie idols.
The industry needs to stop relying on forty something men to buy their books. We won’t be around forever and at this rate neither will Comics of a good quality.
The price of art is essentially calculated on what people wish and/or are prepared and able to pay and that is something that should not change. But the cold hard facts are that people are not buying comics. This is an art form that is in danger of disappearing.
Think about that future? I hope that I can still buy a monthly comic. But the future could be a bit brighter?
Many thanks for reading.