Economic Issues Facing Publishers LinkBlogging

It’s hard out there for aspiring comic creators. Here’s a roundup of many of the struggles they face.

First, Don MacPherson does some good reporting on the effects of Canadian dollar parity with the US. Makes those $9.95 US / $13 whatever Canadian prices look pretty outdated, hunh? Don asks the publishers what they’re going to do about this (popular answer: “we’re looking into it”, which may mean they haven’t determined yet or that they don’t care enough to make a significant change or that they don’t want to share their decision-making process). Many smaller publishers just print cover prices in US, and let the retailers in different countries figure it out, which seems sensible — why take on headaches you don’t need? Also affected: artists living in Canada have effectively taken pay cuts from this, because they’re paid in US dollars at US rates, which haven’t changed.

More pointedly, Steven Grant responds to Marc Bernardin on why his comic didn’t sell. Grant has a number of reasons it wasn’t suited to today’s market, among which include

  • lack of patience on readers’ parts means slow setups don’t work
  • it was only “good enough” work, with familiar lines and inexperienced art
  • stories resembling Hollywood pitches are resented by readers
  • DC and Marvel have next to no marketing skill for non-superhero books
  • direct market pre-ordering won’t allow any new series to succeed

With the latter, he asks how anyone can survive in this market, and the answer may be that no one can. Especially when publishers who attempt promotions (Icarus Publishing, manga porn, NSFW) to attract more attention from retailers find out that Diamond doesn’t always make their customers aware of the offerings. That’s a followup to his previous post (NSFW) in which he points out that putting a discount on issue #69 resulted in sales on issue #70 declining. Simon concludes

it seems there’s little reason to spend advertising money to specifically promote DM sales once a certain sales ceiling is met, especially when those same efforts are much more warmly received in every other channel.

He follows up in the comments “our efforts in the DM should be focused on maintaining readership, while attempts to garner new readers seem better suited outside the DM.” That fits in with some perceptions of the direct market, that it’s in a holding pattern and will only decline without drastic changes.

Speaking of major changes, Diamond recently declared that, beginning in January, all comics will need barcodes for register scanning. Only they told the press before they told their vendors, with some small publishers finding out in the press. Says Scott King,

I don’t get why they decided to tell news sites before they contacted the publishers. To find out that we are going to have to spend a couple thousand bucks a year for upc and isbn junk from Newsarama and Pulbishers Weekly is horse crap. It was rude and disrespectful of Diamond to announce it to us in this way

Three days later, he posted the Diamond notification email. The usually right-on-target Steven Grant jumps to the conclusion that Diamond “has shut down small comics publishing”.

Any additional expenses put the comics that much closer to financial untenability. The barcode is just such an expense, and a relatively hefty one.

It seems to me more likely that they’re just trying to force retailers into getting on-board with current technology (similar to the earlier Marvel cash register program). This way, those with a Point of Sale system (which Diamond is also about to start selling) will have real data on sell-through, instead of relying on guesses (which might be subject to biases about what should sell instead of what does). Who knows what benefits will come from more accurate reporting data? We won’t know the follow-through until it’s available, at which point the world may change again.

Jennifer deGuzman, Editor-in-Chief of Slave Labor, disagrees with Grant, calling his statement “alarmist and irresponsible”. Her point is that publishers should act like businesses.

We should be the backbone that supports the art form. It’s not a hobby, and anyone who thinks of his or her business as one really don’t get my sympathy. … Artists who are dedicated to their work don’t consider it a hobby, and they deserve the same level of commitment from their publishers.

She’s got real cost numbers, too, and rhetorically asks “is the requirement that a comics publisher live up to industry standards that have existed for more than thirty years really too cumbersome a burden?” (Turns out that King’s “couple thousand” is an exaggeration.)

As for additional economic effects, Simon at Icarus (still NSFW) points out that the requirement also applies to backstock. He agrees with Grant, in a way, by saying that the higher cost will cause a hobby publisher breaking even on 1500 copies to no longer do so. Is a higher barrier to entry really that bad a thing, though? Almost everyone who has to deal with the Previews catalog monthly is tired of sorting through hundreds of pages of indistinguishable wannabe superhero and horrors books that may never have another issue.

It’s an interesting time to be in comics, and you know what they say about that.

3 Responses to “Economic Issues Facing Publishers LinkBlogging”

  1. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks for the link, Johanna. The article to which you’ve linked is actually a followup. The first one — found here — includes comments from a Canadian retailer as well.

  2. Tyler Chin-Tanner Says:

    Though always in strong support for independent publishers (I’m one), I don’t see the cause for concern with the new barcode policy. I’d be surprised if any publisher who hasn’t implemented barcodes is making a profit selling individual issues through Diamond. When they dropped my title, ADRENALINE, I almost had to breathe a sigh or relief. It cost more to print a small quantity and ship them to the different distribution centers than the 40% of cover price brought in. There are better strategies like webcomics, consignment, and conventions. These methods will do much more in terms of promotion than Diamond ever will. The goal should be to establish a fan base for the eventual graphic novel or trade (what’s the distinction again?). This of course, requires a barcode because you want to get it in bookstores and libraries don’t ya?

    I do take issue with the notion that this new policy will clear out the inferior comics. A fair share of the crap comes from the companies that use barcodes. They could use a little “house cleaning” too.

  3. Michael DeVito Says:

    Lots of good posts here, there were a lot of knee jerk reactions to the whole bar code issue borne out of information being disseminated at less than appropriate times. I’m still sort of surprised that Diamond didn’t have an email ready to fire off to all the publishers on the day after the retailers summit, or the day of for that matter, to avoid all of the speculation.

    I just posted a link on our blog on the subject

    It still seems like people are still not reading the Diamond email when they talk about costs etc, my interpretation could be totally wrong though, so who knows.




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