X-POSITION: Burnham, Culver, Villalobos Spell Out "E Is For Extinction"
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.
Graphic novels | The top-selling graphic novel in bookstores in February was the 60th volume of Naruto, according to Nielsen BookScan; four other manga made the chart as well. Actually, it’s an interestingly eclectic mix, with eight volumes of The Walking Dead, the first volume of Saga, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Chris Ware’s Building Stories making the list, as well as The Book of Revelation from religious publisher Zondervan. Marvel was entirely absent, but two of DC’s New 52 collections appearing. [ICv2]
Comics | Former DC Comics President Paul Levitz talks about the new edition of 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Myth-Making, which has been broken out into five volumes and expanded to include more art and an additional creator interview in every volume; the first volume, The Golden Age of DC Comics, is out now. Levitz also touches on the history of the company, the importance of characters, and the impact of young readers on the early comics: “It wasn’t adults tending to what they wanted their child to read or libraries selecting. It was the kids of America who said I love Uncle Scrooge as its done by Carl Barks, I love the Superman comics that are coming from Mort Weisinger’s team at DC, I love the Marvel comics that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are creating. And they really got to choose those things that became trendsetters in the culture and ultimately leading to the massive success of the superhero movies in more recent years.” [Complex Art + Design]
Graphic novels | BookScan’s January list of the Top 20 graphic novels sold in bookstores shows a bit more variety than the previous month, in which 10 of the slots were taken by volumes of The Walking Dead. This time it’s just
six, with Building Stories, Saga, and the latest volumes of Sailor Moon and Fables cracking the Top 10. An adaptation of the Book of Revelation from evangelical publisher Zondervan was No. 9, followed by perennial bestseller Watchmen. (Note: The original version erroneously reported the number of Walking Dead titles in the Top 20.) [ICv2]
Creators | Paul Pope talks about his graphic novel Battling Boy, due out this summer, as well as the prequel comic The Death of Haggard West, which will released in in July. [Kotaku]
Once criticized for its role in the decline of local booksellers, retail giant Barnes & Noble is struggling in a shrinking print market that claimed longtime rival Borders less than two years ago.
The chain, which boasts 689 retail stores (along with 674 college stores), plans to cut that number by one-third over the next decade at a rate of about 20 locations year. That will leave Barnes & Noble with about 450 to 500 stores, down from a peak of 726 in 2008. In the past month or so, the company has shuttered locations in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Publishing | Declaring this “the year of The Walking Dead,” the retail news and analysis site ICv2 notes the $60 Compendium volumes One and Two could “easily” be the top-selling graphic novels of 2012. Those two books also topped the Nielsen BookScan chart of graphic novels sold in bookstores in November, joined by six other collections from the acclaimed horror series in the Top 20. Chris Ware’s $50 Building Stories, which has emerged on best-of lists as one of the books — and the graphic novel — of 2012, was No. 3 in November, followed by DC Comics’ Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2, and, in a surprise Top 20 appearance by Marvel, the $75 Avengers Vs. X-Men hardcover at No. 5. [ICv2]
Graphic novels | The seventh volume of Sailor Moon was the top-selling graphic novel in bookstores in September, according to BookScan, followed by Naruto,Vol. 58, an Avengers character guide, the third volume of Batman: Knightfall, and vol. 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise. ICv2 notes that, the Avengers book aside (and it is published by DK Publishing), Marvel is completely absent from the top ten, although DC makes a strong showing. [ICv2]
Creators | Hope Larson, who adapted Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time into graphic novel form, chats with Margaret Ferguson, her editor on the project. [Publishers Weekly]
Retailing | DC Comics dominated bookstore graphic novel sales in August, probably because of the release of The Dark Knight Rises and a “buy two, get one free” sale on DC graphic novels at Barnes & Noble. Six of the Top 10 titles are Batman comics, with The Walking Dead, Watchmen, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Naruto each taking a slot as well. [ICv2]
Creators | Judge Dredd writer John Wagner talks about the origins of his character, the importance of U.K. publisher DC Thomson, and his dislike of digital comics. [The Daily Record]
Creators | Nick Spencer guests on Kieron Gillen’s podcast to discuss Morning Glories. [Kieron Gillen’s Workblog]
Publishing | DC Comics’ Batman: Earth One, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, topped the Nielsen BookScan list of graphic novels sold in bookstores in July, one of five Batman books to populate the Top 20. The remainder of the chart was dominated by manga — five spots, with the newest volumes of Sailor Moon and Naruto claiming Nos. 2 and 3 — The Walking Dead — three volumes, with the latest slipping from No. 1 to No. 4 — and Dark Horse’s two Avatar: The Last Airbender books, by Gene Luen Yang, both of which remain in the Top 10. [ICv2]
Publishing | Archaia CEO PJ Bickett talks about some new planned digital products and the current Archaia strategy for its books: “As of right now for 2012 we’ve really focused on some key titles and in building those out as real brands. In the past we’ve taken more of a throwing it out there and hoping for the best [approach] and now we’re taking a more strategic, targeted and strategic approach. We’re seeing a lot of great efforts as a result of it.” [ICv2]
Retailing | Although the 16th volume of The Walking Dead wasn’t released until June 19, 11 days’ worth of sales was enough to propel the latest collection of the horror series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard to the top of BookScan’s chart of graphic novels sold in bookstores June. Four volumes of the popular series, including the first one, appear in the Top 20. [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Hermes Press, which has been publishing the vintage Buck Rogers collections, has announced a new Buck Rogers project: An original comic series written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, one that Publisher Dan Herman promises will be strongly reminiscent of the original. [ICv2]
Publishing| The animation studio Klasky Csupo, which gave us The Wild Thornberrys and Rugrats, is branching out in a number of different directions, including print and digital comics. Its first comic is Ollie Mongo, which stars a blue zombie skateboarder. [USA Today]
Sales charts | The American Booksellers Association has released its list of the top-selling graphic novels in indie bookstores for the eight weeks ending May 27. At first glance, it looks like it’s mostly literary graphic novels (Habibi, Are You My Mother?) with a healthy sprinkling of The Walking Dead. [Bookselling This Week, via The Beat]
Creators | Grant Morrison discusses the second issue of Batman Incorporated, which features Batman’s lover and Robin’s mom, Talia al Ghul. [USA Today]
Comics history | Could comics history have been radically different if Jerry Siegel had a different last name? Larry Tye, the author of the new Superman a biography, talks to Fresh Air about the origins of the Man of Steel and how he changed over the years: “The editors in New York over time started to exercise their editorial control. They saw this as both a character and a business. They would go down to the level of dictating just what his forelocks looked like. They could be too curly. His arms should be shorter and less ‘ape-like.’ And Joe should get rid of his hero’s ‘nice fat bottom.’ His editor told him that he worried that that made Superman look too ‘la-dee-dah.’ And they were really concerned about the image of the character.” [NPR]
Best-seller lists are tricky things, because no one except the people who put them together knows what the numbers really are. Now Publishers Weekly is ripping off the veil and will publish the top 25 listings in the weekly BookScan sales charts with actual numbers attached. Heidi MacDonald explains what’s going on at The Beat; this week’s chart is free, but after that PW will put it behind a paywall.
This information is fascinating but comes with a couple of caveats. BookScan, which is a service provided by A.C. Nielsen, tracks books sold in bookstores, including Amazon but not including the direct market, mass-market stores such as Wal-Mart, book fairs, or sales to libraries. So when you look at the list, it’s useful to keep in mind that some books will do better in comics shops than bookstores, while for others, such as manga and graphic-novel memoirs, the opposite will be true. What’s more, BookScan doesn’t cover the whole market— Heidi says it captures 80 percent, but her commenters dispute that. In other words, the charts only give a piece of the picture, and it’s more accurate for some books than for others.
To me, the most interesting column is the last one, which shows the number of copies sold this year to date. My rough rule of thumb is that a book has to sell about 3,000 copies to break even, and by that measure, most of the non-superhero books are doing well (and the superhero ones are probably selling gangbusters in the direct market).
Publishing | Continuing its domination of the graphic novel sales in bookstores, The Walking Dead laid claim to seven of the Top 10 spots on BookScan’s April chart. The series, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, took the first four positions. What’s more, 12 of the Top 20 graphic novels were volumes of The Walking Dead. [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson talks to Right Stuf director of marketing and communications Alison Roberts about that company’s announcement earlier this week that it will be publishing the first three volumes Hetalia: Axis Powers as a print-on-demand books. The series was originally licensed by Tokyopop, which is co-branding the books with Right Stuf. [MTV Geek]
One of the most intriguing comics I picked up at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo a few weeks back was Minimum Paige, an anthology produced by the Harvard Bookstore and printed in-house on their print-on-demand machine, Paige M. Gutenborg. I checked in with editor Ryan Mita to get the story behind the stories.
Brigid Alverson: First of all, tell me about Paige M. Gutenborg—what is it and what can it do?
Ryan Mita: Paige M. Gutenborg is a book machine and fantastic opportunity for artists to custom print their works. Books must be over 40 pages long, there is no minimum print run and artists can design the book anyway they like.
In addition to custom printing, Paige can print nearly five million titles, including Google Books in the public domain, and later this fall, HarperCollins will make 5,000 backlist titles available.
We’re excited about the future of bookselling and Paige keeps Harvard Book Store a step ahead.
You don’t often get to do an experiment across the entire population of the U.S., but the Borders bankruptcy offered just that opportunity earlier this year. ICv2 notes that bookstore sales, which have been declining for years, rose 7% in the first half of 2011. Why the sharp turnaround? ICv2 attributes it to the Borders bankruptcy and the subsequent liquidation sales.
This was reflected in the September Bookscan top 20 graphic novel list, which included some older graphic novels, including Lucky in Love from Fantagraphics and the Seven Seas manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, that probably got a boost from those last-minute markdowns.
What I take away from this is that books are too expensive. E-books and online sites like Amazon have been eating away at bookstore sales for years, but apparently you can increase sales of print books in brick-and-mortar stores simply by decreasing the prices. Perhaps this is an oversimplified view of the situation, but I honestly can’t think of any other reason why the trend would turn around like that. (OK, there is one: The prospect of scarcity. People who are losing their only local bookstore might be tempted to stock up, but that would only be true in a few areas.)
From everything I’m seeing, sales of e-books continued to climb during that period, which suggests a tantalizing possibility: The market as a whole, print and digital, online and brick-and-mortar, could continue to increase, if only books were cheaper. Publishers set prices based on the cost of production and the profit they want to make, but readers have their own price points—I know I do—and apparently the two don’t match very well.
As expected, the bankrupt Borders Group will be liquidated after it failed to find a last-minute suitor to save the 40-year-old bookseller, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The company announced this afternoon that it will ask a federal judge on Thursday to approve the previously announced sale to liquidators led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group. Liquidation of Borders’ 399 remaining stores could begin by Friday, leading to the loss of about 10,700 jobs. What was the second-largest book chain in the United States will no longer exist by the end of September.
“Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development,” Borders Group President Mike Edwards said in a statement. “We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now.”
Liquidation comes five months after Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following unsuccessful attempts by the foundering chain to convince publishers and distributors to convert late payments into loans as part of an improbable reorganization plan. Late payments led some distributors, including Diamond Book Distributors, to stop shipping to the company. As Borders closed stores it continued to hemorrhage money — $132 million in April alone — and executives — 47 in the two months following the bankruptcy filing — while industry watchers started the death clock.
Early this month Najafi Cos., a private-equity firm that owns the Book of the Month Club, emerged as a potential buyer, submitting a proposal that included $215.1 million for nearly all of the bookseller’s assets, and the assumption of about $220 million in liabilities. However, creditors objected to the plan last week, setting Borders on a course for liquidation. Edwards held out hope for a last-minute suitor by Sunday’s bidding deadline — there were reports this morning of interest from Books-A-Million — but none materialized.