Must-Read: Brian Hibbs Explains the Current State of the Direct Market

Brian Hibbs explains how the direct market works these days, examining changes in consumer, retailer, publisher, and distributor behavior. If you’re going to talk about what any of these groups “should” do, you’d better take into account the factors he points out.

CONSUMERS: Honestly, a fair chunk of the issue is your own fault — you, collectively, have decided that you aren’t as interested in buying serialized comics as you once were. That’s fair enough, and I Get It. …

RETAILERS: Yes, some suck. Maybe even “many”. Potentially (though, really, I don’t think so, but let’s grant the possibility) “Most”. Also: there aren’t enough retailers, not by half. …

PUBLISHERS: “I published it” is not a marketing plan.

He goes on to talk about particular issues faced by Diamond.

The Big Four are probably eating up most of Diamond’s “mercy f**k” budget by overproducing a bunch of marginal s**t that no one really wants. In a way, I feel like Diamond’s policies are nearly aimed at Marvel and DC, but they contractually CAN’T dictate shit to Marvel and DC, so they have to do it where they’re contractually able to do so.

LOTS more at the link, including a breakdown of in what ways Diamond could stop being a monopoly and his plan for a better future for everyone involved. It mostly puts the call for action onto the publishers, but at least he’s making a concrete suggestion for something to be done.


12 Responses to “Must-Read: Brian Hibbs Explains the Current State of the Direct Market”

  1. Rob McMonigal Says:

    I agree with a lot of the article, but I am kinda annoyed by the idea that it’s the fault of consumers that they want to read comics in trade form, when almost no one writes comics that are readable in single issue form these days.

    I mean, when your stories are “part one of five/six” all the time, is it any wonder the reader just says “screw it, I’ll wait?” True, not everyone buys after waiting, but again–why is that the reader’s fault?

    It seems like the blame is misplaced there, at least to me.

  2. vid Says:

    Comics have gotten more and more expensive without an increase in content. In my mind single issue serial comics will die out in maybe a decade or two. They just don’t offer enough value.

    The only way I see serial comics surviving is by going digital online and then offering discounts to online subscribers who wish to purchase the tpbs.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Rob, I don’t think it’s blame, exactly. It’s more a statement that if customers don’t want to buy single issues, most of the time, then someone publishing single issues shouldn’t be surprised that there aren’t a lot of customers there for that format.

    Vid, I agree that they’re too expensive for my tastes, but I don’t think the current readers are going to switch to digital very easily. They’re too fond of print.

  4. ~chris Says:

    I’ve been buying single issues for 29 years; I’ve purchased trades only to read well-reviewed years-old stories, as gifts, and occasionally as reading copies of single issues I’ve especially loved. Now, because of personal economic issues, I’m unfortunately “waiting for the trade” on most titles I’ve been reading, and buying fewer new single-issue titles in order to try them out.

    Trades not only offer more convenience, they often offer extras such as behind-the scenes sketches. Single-issues tends only to offer the extra of a letters column, which I enjoy but not enough to continue my old buying habits.

    Two people that get it are Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie of PHONOGRAM. Their second mini-series contains back-up short stories by guest artists that, as stated in issue #1, will not be included in the trade. I’ll be buying the single issues.

  5. vid Says:

    I also think part of it, is the collectible aspect of comics.

    The casual person may buy one comic here and one comic there which may be just a later part in a multi issue storyline. Problem is if they want to say get older issues, it can be surprisingly hard to find. Not only that when you do find those issues they become more expensive in the back issue bin months later because of their collectible aspect.

    While the idea of having content exclusive to the comic sounds good but I feel that is a step backwards because it’s making it harder to find content and not easier.

    I think the only way to make it more likely for ppl to buy more single issue comics is to make the comics cheaper than they would be if collected in a trade and to make it easy to get those issues.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I agree with you about “a step backwards”. Hearing “this will only be in the comics” makes me less eager to pick something up, not more. Because after all, if it’s any good, it WILL be collected at some point.

  7. ~chris Says:

    Johanna, what’s your reaction to hearing “this will only be in the trade” after buying the entire series? I’m being curious, not snarky; as a consumer only, I have no dog in this boat other than the desire for quality comics (which includes the desire for creators of same to succeed).

    My reaction is “Gee, I guess I was foolish to buy the issues.” I appreciate PHONOGRAM’s creators for telling me now about the extra material. Reading the hullabaloo at Heidi’s blog, the only clear answer I guess is that there is no one clear answer for everyone.

  8. Johanna Says:

    I don’t buy many series any more, just a very few indies I adore. I prefer the collection in every way, so I’ll just wait for it. Part of the reason is that, yes, I did get burned too many times in the way you mention. Hawaiian Dick comes to mind in particular — they put tons of great extras in the books, and the series was so delayed that waiting longer wasn’t much of a hardship.

  9. ~chris Says:

    Yet another reason I’m switching to trades. But that makes us selfish consumers in the eyes of some. *sigh* If publishers want to sell more single issues, they need to offer more reasons why we should buy them (I like vid’s suggestion for cheaper floppies). Thanks as always for your honest analysis.

  10. vid Says:

    Unfortunately with rising printer costs and lower print runs simply making floppies cheaper isn’t really an option.

    I can’t think of any other ways to make floppies more appealing to buy. Trades just have all the advantages.

  11. Johanna Says:

    One reason that I still buy a very few stapled comics is that I can’t wait for more. With Love & Capes, for example, I want to read it RIGHT NOW whenever there’s a new issue. Few DC or Marvel comics create that kind of excitement/anticipation for me any more. It’s a shame.

  12. ~chris Says:

    I still buy floppies for my niece. She has to read BLUE MONDAY immediately, for example. I’m able to manage so far… but on the other hand, the lateness of issue #2 makes it easier to choose to wait for the trade and read the story in one sitting. I haven’t been that excited about Marvel/DC superhero comics in years.

    P.S. to vid: Yes, it’s not really an option. But it’s nice to dream. ;-)




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