- Posted by Johanna on October 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
The wide wonderful world of trying to make money in comics these days…
Vertigo Outsells DCU
Brian Hibbs looks at his Vertigo sales (computerized data is cool!) and concludes that “Vertigo books are far more important to my book-format bottom line than DCU books.” He even cites sales figures! Based on those, Vertigo-branded collections make up 48% of his book-format sales from DC; DC universe titles are 37% (of which 11% is Watchmen alone). DC titles also have a much better chance of never selling, and their releases are of less interest to his audience:
I have to purge somewhere between 10-15% of my DCU books each year when they go 12 months without selling (and we’re racking, at this point, maybe 60% of each month’s brand new DCU TPs?) — I’ve purged like five Vertigo titles ever for lack of sales (and I rack 100% of what they release). … More V books have left my shelves by slipping out of print than I have cut from lack of sales, that’s a certainty.
Now, part of that is very likely due to his San Francisco location, but I also think it’s true that Vertigo does a better job of deciding what to collect, considering long-term readability, than the DC universe does.
Retailers in Trouble
Last month came news (well, blog posts) about two stores in trouble. The first is online retailer Khepri Comics, whose “gross ‘summer’ revenue [was] down 43 percent versus 2009″. Heidi and her commenters have additional information.
Online retailing is a tough thing, because of the customer audience. Speaking generally, your buyers are either people who can’t get comics in traditional store fashion — such as those in remote locations or the incarcerated — or those seeking a discount in buying large quantites, and willing to put up with the shipping delay to get it. I suppose there are also those underserved by the local shop — those who are interested in reading more than just superheroes from DC or Marvel — but they’re likely to be more satisfied with graphic novels or webcomics these days. Anyway, if you’re not willing to buy customers with deep discounts (and those buyers won’t be particularly loyal, since they’ll jump for the next better deal), you’ve lost the second group. And those in the first group have their own issues as customers. People say that they want good service, but they’re rarely willing to pay for it. And shipping comics — which are inherently subject to damage, raising costs as you have to replace dinged issues or pay for additional packaging and the people to do it — costs money to do well.
So what’s the TL;DR short version? Mail order comic retailers are an artifact of a different era and may not be able to stick around as customers for the traditional stapled issue age out and die off.
The lesson to learn from the second retailer having problems in that article is also about an old-fashioned approach, in this case one that deserves to go the way of the dinosaurs: pull boxes with no customer payment information on file.
Messinger lays blame on subscription customers who abandoned their accounts without notifying the store, leaving him “to write off more than $30,000 this year in neglected subscription files.” In the Facebook plea, titled “State of Evolution: Save Our Store,” Messinger asks for subscription customers to bring their accounts up to date or at least notify the Comic Evolution that they’re unable to do so.
That’s exactly backwards. A store should not agree to lock up potentially valuable inventory for a customer without current contact information, and the store should refuse to hold books beyond a reasonable time period (a month or so) without payment. A store owner should have cut off customers way earlier than the amount he’s citing. But a lot of retailers don’t want to be the bad guy, and they keep hoping that that money’s coming in. They really don’t want to call and say “you have a week to pay me or the books are going out for sale” because a) that’s an unpleasant call that takes a lot of gumption to have and b) they likely won’t get the books sold now that they’re old stock, so they’d rather keep hoping than realize how much of a loss it is.
Others have suggested that credit cards be kept on file and charged in such cases, but that approach has its own problems:
* Legal issues. You have to have the right agreement signed to do that.
* Deadbeats (and that’s what people who neglect to live up to purchase commitments are) may not have space on the card left once this happens anyway.
* Then the books are the property of the customer, and they become a different kind of storage problem.
A lot of store owners count on predictable, consistent sales for the core of their business, and good, heavy, reliable customers are a godsend. Don’t get me wrong — when that relationship is going well, it’s a great one for getting buyers the comics they want and retailers the sales they need. But a store owner has to be reasonable about these debts and inventory obligations before they run the risk of capsizing the business.
But Wait! There’s Worse News
Brian Hibbs (again) is the canary in the coal mine, predicting a dire future for the traditional serialized superhero comic. He’s bored with what the core companies in the direct market, DC and Marvel, are putting out, and so are others:
I guess what I’m saying is that if you’ve lost Mark “I’ve never met a Marvel/DC trivia question you can stump me with” Waid and Kurt “…and I can answer the ones he can’t” Busiek, then that’s a pretty large cross-section of your putative demographic right there. … Over the last two years or so (and particularly accelerating in the last six months), I’ve been watching as my customer base seems to be thinking the same things — there’s a marked reticence amongst our subscriber (pre-order) base to try or embrace new titles.
… what I’m seeing and feeling now is a mood that reminds me of previous catastrophic crashes in the market — the B&W Bust of the late 80s, the speculator exodus of the 90s. … But, today, at the end of 2010, the rot appears to be woven deeply in the warp and weft of Marvel and DC’s core output, and it appears, from the outside looking in, that their very business plans are built upon unsustainable tactics, so that if it does come to a full-on crash, they’re going to find it difficult to be able to retool quickly enough to avoid catastrophe. …
I fundamentally believe that the new customer patterns I’m seeing aren’t strictly related to the economy or employment status, but rather to content and pricing.
If he’ll forgive my paraphrase, people are being asked to pay too much for crap. Or, as he has it, “bad value”. It’s something everyone’s heard in the past few months and years, and it appears that people are doing something about it by no longer buying stuff they don’t enjoy. Only with a greater emphasis on universes and crossovers, it’s easier to drop a company’s output than a handful of titles. There’s almost an encounter group in the followup comments, as others share their similar experiences.
So what do we do? Digital comics clearly aren’t the answer — a bad read is a bad read whether you paid $4 (too much!) for paper or $2 (too much!) for pixels. Is it time for comics to give up serialization?