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

November 21, 2011

Ivan Brandon On The Case Against Comics Sales Numbers

Since last week I joined Milton Griepp's call for sales rankings if not outright numbers on digital downloads of comic books, I thought it only fair that I post this link to Ivan Brandon's mini-essay that a few of you e-mailed to me this morning, about the dangers of speculation on inaccurate numbers.

I like Brandon as a writer and as an Internet presence. I don't agree with him here, except for some sympathy in the kind of case he mentions. Speculative articles based on inaccurate information might indeed be harmful, because they can conceivably shape market practices. In other words, if fans hear that Mucous Man is selling at the sales level where a book like that might be canceled, they might stop buying Mucous Man in order to invest in a storyline with a greater chance of continuing. Ditto retailers that do the actual ordering. I'm sympathetic to any creator that receives the brunt of this kind of speculation, although it's worth a reminder that we only have the anecdotal possibility that this would be the outcome. In fact, I sort of think that companies are more likely to cancel books because they actually sell poorly than they're likely to cancel them because they sell poorly + extra-poorly because of the small percentage of readers that read such sales charts making that specific decision after hearing that specific information.

Where Brandon loses me more directly is in the general broadsides against the value of sales information, which at one point I believes he compares to photos of one's genitals being released to the general public. That seems really... odd to me, and I speak as someone whose genitals are surely of general and broad interest to a wide audience of people. (I'm speculating there.) Sales information seems to me an obvious positive, not because it reveals the bank accounts of creators, but because what sells and to what extent is basic information about a marketplace, and the shape and potency of a marketplace seems to me a primary item of interest for anyone covering that marketplace. It's foundational to our understanding of how things work and why. Certainly this information is already manipulated to brazen effect by companies with something to put over on customers; I have to imagine this would become worse under a system of no information at all being released.

My suggestion is that 1) we don't use obviously made-up numbers -- the ones that come in PR wrapping, mostly, including those that refer to awesome sales that don't have any real numbers attached to them at all, 2) we don't spend as much time doing analysis over numbers in a glib fashion like a deathwatch list, and 3) we all take a deep breath and realize with some sobriety all the problems with accuracy and with the manipulations of numbers that exist and acknowledge the limitations of pure number analysis every time out. It's possible to take a middle position here without going overboard in either direction, and I think the value in doing so is obvious. I don't, however, have any numbers to back this up. I do have a photo you can look at, though. E-mail me.

Update: Ivan Brandon tweeted a response. "to be clear @comicsreporter i wasn't comparing the value of the #s to my genitals, but the value of releasing real #s to combat fake ones." Noted!
posted 2:15 am PST | Permalink

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