- Posted by Johanna on February 29, 2008 at 8:21 am
- Category: LinkBlogging
Tim Leong, professional magazine designer (and competitor as Editor-in-Chief of Comic Foundry), looks at Comics Now! (which I reviewed last week) and has some harsh criticism. Based on the reactions I’ve seen from the CN crew, they’re taking feedback to heart and reacting well by making the changes that make sense to them. I appreciate reading articles like Tim’s because he clearly knows his stuff, and it’s an education.
Also on the magazine front, Comics Journal contributor Noah Berlatsky discusses the magazine’s lack of manga coverage. (Please note that I’d change “is going” in his first sentence to “is”.)
the next generation of comics fans is going to be younger, more female and a lot more interested in manga than the current one. If you were one of those folks, would you look at TCJ and say, “This magazine really has something interesting to say to me?” Or would you say, this place feels like all those direct market stores I hate, and I’m not going anywhere near it?
Not that I want the Journal to abandon its mission or interests or personality. On the contrary, it seems like the Journal’s mission has always been, at least in part, to react to and think about what’s going on in the world of contemporary comics. In some ways, I’d be happier if the Journal was taking a hard-line “manga sucks!” stand. At least that’s engagement, of a sort. But instead there’s a kind of benign, somewhat bemused neglect.
I was honored to participate in the Journal’s issue #269, the super manga focus issue, but since the editors changed, I haven’t been asked to contribute and I don’t know how to pursue the subject. I’d be happy to write about manga for them, though. The point about limited budget is a significant one, since if I’m remembering and estimating correctly, one manga/anime/culture mag I’m familiar with pays three to six times the per-word rate the Journal does. And the audiences just may not have much overlap, and everyone might be fine with that. But that leads to the bigger question of how much relevance the Journal has and whether it’s still possible to cover all of comics given the fractures among manga/American comics, graphic novels/serialization, direct market/bookstores.
Speaking of which, Tom Spurgeon uses the recent discussion about how valid BookScan graphic novel sales figures are and whether they can be compared to direct market estimations as grounds for considering how the two markets relate. He touches on how notable alternative comic publishers sell more through bookstores than the comic-focused direct market and how “which market is better?” debates miss the point. I found this section particularly significant:
I suspect what’s deeply frustrating to many publishers and their advocates is that they now see comic shops through the lens of their recent experiences with bookstores. Despite the lack of saturation in the bookstore market and the fact they’re competing with so much product and it’s tough there and all the many, never-denied problems with book sales, over the last decade they’ve been made to feel much more welcome in that market than they have ever felt in the comics market. Their bookstore distributor probably hasn’t signed massively unfair and restrictive contracts with their other clients that puts them at a structural disadvantage. They’re treated with respect and enthusiasm at BEA compared to the disdain or begrudging acceptance that greets them at comics conventions. …
There is no framework by which the idea that anyone owes anyone anything is ever floated. No one from Amazon.com has ever to my knowledge publicly ripped into a comic book publisher for allowing a comic shop to take one of their sales. Can you blame many publishers for simply making room for a market that has in the last decade moved so many books, treated them professionally in doing so, has been the avenue for their biggest hits, and whom their records now indicate serves more than 50 percent of their bottom line?
In other words, it’s the sales without the hassle. The direct market, due to a combination of varied and unusual historical factors, tends to place value on reputation and feelings and intangible qualities (like possession — “they’re trying to take MY customer” — and relationship — “DC’s always been good to us”) instead of putting the money first. Which can make them tricky to deal with. When they’re demanding they be cosseted and given special treatment that their purchasing habits don’t justify, well, of course publishers would rather deal with a more established market that provides profit without the boobytraps. But I’m sinking into that Them vs. Them thinking that Spurgeon decries.
However, look again at his first sentence in that excerpt. When someone sees how easy and profitable it can be to deal with a mature system, then “that’s the way it’s always been” may be reconsidered. To sink into overused metaphor, it’s like having your first adult relationship after years of putting up with needy teenage obsession and drama. Spurgeon goes on to list problems that might arise in both markets:
[In bookstores:] Competition for bookshelf space continues to be fierce and will only get worse. … It takes more money to operate within the realm of book publishing than it ever has to enter and thrive in comics, which may have a drastic impact on who enters the field. …
[In the direct market:] there is nothing in the way the market operates that makes an incentive of acting in a manner that facilitates slow, overall growth and general health. Manipulating the market and cynical publishing ploys that burn away goodwill are consistently rewarded; unprofessional behavior is almost never punished.
Very insightful analysis from someone who knows his stuff.