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

May 16, 2007

Comics Magazines Feel Print Squeeze?

I was hoping to wake up this morning and connect the dots between a few stories about the struggles of various comics magazines right now, which is odd only in that most facets of the comics market covered by such magazines are experiencing a surge in sales. Several bloggers beat me to it. I still want to get this information into one post for my own edification, so I'm going to copy off of their papers and add some thoughts of my own.

* The first news story came a few weeks back when the folks behind The Comics Journal admitted that Ingram and other magazine distributors were no longer carrying the publication, because of publisher's choice.

As I understand their thinking, and they have my e-mail if I'm wrong, they feel the way that more and more magazines make newsstand distribution work is that they can sell advertising according to the higher circulation number printing for Border's and Barnes and Noble makes possible. So even if sell-through isn't there they're financially protected against a wash of returns. The Journal doesn't have that kind of huge advertising base, and thus the returns in a largely recalcitrant market ossifying in terms of saturation and attempting different racking strategies for magazines not huge hits are basically losses, not loss leaders.

* Here is Johanna Draper Carlson's recent post on rising postal costs as it has an impact on a company that depends on mail-order, TwoMorrows.

* Graeme McMillan notes another factor driving TwoMorrows' emphasis on on-line sampling and continued direct mail-order: their saturation in the direct market bites, to the point that free stuff fails to appeal to a significant number of stories. I sympathize. I remember trying something similar back in '98 with a Frank Miller issue of the Comics Journal directed at shops that carried significant numbers of Frank Miller's comics, and receiving a similarly tepid response.

* More an anthology than a magazine of the same type described here, but sharing an interest in historical inquiry many comics magazines have, Big Fun Comics Magazine seems to have moved into a more targeted, high-end reader format, as opposed to something designed to reach a more general audience on the stands, even by its own focused interests. Note the differences in price.

* A lot of folks like this esteemed publisher are apparently writing Diamond in support of Comic Foundry, Tim Leong's magazine whose print iteration was rejected by Diamond. You can see Leong's video on the matter here.

They should carry Comic Foundry. I think it's bad form for Diamond to reject brand-new publishers evincing even arguable merit before they have a chance to see if they can sell through the Direct Market system. I still see a lot of people out there perpetuating the fallacy that Diamond carrying a publication is some sort of award for merit that can be negotiated by pointing out similar examples or by extolling the virtues of a specific approach. It'd be great if that's what was at issue, but it's not. I fully expect Diamond to carry the magazine, but what Diamond will note is the widespread nature of the support, not so much the arguments about, say, there being an untapped market between Wizard and The Comics Journal, the comics equivalent of the Seven Cities of Cibola.

* You know what I don't hear anymore? Rumbling that the print edition of the mainstream-focused comics magazine Wizard is reeling or otherwise in trouble. I don't know if that stuff's simply been drowned out by complaints about their new on-line version or if it could be that recent, mocked cosmetic changes have had a positive effect on their bottom line.
posted 3:10 am PST | Permalink

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