Is There Room for Another Comic Magazine?
It’s a dream of many bloggers and comic journalists: to break into print, to create a new comic magazine. Many of them even have the same tag line in mind, something about filling the gap between Wizard (populist, tawdry, aimed at teenage boys) and The Comics Journal (high-minded, pretentious, aimed at academic art-comic readers).
It’s an easy market to reach, since there’s only one major distributor, Diamond, and entry costs are low in comics (perhaps the lowest of any mass medium). Additionally, the market is traditionally friendly to the small or self-publisher.
Tim Leong is the latest to follow this dream, only he’s hit a stumbling block. The single distributor that reaches all comic shops has rejected his magazine. They say that a $6.25 periodical covering comics should be in color, even though they currently carry many black-and-white mags at a $6.95 cover price.
Where those magazines are different, though, is in their tighter focus. Draw! is for wannabe artists; Write Now! for wannabe writers; Alter Ego covers history, comics from the 1930s to the 1960s. The direct market, Diamond’s audience, is strong in all of those groups.
Leong’s concept, as expressed at his site, is “brand new concepts, ideas, formats and presentations, to help breathe life to something fresh and exciting”. Sounds great, but I don’t know what it will actually look like, or whether I’m part of the target market. I can imagine a lot of people passing on pre-ordering it without more of a focus. But that may also be its strength; it sounds as though it looks more like a “real” magazine than the text-heavy blob designs common now. And given that, yeah, I think color would be a plus.
He has alternatives. He’s asking people to request that Diamond reconsider their decision. Similar campaigns have worked in the past, although I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Sales for one of the reprieved publishers, Picturebox, are reportedly low on both the retailer and customer level. (Maybe Diamond did know their audience better than we thought.)
My experience with the launch of Comicology — another magazine, now ended, that aimed to cover the same gap between Wizard and TCJ — was that initial orders were low in the first place, but that when retailers saw a quality product, they reordered consistently. Word-of-mouth works, through forward-looking customers and the retailers that try new things and convention appearances. And that strategy only makes sense if a good portion of your content isn’t time-sensitive.
I hope Leong puts out a self-distributed sample issue or two, maybe even launching like the old Marvel mag Pizazz did, decades ago, in test markets before going national. His day job working with other magazines gives him good experience with a project like this.
Leong’s request gained comments from a couple of competitors: Top Shelf’s Brett Warnock, who publishes the long-absent Comic Book Artist, called it “excellent” and said they almost published it themselves. If he’s right, that it’s high in outreach potential through outlets like Borders, Diamond wouldn’t help with targeting that market anyway.
John Morrow, publisher of many of the comparison examples above, talks about the bigger picture. (I didn’t realize that TCJ had bowed out of the bookstore market; maybe that’s why in the latest catalog, their price just went up $2 to almost $12 US.) He has his own gripes about Diamond policies and points out that a track record is a key factor.