Rainy Tuesday LinkBlogging: Out of Print Books, Digital DRM, Webcomics.com, and Good Advice

Before I start, I’m sorry there are no pictures here, but I believe you’re smart enough to keep reading even without some loosely connected image to draw your eye.

Books Are Perennials

I’ve slammed Marvel before for not understanding how to handle book-format comics, and now it’s DC’s turn. Via speedforce.org comes a stunning survey of which key DC books are out of print. This should not happen, especially when we’re talking about items in a series. You cannot sell book five to most customers if they can’t get book four. Especially now that DC is all about the long story and never-ending continuity. As the anonymous writer points out:

But for those interested in the “full story,” and given the rise of interest in trade paperbacks and the number of readers I hear from who’ve “gone back to the beginning” to follow the DC Universe in trade form, it’s disappointing that seminal crossovers like Underworld Unleashed and Final Night shouldn’t be easy to find. That one can’t read the ground-breaking Batman story No Man’s Land, which includes the beginnings of the conflict between Two-Face and now-Question Montoya, is equally sad (if ever a series deserved omnibus collecting, it’s No Man’s Land). And that as a new Flash series begins, the collections of the well-regarded previous Flash series by the exact same writer aren’t available? Surely there’s some profit to be made in those books being around.

Comic publishers, though, are used to thinking of the short-term serial. And since they put out so many series and collect so much (some of which shouldn’t have been published in the first place, let alone in a long-term format), their back catalog has become very unwieldy, and something’s got to give. At least this gives retailers and speculators something to mark up now that the back issue market is mostly worthless. But I persist in thinking that books should be kept in print.

Smart Advice, Foolish Choice

You’ve likely already seen this link, but I wanted it where I could find it when I looked for it in future, and heck, maybe you haven’t. Shaenon K. Garrity gives you all the advice you need on publishing your first comic. Her points are immensely realistic about what it will and won’t do for you, and she sticks to the basics, including actually doing the work.

Two Smart Guys Talking

Tom Spurgeon interviewed Brian Hibbs, noted direct market retailer.

[Spurgeon on Hibbs:] His Comix Experience isn’t one of the giants in terms of units moved, but the San Francisco-based store has long been a leading light of one of comics’ most potent communities. Hibbs is an activist on behalf of his peers and thinks through the issues of the day in a way that gives him influence in place far away from his San Francisco doorstep. He sued Marvel and won a settlement beneficial to his entire peer group.

They cover a lot of what makes the comic shop direct market such a unique beast. Spurgeon seems to miss the good old days of a few significant indy/alternative comic titles that everyone read, back in the days when Love and Rockets was a periodical comic. Hibbs answers why books like that aren’t stocked for the long term any more:

The nature of the Marvel and DC superhero comics is that you basically have a no more than 30-day window to sell 95 percent of them. There are certainly things outside of that that you can continue to sell, but if you look at your mid-list books, you don’t sell those by the first weekend, they never sell ever. I think that a lot of stores are looking at alt-books for their initial window and that’s all they’re stocking for. I think that it’s we have memories like elephants going on. I’m sure there are retailers that would tell you about the black and white boom and how black and white books don’t sell because of that. Even though that was 25 years ago, or whatever it was. I think that we far too often as a class let the past inform us more than it should.

That’s a very potent insight. The comic industry rarely forgets, and there are still retailers who don’t support Fantagraphics publications because Gary Groth said mean things about Carol Kalish in 1991.

Spurgeon and Hibbs cover a lot of ground, including digital comics, which Hibbs wants delayed at least six months in order not to harm serialization, which he thinks should be preserved and encouraged as “incredibly helpful and incredibly unique to our business.” They also discuss physical store locations and competition; how Diamond prevents new indy series from becoming successes; the hope for street dates; and much more.

Webcomics.com a Success

Gary Tyrrell does the right thing and says he was wrong about what would happen to webcomics.com when it became a pay site.

I was reading WDC as an informational resource and nothing more; what’s become clear is that Brad’s managed to turn it into something else entirely. If it isn’t already, it’s well on its way to becoming a professional society, with the fringe benefits that go along with it.

I was impressed when I heard that members had gotten C2E2 table discounts and other deals. That is a terrific way to justify the “trade group” subscription fee — by giving it back in valuable deals for members.

The Biggest Problem With Digital

You don’t own your books, as Debbie Ridpath Ohi points out in a cute comic. She found that books she’d purchased through Fictionwise weren’t available on the iPad using the iPhone version of their reader. She goes on to say:

[DRM is] meant to control copying of digital files but from what I can tell, it only ends up ticking off the consumer while content thieves find ways around it. It only takes ONE person to crack the code, and all the effort/hassle that has gone into the DRM for a particular item (an e-book, for instance) becomes worthless. Less than worthless, actually, because of the problems encountered by a consumer who LEGITIMATELY BOUGHT the e-book.

Publishers, hungry for money, are now trying to justify the idea that every new device and format means you have to pay again for material you already owned. In short, they’re trying to replace the idea of ownership with a kind of license, so they can take away works from you in the future whenever they want and charge you over and over again. And as she says, the pirates don’t care — they’re happily enjoying their entertainment however they want. It’s only legitimate customers who are frustrated and abused.


10 Responses to “Rainy Tuesday LinkBlogging: Out of Print Books, Digital DRM, Webcomics.com, and Good Advice”

  1. Caroline Says:

    My favorite DC rant is Question-related. During the ’52’ crossover, when the Vic Sage Question showed up as Renee’s mentor, people ALL OVER THE PLACE were asking, ‘What is with this guy?’ Try to guess whether the classic — I mean freaking classic — Denny O’Neil ‘Question’ series was in print at that point. I mean, I don’t know everything that goes into putting out a trade, and I don’t know how much far in advance DC decided on using that storyline, but 52 took a year to come out. You’d think they could have got started on the TPB collection before it ended. I’m actually pretty sure the 52 TPB’s were out before the Question reprints started.

  2. Suzene Says:

    And yet DC also has no plans to make their back-catalog available for digital purchase. With all the hand-wringing that goes on about digital comics taking away from the brick and mortar stores, the fact that digital distribution has the potential to keep one’s older stories eternally in-print does tend to get drowned out. Marvel’s digital subscription service is clunky as hell, but at least it’s a baby-step in the right direction so far as that kind of long-term planning goes.

  3. Maddy Says:

    Man, I would kill for an omnibus version of No Man’s Land. Or a digital download of the whole damn thing, because as it stands, the trade paperbacks do leave out sections of that storyline.

    It’s such a great series, I really wish it was given more recognition.

  4. Jacel Says:

    Charging for owning digital comics in different formats (not even different resolution quality) is like having to buy a new printed issues when you wanted to switch between storing them in short boxes or long boxes.

  5. collectededitions Says:

    One of my hopes for the DC Comics Classics Library collections and these one dollar “Graphic Novels You Should Read” issues has been that DC would begin to build a dedicated back catalog — that is, these are the collections you should read to understand the DC Universe, and once you read them, you’re all set. Of course, neither DC nor Marvel’s universes are that cohesive; and the DC Library books like Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore and Batman: The Annuals are more curiosity pieces than a “library” per se.

    I agree wholeheartedly that in the “collect everything” era, back catalogs can quickly become unwieldy; maybe what we need to see from publishers is more recognition that “this is important, this is not” and then have those books perennially in print. Of course, saying “yes Superman: Secret Origin, no Superman: Birthright” risks effectively killing Birthright sales; better to be vague on the subject and let the market make the decision.

    The answer in considering this does seem to be digital collections. Despite my personal tastes, it’s impractical to think that every DC or Marvel collection is worth the company’s money to remain in print; but digitizing their collections requires just a front-end investment (not insubstantial, I recognize) and can then be available in perpetuity. I’m surprised to see DC dragging its feet on a digital solution — favoring single issues over collections I understand, but not this. I’d like to think DC’s being vague because they have something in the works, but there’s unfortunately no scuttlebutt to support that.

    Thanks for the link over, Johanna; glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Brian Hibbs Says:

    It is weird, I wouldn’t really call ANY of those OOP books as “key” — and, looking at my sales history, they all sold really badly (in fact, I had to cull most of them when we went 366 days without a sale on them)

    -B

  7. Johanna Says:

    Collected — do you have a real name? — I like the idea of One True Continuity Library, but as soon as something like that happened, someone would change it so they could plug the next big event as “Everything You Know Has Changed!” And there are so many reasons to collect a story beyond story — like work from a particular artist.

    I also dream of the entire collection available digitally. I was a big customer of the CD-Rom collections for that reason.

    Brian, well, that explains that then. I suspect your experience was widely shared — and thanks for confirming it.

  8. Wacky World LinkBlogging: Using Comics to Quit, More on DC OGNs, Two Fun Bad Reviews » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] will be widely available? It’s not like a comic that might sell out in a week. If DC is treating it as one (the way Marvel infamously handles its books, similar to periodicals), then that’s another [...]

  9. Bob Harras Named DC Comics Editor-in-Chief, Latest in Major Company Changes: A Summation » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] costs low” is the primary motivation. Plus, some fans complain about key titles being out of print. Still, again, what I want is obviously not what the company wants, and what I see as a detriment [...]

  10. The Comics Code Is Dead: A History and Recent News » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] books that don’t sell well.” He also speculates that more DC trade paperbacks may be going out of print. [...]

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