Friday, June 3, 2011

Prophet of Doom

In 1992, not too long after the “Death of Superman,” I wrote the following piece for Diamond's 1992 year-in-review issue of Dialogue:


Dialogue Year In Review Questions


What is the biggest challenge facing the comics industry today?

The recent collapse of the sports trading card market presages the biggest threat now facing the comics industry.

Collectibility is an advantage intrinsic to the comics medium.  However, during recent years, so much emphasis has been placed upon the collectible aspect of comics that the entertainment aspect has been neglected.  This trend has been fostered, promoted and exploited by publishers, distributors, retailers, fans and creators.  Lately, a great many tricks that can only be pulled once a decade or so have been used to add collectibility to comics, including new number one issues, various cover gimmicks and even the "death" of Superman!  That's how enamored we've become with the short-term benefits of collectibility.

Comics are an entertainment medium first and collectible merchandise second.  We as an industry, must resist the urge to turn comics into a fad.

I believe that the onus falls first upon publishers and creators to change the industry's self-destructive course.  Publishers must begin emphasizing long-term growth and success, and creators must learn their craft and become good entertainers above all else.

Storytelling has thrived since the dawn of time, and will always be a viable industry.  As a storytelling medium, as entertainment, comics will endure.  Hula hoops, Pet Rocks, trading cards and such come and go.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing comics retailers?

Comics retailers must take the lead in expanding the base readership of comics.  Retailers are the front line troops in our industry's battle to win and maintain an audience.  Every retailer should make acquiring and developing new customers a high priority.  This will take dedicated effort at the retail level and increased communication with distributors and publishers.


What are your (or your company's) goals for 1993?
My goal for 1993 is to launch a new comic book company that will be a significant factor immediately and quickly become the leader in the industry.  Watch.


The Beginning of the End?

My second comic book company, DEFIANT launched the following August, 1993, the very month that industry sales fell off the edge of the table and began a plunge into the abyss. Industry sales volume fell catastrophically starting that month. DEFIANT did well for a while, against all odds, but eventually was swept down with the rest.

P.S. A spurious trademark infringement lawsuit against us by Marvel helped speed our demise. They lost, but it cost us over $300,000 to defend ourselves. Bleeding that much money out of a small start-up is lethal. Their true mission was accomplished. More on that story later.

Back to the point:

The comic book business has struggled ever since August 1993, and right now, it seems that the future of pamphlet comics is in doubt. Bellweather title the Uncanny X-Men is selling around 57,000 copies a month, less than a tenth of what it sold regularly when I was at Marvel.

What now? I don't know. The crystal ball is cloudy....
 
 

40 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

The "death" of Superman was the event that turned me off from mainstream comics forever. I stopped going to comic stores every week. As a result, I missed DEFIANT and Broadway, but I've caught up with them and own every issue of both companies except for the ultra-rare Birth of the DEFIANT Universe and Miracle on Broadway.

Your view on the challenges facing comics remains as valid as ever. Today is a good day to republish it, given all the DC news over this past week.

DC should have heeded your words 19 years ago. It should heed them today. But it won't. I don't think DC has learned anything from Crisis, the "death" of Superman, or any of their other events. Even now they are dependent on variant covers:

At a minimum, this variant plan will be offered for September, October, and November. We will be offering variants on five different titles, with at least one each week.

They don't understand that comics became collectible because they were entertaining. Comics can be entertaining again. Come on, DC.

But no matter what happens, I remain DEFIANT!

Tue Sørensen said...

Collectors' appetite for #1 issues is seemingly insatiable. It's a sad state of affairs for those of us who prefer good stories. Now major titles are relaunching from #1 much more often than once a decade, and it's becoming very difficult to keep track of what's what. I blame the companies (the Big Two); they don't really seem to care about the loyal readers. OTOH, I can see why they want to relaunch a title when the sales numbers drop off as quickly as they do. It's just hard to see how this sort of trick can keep working in the long term. Maybe the era of the pamphlet comic is coming to an end. Is this a good or a bad thing?

Wrial Huden said...

Having been a comics retailer in the early 90s, I was an exception to the rule in that I wasn't one of those retailers who encouraged customers to buy X number of copies of, say, X-Men #1 or Punisher War Zone #1 and state they'll be worth hundreds of dollars in a few years. I never understood why some retailers were of that collectibility mindset, especially when those same customers return a few years later to their respective comic shops with those same #1s in tow hoping to sell them back, only to be turned away in most cases. I always pushed for entertainment value above all else. But there were times I always had that one customer walk in and browse through the new comics section hoping to pick up the next X-Men #94 or whatever. I even had one who requested that I only sell him new comics that will be worth hundreds in a year or two. First of all, I don't possess a crystal ball, and secondly, if I was privy to knowledge like that, did he really think I'd sell them new at cover price? Avarice has a way of making people take leave of whatever common sense they had to begin with.

Defiant1 said...

People underestimate how much the baseball strike had on the comics collapse.

Unfortunately, the low profit margins at the retail level, the lack of business savvy, and the time spent simply running the store sap a store owner's motivation to aggressively market the product. In the 90's, the convention dealers were "weekend warriors" with low business overhead. They promoted comics by selling to their friends and neighbors. Diamond eliminated sub-distribution in the 90's which hurt both the marketing of comics at street level, but also a store's ability to flip comics quickly in volume and reap the benefits of a better discount. Currently, no one can afford to adequately promote comics and no one is. Now is the time that comics need to be promoted more than ever. The distribution chain is the bottleneck. Publisher need to break away from their idiotic contracts with Diamond. They need to push comics out on all fronts through as many outlets that are willing to distribute them. Digital distribution is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The recording industry lost millions of dollars when the digital distribution age came upon them. It is now evident that digital distribution has leveled out and the income is not going to get them back to their earlier sales levels. Digital distribution alienates the collector which was the most loyal customer that comics had. At Coca Cola's most prosperous time in history, 80% of the profits went back into marketing.

When I was little, Captain D's and Big Boy restaurants had their branded comics in the front of the store. Comics were on the mind of the general public. Now comics are relegated to low rent strip malls. When you walk in, a customers is faced with smelly geeks boisterously spouting alien RPG dialogue as they roll the dice on some game of fantasy. The back issues have stacks of worthless unsalable comics piled up on top of them. The employees are burnt out and wondering how they are going to pay their rent at the end of the month. It a dreary, uninspiring atmosphere unless you have been indoctrinated into the culture. Heaven forbid someone walk into a comic book store and handle it like they would a magazine at the grocery store. They'll get their head snapped off and receive a lecture about the horrors of adding a spine crease and devaluing the comic.

José Joaquín Rodríguez said...

Yesterday many young people with little money bought 3 or 4 series, perhaps some more. Today, some adult people with more money bought 10, 15 or 20 series, and reeditions, and miniatures, and...

It's a new situation, with new opportunities and new problems.

Ah, and good work with this blog. I'm reading you from Spain!

orbitalshft said...

Jim,

The Defiant books are still some of my favorites. Is there any chance you could elaborate on the direction you wanted to take those characters. Is there any chance we might see them again someday? Do you have any ownership of the characters you have created over the years? If you could return to any of the universes you have created, which would it be, and why?

Thanks for the great blog.

Defiant1 said...

1993..
I knew there was a serious problem in comics when any collector with a spark of inclination was opening a comic business. I'd go to a local indoor sports card show on weekends and it was half filled with new comic dealers. All the dealers were engaged in price wars to steal the customers away from both the brick-and-mortar stores as well as the other dealers at the show.

My biggest "uh oh!" moment was when a retailer friend sold me 10 copies of "Warriors of Plasm" at 55% off cover price. He sold them to me for less than he paid because all the upstart "businesses" were stealing his customers and guaranteeing that it'd be impossible for anyone to make a profit.

At the same local show, a smaller distributor was selling the Plasm card binders at an escalated price, yet he'd shorted his retail accounts on their orders all over Georgia.

One of the most humbling moments for me was helping a friend pick up his Diamond order the week Turok #1 came out. My friend had ordered 7000 copies of Turok #1 and had 99% pre-sold to sports card dealers and small book stores. He was actually unaware that the comic was over-saturated in the market. He was selling it for full price. A week later the reports rolled in about how many retailers got stuck with that issue.

jimshooter said...

Dear orbitalshift,

Sometime soon, I'll try to get into DEFIANT plans.

I theoretically own a small piece of the DEFIANT and Broadway characters, but whether that deal will hold up in practice, who knows? I have rights to some things VALIANT. Most of what I created was work for hire, owned, therefore, by someone else.

I like all the universes. I'd be happy to work on any of them again.

kintounkal said...

Did anyone else notice that the early ad for "X-Men: Schism" featuring Cyclops visor sliced apart by Wolverine's claws copied the DEFIANT crossover logo? The lettering has now been changed and the "Schism" word splits at a different angle.

Defiant1 said...

I seriously doubt that there is an active trademark for the Schism logo. A similar logo would be fair game.
I'd be more concerned about the story elements which the movie Hancock swiped from Broadway.

kintounkal said...

Have you seen the ad I'm talking about? There's a quote at the top which states "I will not let him divide us." Changing the Marvel logo in two significant ways would suggest someone noticed the similarities.

uncannyderek.com said...

Kintounkal, you sort of make a good point.

Here's Marvel:
http://i.newsarama.com/images/MMXI_SCHISMfull2_02.jpg

Here's Defiant:
http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/6/69676/1377164-warriors_of_plasm_13_00_large.jpg

The words "Schism" are pretty similar, indeed.

Go figure that the Marvel one is done by Greg Land, though.

Joseph Tages said...

Can't wait to hear your take on DC's newest move, Jim.

Defiant1 said...

Yes, they are similar, but Trademark protection is limited so companies don't go hoarding Trademarks they aren't going to use. Trademarks are to protect consumers so that some competitor of one product doesn't copy the logo of an established product and try to pass it off as the same thing.

I think it's reasonably safe to assume that the Trademark for Schism (if DEFIANT ever applied for it) had lapsed long ago. The notion that a company can use a logo like that and own it for life without using it horrifies me a bit. That would be akin to cybersquatting where companies were buying up domain names and not using them.

Trademark law actually makes sense in the current era. Copyrights do not since they no longer encourage innovation and progress.

kintounkal said...

I'm sure Defiant1 is correct that Marvel didn't legally need to change the logo. I doubt it was simply a coincidence though. Maybe the letterer forgot about the DEFIANT crossover and copied it subconsciously. Whatever the reason, the logo was adjusted for X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1. For instance, the dividing line is more horizontal and the "S" now connects with the "C".

bchat said...

Defiant (or more accurately, "Enlightened Entertainment Partners") did apply for a Trademark on "Schism", but stopped publishing comics several months after the application, so technically they never owned a Registered Trademark for "Schism".

And I guess I'm in the minority, in as much as I enjoyed the period of time during the early 1990's where places to buy comic books littered the landscape. It was cool to have over a half-dozen stores selling comics no further than a 20-minute drive from where I lived (quadruple that number for 45 minutes to an hour away). Sure, it was obvious which owners were only selling comics to make money, but more stores meant that I never had a hard time finding almost anything I wanted to buy, new or old. Fast-forward to today, where I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to the closest store, and there are only five shops total that are within an hour's drive from my home.

To be fair, I don't feel that the majority of 90's comic sellers that I ran across were pushing people to buy multiple copies of anything, they simply saw comics as an easy way to make money. Most of the stores who jumped on the band-wagon did a decent job of having a nice variety of new books, and all but a few were quick to acquire items for their "back issue bins". A lot of these types of sellers also sold sports cards, so when comic sales dropped, "no more comics", they simply switched to something else (Beanie Babies were the next big thing, if I remember right). They didn't talk about comics to customers too much because they were fans of sports cards. I always heard them talk passionately to their customers whenever I was in their stores about the latest "hot item" in the world of sports collectibles, but hardly heard them say anything about comics because it wasn't their hobby.

The only time I remember overhearing a "speculator" talking about comics was at a flea market, where one dealer with one lousy box of comics was talking to another dealer, going-on about the 100+ copies of Lady Death # 1 he had stock-piled, drooling at the thought of all the money he was going to make reselling them. I walked away, rolling my eyes.

Defiant1 said...

Availability of the product is a great thing. When inexperienced.... hmmm! let me be honest. When morons with no concept of how to run a business sign up for a retail account and then try to sell the product for a nickle or dime above their cost, that's really messed up. Comics were so easy to sell back then that people had it in their mind that if they could just steal enough of a store's customers, they could start their dream business of owning a comic book shop one day. They had no roadmap to sustain profitability other than buying and selling in volume. They were pulling some new collectors in, but they usually spread lies in the process. People were told Spawn #1 was going to pay for their kid's college education one day. Availability and selection is cool. Knowing that retailers were over-ordering, eating the losses, and destined to go out of business is not cool.

Defiant1 said...

Getting back to the title.... it's important to know that a prophet is always out of sync with "now". A prophet says "beware" when everyone is happy and celebrating. A prophet is happy and filled with hope when others are down and depressed. A prophet's mind lives in the future and the present day is old news to them.

jimshooter said...

I'm not sure what you're getting at. Back then, in 1992, everyone but me seemed pretty sure that the boom the comics industry was experiencing (a bubble born of artificial collectibles) was just the beginning and that prosperity would last forever. If you read all the rest of the articles in that issue of Diamond Dialogue, you'll see that I was the only one warning of disaster. As late as June of 1993, Bill Schanes GUARANTEED me that orders for Warriors of PLASM #1 would come in at over two million copies. The final number was around 600,000. Not bad, but, as I said, that very month the slide began, and we weren't immune. And, the point is, it took many, many people, industry "luminaries," insiders and execs totally by surprise. Even Bill Schanes.

Maybe I'm not a prophet. Maybe I just have a little common sense.

Defiant1 said...

I think your words were prophetic. You spoke warnings when everyone around you said otherwise. I think those who speak prophetically do consider their words to be common sense.

I once looked at a girl I really liked and told her she'd quit her job in 9 months. She assured me that she could not do that and that her job was very important to her. 9 months later she quit her job. She just walked out. My prediction was common sense to me because I knew she could not control her moods. I knew that she'd be at a boiling point in about 9 months. I didn't want to be right, but I was. I actually wish I was wrong more often.

jimshooter said...

Your insight shaped your "prophecy." Maybe that's the way it always is.

Thanks.

Defiant1 said...

Things you don't see can be just as informative as the things you do see. If you can imagine an animal with a less evolved eye learning for the first time that the input it's receiving in the form of light is relevant towards navigating or feeding... it would be silly to assume there isn't a new frontier out there or a new sense that we currently deny or disregard.

Pariah said...

It seems that both Marvel and Dc are determined to drain any upstart comic book companies of their chance to become a force to be reckoned with wither they actually are or not.

I don't even see why since most comic book companies are only useful for intellectual property reasons for movies.

How many successful comic book movies have their been from independent companies? Dark Horse has had what? three? maybe none of them could fit into a Marvel or DC universe very well.

a lot of those properties did well in the theaters but noone is rushing out to actually buy the actual comics.


I think it's healthier to give people more comic book options from smaller companies than superheros and crossovers


Dc does this a whole lot they will buy out a comic book company and then make promises to publish those comics and then when they don't sell well they just leave them to rot.

Shazam/Captain Marvel can't sustain his own series and he rarely ever gets used anymore but DC is not interested in letting anyone else use him.


sorry for the rant.

Anonymous said...

Jim, You said, "The recent collapse of the sports trading card market presages the biggest threat now facing the comics industry....Comics are an entertainment medium first and collectible merchandise second."

Given that, why on earth did DEFIANT create Plasm 0 and Dark Dominion 0 as trading card sets, which basically put the collectible aspect before the entertainment aspect (since it's difficult to be entertained by a comic book that's missing panels)? Note that this question is being asked by a person who did buy at least one box of Plasm cards -- and that was after I had bought the Previews issue that included Plasm 0 for free (which is another marketing move that has me scratching my head). --MikeAnon

jimshooter said...

DEFIANT was funded by a trading card company, if that gives you the drift. I'll tell the whole story later.

Darksbane said...

I'd be interested in hearing more about Defiant too. I've still got the Plasm and Dark Dominion 0 card sets sitting in one of my boxes.

Shelby said...

Jim, what did Marvel sue Defiant about?

Tue Sørensen said...

I can answer that. DEFIANT's flagship title was called Warriors of Plasm, and just then Marvel UK had a mini-series called Plasmer, so they sued over right to use the word "plasm" in a title. Whether Marvel UK's book was a coincidence, or created specifically to sabotage the DEFIANT title, I don't know. Maybe Jim does.

(Incidentally, though, the Plamer mini-series was actually hysterically funny, and I couldn't help buying it, even though I was entirely on Jim's side in the lawsuit.)

jimshooter said...

Dear Shelby,

Briefly:

DEFIANT launched with a property that originally was called "PLASM." We had released a trading card set (our backers owned a trading card company) and a #0 issue. Marvel threatened to sue for trademark infringement because they had a name, "Plasmer," registered "with intent to use" in England. Other than the idea of naming a shape-shifting character "Plasmer," they had nothing. Ours was already in print. The properties (when theirs was finished) were nothing alike. Nonetheless, they threatened to sue.

This in a business in which Marvel has Power Man and DC has Power Girl, DC has Wonder Woman and Marvel has Wonder Man...Hellrazor/Hellblazer, two Captain Marvels, two Black Knights, etc. Many more. Yep, likelihood of confusion is a big concern....

Our lawyers met with their lawyers. Marvel said that if we added words to our title, that would be fine. Hence, "Warriors of PLASM."

It was a trap. They never signed the papers confirming the resolution reached. They waited till our book was about to ship then filed for a temporary restraining order. Nice move. Blocking shipment of our first book and denying us the revenues would have put us out of business....

...but we weren't as stupid as they thought, and the people at the printer, Quebecor, liked me better than they liked them. We had anticipated their sneaky move and, cheerfully, at my request, Quebecor intermixed Warriors of PLASM #1 on the pallets among the Marvel titles. They couldn't stop our book from shipping without stopping all of theirs. Marvel withdrew the TRO...

...and filed for a temporary injunction.

The case was heard in Federal Court by the same judge who tried the first World Trade Center bombers. Quite a change of pace, no?

Settlement talks are inadmissible in court, so the fact that we had changed our title was presented as "proof" by Marvel that we knew we were infringing. Other dirty tactics...outright lies...it was appalling. Paul Neary testified on the stand that because Plasmer's biomass stayed consistent throughout his shape changes, that proved that we had stolen my idea of an all-organic world from him. I produced evidence that I had created the basic concept of PLASM six years earlier and that my story was finished before the date he alleged that he had developed the Plasmer character.

We won the case. Decisively. And the judge reprimanded them for using his court as a "business weapon." However, in keeping with the apparent theme of my life, it was a Pyrrhic victory. They delayed and therefore killed our toy deal with Mattel, licensing deals with SEGA, Fox and others, and cost us so much money defending ourselves that we ultimately went out of business. The bad guys won after all.

Could PLASM have been another TMNT? I don't know. As is, it's just another failed attempt.

Tue Sørensen said...

Thanks for that detailed explanation. Wonder how much Marvel paid Neary to fabricate both the idea and the comic itself. Damn, those guys are a-holes.

I actually reviewed Marvel UK's Plasmer in the 'Nuff Said APAzine back when it came out, and I knew/suspected at the time that it may have been a book produced solely to sabotage DEFIANT. Now I know. (Still, it was actually, fortuitously, a very funny book. The Plasmer character was female.)

Naturally, I lamented the end of DEFIANT, and esp. its best title, Warriors of Plasm. It was true science fiction, and perhaps the best American SF comics ever, in no small way thanks to the amazingly alive and detailed art by Dave Lapham. I would have loved to see it continue for a hundred issues. Is there any hope at all of bringing it back in some form?

jimshooter said...

Of course, Plasmer was female. I knew that. Oops. Sorry. It's been years, and I read the thing no more than I had to back then, during the lawsuit.

Warriors of PLASM belongs to Classic Media now, I think. I doubt that it has any future.

Tue Sørensen said...

Too bad. Did you have to sign away rights to the property in return for funding?

Anonymous said...

Jim -

Fascinating stuff. At the time Defiant was going on (hell, at the time Valiant was going on) I was getting out of comics reading altogether. (Little did I understand, at the time, that my waning interest in collecting had a lot to do with your leaving Marvel. Like many other readers here, I stopped collecting a lot of titles after that, cherrypicking back issues, and really only following certain creators or creative teams.) This blog has inspired me to play catch-up, and I've enjoyed reading a lot of those Valiants and Defiants so far. (I'll get to Broadway one of these days) Warriors of Plasm is definitely my favorite of your post-Marvel-EIC stuff.

Perhaps you can expound on Classic Media itself, sometime, in one of these blogs. How did they end up with the rights to Defiant? They're the ones who nabbed the old Gold Key characters, too, right? I wonder what else they own / what they plan to do with them. It might not even be a blogworthy story; it just seems funny that Classic Media owns Defiant's characters and the old Gold Keys, too. They seem to keep intersecting with your life.

If memory serves, you mentioned it was their disagreement over direction that led to the Dark Key relaunches getting the ax, so I imagine that they are very "hands on" with the characters. I imagine, should the Defiantverse ever get relaunched/ reimagined/ rebooted, (and I'd be interested in seeing that; are you reading, Mike Richardson?) it might be strange to receive direction-notes on characters you created yourself. (Or co-created, however those credits break down.)

Switching gears, I started thinking about Star Brand and Dr. Solar from reading some of the comments to this and other blog entries. It got me thinking about the Beyonder and some of your Legion stuff, as well. Your ability to tell stories from the perspective of such beings is impressive. I hope you launch an all new series as soon as possible, something creator-owned and beyond interference.

Thanks - Bryan

jimshooter said...

Dear Tue,

When DEFIANT went under, all assets became the property of the venture capital group that financed us, the River Group. How those rights made their way to Classic Media is too long a tale to tell here, but I'll get to it soon.

jimshooter said...

Dear Bryan,

One of the principals of Classic Media is Eric Ellenbogen. Eric was the President of Broadway Video Entertainment, backers of Broadway Comics. BVE acquired the rights to the DEFIANT properties as part of the settlement of a lawsuit between DEFIANT's backers, the River Group and BVE. Too long a tale to explain here.

Eric was "sold" along with BVE (including Broadway Comics) to Golden Books Family Entertainment, where he was made either President or CEO. The DEFIANT rights came with BVE to GBFE.

Dick Snyder was the Chairman of GBFE and ultimately ran the show. GBFE/Snyder shut down Broadway Comics because they/he didn't want to be in the comics business, among other things. They only acquired us because we were part of a package.

Soon thereafter, GBFE went belly up. Eric Ellenbogen became CEO, I think, of Marvel. For a brief period, it seemed that he might bring me back as Editor in Chief. I had other friends and supporters on the board, too. But, the Perelman/Icahn mess was instrumental in removing that possibility, and also ended Eric's stay at Marvel.

Eric later formed Classic Media with a partner. Eric, who often said, "I never met a copyright I didn't like," acquired the GBFE portfolio (from Random House, I think, which had bought some or all of it out of bankruptcy). So, they ended up with the Dell/Gold Key stuff, the Broadway stuff, and BVE stuff like Lassie and the Lone Ranger. I think they've acquired other properties besides. Dunno.

Tue Sørensen said...

Are they using them for anything? At all?

jimshooter said...

Not that I know of.

JediJones said...

It's hard for me to see how comics reinvigorate themselves as a commercially viable artform without capitalizing on the digital format. Print may not be dead yet, but the trend across multiple industries is clear. Newspapers are dying out and book, music and video stores are closing. Meanwhile digital distribution and viewership of the same content is on the rise.

It might be bad news for some comic shops, but the industry can't afford to artificially protect them from the same trends facing other industries if it comes at the expense of delivering what the modern consumer demands. At the same time, maybe a compromise could be reached, with some content exclusively distributed online and some only in print.

The internet and digital age simply offer too many advantages to the consumer to be ignored. You get instant delivery, you have a potentially unlimited array of choices available, you save time and gas money and you don't have to worry about storage space or disposal of physical goods.

The side effect for comics, that would be beneficial in my opinion, would be removing the collectibility factor as a driving force in the marketing. For the industry to still be relying on this with alternate covers, chase covers, #1 issues and so on given how far readership has fallen is just pathetic. It's as if they've lost so much respect for themselves that they're willing to swindle the village idiot out of his money just to survive. If comic publishers knew that their only chance to drum up interest was through great content, then we might see more great content. There would still be the opportunity to print collectible editions just as music LPs are still being made for collectors, but collectors wouldn't be expected to be the primary audience. Story "gimmicks" like the Death of Superman might still happen but at least people would be reading and judging the stories rather than leaving them sealed in a polybag.

One challenge in changing media is structuring the business so that it can make a profit. Whether it's through advertising, subscriptions, per-issue purchases or some combination is a question that needs to be worked out. Certainly an advertising-only policy would help boost readership. At any rate, I think there has to be some way for the reader to sample the comic and than an easy way to purchase or subscribe.

Other things may need to be tweaked for comics to succeed in the digital arena. I think a weekly rather than monthly publication schedule, maybe 6 pages per week, makes more sense online. People's attention spans are shorter now and unlike with print, this wouldn't be a cost problem. Drawing the comics in a widescreen format to fit modern monitor resolutions also makes sense. Movies have changed their aspect ratio over time so I think comics can do the same successfully. More controversial might be adding sounds or animation enhancements to an online comic book presentation, but I feel it'd be fair game to let a creator experiment with possibilities like that if they wanted to.

JediJones said...

Marketing would still be a problem in the digital world as it is in print. Any big marketing push would benefit either one. It's pretty pathetic how comic books have failed to market themselves in a way that capitalizes on all the exposure Hollywood has given the characters in the past decade. It's very easy for the audience to see these movies and never even know there are still comic books being published. Why aren't the parent companies doing more promotions for the comic books themselves? Why doesn't Disney have Marvel comics in their Disney mall stores for example? They've added Marvel toys but not comics as far as I've seen. I wonder if it's because they find the content of the comics so poor that they don't even want to push it on their customers. It sure isn't a vote of confidence in the industry when the parent company itself shows no interest in it.

There might be a lack of long-term thinking evidenced by this. Comics over the last 50 years have been a great testing ground for creating new, globally marketable characters. Many characters have failed and fallen by the wayside in comics, but the winners have proven themselves and risen to the top. Why would Disney or WB not want a healthy, vibrant comics industry that could continue to experimentally develop the next great characters for the upcoming decades? They have to remember that if they don't find a way to create with characters that are beloved by the next generation, another company will.

In terms of marketing online comic books, there is the added benefit of them potentially going "viral." If reading a new issue is as easy as going to a blog, people could bookmark it, e-mail it to friends, post links on their web site, "like" it on Facebook, subscribe by e-mail, etc. All of that is so much easier than trying to convince your friend to go down to a comic book store and find the issue, or lending it to him and having him being unable to figure out when or where to get the next one. That might have been workable 20 years ago but modern consumers are spoiled by technology and don't have the patience they used to. Since the DVR came out, who would ever exhibit the patience to record a TV show by videotape anymore?

The fundamental problem that's been dragging comic book readership down is a lack of faith in the artform among everybody, consumer, producer, the general public, etc. That's been driven by a lack of consistent quality in the stories. And it's resulted in a lack of promotion on the part of industry leaders. Many comic book characters are more popular than ever thanks to the movies, so it is almost inconceivable that everyone in the industry could have let this downward spiral happen. I just feel now that technology and media have evolved so much that it would be much easier to build the comic book audience back up if it were driven digitally as opposed to in print.

And, wow, Jim almost became editor-in-chief of Marvel again? I take it back, maybe there is a way for printed comics to flourish again.

jimshooter said...

Well said.