Again, the Great Format Debate

Newsarama interviews DC’s Bob Wayne (link no longer available) over comic sellouts and their latest big event. Here’s the quote I found significant:

We’re trying to encourage the weekly comic experience. We don’t want our readers to stop reading our periodicals and wait for trade paperbacks collecting a batch of issues. (Since we’re launching a 52-part weekly comic next month, it seems like a really good idea.) So it’s more important to us to go back to press on these issues than it would normally be if a comic sold out.

It’s not surprising that DC feels this way, since so much of their business is still periodicals, but I was surprised to see them make such a one-sided statement. After that, there’s lots of “it’s not anyone’s fault, really, that books are selling out, but if anyone underestimated, retailers did.” Oh, and one more mixed message:

I don’t think DC ever said or intended that the One Year Later titles were designed as a tool to bring in new readers who were unfamiliar with comics and/or our core characters.

Strange, then, that so many people had that impression. Wonder where it came from? And wouldn’t it make more sense for that to be the approach?

Over at Comicon, Marvel editor Andy Schmidt (link no longer available) seems to have a more sensible approach:

There are a couple of different sides to the debate. And there are good reasons for reading both the individuals and the collections. For example, at Marvel Comics, where I work, we build the comics to be read in 22-page installments. This means, that the structure of one of our stories normally dictates some kind of cliffhanger every 22 pages. For me, as a reader, part of the fun is having to wait 30 days to find out how my favorite heroes have gotten out of a death-trap. So, bottom line, the comics are intended to be read in the individual comic format.

That said, I enjoy a trade because it is durable and takes up less space than several individual comics. Trades are ideal for traveling and reference. I have to dig out a lot of old stories for my job and it’s much easier to grab three trades instead of 20 single issues…. Then there is packaging. The individual covers are meant to entice a potential buyer or reader into buying that one issue. The trade is designed to entice someone to invest a larger sum of money all in one shot. When most people drop 15 to 20 bucks, they want a good story as well as a nice looking package–something that displays nicely on a bookshelf. The truth is, the cover stock is better on a trade, it stands up straighter on a shelf and has a good looking square binding with the title written on the side. Trades just look better. I can’t argue with that.

And that’s why I enjoy reading them more. Unless you’re suggesting that readers buy both, why not allow the consumer choice and support both?

11 Responses to “Again, the Great Format Debate”

  1. Chris Galdieri Says:

    The deciding factor in terms of trades for me, at least, is the steep discounting of them that’s available online. Batman: Dark Detective (just to take one recent example) is under ten bucks at Amazon; the single issues of the mini-series would have been ~$18. If you buy even a handful of trades online, those savings add up really quickly.

  2. Michael Denton Says:

    The writing – style and quality – often dictate how I’ll pick up a book. For instance, Fables is a book that I LOVE and its writing quality is so good I frequently pick up individual issues, but I feel Willingham’s stories read better collected – the bigger storyline is more apparent (for obvious reasons) in trade – so I read it primarily in trade format.

    Spider-man loves Mary Jane is another favorite read, but it is written in a style that indicates that single issues are my preferred way of reading it. I won’t be interested in a trade (and a trade is dicey on this title anyway).

    Amazing Spider-Man is so poorly written now that I won’t care for a collection of current storylines. Give me a Roger Stern AMS collection any time, however. (NO, I’M SERIOUS!!)

    And some titles are so suspensful that I need to know RIGHT NOW what is going to happen – Young Avengers and Seven Soldiers – but enjoy it enough to get the inevitable trade too.

    Polly and the Pirates is really enjoyable, but the wait between issues is so long I wish I had waited for the trade. I’m old and can’t remember between issues. But I thought a trade might not happen so I picked it up (loving Courtney Crumnin).

    I have probably made no sense at all in this post.

  3. Jer Says:

    I tend to buy only trades these days. At $3, individual issues tend to make me squirm economically. I tend to only get individual issues for books that are unlikely to live long enough to be collected into trades. Even now, I’m not buying any issues of any regular series – but I pick up a handful of trades per month.

    As for this:

    I don’t think DC ever said or intended that the One Year Later titles were designed as a tool to bring in new readers who were unfamiliar with comics and/or our core characters.

    Strange, then, that so many people had that impression. Wonder where it came from? And wouldn’t it make more sense for that to be the approach?

    I personally thought it was pretty clear that DC was doing this stunt to pull share away from Marvel, not to bring anyone really “new” into the market. They’re looking to pull fans who’ve drifted away back into the core, and maybe drag over a few who are bored/upset with Marvel’s current attitude and writing. Its always looked like a “realignment” move to me, not a growth move.

    I mean, come on, the huge crossover that lead into OYL was centered around a character who was involved in ONE story, twenty years ago. The entirety of Infinite Crisis has been one giant pander to fans – why should anyone expect that the result wouldn’t be “more of the same” (as long as it worked) ?

    I always took the OYL advertising to be a realignment of the “Big Three” characters to their core concepts – which seems to be the case with Superman and Batman at least – and a “Big Event” to market books around. I thought it would be nice if they used it as a way to broaden the appeal of their books to a larger market, but nothing about the campagin made me expect that they would.

  4. Alan Coil Says:

    I thought the unfortunate part of the interview with Bob Wayne was that he couldn’t use specific numbers. By continuing to say xx% of this plus yy% of that, I fear he lost most readers.

    If he could have said that they printed 150,000 of Identity Crisis #1 and that the OYL books were higher than that AND we increased our overprint by another 10,000 copies, then it would have been clear enough that they tried to print enough copies, but erred.

    My LCS sold out of the first week’s worth of OYL books and immediately called Diamond and re-ordered more copies of the following week’s OYL books. He has been doing that every week since and is still selling out.

  5. James Schee Says:

    One odd thing I find, is that DC is saying that they want to focus on the weekly comic audience. Yet so many of their books, including their big projects they have supposedly been planning years for, are constantly late.

    Which I think has to have a negative backlash coming if it isn’t there alreaydy. Because if you keep coming in and the books aren’t there, either you’re going to buy other comics or stop coming at all.

  6. Johanna Says:

    All great points, especially Michael’s about it not being possible to write equally well for both formats.

    Jer, I suspect you’re right about how the companies aren’t really working towards new readers but just towards gaining more of the existing ones.

  7. Scott Hassler Says:

    between all the ads, the 6 issue arcs, and actual better quality and lower prices, its as if they want me to buy the trade instead of floppys. that being said, i loves me my floppies. i purchase 10 per week (40 a month gets you 20% off everything at my shop), and get the rest in trade.

    it works out pretty good because i like alot of small press stuff that isnt likely to be traded, and i round out the week with my must reads from the big 2.

  8. Kelson Says:

    I still go for the monthly books on most series, for two reasons: First, you can’t always be certain that there will be a trade. Fallen Angel is a perfect example: DC collected the first story arc, and that was it. (Anyone know whether IDW has reprint rights on the stuff published through DC?) Secondly, sometimes I just don’t want to wait 6-12 months to find out what happens.

    I have occasionally picked up a TPB of a story arc that I already own in periodical format just to make it easier to lend it out to people. There are also a couple of series that I started collecting as trades, then switched to picking up the comics out of impatience. (Not that this helps any with Powers these days…) In those cases I pick up the comics, then later pick up the trades (I’d rather have everything in one place than have some on the shelf and some in boxes), and sell the comics on eBay. When I get around to it, anyway.

    Most of my TPB collection, though, is of series that ended before I started reading them.

  9. Johanna Says:

    If there’s not a trade, I often find myself reading something else instead, in the format I prefer. There’s too many good comics for me to read everything I want to or find interesting, so it can be a helpful selection factor.

    I find it such a hassle trying to sell comics (I’ve got two grocery bags full of stuff that’s not likely to be worth the effort to list on ebay) that I’d rather just avoid the problem and buy stuff I expect to keep a long while.

  10. Sam Hobart Says:

    First, Fallen Angel — DC still owns the reprint rights to what they published but based on what appears to be hesitation on their part to reprint the first volume (which is now unavailable from Diamond) I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change in the near future.

    I’m amused by the way that Didio and Wayne have attempted to parse their words so carefully as to admit that OYL was an attempt to cannibalize existing comics sales rather than draw in new readers. What frustrates me is that OYL provided an ideal opportunity for just such an effort and instead DC has completely bungled it.

  11. Kelson Says:

    What frustrates me is that OYL provided an ideal opportunity for just such an effort and instead DC has completely bungled it.

    Yeah, I’ve flipped through five OYL books, and my reaction in each case has been, “Huh?” With the exception of whichever Batman book I looked at, the focus has been “Hey, look how different things are now! Betcha wanna know what happened, dont you? Well, we’re not going to tell you!” instead of “Here’s the new status quo, let’s go from here.”

    I remember someone remarking on some site that Infinite Crisis was essentially a plot device to set up One Year Later. So far, One Year Later seems to be more about selling 52 than anything else.




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