It’s funny, there are more comic “fans” now than ever, there is a higher awareness of comics now than ever and sales are the lowest they have ever been. How does that correlate?
The comic stores are going away at an alarming rate and being replaced by direct sales. That may not seem like a bad thing but it is. These comic stores are more than a retail outlet, they are a place where like-minded people can congregate and engage with not just one another but with the industry they so love. The comic store is an integral aspect of the comic industry and yet it is dying off and no one seems to care. Marvel and DC are actively working to put stores out of business with their short-sighted business practices.
Comic stores rely on back issues and Marvel and DC have made it a policy of making back issues obsolete. These companies are in a constant state of masquerading that they embrace their past all the while they are exploiting it. With trade paperbacks now outselling even the collective numbers of the things they reprint, Marvel and DC are thinking only in short terms, in what gives them money NOW. They don’t get a cut of back issues so they have to put the back issue dealers out of business. The video game market attempted this very same thing a few years ago when they made it their aim to rid the world of resalable items and now comics are at this very same place. Direct sales are the death knell of the entire industry even if they seem to be it’s savior. Direct sales should (but don’t) cut out the middleman to make way for a better product at a more affordable rate, but then why have the comics prices gone UP as direct sales started to take over? Not having to allow for the comic store to make a profit should have made the cost to production ratio decrease and yet it only seemed to increase. Human greed is partly the reason and an unsustainable business model is partly to blame.
The past is mined constantly but at the expense of not just the product but of the people. Marvel made a business decision in the 90’s that it was all about what’s new and pushing JUST the new while leaving the past behind, don’t look back. This gave us the every ready reboot and retcon, the it’s all about now, never about then attitude. That is a way of thinking (in the abstract) which is just fine, you can’t live in the past and you can’t shield yourself from the future… but at the same time attempting to ignore the past is also not a way move on and yet that is what they are doing.
Single issues of comics are so worthless right now that it is the rarity IF a comic printed after 2000 will EVER sell for even a fraction of what it was originally sold at. Now, do NOT mistake me here, I am not lauding the value of inflated pricing and “collecting” over reading, what I am pointing out is that when the Trade Paper Back for a comic run is say, $19.95 and buying all of the books new as they come out is $50 is it a wonder that sales are down across the board? How can Batman have fans numbering in the millions and only sell just over 100,000 copies in a good month? Because the fans know that they can just wait for whatever storyline to finish and then grab the trade at Wal-mart for a discount. Mass consumerism has devalued an entire industry. This only thinking of the NOW issue with comics is what is killing the industry as a whole the same as the speculators did in the early 90’s, where the comics are valueless. Then it was that a false value was applied to comics and now there is no value applied to comics at the same time the COSTS keep going up. The average new issue of a comic costs a staggering $4 (some higher, some lower) an issue for between 20-30 pages of content (not counting the advertisements that still permeate every issue). The average Marvel or DC issue can be read in under 5 minutes which is very little entertainment for such a steep price.
Why has the “value” of the comic itself decreased as the disproportionate cost has increased? Comic books used to be about stories, sure sales were always a concern but the way to achieve those sales was to tell good stories that kept people coming back for more. The parent companies of both Marvel and DC have made it clear to their comics divisions that the comics themselves no longer have any value, nor do the stories, simply the “Properties”. Both of the parent companies of Marvel and DC (Disney and Warner Brothers respectively) have interests outside of comics and in many varying areas such as video games, movies, TV shows and other media which far exceed that of comic books. These interests lead them to cannibalize themselves quite often and what happens when you cannibalize something? You are left with nothing but a skeleton.
Does it seem a tad odd that the parent companies of both Marvel and DC view their comics divisions as nothing more than a development house for future media properties? Future TV programs or cartoons? Various types of consumables for the marketing departments?
That leaked Time Warner memo from a few years ago shows this to very much be the case. In this memo it is stated that the actual comics published by DC comics are of little consequence to Time Warner and that they only really care if the “properties” (they can’t even call them characters or stories, simply “properties”) can be expanded into future TV shows, movies, video games, shirts, action figures, posters and other assorted junk. In other words, the comics published by DC Comics are simply the farm team for the big budget movies and ensuing merchandise down the line… after all, you can’t make shirts out of a character (sorry, “property”) if they don’t have an already established fanbase now can you? Editorial at DC Comics has been given both free reign and been handcuffed at the same time when it comes to the stories they can tell which leads to the stories that do escape being ones of compromise and pointlessness. Time Warner has handed down the dictate that writers need to “sexy” things up but don’t be controversial about it… be provocative but tell the stories the fans want not the ones they deserve… things like that… almost if the two hemispheres of the brain are dueling for control and all of this in an effort to simply placate the (ever dwindling) readership of the comics in an effort to get them to go out and purchase the merchecrap that comes later. They want “properties” that do not engage but instead lend themselves to easy transitions to another form of media or that tend to be written in a soft way to ensure future merchencrap sales to Wal-Mart and Target. When a “property” is safe and quiet that “property” is easily exploited to other media to whit this exploitation not only weakens the original “property” but also the children (illegitimate or not) of that “property”.
When Disney makes an animated film they MAKE the movie with toys (among other things) in mind… not as a side business but as the purpose of the film; this is a term known as Toyetic. Toyetic means that this movie can easily be translated to toys and that the movie itself is nothing more than a gateway to the future spin-off sales… In fact most Disney movies are already in profit before a single ticket to the film is sold, solely in the merchecrap deals they have already secured. That is what the comics mean to them, NOTHING.
In the 1990’s Ron Perelman bought Marvel Comics and promptly turned it into a place where quality took a trunk seat to quantity. Perelman laid down the law that sales where the ONLY thing that mattered and if pandering was the way to do it, well then pander we will which quickly led to Marvel Comics going from a place of quality to a place of barbaric amateurism… which also put Marvel at the top of the industry sadly enough… When you pander to the middle it tends to work, at least in the area of sales when you don’t care if the product is any good. This quantity over quality approach worked amazingly well from a business perspective, sales were through the roof, merchandising deals were EVERYWHERE and readers were the ones that lost. Marvel deluged the market with so much product in such a short period of time that they (literally) pushed their competitors off the shelves.
Marvel and DC (Disney and Time Warner) don’t care about quality, just about sales and marketability as they know even bad comics can still be utilized in dozens of other ways so why put all that effort into the comic itself right? And the comic store? Screw them, we can sell direct to the consumer and make ALL of the money.
The direct sales, the digital issues and most of all the extortionist prices are what is killing the comic shop and as the comic shop dies so does the comic reader and with them the industry itself.