- Posted by Johanna on November 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
Brian Hibbs, as always, makes some excellent points in his Tilting at Windmills column. This time, it’s all about how badly some of the Marvel and DC titles sell. Based on his estimate of between 2-3000 dedicated comic shops, and sales data of 35 “big two” comics selling under 20,000 an issue, he concludes that these “borderline” titles are likely unprofitable for stores to carry. As he says,
I remember a time when I could not sell fewer than ten copies of any Marvel comic, no matter how uncommercial it might have been. Today, probably a third of what they publish is now selling fewer than ten rack copies at my store. This is frustrating on multiple levels, and averages say that I am nowhere near alone — if we draw the line at 30k, assuming there are 3k comic book stores racking Marvel comics, then according to that chart up top, more than half of Marvel’s line is like that for the typical store.
… what were once the most solid and commercial brands, the ones that allowed stores to experiment with a wider and more diverse set of titles because they were so profitable, have found themselves fighting an entirely self-imposed war over the bottom of the market, publishing titles at circulations that would have been literally unthinkable a decade or two back.
I strongly believe that it isn’t merely hurting a store’s ability to be acceptably profitable — it is hurting the very brands themselves. I believe that the absolute inability for Marvel and DC to currently launch new ideas successfully is intrinsically tied to the insane overproduction that they themselves have created. The market has neither the room, nor the desire, for the sheer bulk of “DC Universe” and “Marvel Universe” titles that are being produced, and so the very value of the idea of a “universe” is being steadily eroded.
Now, the readers I know who are still reading any superheroes gave up on the idea of “collecting the universe” a long time back, since the level of quality varies so much across the line, but a lot of comic shops do rely on dedicated, habitual customers that buy large numbers of mostly superhero titles. As those buyers disappear, or are driven away, it’s harder for the comic shop to be profitable.
Hibbs’ conclusion is to call for the cancellation of at least 70 of the DC and Marvel titles, anything selling under 30,000. He wants fewer books that sell better. Which would make things easier for everyone in the chain, including distributors, but would also likely result in less diversity of reading. (Speaking as someone who only tends to like the “fringe” titles, those that aren’t as popular and successful, I’d likely have fewer superhero comics to read. But that’s been the case for years now.) Still, perhaps the argument is that readers who want something different have already gone elsewhere, to manga or graphic novels or the works of other publishers. There’s plenty of horror and science fiction around, anyway.
Some think that these low-selling books should be kept around because both DC and Marvel should be creating new properties for their corporate owners to make movies out of, but without a willingness to cut in creators for a share of the profits (which they don’t like to do), few new ideas will come to the corporate publishers. Creators would rather put out their own books and make their own deals. Fewer books will also mean fewer creators able to make a living through their comic work.
Are these books even profitable, anyway? I know, in the past, low-selling books were kept around for reasons other than money — they were award winners, or they were done by a creator the publisher wanted to keep happy, or they featured someone’s favorite character — but those in charge of the two publishers these days don’t seem to have that kind of take on the business, because they aren’t long-term fans.
In the column, Hibbs also goes into some detail about his strategy for his store, which is informative as well. For another view of what DC and Marvel are facing today, Sean Kleefeld makes the case for the two publishers no longer being “mainstream”. That’s a word usage choice I made years ago — when I realized that “big two” could as easily apply to Viz and Tokyopop at that time. Now, their sales peak didn’t hang around the same way, but neither did DC and Marvel’s.