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Episode 67 - Comic Distribution

edited March 2006 in Manga/Comics
If you didn't figure it out already, I'm pretty enthusiastic about this episode. It's about a topic I'm very interested in for a variety of reasons. Primarily it's because comic distribution is a great example of how business models can have a greater effect on which products are produced and how they are produced than consumer demand itself.

In other words, the content and variety of comic books that are printed is more a result of the way the comics are sold than it is a result of capitalism. This is important to many people because it's happening in almost every market, especially music. Online distribution is killing the album as we know it. The invisible hand of capitalism does as it will, but it cannot leave the market. If the structure of the market is pre-determined and limited, then so shall be the possibilities for that market.



  • A good description of the distribution process, hadn't know that. But it does explain why I so rarely find stories that I like, so I end up looking for an author's name to find something good.

    I think there are probably a good number of geeks who feel the same way I do: "I like comic books, but not superhero comics." It's why I stopped listening to Comic Book Geek Speak, because they still focused way too much on the convoluted stories the populate mainstream comic.
  • While I read the super hero comics, it's generally better to read the ones that are individual stories or in a limited unverse like the Ultimate line. But like you said I have started to follow the Authors. Good writers will float from book to book and stay as long as they have a (usually good) story to tell (and I guess the money is good) that's why you have someone like Vaughn, who writes Ex Machina, Y the last man (for Wildstorm and Vertigo (both DC)) and Runaways and Ulimate X-men (for Marvel). Plus I've completely steered away from the individual comic books (of which i have like 1,300 or so) and now almost exclusively buy TPB's.

    TPB's I'm currently collecting
    All Ultimate lines
    The Walking Dead
    The Red Star
    Y the Last Man
    Ex Machina

    Individual comics
    Random D&D stuff (Forgotten Realms stuff)
    Random Buffy/Angel/Firefly stuff (by IDW)
  • edited March 2006
    First off, I agree with you that the way comics are distributed these days is not good. It limits comics in many ways.

    Let me defend the weirdness of Previews for a minute. One of the reasons there's so much Superman stuff in the March/May catalog is to capitalize on the new Superman movie. Nightcrawler has appeared as a pirate in some comics, I'm 90% sure; and more than one. It's ironic to me that you find all the superhero stuff weird and disturbing, because that's my first reaction to a lot of the Japanese stuff in the toy section of Previews. I figure some folks might want a pirate Nightcrawler for the same reason that other folks might want a Trigun action figure with a hugely gigantic gun, or the reason people dress up as characters at cons, or whatever. Different folks, different strokes.

    On pre-ordering: It's a decent system for dedicated fans. I do pre-order some things, because otherwise I would likely miss them. You're okay with most of the DC and Marvel stuff, because those companies will either re-print a sold-out comic, or put it in a collected edition later. But the smaller publishers operate on such shoestring budgets that they often print only what is pre-ordered. They put stuff in collected editions eventually, but it could take a while. In that way, pre-ordering is more important to comics publishers than, say, video game publishers.

    Some of the smaller publishers—Oni Press comes to mind—are adopting more of the tradepaperback-based model that Tokyopop uses. But it takes more time and money upfront, and the current policies of most corporations demand a near-instantaneous payoff on investments.

    Okay, on to the distribution thing itself. Direct distribution arguably saved comics back in the day. Be that as it may, it should not be the only way comics get distributed. I wish that comics were still available in bookstores, grocery stores, etc. That's where I bought my comics as a kid, when I got hooked on them. They might have to abandon the 22-page format and become anthologies like “Shonen Jump” or some other more-bang-for-your-buck format. There would still be a role for comic book specialty stores, just like there are still video game specialty stores even though you can buy games at WalMart or Target. It's just silly for any product to limit itself to one type of store.
    Post edited by Apreche on
  • Well, sure I think the anime stuff in Previews was weird too. 99% of the marketing seemed to be for scantily clad schoolgirls with big boobs. In fact, 99% of the advertising in there at all was big boobs. I'm a boob fan, but not a giant cartoon boob fan. That's just as weird as pirate Nightcrawler to me. All scary fan stuff is scary by definition.

    On your second point I agree. Pre-ordering is a system for dedicated fans. That's the problem. The system is designed only for dedicated fans. It's a self-limiting market. The problem is that in order to serve everyone, you have to take the risk and stop serving the dedicated fans. If they're really dedicated, and I believe they are, they'll still buy.

    Smaller publishers can do whatever they want. But I believe that by trying to do the best they can within the current system they are hurting themselves. It's almost as if you tried to compete with Microsoft Office by writing a new office suite using Visual Studio. You pay Microsoft a licensing fee and play by its rules in order to compete with it. Small publishers have the option to not play by Diamond's rules and make it big. If they choose to only work within the current system they get what they deserve.

    It's very very weird that direct distribution saved the day. If you look at the beginning of comics in the US they weren't hero comics. They were westerns, horror and romance because that is what sold best. Then the golden age of super heros came. When golden age comics started losing money they didn't change distribution models, they switched back to western, horror, sci-fi and romance comics. These were things that appealed to absolutely everybody. And switching worked. The non-hero comics saved the day financially. The same thing happened at the end of the silver age. Non-hero comics saved the day again.

    But in the 90's when heros were going down in the dumps again, did they switch back to the horror and romance stuff? Nope. They changed distribution models instead. That's why it's now about selling as many different comics to a small number of people instead of selling a few comics to as many people as possible.

    It's as if the comic creators really only want to make superhero comics, so they do anything in their power to do so; even if it isn't the best financial decision. Marvel and DC don't want to make comics for the rest of us, despite the fact it will make them much more profitable. Someone needs a lesson in capitalism.
  • From what I understand, back when they chose the direct market, newstands in general were shrinking (this was before Barnes&Noble, Borders, etc. exploded), and comics were just getting pushed out (lower profit margins, etc.). There were already some comics specialty stores around, so they ran there with the direct market.
    Why they didn't diversify their product, IDK.
    The weird thing is there is a lot of diversity of product in the comic shops. They just need to get it out into the regular bookstores where more people will see it. They're getting more and more tradepaperbacks into bookstores, but they don't seem to be getting any monthly comics in there.
  • Honestly, I'm really interested in quite a few (non-super-hero-in-spandex) comics out there, but I would never buy the monthlies no matter how good they were. It just doesn't feel worth my bother to go out and buy such a tiny piece of the story every month, let alone to deal with having a pile of them around. (They don't exactly fit on a bookshelf, and lending someone the whole story in comic form is a giant pain in the arse).

    Trade paperbacks are all I really want, and if anything I'd like to see more of those in the stores and fewer actual comics.
  • edited March 2006
    Yes, the current state of monthly comics is sad. If more people viewed comic books as something to be enjoyed and disposed of, that would be a big help. The idea of comics collecting really needs to go away. I suggest three ways to "fix" monthly comics.

    1) Get rid of them forever. Graphic novels only. Only scary nerds would be sad.

    2) Print far fewer titles. Print more copies of each title. Make them with super cheap print quality like Marvel Essentials. Ship them to every grocery store in the country. Change the content from super heros to popular TV shows.

    3) Japanese style anthologies i.e: Shonen Jump. The U.S. Shonen Jump is monthly, it needs to be weekly. It also needs to double its page count and cut its price.

    Any one of these three things can save comics. It's kind of funny how we talk about the direct market "saving" comics actually. See, it never really saved them per se. It was more like the comic industry was on fire and the direct distribution is a suit of asbestos. They're still in the fire and they've got lung cancer, but they refuse to die. A complete change like I suggest needs to come along in order to bring graphic storytelling up out of the pit.
    Post edited by Apreche on
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