Robot 6

Quote of the day | Warren Ellis on DC, digital comics and direct market

Justice League #1

“It was in DC’s core DNA to protect and serve physical comics stores. To the point where every 18 months or so they’d pay for a hundred comics retailers to attend a special DC conference, where the retailers could moan at them for two days and then go home and order more Marvel comics. (In broad and crude terms, DC were the attentive suitor, while Marvel Comics treated retailers mean to keep them keen.) Now, there is a fascinating situation where DC will polybag special issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 with a digital-comic download code, a book that will cost an extra dollar. Comics are done on firm sale. Which means, as far as I can see, that the retailer is being charged extra money on each copy of that edition too. Maybe I’m wrong, and comics retailers aren’t being offered a reach around while getting a mild pegging. But it’s an interesting kind of support. DC are offering support to retailers in other ways and are making sympathetic noises, but other quotes from this roadshow — one from Bob Wayne, DC’s head of sales, boiled down to ‘if you’re not selling enough of our comics you’re not doing your job’ — tend to suggest that someone at the company has realised that the comics retailers already have a girlfriend and never liked DC anyway.”

– writer Warren Ellis, holding court on DC Comics’ upcoming relaunch, its new digital strategy
and its long, and occasionally dysfunctional, courtship of direct-market retailers

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Comments

10 Comments

Simon DelMonte

June 29, 2011 at 9:47 am

So what does that make the smaller companies? I’ve never had any trouble finding either Marvel or DC. But it’s a major operation to get my hands even on Image books like Infinite Vacation.

He’s wrong that there were ever 10k comic book stores — ACCOUNTS at Diamond, yes, but most of those were speculator driven, but never actual comic book stores.

We’ve lost about half the stores, not 80% of them.

Also, it isn’t like the digital download JL needs to be ordered by any store — I sure won’t be carrying them.

-B

It has never made any sense to me why DC Comics cared in the slightest about preserving the Direct Market.

Ricardo Amaral

June 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Dean

Probably because trade books are DCs stronghold against Marvel? And these are sold through Direct Market? What DC seemly does worse than Marvel is on its monthlies. But I think DC does much better than Marvel as a trade paperback company. Any ideas why?

The direct market is also, currently, subsidizing everything that the company does. I think it was Brian Hibbs that elaborated on this. My understanding is that if too many comics stores collapse DC–as a monthly publisher–is done. The two are co-dependent and digital sales as they are are nowhere near close enough to generating the revenue that monthly books do.

It has never made any sense to me why DC Comics cared in the slightest about preserving the Direct Market.

Because they make a ton of money there that subsidizes their movement into other markets? At one of these recent roundups, the figure was cited that sales in the direct market vs. digital were about 600 to 1 or somesuch. Obviously that may change once DC goes day and date release, but as long as DC is making money in the direct market, why wouldn’t they try to preserve it?

I actually found the more interesting part of Warren Ellis’ analysis to be this:

“Comics used to sell loads back then, yes. But a big part of that — and this is the part he isn’t mentioning — is that there were ten thousand comics shops back then. And now there are, optimistically and rounding up, about two thousand. There simply aren’t the number of outlets left to sell the kind of volume comics could shift in the 90s.

“The gamble here is this: that hypothetical lost fan base is older, has credit cards and disposable income, and an internet connection that can bring the DC Comics section of a notional comics store right to their desks. That, in fact, digital comics services will do the work of those eight thousand stores that don’t exist anymore.”

Even if, as Mr. Hibbs asserts, Ellis’ figures are a bit off, this makes me wonder if DC’s on to something and there really are a lot of lapsed readers without a local comic shop who might hop back on board. (Though I still think the digital prices are too high.)

Wouldn’t a lot of those failed shops have been competing with other shops in the area, though? More people live in cities than anywhere else these days and I haven’t been to a major metro area that doesn’t have a relatively convenient comics shop.

I’m really curious, actually, what the distribution of comics readers is. Are they concentrated in urban areas, or are they evenly distributed across the US? Is there a big, untapped market that doesn’t have access to a comics shop? I’d be less surprised if there’s a demographic that just doesn’t want to go to a comics shop–either based on past bad experiences or on not wanting to be seen in a comics shop.

This is a great point. I was disappointed that DC and every other publisher who isn’t Marvel had to go and grovel at the feet of retailers when it’s pretty obvious that, with a few excellent exceptions, comic book shops are some of the lousiest retail places just somehow managing to keep their heads above water. They’re truly not doing their job and haven’t been for about twenty years, if you count “their job” to mean “attracting people who aren’t longbox-hoarding X-Men fanatics”. The sooner we develop whole new ways of doing business, separate and apart from the direct market, the sooner we can bring in new readership, expand what people read in their comics, and possibly even change form, function, and content right alongside distribution. Ellis’ girlfriend analogy is brilliant. I’m tried of a system that favors only one publisher and so are the millions of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a comic book store and so are the people who just flat-out quit… the market is losing readers eponentially.

@ Brian Hibbs – That’s interesting to me that you won’t be carrying the the digital download JL… I wonder how many stores WOULD carry it (now that you mention it).

Regarding the rest of it; if this is DC’s strategy (that hypothetical lost fan base is older, has credit cards and disposable income, and an internet connection that can bring the DC Comics section of a notional comics store right to their desks. That, in fact, digital comics services will do the work of those eight thousand stores that don’t exist anymore) I have a hunch it will totally flop.

Why? Because comic books should be targeting young readers. Ages seven to sixteen. If you make that demographic care about the medium and care about your funny books, then they could become life long readers. Everyone who left comics in the 90′s are gone. Some might come back, but I wouldn’t count on it. The next generation is where it’s at!

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