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Yeah, the Comic Book Industry is Sick, but the Rumors of Its Demise are Exaggerated

Something has to change in the comic book industry. I don’t think anyone denies this, but who will make the first move?

The distribution (Diamond) and sales model (comic shops) has been locked in for OVER FORTY YEARS. That, and the reality of quarterly corporate earnings reports incentivizes the Big 2 (particularly Marvel) to participate in short-term sales gimmicks.

So, let’s unpack those points a bit, then let’s close with some hopeful possibilities for what the future of the comic book industry might look like.

Nothing But Love for Comic Shops

I have a tremendous soft spot for comic shops and their owners. Although my first memories of comic books were drug store spinner racks, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in comic shops, from flipping through dollar bins to dropping in for a quick pick up of my pull list. So I’m rooting for the little guy.

Comic shops have all the expected business expenses including rising labor costs and skyrocketing rent. Meanwhile, comics sales yo-yo month-to-month, only to ultimately come out mostly flat. Yet the price per book has gone up, which simply means fewer comics sold for more money.

Back Issue Bin Bonanza

The problem is that the vast majority of these $4 floppies have about a $.25 worth of value as back issues. Their viable shelf life is a couple months, then they become dead end box-fillers because no one is looking for a 4-issue tie-in miniseries 6 months removed from whatever big event the Big 2 was hyping.

What retailer other than comic shops would want to sink money into a product that’s unsellable after 3 months? Comic shops can’t afford to sink $2 into stocking an extra issue of every title on the hope of getting lucky and selling one extra copy.

This is exacerbated because there is a glut of titles, each of them competing for dollars and shelf space. The reality is there are so many titles to choose from now that a third of those titles can be cut and almost no one will notice. The cost increase means most comic readers can’t afford to buy all the comics they want to anyway, so removing the fluff from their options will actually be a relief.

Publishers are trying to keep profits up by encouraging retailers and consumers to chase incentives (alternate covers anyone?). But retailers need to chase profits, not incentives. Incentives are only wonderful for the bottom line until no one can their rent.

Marvel in particular has been shooting itself in the foot for a while now. Only now it looks like they are aiming at their owns knees. So, is there any hope?

Yes, there is.

Hey, Kids!

Shops like Source Comics and Games (my FLCS) has their All Ages section for kids just inside the door. And it’s working!

Raina Telgemeier is the most successful person in comics right now but few OG nerds know who she is. But if you go to a Scholastic book fair at an elementary school you’ll see kids like my 10-year-old daughter squee over Mrs. Telgemeier’s graphic novels.

Smart shops like Source and others are paying attention to this outside world. Instead of ordering 100 copies of that 17th Venom special or the nonessential big event crossover tie-in, they are putting money into something that may attract a new readership.

Says Wayne Wise of Phantom of the Attic, “We would much rather put our money into a middle grade graphic novel series, such as Compass South or Amulet, and build a new readership than invest in a $9.99 issue of Deadpool.”

Dave Pifer, co-owner of the Secret Headquarters agrees: “We’re definitely selling more all-ages and younger-age books. If anything has helped shops out it’s that stuff—it’s definitely helped us more than a lot other gimmicks and stunts and big first-issue launches.”

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