Robot 6

So much for the death of floppies

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There’s still life in floppies after all

Two to three years ago, it seemed inevitable: Single issue comic books, derisively called “floppies,” were on the way out. Graphic novels were the future for most publishers, and floppies weren’t even working as loss-leaders. But over the past year, the single issue is on the rebound and flourishing.

While I love graphic novels, the episodic consumption of comics is one of its unique strengths. Comics can excel in either form, but they aren’t interchangeable. Just as TV shows and movies present stories differently, so too do comic book series and original graphic novels. For a time, it seemed like The Walking Dead was the last great monthly comic book because it knew how to grab with the first issue, it knew how to use the monthly cliffhanger, it knew how to utilize those 30-some odd pages, it knew how to keep the status quo shifting. It still does, and now it’s being joined by more and more comics that are embracing the episodic nature of the format. It wasn’t always that way, though, in part due to creative patterns and economic changes in the industry.

In 2010, only an estimated 69 million comic books were ordered by North American specialty stores, the lowest quantity in nearly a decade. For publishers not backed by large entertainment corporations (i.e., not Marvel and DC), single issues were starting to look like the next horse and buggy, something from a soon-to-be bygone era.

To some extent, this was foreshadowed in the aughts when the “writing for the trade” criticism was first coined. As outlined at Publishers Weekly, the success of manga in the book market resulted in unprecedented graphic novel sections in bookstores. Suddenly publishers like DC, Dark Horse and Marvel had a new revenue stream and saw big growth potential. Creators wisely took advantage of this new audience, but sometimes to the detriment of the perceived entertainment value of individual issues that formed the collected editions sold in Barnes & Noble and Borders.

The shift away from single issues occurred in other areas, too. Revered series like Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, Seth’s Palookaville and Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets all transitioned into forms more friendly to the book market, which was embracing graphic novels. Fondly remembered series like David Lapham’s Stray Bullets vanished years ago. Others, like Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, are in some kind of limbo, with an issue suddenly appearing out of nowhere and then nothing again. A number of respected and acclaimed publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Archaia, and Top Shelf mostly abandoned publishing individual issues. Some newer publishers, like First Second Books, have released graphic novels exclusively from the outset.

Among this transition away from floppies, several “micro-publishers” started popping up to help revitalize them in the alt/indie scene. In 2011, Box Brown successfully raised more than $9,000 to launch Retrofit Comics, a publisher dedicated to releasing floppy alt-comics, and they still seem to be going strong. The all-ages comic Operation Pizza by Brown and Grand Gestures by Simon Moreton are about to be released, and a number of their previous releases have sold out. Hic & Hoc Publications, run by Mathew Moses, followed last year and will soon release the anthology, Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, which follows the more creepy Unknown Origins and Untimely Ends: A Collection of Unsolved Mysteries.

Meanwhile, two significant developments probably helped save the floppy: the demise of Borders and the rise of digital comics. In 2011, the struggling Borders finally filed for bankruptcy. By most accounts, manga publishers like Tokyopop were hit harder than most graphic novel publishers, but the loss of more than 1,000 retail locations amid an economic recession is bound to have an effect on the industry. Graphic novel and trade paperback sales in the direct market were down by an estimated $6 million that same year.

Around the same time, digital comics were coming into their own, and primarily focusing on the single issue. ComiXology’s summer 2010 launch of its web reader kicked off the momentum to significantly increase availability beyond access through mobile devices; the company surpassed 100 million downloads last October. Only a few months earlier, DC made the bold move of relaunching its entire line as the New 52 and syncing digital releases with print releases, accompanied by a massive marketing blitz focused squarely on floppies. Subsequent theme months, such as Zero Month and April’s gatefold covers continue to put the spotlight on the single issues. Marvel, which has never had as good of a book market presence as it should, echoed that strategy in print and digital with Marvel NOW. Releasing same-day digital, a controversial move a year ago, is now an industry standard across most publishers. There’s also the Free Comic Book Day factor, which gets bigger and bigger every year, and is almost entirely focused on floppies.

This renewed attention to the single issue in digital is helping shift back to the approach of making each floppy as satisfying as possible. This in turn results in sales going up on individual issues, which is exactly what they’ve done both in print and digital, even as graphic novels have recovered.

In 2012, more than 80 million comic books were ordered by North American specialty stores, compared to 2010’s 69 million. This year is on track to exceed that amount. The fact that publishers other than Marvel and DC are having comics crack Diamond’s Top 100 speaks volumes to me. For most of this year, there have been 10 or 11 comics from other comics in the Top 100. That means individual issues are getting people excited enough to compete with the established superhero icons. That’s a big deal, especially when you consider about half of them are original properties like Jupiter’s Legacy and East of West, not licensed comics. Other channels are starting to pick up on single issues as well. The Kindle has helped floppies start to compete with graphic novels at Amazon, if David Carter’s weekly Top 50 snapshot is any indication. OK, granted it’s almost entirely Injustice: Gods Among Us, but individual comic issues on Kindle and Nook are still very new, and that could help open up awareness. Plus there’s been a Batman and an Amazing Spider-Man here and there, so there is likely more not being captured below the Top 50.

The truth is that comics seem to be gradually and even steadily rising in all sectors, and comics have more ways to bring in money than ever before, from comic book stores to book stores to digital platforms to schools to libraries to conventions. The fear has always been that one will cannibalize one or more of the others. So far reality has debunked that theory, and it has shown that a format completely unique to comics considered endangered only two years ago can make a comeback.

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Comments

22 Comments

Considering that MARVEL is pushing it too far with how their new Hardcovers (and TPBs for that matter) are priced (Spider-Man: Zeb Wells & Joe Madueira HC has six issues in it yet it costs $30), it’s now cheaper to buy the individual issues.

I theorize, that this “strategy” is two-fold, first they want to know how dumb their reading base is, second, they want to see if they can push people to buy DIGITAL ISSUES|Books only at relatively the same prices as the physical books and issues.

Hmmm…
They’ve been talking about the death of the floppy (how I hate that term) for decades and it’s never happened. However I’m of the opinion that everything written will eventually be digital-based and floppies will still be available, but only for a small fan base. Trades will dominate bookshops andLCS will die out unless they alter the way they operate (highlighting other collectibles like cards, toys, fashion etc)
I’ve been buying floppies for 38 years and have steadily been dropping titles this year, and instead buying them in tradepaperback form as they’re cheaper and easier to store (don’t need to bag them etc) if you’re paying more for a trade than the accumulated cost of six floppies then you need to find a better LCS or bookstore. I save at least $10 by purchasing a trade. Especially regarding Dynamite trades that group floppies that are selling at $3.99 for a comic (outrageous!!)
As for Walking Dead – I find that this title is better read as a trade (although I am buying floppies myself) as the book is so SLOW!! It’s a great comic, but frustrating to read on an individual basis.

I don’t see floppies ever going away. I’m not likely to spend $35+ on a hardcover/TPB/graphic novel when there’s a chance I might not like it. But I don’t mind spending $3-4 on a floppy while determining if I like a series and will continue or don’t like it and will drop it.

I used to spend a minimum of $50 a week on comics 4 years ago, now I barely spend $20 a month. With Marvel’s never ending run of events, to DC’s reboot that had some good books that have grown stagnant to me, I pretty much gave up. Checking back in to see if anything was worth trying. Not seeming to find anything that clicks. I’ll go to Comixology and pick up a comic every now and then. Since my three LCS options are either A) 60 miles away; B) A place that has been shot up, robbed, and is admittedly in the Ghetto; and lastly C) A store run by a hipster douche who allows the comics to get warped by the AC/Heat system, fire ant mounds to form inside the store, and a cat that tends to scratch people run wild in said store.

Serialize stories. Call them individual issues, floppies, doesn’t matter. Tell a good story. That ends. Don’t always dovetail it into yet another story. After another. After another. “THE END” exists, don’t be afraid to use it.

Big moves from the big two with the New 52 and Marvel NOW don’t hurt.

And Marvel’s movies, of course. Not that I think that moviegoers are all turning into monthly readers, but movies do generate enthusiasm, and hence probably greater purchasing, from existing hardcore or casual readers/fans.

joe35 wrote, “But I don’t mind spending $3-4 on a floppy while determining if I like a series and will continue or don’t like it and will drop it.”

Smart move.

I have been doing that for years.

I currently favor format over price, for the most part. I buy hardcover trades and single issues via Comixology because those are the two formats I prefer, even if it would be cheaper to buy comics another way. I no longer want single issue “floppies”.

For the longest time I was trade only. I’d be months behind in my comic stories and often had big twists spoiled for me. But that’s the life of a trade waiter. Then I started reading digitally via a tablet with a hi-res screen and it brought me back into spending money on a weekly basis, which i’m sure publishers love from a cash-flow point of view.

I do pay more attention now to the value of a single month’s issue. Before, a decompressed issue was no big deal tucked into a 6 part arc. But being back in the world of monthlies – I expect a little more for my money.

So for me the floppy is dead, but that doesn’t mean the experience of a monthly serial is dead too.

Chris Schweizer

May 11, 2013 at 5:09 am

I use the term “floppies,” but not derisively. It’s more efficient than the six syllable “Single issue comic.”. When a more efficient means of description (car instead of automobile, tv instead of refrigerator) becomes available and widely used, its universal adoption is inevitable, and a lack of easy terminology infers an exclusitivity to the subject matter. Having an easy term means, from a language standpoint, that comics are no longer exclusive to comics readers, or at least that they won’t be for long. And that bodes well for the long-term growth of the medium and its public reception.

Floppies???? Seriously, people are “commonly” calling them floppies???? I must be out of touch.

I buy DC & Marvel as singles (hate the term floppies). For me I can purchase them cheaper this way. I also but Valiant as singles even though trades would be cheaper but only because I really enjoy their books. Image varies for me. Some I buy as singles, some as trades. Dynamite I usually buy in trade format except for a few like Waid’s Green Hornet.

I’ve been reading monthly since mid 70’s..I have stopped several times and pretty much always start again. When the norm became 5 or 6 part stories that was a turnoff. Yes tpb writing I know. I no longer read physical monthlies. .I purchase through comixology for convenience. .I’m not lugging around excess on flights or trains. Monthlies I purchase are all CGC now. In my opinion the reason why walking dead tpb are such great sellers is the readership ate all mostly late comers and its less expensive than tracking down monthlies. The monthly like the physical newspaper won’t die at least not for the foreseeable future. …last thing. .its a crime that new digital releases cost as much as the print. .but they will continue taking advantage of readers like me who’ll pay for convenience. .if I got off track here a bit..apologies! :)

I get my superhero comics as singles. I get my alternative stuff (mostly Image and Vertigo) as trades.

About a year ago I was getting roughly 30 titles per month in singles. With creative talents moving around and leaving stories I like, I’m now down to 8.

@Chris, if efficiency is your argument, then why not singles instead of floppies? Also, I’d never consider calling my refrigerator a TV, no matter how many syllables that saves me.

@Ian

I rarely use “singles” because it already has a standard meaning in the music industry. I prefer using a term specific to comics, especially since music is my other hobby.

I have a very modular approach to buying comics. In the old days I used to stick with certain titles no matter what. I buy single issues of a title when I like a particular story. If I like the looks of the next story, I’ll continue to pick up that title. If not, I’m on to something else. By doing that I maintain a relatively stable budget and get to sample a variety of titles. Waiting for trades wouldn’t allow me the flexibility that buying single issues does for that strategy. With John’s Justice League run, for example, I forwent the David Graves story in favor of a story in another book. Does it mean I have a disjointed collection? Yes. But with the constant renumbering and restarts these days it would be anyways.

@Rich. Ah, but what if my other hobby is PC gaming on a windows 95 machine and several of my favourites, like Sim Tower, are on ‘floppies’? Perhaps I’m also a baseball aficionado and ‘singles’ also means something completely different to me. I think maybe, to help music, baseball, retro PC gaming, comic book fans we should just call them monthlies? Although, this might confuse women that refer to their periods as such, so maybe we should create a brand new nickname for monthly single issue comics like ‘cromics’ or ‘the pull’

thesnappysneezer

May 11, 2013 at 8:45 pm

This is the first time I have heard of the term floppies. I think it is an idiotic term and the use of it by the comic book media is disgusting.

Curious if anyone fully embraced digital format then grew tired of the virtual collection as I did?

floppies, never knew that term until now.

Same as Mel,
never heard of a floppie…..only been collecting since 74……1974. don’t own an ipad..and no intentions of getting one…I do own a kindle and so does the wife….that’s what we read our BOOKS on, I certainly wouldn’t read my comics on a computer screen…..Paper….its the way forward you know……….

The single issue, episodic format is aimed at a very specific customer and demographic – people who religiously show up in the comic shop every week looking for new material. Producing something in this format also implies infrastructure – the ability to produce one comic a month and get it printed and distributed.

It is important to remember that there are other audiences out there. Some people don’t know or care about when free comic book day is. Some people are not keen on picking up issue one of a series that they may never see again. And not every creator is happy to kill themselves on a monthly basis to produce something that may or may not get picked up by that very specific demographic base that shows up on new comics day.

Different formats. Different audiences. Different release schedules. Different creative styles. It’s probably about time we stopped pretending that comics is somehow a big homogenous culture and not a bunch of overlapping sub-cultures.

But how many of that l1.1 million more issues from 2010 -> 2012 came from double-shipped titles and cover gimmicks? The industry is growing, slightly, but not in a healthy way, just by selling more copies to the same readers, and giving rare covers to retailers who order issues that don’t sell (but cost less than the rare cover can be sold for on eBay)? Double-shipping came into its own during 2012. I want to see signs of healthy growth, not juiced sales.

For example, a title that sold 50k issues in Diamond’s numbers each month would sell 600k/year. If you double ship that, you get 1.2 million copies. So if you had two titles selling about 50k each month and double-shipped both, that’s around a million more comics out of thin air. Do that with your whole line, and you get your 11 million. Reboot your universe and you get Hawk and Dove #1 selling like Uncanny X-Men for one month.

I’m more interested in the velocity of sales. Most titles peak at #1 and sales trail off.

Charles J. Baserap

May 13, 2013 at 9:59 am

@Some Guy: That was my thought as well, with the double shipping stuff, and of course, constant events and tie-ins pumping up some titles for months at a time. There are also the super variants (like 50+ for JLA) and the media blitz for more issues these days. Made Alan Scott homosexual this time around? Media release. Killing Damian? Media release. Johnny Storm is biting it? Media release. Spider-Man is dying AND being replaced by a black/Hispanic kid? Media release. Gay marriage? Media release. Obama’s on a cover? Media release.

That’s not to slam any or all of those issues, mind you, just that there’s a direct and unmistakable correlation between comics that get media attention and sales. Look at the sales of the current volume of Batman, Inc., or the last several years of Astonishing X-Men. Guess which ones sold most? Pretty much every one of those issues mentioned, where they were preceded with extra attention and publicity, did out of the ordinary in terms of sales for that respective title.

Even with events and tie-ins, a book like Secret Six was critically acclaimed but not a sales juggernaut; guess which issues of the series were the highest–the first one, and the tie-ins to Battle For the Cowl, Blackest Night, and Action Comics. Heck, Ms. Marvel only lasted as long as it did because of the heavy tie-ins to Secret Invasion, Civil War, etc. if you look at the sales trends for the title as it got bumped up each time only to fall back down (sadly. I loved that damn book!).

DC’s flash in the pan New 52 brought insane numbers with the hype and the brand new #1s, but things are slowly returning back to more sustainable levels, as will happen with Marvel NOW! until the next big things from each.

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