The End of the Magazine Age: ACE, We Barely Knew You

ACE magazine #1

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the planned launch of ACE magazine, a new publication from the editor of Comic Book Artist, Jon B. Cooke, and publisher/retailer Robert Yeremian.

“ACE” stands for “All Comics Evaluated”, and the magazine promised both interviews and reviews of current material as well as a price guide. It debuted in March, and it was monthly after that — until May, when issue #3 was published. No issues have followed, although issue #4 was solicited for June 17 (APR15 2030); issue #5 for July 15 (MAY15 1843); and issue #6 for August 19 (JUN15 1771). The Twitter account stopped updating in early July, and the website is even more out of date.

One regretfully assumes that ACE couldn’t make a go of it. I say regretfully, because it was an attractive, well-laid-out publication that talked about a range of today’s comics. It was also a hybrid, aiming to attract those who read comics and those who collected them, audiences that no longer have much in common. And the inclusion of the price guide may have doomed the publication. I’m guessing that’s why the magazine shipped bagged, so you couldn’t flip through it on the shelf. Price guides often don’t want to give their data away for free, but preventing people from looking through a new magazine makes it easy to skip purchasing, because you’re expecting them to buy blind.

ACE magazine #1

Then again, comic fans have often preferred to buy comics instead of magazines about them. They could spend the $7.99 cover price on two more comics. Journalism is a tough sell in today’s market, particularly since so many people give away these kinds of pieces online for free. I liked the blend of material, for the most part, with features on Lucy Knisley (Displacement) and Noelle Stevenson (Nimona), among others, but I already knew how great their work was. Are comic book store customers interested in expanding their horizons that much? Are those who are curious already aware of such books?

Issue #1 was something of a mixed bag. The first news piece was about Marvel’s Netflix plans, and the cover article promoted DC’s superhero TV shows, media-focused items that demonstrate a mass-market approach. (Note that the now-cancelled Constantine disappeared from the cover between solicitation and release.) The news blurbs that followed were written in breathless, Stan-Lee-aping prose that seems remarkably quaint and fannish.

However, the interview that follows is substantial, with Scott McCloud on the release of The Sculptor — but marred by a factual error in the introduction. Even if you set quibbling about his nonfiction comics aside, this was not his first graphic novel. Anyway, that’s a small point. This is the kind of comic I want to read more about, as are Lumberjanes, which gets a feature article, and Squirrel Girl, with a piece on her origin. There’s also an interview with Amanda Conner, and somewhat out of place, a piece on how Robin was created 75 years ago. That one seems to have wandered in from some TwoMorrows magazine, as does the piece on how John Romita was influenced by Milton Caniff. But the interview with James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman, Memetic) brought things back to what I expected.

That’s the color half of the magazine. It switches to newsprint for the price guide and related articles, such as one debating the real first appearance of Spawn that asks “Should ads matter… or just story appearances?” There’s a list of five hot back issues and five more they expect to become hot, plus a couple of pages of some conventions and another page of comic stores. The price guide itself is compiled from “multiple sources (dealer experience, observing online auctions, study of our comprehensive database, etc.)”, which is remarkably non-specific and non-verifiable. Values are NM only, and the magazine “pays special attention to variant covers”.

If I was paying for this — and I did buy a copy, even though the publisher provided digital review copies — I’d feel like I only needed the front half of the magazine, so I was paying twice as much as I should. I’m just not convinced that, given the death of print these days, an attempt to recreate Wizard is a good idea, because the audience for the features is not the same as the audience for the back half. Retailers and speculators concerned with how much their back issues are “worth” don’t care about comics people buy to read, and vice versa.

To get back to my headline, I have a hard time envisioning a magazine about comics that would sell these days. Covering only “the good stuff” means not enough people want to buy ads (and while ACE has a few, there aren’t enough to cover much of their costs). The market is too diverse for an “everything to everyone” publication to work, and anything else would have too small a market to succeed financially.



4 comments

  • Torsten Adair

    My brother recently posted to Facebook a copy of Omaha Scene, your typical free events weekly.
    It has a few columnists, but mostly index pages, each paired with an advertising page. 32 pages total.

    Everything on the index page has a hotlink to Facebook or the web.
    A few pages have an auto advertisement which plays a video commercial.

    http://www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/the-omaha-scene/the-omaha-scene-issue-30/2015082601/#0

    Red Giant tried to give out free comics funded by advertising, but I’ve yet to see them.
    (Rumor has it that Vogue could be given away for free and still make money.)

    Price guides… it’s all online. That’s why Scrye went out of business.

    If you do it digitally, then you need links.
    Like the Comics Buyer’s Guide, you can sell “business card” ads. Or, on the index page, the equivalent of a classified ad. (Headline, plus six lines of text.) It’s like a mini banner ad, and the advertiser can track how effective it is via referrals.

    Reviews can link to an Amazon or B&N affiliate account.
    Does Comixology have such a program? Image? DC? Marvel? Westfield?

    I’m thinking Previews… but every link is to an affiliate program, where the magazine gets a finder’s fee for each sale.

    Or maybe it’s like an online ad. If they visit the site, you get a micro-payment. If they subscribe (like for adult sites), you get a few pennies.

    Otherwise, the money is in YouTube channels. Put all of that content on YouTube, runs ads before the video or as a pop-up, and make your advertising budget that way, just like commercial television.

  • Allen Berrebbi

    Great ideas Torsten. I’ve been banging the drum for free comic magazines and even comics (or low cost, think .25) forever. Making money on ads and affiliate links. The problem is people do the math based on current sales numbers, but in actuality, they should do the ad numbers based on projected numbers. A free mag may have 500K people reading it, same with a free or low cost comic. Partner with a giant like Amazon and do a digital mag that is promoted everywhere, even on Amazon’s home page it does promote Comixology). And links on the related items’ pages like the DVDs, toys etc. Gear the mag or comic to the new or occasional reader.

  • The digital advertising market has bottomed out drastically over the past few years, so you can’t make money that way — at least, not enough to survive. I’m not sure about print ads. As Torsten notes, there have been a couple of announcements of people trying that model, and the publications never seem to appear. (I suspect retailers see no business in serving their customers up to a publisher when they don’t get a cut – same thing that happened with the dead Diamond Digital.)

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