Robot 6

200,000 more passionate customers or 20 million casual ones?

guardians of the galaxy1

March’s best-selling comic book

Is the goal for comics to become a mainstream form of entertainment an unattainable goal? That seemed to be the angle Tom Spurgeon took on Monday’s Deconstructing Comics podcast and in his additional commentary at The Comics Reporter. He feels the industry is better served by regaining a few hundred thousand more devoted readers to restore unit sales to mid-six-figure levels. While comics have shown there is longevity in niche markets, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of also attaining a larger readership.

With March’s estimated direct market sales figures showing yet another double-digit month of growth, manga publishers giving anecdotal reports of the manga market stabilizing, and something of a convention boom going on, there’s no better time than now to re-examine how comics can secure a healthy and vibrant future. Taking advantage of this growth is tricky because, as Spurgeon mentions, no one is exactly sure why the turnaround happened. Although people complain about DC Comics’ New 52 being a mess and Marvel crossovers not having the punch of the Civil War days, overall sales are rebounding. Was it digital comics? Was it the mainstream press for the New 52 or Marvel NOW, or some other stunt? Is it the Hollywood movies?

The truth is that it’s probably all of those things and more. There’s also been a building cultural acceptance of “geek culture” that is invariably tied to comic books despite the medium not being limited to the superhero/sci-fi/fantasy niche. It might’ve peaked with last summer’s trifecta of blockbusters: AMC”s The Walking Dead television series, and the Hollywood tentpoles The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Of course, comic book adaptations were supposed to be a fad about a decade ago, so it may not be a matter of peaking, but rather a series of peaks.

While the cultural-shift answer may not be satisfyingly concrete for a marketing guy to run with, it does address another thing Spurgeon brought up. Comparing his own apathy to operas, he mentions the disinterest some have to pursuing comic books or graphic novels even when they are exposed to something they admit they like. I’ve seen this happen too, and it’s always frustrating. When they’re handed something and end up liking it, great. That doesn’t mean they’re showing up at the comic book store next Wednesday. And I think that expectation is our mistake on a few levels. The first is that such reluctance to an entire medium more often than not comes from the previous prevailing cultural status quo, which is that comics are a second-class form of communication and/or entertainment. That old thinking says that comics are about as cool as ham radios. Or, to borrow Spurgeon’s analogy, operas. The good news is that the cultural shift is saying otherwise. The increasingly loud voice is presenting an upstart opinion that comics are cool, they are smart, they are imaginative, they are creative, they are daring. That voice is followed by a second voice not as loud saying that comics aren’t just superheroes. That voice needs to be just as loud as the first. Given enough time, those two voices will be heard and internalized by enough people that it will be just as culturally established as the “comics are for kids” mantra that sprung from the 1950s.

So that all sounds good in the abstract, but how in practical terms does that happen? The good news is that it’s already happening, and Spurgeon is right that it’s no single magic bullet. Every time a literary graphic novel gets covered on NPR, every time USA Today hypes some new Image Comics series in a genre that isn’t superheroes, every time someone on Tumblr randomly posts about some new manga series amid their writings about TV shows and movies — these little moments chip away at the subconscious programming of past generations. And that’s why quality and diversity are so crucial. It’s also why creative freedom, creator rights and financial stability are so important. The more solid footing creators have, the more they’ll create better content more frequently, giving readers reasons to keep coming back. This new Golden Age that we’re in, this new Comics Renaissance, is an amazing start. The size of comics’ current audiences, though, don’t result in enough financial stability for most creators. We might be headed in the right direction, but more can be done.

DC Comics pulled one of the boldest publishing moves mainstream comics has seen in about 30 years with the New 52. And they backed it up with a marketing onslaught about as strong as one would hope. Marvel NOW! has also been on a big push to bring readers back. These were necessary moves and they’ve retrieved a number of lapsed readers as well as brought in some new readers. I don’t see them bringing in 200,000 more devoted readers who show up at the comic shop every week. But 20 million casual readers will average out to 200,000 weekly readers or more. That’s why the TV and movie industries can support such massive budgets. When there are about 114 million TV sets in American households, the television networks don’t need every one of them tuned in every day. Since it’s such a culturally accepted form of entertainment, Americans average five hours of TV viewing a day. If the cultural shift can be accelerated, and content is also created with casual readers in mind as well, the readership potential will grow exponentially.

Comics for the passionate customers will always be around. That’s how comics got this far. But comics can go further. They’re limitless. And there’s no reason why there can’t also be more comics for the masses, creating a more healthy and abundant industry.

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20 Comments

It’s a pretty easy answer actually…

DC Advertised comics on TV. Walking Dead is followed by Comic Book Men (and many retailers use their DC Co-op money to Advertise during Walking Dead)

See the answer comic book industry? TV Advertising.

I think there are already comics for the masses that attract millions of readers everyday — webcomics.

They could also try- you know- TALKING to people and finding out exactly what is holding them back and preventing them from buying. Do some prospecting. Go out and reach the customers one on one. Don’t just assume what they want or need. Find out what they want or need, and then work to give it to them.

Another option is to make sure the current base is satisfied and excited. Best way to grow sales is by word of mouth. Positive opinion. Get people to refer the comics. Use the established base you have. Don’t just take them for granted and try to sacrifice a large number of them for a group of imagined fans that aren’t guaranteed to be there.

Everybody is looking in the wrong direction. You and everyone else is talking about attracting more 20-somethings and 30-somethings to the books. There is a true limit to how many in that demographic will even bother with what are still perceived as “funny books.” You have to go the other way, at least with some of the properties, to attract a younger audience to replace and increase the numbers that leave the hobby naturally by attrition. But the industry thinks that kind of move is beneath them; and every title they create for “kids” is inane and childishly done. There’s a way to do it. No gets it; especially not DC — they’re “revamp” is a waste of good characters. So, we’re going to have to stick with the older demographics, live with the attrition, and support the industry despite the ever increasing cost (and ever decreasing page count).

I think the biggest issue is cost and availability. I can buy best-sellers, DVDs, and games at Wal-Mart and Target, so why can’t I buy comics? Not even individual issues, you can leave those to the shops, I am talking about self-contained books and collections at a reasonable price.

If I could go to Wal-Mart and buy a self-contained Batman book for ten bucks, I’d be thrilled and would probably buy a couple for friends. I kind of want to see comics from the big two become more like DVDs. Each book is a complete product that can stand by itself, with room for sequels, and marketed as such. At this point it is more trouble than it is worth to follow any character without having to buy multiple comics at 3 to 5 bucks each across multiple titles. When DC did New 52 I simply laughed that even in an attempt to streamline I would still have to buy 10+ comics to follow Batman’s adventures.

You don’t have to screw over the local shops to expand the market, you just need to package the comics in a more stand alone manner for those of us who don’t want to engage in a easter egg hunt if we want to follow a specific character. So yeah, “comics for casuals,” I guess. Same art and stories, just presented in a way that works better for a more general audience.

On an semi-related note, the digital offerings of the big two are pitiful as well. I almost considered signing up for a digital comics subscription with Marvel… until I tried the interface.

What ever happened to ‘thru the mail’ subscriptions? If people would be able to buy these for their kids/nieces/nephews/friends then that would reopen an old avenue for growth.

Liked the movie? Get a year’s sub to (a) related (or the movie tie-in) title(s)!

Publishers need to get this done.

Kids Comics need to look like “the big kid books” just more all ages friendly. AND single issue stories so the casual reader can just pick up the newest issue or whatever’s in stock and be able to get right into it. Sad to see, even kids books like Mega Man and Sonic are now doing mega crossovers…

Kenozoic – comics subscriptions through the mail are available through Marvel, and a variety of online retailers. I get all my comics through mail subscriptions.

I agree with the others here. The kiddy superhero comics with kindergarden aesthetics (or the cartoon adaptations) do not actually appeal to ages 7 & up. The key is to produce more “all ages” content that is stylish and exciting but also edgy and dangerous (sometimes with mild violence). Millions of adults love Pixar, Dreamworks, and Illumination films in addition to targeting kids. Some of it can go cuter and a lot of it can still go much darker, sure, but so many publishers and creators go for ultra dark, graphic gory violence, f-bombs and c-bombs, grotesquery, hypersexuality, and sensationalised controversy. The fact that comics have always had that freedom is wonderful, yet that doesn’t mean that everyone should take advantage of that freedom and produce nothing but hardcore mature entertainment. There needs to be a balance. At the moment it’s still 80% mature R rated content. There just needs to be more all ages content AND people who actually know how to produce that kind of entertainment since very few of the current industry talent want to do that.

I only believe in making (graphical) reading or anything great.

That seems more important a goal than sales or mass appeal or “fan-service” for either kids or adults or either real persons.

I doubt that collectors or obssessing fanpersons are of service to any business or genre. And any reading or enjoyment can be in between feeling passionate or devoted or not. Because it may be personal both as subject to changing perspective.

Creators and creatives wanting to make books great seems the main thing to me, with publishers as needing to cater to most specifically that. Anything else I hardly take seriously frankly.

Love how CBR promotes Bendis’ crap GoTG and gives it good reviews while doing nothing for DnA and basically giving all their stuff bad reviews.

Marvel Axel Alonso shill site!

That’s not remotely true, nor does it have anything to do with this article. Please stay on topic. Thanks.

I can see the logic of the article, but since I was one of the passionate readers who all but quit buying comics due the New 52, I still hate this equation.

I’m skeptical of the use of the sales numbers from Diamond to prod excitement from articles like this. Those Diamond numbers are sketchy because that is not reflective of comics actually sold, but number of comics ordered by retailers. Sure, those numbers look great, but if you go into my comic shop there are stacks of the Marvel NOW books unsold, several titles with first printings no less. GotG for example had 18 covers (give or take). How many copies of the regular cover had to be ordered to get those variants? Doesn’t that inflate the success of a title? Conversely, a month or two after the New 52 launch, you couldn’t find a first printing. I realize there are factors like returnabilty in play there.

It is great that retailers are ordering so many books, but I’m not so sure that the health of the industry should be gauged by Diamond numbers. There has to be a better measuring tool. I think the rise of Image’s model of doing business is a most encouraging sign.

I agree with some of the posters above. You grow the industry by seeding it in younger buyers. Younger buyers can’t afford comics these days at $4 a pop.

In my area (rural mid-west), comic shops are few and far between. I drove 30 miles for comics for 5 or 6 years until I decided to go exclusively through an online discount retailer. When I was a kid in the late 70’s, 80’s and early ’90’s I could get all the comics I wanted at several locations in the small town I lived in.

Kids still love comic book superheroes. . . . maybe more now than ever thanks to the film industry/cartoons/action figures. But none of the kids I know that love superheroes read comic books! And why would they? you have to drive 30 miles to get them.

I agree that Marvel and DC need to get into Wal-Mart with their books.

Kids don’t need to read comics anymore. There’s an endless supply of cartoons, movies, direct to DVD features, videogames, toys, and other things to give them their fix. When I was a kid all the games sucked and only Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men had cartoons. Movies were nonexistent except Batman. Merchandise was rare. I had to read comics to see my favorite characters.
Now it’s easier to find every single one of those things than it is to find a comic book.

And let’s not forget that when you can track down a comic book it provides entertainment at roughly a dollar a minute.

When I was a kid every Thursday I would steal money from my mom’s purse and buy comics on the way home from school at my local Convenient store. Now that comics are only sold at comic book stores we have a very small point of sale. I understand that the direct market helps keep comic book stores in business, but does every single comic book have to be direct market? Would it hurt the industry if there were more places that sold comics?

And the kiddie books are completely wasted. I was five and I was reading regular comic books. I didn’t need anything dumbed down for me, in fact I think the challenging reading level may have been one of the reasons I liked comics.

I’m one of the long time readers who doesn’t really buy much of DC and Marvel anymore. The gimmicks and crossovers are all well and good, but if the quality isn’t there sales will just go back. I think the bigwigs would get sales up if they had a no crazy crossover/death/reboot for a year. Advertise that.

I’m not exactly a kid, but I’m one of the target audiences. I’m 19, and started reading when I was 18. What really brought me into collecting and reading comics is Marvel NOW! to be honest. I read through AvX as it was coming out, but digitally. But only because I knew that when it was over, there’d be relaunches and new series from #1 and a jumping on point was great. I still only collect NOW! titles, apart from Age of Ultron & Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. And since NOW!, I’ve noticed younger readers, people my age and younger, in my local comic shops. We still seem out of place though since most customers as older than us significantly, and I think that may even intimidate people my age or younger.

Some comic shops aren’t very ‘welcoming’ to new-comers. Not everyone who’s just entering comics has read up on past history on how Jean Grey died and who’s been Batman prior to New 52. There’s a lot of history to comics and I’ve seen certain stores not be very friendly to newcomers, and it probably is disheartening to them. If I hadn’t found the nice comic shop I visit every week who’s much more than friendly, learns their customers names quickly (which is one of my favorite things, knowing everyone by name and having them know mine, even customers know me) then I would probably be too intimidated to visit certain comic shops with guys who have years of experience on me. I also know that this is the same for girls who want to start reading, as I know a lot of girls that I talk about my comic obsession to and they want to try too but only if I go with them. It’s sad, really. So in this case, I definitely agree with Black Manta.

Also, as Mideon said, the scale of comic-related cartoons is just enormous. There’ve been a number of Avengers and Avengers-related movies and cartoons in the past 6 years alone, whereas most people probably only know of the major motion picture. As someone who watches Ultimate Spider-Man, I can honestly say I would never read the Ultimate Spider-Man comic. (The kids one, the Marvel Universe one or whatever). It’s just unappealing.

Oh and I would love if DC and Marvel got their books into Wal Mart, but unfortunately they’d probably end up destroyed. People don’t take the best of care of things at Wal Mart. But it would be great, cause one’s right up the street from me compared to the 45 minute bus ride to where I currently go. But I love that place so it’s all good I guess.

I’m definitely with Adam too. $4.50 a comic is just a lot of money, it adds up quickly. Which is why I have to keep my pull list short, since I’m in school and don’t have time for a job, my mom pays for them. And she gets angry from time-to-time when I ask her for $20 or $30 a week and then expect more money to hang out with my friends. It’s one of the reasons I’m exclusively to Marvel, the other reason being I was like a year late for New 52 and I’d prefer to start all my collections at #1.

In my opinion the industry does not need more superhero comics. It is impossible to keep perpetuating these characters to infinity and pretend to sell our children’s characters their grandparents.
Children need new characters to do themselves, make their own. The saturation of superhero comics does not help that you can discover these new comics because collapse bookstores.

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