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Why The Comics Industry Must Learn From The Music Industry’s Mistakes

Nice One Jeph Loeb

News came out the other day that Diamond, the company that handles all the distribution of all comic books in the west, have raised their purchase order benchmark from $1500 to $2500 – they now demand that each title they distribute generates at least $2500 worth of revenue to Diamond, or lose their distribution. This basically means that, in order to get their comics stocked, indie comics publishers are going to have to raise their cover prices for the second year in a row, row from an already costly $3.99 to a line-crossing $4.99/$5.50 for 20-odd pages of story and art.

“Diamond is in essence asking everyone to sell more in a recessionary environment or find themselves out of the catalog,” said Slave Labor chief Dan Vado in an email published on Newsarama. “Short term, a lot of publishers are going to find themselves with no distribution.”

“Diamond actually stopped me from opening a comic shop back in ’03 with their unreasonable minimum stock order demands,” wrote Colin in an email today. “Now that they have the monopoly, it would seem that they have started to bugger it all up.  Soon there wont be any comic shops aside Forbidden Planets, which are great but just the comic HMV. I feel download guilt (Only for comics though)…”

And there’s the rub. While this minimum-return policy will force most independent comic books off the shelves and online, along with a great number of legitimate customers, the big Two – Marvel and DC – are still refusing to sell digital copies of all their comic books, despite the rapidly increasing free download culture sweeping the web.

Nowadays, every comic book that hits stores is collected as one illegal torrent download, and upped online every Wednesday, with update packs following every couple of days. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people download them, every week. What we’re seeing is pretty much exactly what happened to the music industry between the late nineties and the mid naughties. And the comics industry is reacting in exactly the same, goonish, self-destructive manner.

Right now more people are reading comic books than have for decades. A recent spate of credible comic-based movies has piqued the curiosity of the mainstream, while their image as pure-geek fodder seems to be dissipating at the same speed that geek culture itself becomes celebrated, and accepted, by that mainstream. It is now possibly for anyone with a half-decent internet connection to cop all the comics they could want. Decent comics are now recognised by many as valid art – after decades of scorn, comic inspired art sells albums, books, movies and furniture polish by the truckload. Comics culture is reaching a tipping point.

And the industry isn’t around to capitalise.

Doh!

For as long as I’ve been alive, the only place you could buy a decent comic book was a comic shop. And there just aren’t that many of them around. Where I grew up, the nearest comic shop was a four hour drive away, in another country – I only really discovered comics above the Beano age bracket when I was in hospital in Liverpool, aged seven.

Even here in London, finding a comic shop, and then finding a comic shop that stocks the comics I want to read, is a giant pain in the ass.

Then there’s the shops themselves. The vast majority I have visited have been dusty, grotty, stinky bumholes full of overpriced toys and marked-up back issues, staffed by incredibly rude, overweight men with personal hygiene issues. I wish that this were just a stereotype, but in my experience, that has not been the case. Comic shops are usually anti-joy and anti-female (unless the female in question happens to be a cardboard cutout of a triple-F baring vampire that is).

Right now, a person need never visit a comic shop ever again. A person can download one of these illegal torrents, and read all the comics they like, whenever they like. If a person likes that comic, they can cop a hard copy from the publisher, or they can wait until it’s collected in trade paperback format and buy it from Amazon. Most comics take 10 minutes to read anyway. I think we can all agree that 5 dollars for ten minutes of entertainment is a bit steep. It’s like crack or something. Best to wait  for the trade paperback, and enjoy the digital copy in the meanwhile. Its not like anybody sees digital as the be all and end all of the thing – reading a physical copy is, for now, a better experience. Comics, unlike music, are a thing best enjoyed, and treasured, in a physical format.

The idiocy of the big publishers on this one is absolutely staggering. Had they, when the idea was mooted, years ago, digitized all of their published work, new and old, and made it available on a monthly subscription basis, or one off, dollar-a-book charges, they would be rolling around in huge piles of cash, and they would have halted the emergent pirate trade before it became the all encompassing, all-scanning beast it is now. If they’d brought in, and paid those early “pirates”, scanning old books in order to preserve them for eternity, to share with friends, scanning new books so that they might be read by more than few hundred people… Well. We can only imagine. What is clear, is that if these dinosaurs don’t change their ways immediately, there won’t be all those comics for the scanners to upload every Wednesday, and what remains of the industry will continue its long, sad slide into bankruptcy.

— Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

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  • http://zombiehamster.com/ Zombiehamster

    Well put sir. The comic industry is definitely showing signs of (almost) unrivalled stupidity. The fact that they have missed the boat with the digital market and are now merely rising the prices and forcing the minors out of business is yet another death toll for any aspiring artists, inkers, writers or retailers. Sad news, but what can be expected in our age of ignorance? The indie stores with their stereotypical pious attitudes, all run by guys who liked like the toad from Dangermouse and played by “Clerks” rules. (RE: Kevin Smith – Didn’t turn out as indie and cool as you all thought 10 years ago kids) were as resp[onsible for the downturn in business as anyone, although in regards to the prices, it was necessary to maintain at least 150-250% profit margin if one was to meet Diamonds standards (and that’s from ‘03 figures), rates and wages, considering how little most indie stores actually sell – double edged sword really. However, if we do see even the big leagues of independent publishing such as Slave Labor and IDW complaining, what chance do we ever have of discovering the next Peter Bagge or Harvey Pekar? Balls to it all. :cry:

  • http://www.so23.wordpress.com/ k-dub1

    money has made alot of people stupid.

    lets turn all the knots into comic books and give them out for free and all the coins into something else that would make people happy.

  • BloodRed

    i read my manga on onemanga.com, but i’d buy it if it came out the same day it does in japan… im just not gonna wait the 3 years for our crap companies to catch up =)

  • Caleb

    There has been quite a lot of news of what I would refer to as pop culture (music, art, cinema etc.) being in decline over the last few years. Obviously this has increased massively with our current economic crisis. Im told people have stopped spending money on the things I have always loved, movies, vinyl, comics and art and so on. When I was a kid I was never interested in football. I liked comics, g.i. joes and anything to do with music. Where I grew up every young boy played football. Except me. Now Im a dj, record collector and producer of music. I love art and design and anything to do with graphics. I also like to collect anything to do with what makes me happy ( I was considering buying a Michael Myers mask for nearly 80 squids just recently?!) So what really makes me sad about all this stuff is that I would love to earn a living from the music I make. Just enough so i can support myself and make that next beat. And I know there is a million people like me in all aspects of art. Just like those independant comic makers I suffer because of big asshole companies like Diamond! (different industry same assholes!!) It really does make me sad because when you create something you really want it to get out there and show it off to people, you want people to see it or hear it and maybe even like it. Everyone deserves the chance to have thier art distributed to people who will appreciate and like it. So, I say fuck diamond for making harder for everybody to do what they love!! Cocksuckers!!

  • http://www.rezoproject.com Rezo

    It's time to speak direct with Marvel and DC. I would even call up Wizard or Overstreet and let them know about this situation. There's a way to fix a distributor by going to the source… I've found that in business in all of my years.

  • http://www.rezoproject.com Rezo

    You can pirate your own stuff too btw. Also, you can save your $ and concentrate on back issues for a while until they realize they're getting fucked by the entire idea. Another idea..

    http://subscriptions.marvel.com

    They can't stop you from having 10 subscriptions.. (in other words, you don't need distributors, again GO DIRECT!)