Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Digital Age

Sorry for not posting recently, I've been sick. Still am. But a friend emailed me a link to this article on Newsarama. I didn't think Archie would be the first publisher to decide to put their comics out digitally on the same day as their print versions, but it had to be someone.

Is the courageous? No. What it is, is inevitable. The market is shrinking for print comics. That's been true for years. And all the publishers know that the current distribution system is not healthy for comics in general. But none of them are taking any action for reasons I won't go into here, but they make a lot of sense. In the short term, it wouldn't help them.

Unfortunately, in the long term, breaking out of the direct market will do a lot of damage. I'm not a "doom and gloom" kind of guy. And I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before by people who are smarter than I am. I don't think that comics will stop being published, but something's got to give at some point. Something new has to be tried.

Is digital the answer? Nope. It's not, but it could help. Are digital comics going to kill the direct market? No, I don't think so. They're going to speed up the process a tad, but that doesn't change the fact that the process is already in motion.

And I'm not saying that the direct market has to go away. If I could make one change in the industry, it would be the exclusive contracts that comics publishers have with Diamond Distributors. I think Publishers need to have the ability to sell their comics to whomever they wish, THROUGH whomever they wish. That's the only way we're going to get some new readers and new comics fans into our fun little business. Well, that, and stop over emphasizing super heroes all the time. But that's another topic for another time...

Andy

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

If Borders should Close...

Publisher's Weekly posted this article about Borders this morning. Two major players leave the company and a plan is being put in place to try to get its debt under control. As a former Borders employee myself (1998-1999), I'm sad to see this news as it's another in a long line of bad omens for the retailer. I'm not going to comment on the fairness of the proposal to extend Borders longer terms to pay off their debt to publishers, but I will briefly talk about what it could mean for the comics industry should the retailer close its doors.

I think we're likely to see two things happen should Borders fold. The first is that there will be an immediate loss in terms of sales for publishers. Borders is a very large account, and to lose out on the sales to Borders in the short term, would be a big blow to the smaller publishers' revenue streams. That could, if a small publisher is running on a shoe-string budget already, lead to a company folding. Borders is that big of an account to many publishers. That's the fear. And in the short term, if publishers aren't planning accordingly, this will happen.

The other thing we're likely to see is a small increase in revenue from other retailers and potentially for digital comics as those who would normally purchase books and comics from borders seek other ways to get their comics fixes. But that bump will not directly counter act the short term loss. But that will happen to some extent.

In the long term, we're likely to see whatever demand that Borders does fill currently get filled by other retailers--be it the larger ones like Barnes & Noble, or smaller mom-and-pop shops. The law of supply and demand, while interrupted, will still apply and this will get sorted somehow.

Is there any silver lining should Borders go under? I think there is. The most notable is that the retailer is well known for over-ordering books and then sending publishers large quantities of returns on the books. This can really hurt publishers because the book market is set up that the book store has all the power. Publishers give full refunds for any product that goes unsold for a nearly unlimited amount of time. And those returns, if massive, can mean more money going out from a publisher to a retailer than is coming in from that retailer.

If other retailers are a bit more conservative in their sales estimates, that's probably a good thing for publishers and consumers alike in the long run. It means that a publisher's profit margin will go up overall.

Ultimately, there are big signs here for our little industry that we should be heeding. There's been a lot of talk about the direct market (selling non-returnable product to specialty shops) having a rough go of late. And honestly, this talk has been going on for years, but it seems more true recently as orders across the board on all comics seem to be falling. But while we're all focused on our bread and butter (the direct market), we may get side-swiped by the mass market while we're not looking.

Right now is a tough time to be in the comic and graphic novel business. And now, if ever there was a time, is the time for the industry to be looking for some new options in two major arenas:

1. Distribution. We're almost locked into a monopoly with Diamond Distributors. And no offense to Diamond intended, but we could use some other options. As an industry, we should be looking for new methods of distribution into new markets. I could say a lot about this, but this isn't the blog for that.

2. Diversity of content. The direct market has thrived on super heroes for years--about 30 years. And while I love my super hero comics, the retailers have (understandably) put all their eggs in this one basket. And it's time that publishers and retailers together find new ways to distribute different kinds of comics content to customers who want it. There was a time when crime comics and romance comics out sold super heroes. Horror certainly did, too. And there was a time that the readership in the United States was split 50/50 between men and women. When was the last time you saw an equal number of men to women in a comic shop? Did something change in our genetic make up so that women don't like comics? Nope. And there's no reason that comics can't appeal to women just as much as they do to men--it's a matter of genre. As an industry, we're selling super heroes, and eventually, every super hero falls.

Okay, enough of a depressing rant. The good news is all of this is totally preventable. The comics industry has proven far more resilient than many have predicted. And I don't think it's likely to collapse completely. And even if it does, it'll build itself back up in time as something different.

More later!

Andy

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Good Books: THE STUFF OF LEGEND

Okay, I've been knocking around the comics industry for nearly 10 years now. I've been out of Marvel for about four and most people still know me as "That Marvel editor who...". But I have to say, there are some really great books being published by other publishers and independent creators. And they SHOULD be selling better. Some of these are selling just great, but they should be selling more and more. It's not all super heroes all the time. Heck, that's a big part of why I left Marvel in the first place. I was running out of genres to merge with super heroes!

So, I plan on running these little blogs occasionally to spotlight books I'm reading that I think are really great and worthy of wider recognition. As such, this is my first real entry for "THE GOOD BOOKS".

And here we have Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III's THE STUFF OF LEGEND. It's published by Th3rd World Studios.

Why's it so great? Well, it's got a couple of things going for it.

1. The concept is a great mash up of TOY STORY and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Essentially, "the boy" is kidnapped out of his bedroom at night by a black, tentacle creature and sucked into his closet--into "The Dark." Is it the boogieman himself? Could be. We don't know right off. What we do know is that with the "boy" gone, his toys, a rag-tag team of awesome and different toys, gets together, musters up the courage, and goes in after him, knowing full well that no one has ever returned from The Dark.

2. The next great thing it does is stray far from TOY STORY. The similarities end at the concept of toys that come to life. Once they enter The Dark, the toys are transformed (no pun intended) into more life-like or idealized versions of themselves. Still clearly the toys, but sort of imbued with life the way Disney portrayed Pinocchio in its animated film. And the story gets cooking. The characters are more well rounded, they have conflict--real conflict within the group--and the story can often go to dark places. It reminds me at times of my favorite parts of NARNIA.

3. Writers Raicht and Smith don't shy away from where their story is going. It's not that the story is horrific, but it does at times go to dark places--and it goes to light places, too--and their metaphor with the toys and the world in The Dark is well thought out and consistent so far. And their dialogue is spot on. Every character has his or her own voice.

4. Wilson's artwork is perfect for this story. Wilson has been doing some of his finest work to date--scratch that--it IS his finest work on this book. It looks somehow cartoon-like and totally real at the same time. The gray tones and the figure work as well as how he's modifying the art in Photoshop to give it a scratchy feel to it is all extremely calculated and effective. I feel like I'm a kid and an adult at the same time. I feel that unbridled imaginative spirit of my youth as well as the more pragmatic and sometimes defeatism of my current self.


5. The story as these elements come together on the page is a simple one, but an effective and also intricate at the same time. A simple story about a simple emotion and a definitive mission but thrown into a complex and wonderful world with engaging and well-rounded characters.

Currently on sale are the trade paperback: THE STUFF OF LEGEND: BOOK I: THE DARK and the first three single issues of THE STUFF OF LEGEND: BOOK II: THE JUNGLE.

A great read. Go check it out!

Andy

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