Economic LinkBlogging: The Dark Days of Comics

iFanboy runs the numbers on the DC Universe Online videogame which, if they’re right, will bring in as much as the entire comic publishing line, with the potential for much more. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars of subscription revenue here.

Brian Hibbs, noted comic retailer, is pessimistic about the direct market: “Seventeen of the last nineteen months our sales have been down compared to the same month a year before. In most cases by at-or-near double digits.” Now, he’s got some local issues, like construction near his store, that might be deflating sales, and he also acknowledges a poor economy slow to recover and high unemployment, but mostly, he blames the content. Events have burned out readers. Too many titles with particular characters or brands. Customers have been taught not to try new series, because they won’t be around for long. Prices too high.

Where he used to stock everything DC and Marvel published, now 20% of those books are pre-orders only, which means no visibility on the shelf. Go read his column for a better explanation, not so abbreviatedly summarized, but basically, as a comic retailer, he’s unhappy with what he’s being asked to sell. And he’s noting that all this crap has broken the habit for what used to be consistent readers. They’re no longer collectors, so they can’t be counted on as habitual buyers.

You’ll note that it’s not surprising that one of the legs of the comic retail square (publishers, distributors, retailers, customers) tends to blame another when it comes to bad business, as Tom Spurgeon points out. But I tend to be in sympathy with Hibbs’ complaints — although I think it’s a good thing customers are being more selective, in the hopes that it will drive the others to provide better products and service. It will be a shame if good shops have to go out of business to make that message clear, but it looks like that’s what we’re facing.

Unfortunately, as Robot 6 spotted, the publishers aren’t getting the message.

3 Responses to “Economic LinkBlogging: The Dark Days of Comics”

  1. Grant Says:

    “They’re no longer collectors, so they can’t be counted on as habitual buyers.”

    Boy, if that sentence doesn’t sum it up right there.

    I ended my subscriptions long ago but it had less to do with content and more to do with getting married and buying a house. Content came last. However, if and when the economy turns around, I think people will be surprised at how quickly sales pick up and how it’s more about lack of cash than about content.

    This is purely anecdotal, but I know people that have been unemployed for going on two years and they’re just now starting to cut back on the amount of comics they buy (which goes to show how much of comic buying is habit as well as simple enjoyment).

    I don’t think they realized how long this economy was going to be in the tank and kept expecting it to turn around. Many are just now realizing that the bad economy might last for years to come. Even though it’s a seriously overused cliche, it’s going to get worse for comics before it gets better.

  2. charles_yo Says:

    yeah, once again the cross over hydra rears its ugly head. and in a crappy economy. I had to do a blog post about it as well, since you summed up the problem quite succinctly here…

    Retailers are slow to change, but the companies are slower to change many times, and that lag time is far behind the consumer. Always.

  3. Scott Says:

    While I’m not rolling in the dough, I do have enough to purchase the occasional few books… if the content is there.

    I feel badly (did it again today) when I go into a store, look at some of the anticipated new issues, and walk out with nothing.

    What made matters worse was hearing the owner talking to one of the buying customers that his sales had dropped off so much that he’s going to be cutting back hours.




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