Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 13, 2010

Comics Industry Picking Up Its Own 2012ish Doomapocalyptigeddon Vibe


I'm not meaning to throw down the gauntlet Nerd Court style and say that 100 percent every article out there suggests bad times ahead, let alone that I endorse any specific view of said future, but it feels to me that in several places we're starting to see the three-pronged notion that a) something may be broken about the way standard mainstream comic books get from creators into the hands of readers, most notably the price point b) this could have industry-changing ramifications down the line, c) if nothing else, the inevitability of on-line serial comic books will put these changes into play sooner rather than later.

Keeping that in mind, there were two pretty good posts of general industry analysis over the weekend. The first is Douglas Wolk's article about the high price of comic book in his column at Techland. I think he's fudging the $.75 price point by a couple of years (I'm pretty sure most were a dollar by 1988) and I think he makes too much of the $20 price point, but a lot of the rest of it he gets right, I think. He notes that a lot of comics buyers are used to paying a set amount for a comics reading experience instead of paying whatever is necessary for a specific set of comics, so a price change that distorts how many comics you can by for X dollars distorts the way people buy. If you're a $10 a week buyer and the comics you choose from go from $3 to $4, you're more likely to go from buying three books for $9 to two books for $8 than you are to chase a title up past $10. This is also why any significant change -- say a move from being able to get six comics for $20 to five comics -- can make people reconsider the entire experience of buying comics as an activity. Wolk also suggests that comics companies may be pushing the price point on purpose to pave the way for online serialized comics, which I think gives a little too much credit to the nefariousness of mainstream comic book companies, but I guess you never know.

Sounding more concerned is retailer Brian Hibbs in his latest column at CBR. I think much of what Hibbs is saying about the way the mainstream companies are self-sabotaging a profitable and pleasurable way of doing business is dead-on, although he comes dangerously close to implying several times that the current system is awesome in part because of the way it manipulates readers into making purchases past their better judgment. I don't think you have to suggest comics serialization has to maximize profits in order to be a system worth keeping, let alone maximize them through a targeted audience -- I think it's enough to point out that there are particular joys and specific value to be had from that kind of experience that should be taken care of rather than pushed and pulled and manipulated and tossed aside to jump on something new. Also worth digging into is the comments thread at Hibbs' own site in a post announcing the article, particularly Stuart Moore's comment that sales don't reflect the kind of anecdotal evidence we're seeing out there, and Abhay Khosla's fantastic point that the explosion of comics out there has fractured buying habits to the point where it's become hugely difficult for retailers to make smart decisions based on their customers' buying choices.

I bet we're going to see a lot of this kind of theorizing between now and the end of the year.
posted 10:00 am PST | Permalink

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