Comics are riding an enormous wave. There’s a diversity of comics on the stands that even five years ago would have been unthinkable, and better yet, they’re selling. But there are still things the comics industry needs to do to ensure its future.
Move Away From Adaptations As A Marketing Strategy
The combination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Walking Dead dominating the airwaves even when the Olympics are on have driven a lot of people to comics. But the truth is, as we all know, this comes and goes in cycles. There was a similar resurgence in the late ’80s and early ’90s as Batman became an enormous cultural phenomenon… which in turn triggered the speculator boom in the ’90s, which lead to the trainwreck which was the early 2000s.
Similarly, one theme I see quite a bit in the books I cover for my review columns are what I call “pitch books”; comics that are notably screenplays that have just been turned into comic books as an attempt to better sell the screenplay. Not that I’m knocking these books, necessarily, but keep in mind that category includes such illustrious films as Virus and Cowboys And Aliens.
Be Honest About Digital
What is the overall effect of digital sales? How many books do digital copies move, on top of physical ones? What are the most popular platforms?
Good question, and you know who will provide the answers? Nobody. DC and Marvel are notoriously tight-lipped; the best we get out of DC is that it’s seen “triple-digit growth”. Marvel won’t even own up to that: All we get is a top ten list from their app.
Part of this is that they don’t want to offend retailers, who are obviously, and rightly, concerned about the bottom line. But still, it’d be nice to know what direction the market is heading, instead of drawing inferences from books that apparently survive despite low sales numbers.
Find Out Who Their Readers Are
It is staggering how ignorant the major publishers are of their own audience. Here’s Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief of Marvel, admitting that his company doesn’t do market research and speculating that, hey, maybe women are reading comics in larger numbers, which in of itself is embarrassing.
But stop and think about this: Marvel is the biggest publisher in the industry, historically. And they have no idea who’s actually buying their comics!
And this isn’t the only problem. DC and Marvel have almost completely ceded the kids’ market to Boom! and IDW; most comics aimed at kids featuring their heroes are either tie-ins, reprints, or farmed out to another company.
The industry still has a very fixed idea of what the comic book fan is, and it’s off by a stunning degree. The collector with no social life is a dying breed. I get one or two emails a month from moms and dads asking me if this book or that book is kid suitable. Comics are so visible my wife is sending me articles about comics and racial dialogues. It’s obvious the market is changing, and it’s definitely growing, but how and why are two questions that really need answers.
Digital Reprints, Dammit
Finally, let’s see more reprints. As in, let’s start getting every single issue you own the rights to on the Internet for sale, guys.
Financially, obviously, there’s money to be had for the casual reader who doesn’t want to collect physical issues. But it also means that we can preserve, and read, more of the medium. Will The Heckler or Omega The Unknown will sell a billion digital copies? No, but they also deserve to be read. The problem with comics, for too long, has been that they were viewed as worth less than the price on the cover.
Comics are no longer disposable. Really, they never were. It’s time to stop treating them that way.
Any things you’d like to see change in comics? Let us know in the comments.