November 6, 2008
And They Will All Live Like Cartoonists: The US Economy And Comics, Post #5
* here's a longish think piece
on a deepening recession's potential effects on the comics industry. I would come to different conclusions if I were in a prescriptive mode, but it's definitely worth a read all the way through.
* that piece points to a chart that Rich Johnston ran comparing comics prices to real-world inflation over the last 31 years
. Johnston notes some problems with a straight-up comparison like comics being printed on better paper and so on, and you'd probably have to analyze whether or not a 1977 starting point is ideal or perhaps distorted, but I think it's a useful chart.
* to hit that point again, I don't think it's wrong to price comics whatever the hell you want to price them, and the state of my finances as opposed to the state of finances for those who are setting these prices and profiting off them for 31 years makes me hesitant to make sweeping declarations over their doing something, anything
, misguided. However, I do think it's reasonable to suggest that high per-unit prices combined with an industry that's aimed at serving an elite, mostly veteran and always potentially jaded readership may put the comics industry at special risk in a sustained financial downturn. I also think it also reasonable to further note that if there are fundamental, structural problems in this aspect of comics, you have to take into account the likelihood of these actors investing in fundamental, structural change -- and any built-in difficulties to their doing so. For instance, you can't simply reduce prices if you want to without traumatizing a retailing community that's built around certain profits per book they sell, and so on.
* while I'm repeating myself, I'm still sort of agog at news
that United Media has played the on-line archives and on-line usage for free card in such a dramatic fashion, and it brings to mind something that I think a lot of people need to keep in mind moving forward: it's not a guarantee that financial decisions made on behalf of cartoonists are going to be to the ultimate benefit of those cartoonists
. Not to say this is what's going on here, because I simply don't know, but in general, if you're a functionary at a media company or a contract service provider whose job is on the line and your directive is to come up with a model that generates a lot of hits for the company web site, it may not be foremost on your mind to devise a system that protects the creators and provides them
with maximum profit. Further, whether benign or done in outright and aggressively exploitative fashion, there's very little anymore that stands in opposition to such moves, and even fewer in difficult economic times. The weight of history is pressed, the necessity of maintaining certain margins and certain structures assumed. There's a perceived to real surplus of talent rubbed in faces. Heck, with a widespread ethos of shrugged shoulders over industry exploitation having settled in now, there's not even the cultural pressure there used to be when this kind of thing comes up, and in fact some people will bend over backwards to defend the right of these companies to do what they do, no matter what that is. Now more than ever, cartoonists and creative people need to be careful and discerning when it comes to entering into financial partnerships that may be unfair, even though it's going to be tougher than ever. And those of us in the press and pundit class need to be forthright and imaginative in discussing these things.
* only tangentially related, but speaking of new ways of publishing that may become more important in a sustained financial downturn, I can't be the only one that wonders what the heck a $10 million dollar investment in digital publishing
buys you, can I? Something like Hulu.com I think launched with ten times that, granted, but they were working with video, had assembled twenty-plus different content providers, were working in a partnership rather than a proprietary situation, and had their first working site up in less than eight months. Okay, there's probably 50 reasons that's a stupid counter-example, but I still wonder after that $10 million.
posted 7:10 am PST
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