Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in Digital | 108 Comments

Some very harsh truths about comics’ current existence and its future burrowed their way into my thick head about three years ago, back when I was Editor-In-Chief of a comics publisher called BOOM! Studios. I learned a lot at that job about the current state of comics publishing–not just from BOOM! but also from comparing notes with friends-turned-bigwigs like Nick Barrucci at Dynamite Comics or Filip Sablik over at Top Cow. Here are two especially big and scary bits of math.

One: American comics are distributed almost exclusively by one company, Diamond, which–whether you like Diamond or not–is, in a free market system, madness. Diamond has no serious competition (nor–given various distributor-publisher exclusives and the thin margins in the industry on the whole–will it likely ever). Therefore, it can pretty much set whatever terms it likes with publishers, particularly the smaller ones. The “Premier Publishers” –DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW–can get more favorable terms because they account for so much market share, but the smaller ones have no negotiating leverage. Moreover, Diamond can decline to distribute any new comic it feels won’t make a significant profit or doesn’t show enough “promise,” as is their right. Now, none of this is a condemnation–Diamond’s built its business from the ground up and seems to be very good at what it does, and I’m not suggesting they haven’t earned their status–but because they’re a monopoly, this makes Diamond a very powerful gatekeeper in the industry, and that’s not changing. You want to sell comics to anyone, you sell through Diamond. (Newsstand publishing is a whole blogpost in and of itself, which I’ll do soon, but here’s the short version: it’s a dying racket deliberately designed to pay out less often than a slot machine. No matter how crooked you suspect it is, I’ve seen spreadsheets and can promise you that you’re underestimating by half.)

So…Diamond. Typically, a non-Premier publisher sells its wares to Diamond at 40-45% of cover price. Let’s say 40%. You’re one of those publishers. That means that if your comic is cover-priced at $3.99 (which, at the moment, seems to be the average bottom threshold), you’re making roughly $1.60 per copy. Which actually doesn’t sound too awful, right? Let’s say you’re not a Bendis- or Millar-level sales superstar but neither are you a total unknown, so you’re selling 5000-6000 copies of each issue, very respectable in this day and age. Less if you’re a brand-new creator with no track record among retailers, but for argument’s sake, let’s say 5-6K. That’s, what, eight or nine grand gross?

But here’s the big bite: at those print-run levels, that comic is costing you around a dollar a copy just to print. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. What’s that? You’ve decided to forego expensive color for cheaper black and white? You’d be surprised how little that lowers the cost. Printing, shipping, and various related charges–that’s where you’re spending more than half your income. More than half. Not on creative, not on marketing, not on advertising, not on all of that put together. On printing the damn thing.

And…and…as the printing industry continues to contract, the per-unit costs will–basic law of supply and demand–continue to escalate.

Big And Scary Bit Of Math #2: How many retail outlets nationwide does Diamond serve? If you’re a small publisher, how many stores can you hope to get your comic into? If you guessed more than two thousand, you’re dreaming. Maybe two thousand, and that includes every tiny sports-card shop or private individual who maintains an account with the distributor by ordering the bare minimum amount of merchandise monthly for their own collections, not for resale. It’s pretty sobering to realize that four regions–California, New York, Texas and the Chicago area–account for a jaw-dropping majority of comics stores across America. Last time I looked, for instance, if you live anywhere between Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi, there are no comics stores to be found. And that’s just one example of their scarcity. Those of us who live in major metropolitan areas lose sight of how hard it is just to find a damn comic book at all in, say, Prattville, Alabama or Tupelo, Mississippi. Distribution is awful, and it’s only getting worse as stores struggle.

More bad news: of those let’s-charitably-say-two-thousand, a high percentage of those won’t even order your book. They use Diamond’s monthly Top 100 listing as a menu and won’t even order most of the bottom 50. That doesn’t make them evil, just necessarily thrifty–they’re buying wholesale from Diamond at maybe a 45% discount if they’re a small store, 53% at best if they have multiple storefronts, and what they ordered can’t be returned to Diamond, so they don’t have a whole lot of leeway to take risks on “unproven” material. I don’t have concrete numbers before me, but I would make an educated guess that INCORRUPTIBLE, the lowest-selling of my monthly comics, gets shelved in maybe 500 stores across the world. And, as with most all print comics, fewer stores every month.

That’s the cold, hard math of print comics. I know that math. What I don’t know nearly as well–what none of us yet knows reliably–is the math of digital comics. I’m going to learn it the hard way over the next few months: face-first. I’ll report back with my findings.

108 Comments

  1. Reilly Brown
    April 4, 2012

    It’s a sad truth, but the comics readership is small and shrinking. In a market like this I think that any attempt to reach out and find new readers wherever they may be– even if it’s not directly through traditional comic stores– should be commended.

    Reply
    • J. Torres
      April 4, 2012

      I think it’s relatively safe to say that the “direct market comics readership” is shrinking but in other places, such as book markets (including digital), classrooms, and libraries, it’s actually growing.

      J.

      Reply
      • Shawn Aldridge
        April 5, 2012

        Torres is correct.

        Reply
  2. DNM
    April 4, 2012

    I’ve been reading this very surprised, because it’s almost the exact situation we have in Spain.
    Our Diamond is called SD, and it’s curious to see how every number you give about Diamond match up with SD. The main difference is that in Spain the publishing format is not your average comic book with an standard price, so the profit and the “printing” share can fluctuate.
    I’ve been three years publishing fanzines and I try to upgrade to “professional” selfpublishing, but I need professional distribution and I have the same dichotomy… Do I publish fully digital or pay for printing?
    We are still working with other alternatives, such as selling ourselves directly to the clients in conventions or internet, and agreements with stores where we distribute ourselves so the percentage we receive is bigger. There is for example a whole editorial (Caramba) starting to work with this model in Spain, and it seems to work. It could be another posibility to explore, but I don’t know if the american market would take it.
    I’m not yet sure about going digital, but I’m sure these posts may help a lot to people like me, who are researching the same.

    Reply
  3. Tyler James
    April 4, 2012

    Good, sobering post, Mark.

    Will be looking forward to seeing your follow ups, and how you’re seeing “the math” of digital working out.

    Reply
  4. Kyle Latino
    April 4, 2012

    Yeah! A Muncie, Indiana shoutout! Haha! There actually are a couple of comic stores there, but none of them carried INCORRUPTIBLE when I was in the area. So: Point well taken!

    That’s the thing about independent comics, isn’t it. If you apply the business sense from any other avenue of money making to comics, it just doesn’t add up. I don’t know that the market for digital comics is even looking at comixology or graphic.ly right now. Seems like webcomics have the greatest accessibility, but a smaller chance at monetizing. One thing is for sure, you stand a much better chance of succeeding at publishing if you can actually distribute a product, even if it is only digital.

    And in the case of INCORRUPTIBLE, I wonder how many copies each of the 500 stores sold? 5? 10? It was a quality book, but it just wasn’t what the current market has been built to sell. And, let’s face it, you are Mark Waid, the rest of us don’t have the name recognition or track record to do anything close to even that!

    Reply
  5. Jamal Igle
    April 4, 2012

    I have tried to explain these things to people for years. Thanks for putting into a readable form. this will be helpful to a lot of new creators.

    Reply
  6. Terry Moore
    April 4, 2012

    You just described my life.

    Reply
  7. Patrick Rennie
    April 4, 2012

    Bob’s Comic Castle in Muncie is where I discovered Finder back before Dark Horse picked it up. Muncie’s a college town, so it can support a comic shop when a similar size city would not. (Muncie even has dedicated role playing game store: The Wizard’s Keep). So it’s a good point in general for cities that size, but Muncie itself, not so much.

    Reply
    • Mark Waid
      April 4, 2012

      So noted. And corrected. Thanks!

      Reply
  8. Steve Myers
    April 4, 2012

    Welcome to 1996, when I and a few other “self published” comic creators were faced with the exact same situation when considering that Diamond is the only game in town.

    As a creator and a publisher, it’s well past the time to just look beyond the niche market that Diamond caters to. They were always set up to be a direct channel for specialty shops. Essentially something that caters to collectors. Comics as a hobby. Since there’s no other distribution channel and hasn’t been in decades, the art is adapting and moving on.

    Online. Mobile. There’s just too many better ways to get your art “published” as content and into the hands of a potential readership much larger than the cold hard numbers that Diamond requires. With print media itself withering, Diamond’s grip on the art of comics is weakening.

    Great read and really good to see the math tossed out there. But this problem’s been around for quite a very long time.

    Reply
  9. John Hebert
    April 4, 2012

    Really nice analysis of a sad situation. Every day I’m more and more glad that I fled the biz and got a “real”, normal career going…besides, I wasn’t any good at it to begin with. Anyway, nice write up!

    Reply
  10. Jay Bardyla
    April 4, 2012

    What the industry really needs is more savvy shop owners coupled with proper promotion of the product. The readership is out there, this I know as my company has been recruiting 100s of new readers for years by reaching out to schools, libraries and through the general media. Running a smart business and being involved in the community to offer people an exciting and compelling entertainment alternative is paramount to making the industry stronger and it can be done. You just need people who want to do that.

    Reply
    • Tyler James
      April 4, 2012

      I can testify that the comic market would be an entirely better place for independent creators if there were a 1000 more Jay’s out there running shops.

      Reply
  11. Chris Gardiner
    April 4, 2012

    Holy cow. This is jaw-dropping.

    Reply
  12. Nat Gertler
    April 4, 2012

    I think you’re underestimating how much pricing difference black-and-white makes, Mark… but it doesn’t matter anyway, because for serial comics, the market isn’t there. Quick, name the most recent new black-and-white comic to last more than 10 issues on the direct market… and rule out those which were from people who were already successful in B&W comics field and thus already had retailers on their side. Suddenly, having removed Terry’s Echo, Dave’s Glamourpuss, and Jeff’s RASL from the list, we’re left with what? Nothing that I can think of since Walking Dead launched 9 years ago under a major publisher imprint. The “sell less but spend less” system runs into problems when you have to meet the Diamond minimums to stay in the game.

    Reply
    • Matt Rower
      April 5, 2012

      Wouldn’t the first Demo series qualify as a B&W series lasting longer than 10 issues? (Of course, it wasn’t intended to be ongoing.)

      Reply
  13. Jon Bergdoll
    April 4, 2012

    Great post. I love seeing the numbers, even if they’re depressing.

    I wonder (and you would know), what’s the market like on trades? They partially avoid the Diamond monopoly, at least, and at the high end the margin must be ok (I look at the super-successful Kirkman, who keeps his top two books in constant publication in two or three formats). You’ve done the definitive Irredeemable as well as all the trades (and at least one Absolute under your belt), so you know the market.

    Is it any rosier? Or is that just wishful thinking?

    Reply
    • Damian
      April 6, 2012

      The economics of the trades are always the question mark in my mind when I read about the dire state of comics sales. I get the impression that trades are where most casual readers encounter comics…both young readers and older readers who haven’t remained big fans but have some nostalgic interest.

      Reply
      • Jonathan Levine
        April 16, 2012

        Trades are a an increasingly dangerous place to place any hope due to the implosion of the bookstore industry. Bookstores are dropping like flies (Borders being the most high profile example) and trades are a segment that suffers greatly from the loss in the ability to flip through before purchase that results when online retailers are a consumers options.

        Reply
  14. Andy
    April 4, 2012

    I think digital is the way to go and I am excited to see where you are going with it. For me, the cost of comic books has sent me to look for alternatives, and I am much more likely to read and follow a long-form webcomic and then buy it in digital form (if offered; a surprising number of webcomics do not offer this) or a collected paperback or hardcover, as a way to support the creators and show my thanks.

    Reply
  15. James Lynch
    April 4, 2012

    Very informative! I am looking forward to your future posts. Thanks for taking the time to educate.

    Reply
  16. Brian Hibbs
    April 4, 2012

    According to The Master List (http://www.the-master-list.com/), I see a business called Poe Poz that sells comics in Tupelo — http://www.poepoz.net/about-us.php.

    Nothing in Prattville, AL, that I can see, but there are at least THREE stores in Montgomery, which Google Maps says is all of 10 miles away — driving 15-20 minutes seems reasonable?

    I have some other thoughts on the rest of your piece, but it will have to wait until not-Wednesday for me to type them…

    -B

    Reply
  17. Brian Hibbs
    April 4, 2012

    Hm, no direct link, but I found a second hand mention of :

    Greystone Cards & Comics
    501 Greystone Way
    Prattville, Alabama 36066
    (480) 752-1881

    -B

    Reply
    • Jamesm
      April 4, 2012

      According to google that phone number belongs to Greg’s Comics in Arizona.

      The small amount of googling I did is not showing much evidence that Greystone Cards & Comics actually exists anymore.

      I am not saying it doesn’t. Just that from it’s miniscule web presence it looks like it may no longer be in business or it may not be an actual “full service” comic book store.

      Anyone know?

      Reply
  18. Kairam
    April 4, 2012

    Monopoly is a disgrace and a thing of the past (there should be laws against it! oops. There are, arent there?) A self-published physical comic book can reach thousands of readers if done right, like thru the creators’ site or crowdfunding. And at least ten times more in eformat.

    Reply
  19. Kurt Christenson
    April 4, 2012

    This is why I stopped trying to break into comics in 2004. I just didn’t see how I could carve my own piece out of this incredibly small pie without breaking my back (and bank account) to merely toss a comic I slaved over in spare time after my 9 to 5 just to have it disappear in the cracks.

    Digital distribution and readership is the only liferaft there is for those of us who want to put out creator-owned material outside what is the comic industry as it exists.

    Accessibility, online marketing, and new storytelling tools, what more can we ask for as creators of comic books?

    Reply
  20. D.J. Coffman
    April 4, 2012

    This is a truth Ive known for over a decade now. In fact when I went to do my YIRMUMAH comic as monthly full color books on my own, I decided to SKIP diamond even though I had a rep asking me to list it. The biggest problem I had was that people had to preorder months in advance, and that was annoying. Other books we had in diamond in the past we were lucky to make $1 a book, but even then if you totalled all of our costs alone (not even the time!) we were at a loss. I decided to never use diamond again and skip comic shops unless they wanted to deal with me direct.

    What I did with YIRMUMAH could work for others still to this day. It’s pretty simple math as well. It cost us $2 a piece to do high quality print on demand, 24 page full color. 80 cents to mail. (probably a buck now) – we sold direct to our fans from our website and would do a two week preorder… Selling for $5 a pop that included shipping and a small sketch or something goofy from the cowriter- or something personal to big fans we recognized…. Result? We made $3 profit an issue, and sold 1200 our first month. $2400 profit.

    I don’t want that to sound TOO easy. It was actually a lot of work and almost took three weeks getting the books out with personal messages. But it felt AWESOME to do that and see a much bigger payout then we ever saw from diamond. And the best part is we didn’t have to wait for a check… Cash was instant into our account to have room to play with or book a show or two.

    Reply
  21. D.J. Coffman
    April 4, 2012

    Any creators who want to talk with me about this, mark included of course, just shoot me an email and I’ll share everything I know.

    Reply
  22. Christopher Irving
    April 4, 2012

    This is totally why the digital to Print on Demand model is the wave of the future, especially as POD becomes more affordable and increases in quality. And, as digital tablets become more and more affordable and attainable, doing comics digitally will hopefully become the best serialized option.

    Now, we have to make sure we don’t somehow wind up with another Diamond situation with digital distribution, and we’ll be fine.

    Best, Chris

    Reply
  23. Chuck Austen
    April 4, 2012

    Okay. I have way too much experience with this, though not as much as Nat (Hi Nat). Sadly, none of this is news. It’s only now being talked about because the situation has become so dire that no one’s afraid of pissing off Diamond anymore by bringing it up. Your post also doesn’t take into account the ‘niche’-ness of the market.

    I’ve self-published a lot of comics and books and had some success at Marvel and DC about seven years ago, or more. Things were almost this bad back then when I published Worldwatch. I had about 7000 in sales, and it wasn’t enough to pay the bills, though Diamond was ecstatic with those numbers. Color WAS more expensive–significantly so–and did nothing to increase sales. I still have people asking me to finish that series (and others I’ve self-published over the years). There’s not enough money in it, and never really was other than the brief black and white boom of the early to mid eighties. Trades to okay, but less and less so.

    When Jemas took over at Marvel along with Joe, the idea was to get as many new bodies into shops as we could. To that end we tried making things accessible to new readers, aligned properties more with the movies and TV series, etc…with limited success. We brought in new people–Joe was often told by people that they started reading with either my or Grants run on X-Men and came into shops they’d never been in before to do so–but we lost old readers who hated our approach at almost the same rate and it was nearly a wash as far as sales. Many of my new readers were women and they hated going into comic shops. (Little known fact, my and Grant’s sales were only a couple hundred apart in floppies. He probably sold a lot more trades than I did, but I don’t know those numbers. The point being that the market has been fan-driven and character oriented for a very long time).

    I’ve also published digitally, both novels and comics and when you take out the printing costs I’ve made more money just going through Amazon than I ever made publishing independently through Diamond. Add in Nook and Sony reader and I might actually make a decent profit over time rather than just dinner money every week for my wife and I. Better still I keep making money, and sales gradually increase over time. There is no limited shelf-life.

    There are lots of people making good money doing this–moreso in the novel arena (Amanda Hocking and John Locke, just to name 2), and one comic that I know of is doing very well, In Maps and Legends.

    The point is: Diamond is the least of your problems. The biggest problem is that the market is built and designed for a specific audience and trying to sell anything other than well-known superheroes to that market is like trying to sell pictures of naked men to Playboy readers.

    Digital removes that barrier to a wider, more genre driven audience. Is it broad enough to make a good living yet? Yes. There are millions of these devices out there. But most material is not designed for the new devices, it is designed for floppies, and then re-purposed. This doesn’t take advantage of what the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire or B&W devices can do, and is often clunky in its interface. It’s like the worst of ‘pan-and-scan’ for movies, text is often too small to read…it’s really not working. Things designed with the digital device as a primary goal work much better–at least tecnhically.

    You’re also going to have to find your readers, but I think it’s entirely doable. 99 cent comics are possible, again, and will happen, and that will help tremendously, along with material designed for genre audiences rather than superhero readers alone. Manga opened the door to a whole new audience of women readers that NO ONE is taking advantage of, even the manga publishers who first catered to them.

    I had a nice conversation with an exec from Comixology at Wondercon recently, and he said they had their best month ever last December. That market is growing, but it’s still primarily the same niche material of superheroes for the niche audience. Can it be opened up and broadened out? I believe so. But it’s going to involve a complete rethinking of comics. Moving forward into the new digital age will–in many ways–be like a return to the thirties, forties and fifties when the comics industry was alive and everything was possible–humor, romance, action, science fiction, horror…

    It’s just going to take someone with vision to take advantage of it.

    Reply
    • Jeff Morrissette
      April 4, 2012

      The question of the material not ready for the wide variety of digital/mobile devices is being looked at, we comic book readers whom are also web developers/designers find this an interesting problem: http://radar.oreilly.com/2012/01/responsive-design-pablo-defendini-books-in-browsers.html

      Reply
    • Kairam
      April 4, 2012

      I hope you’re right. Diversity rules!

      Reply
    • Steve Broome
      April 4, 2012

      A lot of the folks enjoying success in the digital area (as I hope Mark does) are already established after time in print, or (much like superheroes in the print world) stick to one of a select few genres with mostly white casts. I wish I was seeing this brave new frontier everyone is talking about.

      Reply
    • Jonathan Levine
      April 16, 2012

      Assuming potential new readers can be guided to sites like comixology (a not inconsiderable challenge in and of itself) I suspect that to have any real luck expanding sales of non tradition superhero comics is going to require the sites significantly enhance the way they present the comics. As it stands on the comixology iPad app trades typically have no preview pages displayed and individual issues have only three. Browsing around twenty random comics before making this post I found that in about 90% of the comics I looked at the the preview pages gave me no real sense of the story or narrative ‘feel’ of the comic. I got a chance to see the style of the artist but that was about it. Appealing to new readership is going to take more than that, hopefully the digital retailers will find a way to step up.

      Reply
  24. Mike Leonard
    April 4, 2012

    Bravo! That is the point so many people miss about the digital comics ‘debate’: it opens doors for new voices to enter the medium by making it feasible to produce material and at the very least get it out there where it can be seen, if not get paid for it, and not be stuck in a cycle where you’re in debt up to your eyeballs in the process.

    I can understand the retailers’ concerns but the bottom line is that these digital products may have never seen the light of day under the physical distribution system the industry is entrenched in.

    That’s not going to change anytime soon, you can shake your fists at the heavens all you want and it won’t fix it. Even the major publishers can only afford to publish so much material, and they’ve all but closed and padlocked the doors for new creators to get in (which is horribly short-sighted in and of itself, but that’s a completely different rant). You’ve pretty much got to learn the ropes on your own, and that’s a pretty scary tightrope when even if you do have a fantastic product, it doesn’t sell and you’re stuck holding a sheaf of bills from your attempt. It’s hard enough to try to work on something outside your day job let alone need to take a second job to pay for your efforts.

    Digital and print can easily co-exist. Digital allows creators to get a foot in the door, and once they get in there,there’s nothing to prevent them from moving their efforts over to print. Someone does a successful digital comic, then maybe they can think about translating it to print — if nothing else, you need something to sign at conventions and promotional appearances, unless people want you to autograph their iPhones and Kindles. Or they get the exposure to let them get larger paying gigs in print, if that’s what they want.

    The retailers’ browbeating and strongarm tactics against established creators about going digital is completely short-sighted. If anything, they should be embracing it as another way to bring new customers through the door, because the digital format will get at least some readers who aren’t currently won over by either paper ‘singles’ or trades. ANY exposure to comics as a medium, regardless of format, and possibly fostering a life-long habit and fandom should be welcome at this point by everyone who works in the industry in any capacity, and there’s nothing saying that the fan who discovers comics through a digital format won’t eventually buy print comics.

    The quickest way to make digital more viable is to get some established folks with name recognition to produce quality ‘professional’ level material, but the retailers are giving folks like Mark the evil eye and threatening to not help promote and make their print work successful as a result. They’re blackmailing themselves out of potential customers and even future products to sell, if a digital offering gets popular enough to make print a viable option to the creators. I can understand the frustration on their part but they also need to look at it long-term — all the comic book movies Hollywood can churn out aren’t going to bring the kind of long-term customer they really want, the kind of who enjoys reading material, in the door. The guy or gal who really liked the Avengers, comes in and buys a couple trades and then decides the comics aren’t as fun for them as the movie . . . you want readers, regardless of how they ‘found’ comics.

    Thanks again, Mark, for doing what you’re doing and sharing your findings with everyone.

    Reply
    • Kairam
      April 4, 2012

      Aren’t great printed books and digital two different things? Creators shall not be afraid to explore all resources in digital storytelling. A printed version of a great digital comic will be a version, not the same thing.

      Reply
  25. Clint Hollingsworth
    April 4, 2012

    I self publish (print) though CreateSpace. In black and white, I did a 200 page book for about $4 a copy wholesale. I paid no printing costs up front. When the sales gets big enough, they send me a check. I can order copies at just above cost for conventions. I don’t do big numbers since I am a relative unknown, but I have little in the way of out of pocket expenses. I see the direct market as a close cousin of the newspaper industry and they’re both going down the same drain.

    Reply
    • Christopher Irving
      April 4, 2012

      Clint,

      I’m gearing up to do the same thing; my new magazine, Drawn Word, is a digital sale through Graphicly, and I sampled black and white and color from CreateSpace. It’s a decent quality, no risk, and I think the way to go.

      The trick is to really get out of the direct market in order to get new readers. The death of the spinner rack hurt comics in terms of market penetration. We just have to find our new spinner rack now.

      C

      Reply
      • Bill Cunningham
        April 4, 2012

        Chris, Clint –

        We use Createspace to print our books, and I’ve been very pleased with the results we’ve achieved for both SCARLET IN GASLIGHT and MIRACLE SQUAD.

        I knew going in that Pulp 2.0 wouldn’t be able to go through Diamond and the LCS. What we have been doing is slowly rolling that snowball down the hill and picking up more and more readers along the way.

        Keep at it.

        Reply
  26. Mary
    April 4, 2012

    I have the DC Comics app for my iPad, and the post expensive comics I’ve seen on there are $2.99 – and that’s typically just for the new releases. The ones that have been out for longer (say, a month or two) I’ve seen as typically being $1.99. I guess not only is it cheaper for the consumer, but cheaper for the manufacturer as well.

    Reply
  27. Matt
    April 4, 2012

    Hence why Diamond does such a crappy job of distributing comics each week. My retailer says he would rather pay someone else more to do a better job — but he can’t!

    Heck, he’s still waiting on orders, and receiving them months – at times – up to a year later!

    Reply
    • Jay Bardyla
      April 4, 2012

      If your retailer is waiting a year for a book then it’s not likely Diamond’s fault. Either the book is delayed upon initial release or there needs to be a significant accumulation of reorder requests to justify the publisher sending Diamond more copies.

      Reply
      • Scott Bieser
        April 4, 2012

        Actually, it is Diamond that waits until a significant accumulation of re-order requests before they’ll send a purchase order to publishers.

        Reply
        • Brian Hibbs
          April 4, 2012

          Actually, actually, Diamond lists the purchase order minimum for each and every book simply by clicking a button for it.

          As soon as that minimum is made, Diamond cuts the PO.

          -B

          [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

          Reply
  28. Steve Broome
    April 4, 2012

    The digital comics landscape doesn’t look that different to me as a creator from the print one, at least in terms of earning any money. Could be wrong.

    Reply
  29. Maximo V. Lorenzo
    April 4, 2012

    I gave up on mainstream American print comics already. They never sold what I and many other manga fans enjoyed.

    Self publishing internet future here we come!!

    Reply
  30. John Jackson Miller
    April 4, 2012

    I did a study on the uneven distribution of comics shops across the country back in 2005; I need to get that onto Comichron some day. The findings weren’t surprising. The number of local comics shops strongly correlates with household income; in 2000, Maine had twice the average U.S. number of shops per capita, while Mississippi had less than half the average.

    And then the shops that do exist outside the big metropolises simply sell fewer copies. While the southern states have nearly a third of the population, they had only a quarter of U.S. comics shops, and accounted for only a fifth of sales in the year I looked at.

    The ideal would probably be to get back to a number of stores closer to what existed in the mid-1980s, before the battling distributors were subsidizing with easy terms stores that had little chance of survival. (Memphis, which you mention, had ELEVEN shops by my count at the peak, including two cases in which distributors had opened up accounts across the street from each other, and another “shop” in what had been a psychiatrist’s office in a medical building!)

    That’s been one result of the single-distributor model: without satellite warehouses to justify and dueling regional account reps, the incentives to open sheer numbers of accounts are gone. Your comics store today is thus harder to find — but is also probably more likely to be there a year from now. We just need to get to a happier medium between retailer viability and customer convenience.

    Reply
  31. Jim McVay
    April 4, 2012

    I have always loved and supported comics shops. That said, selling comics exclusively from comics shops has always seemed like economic madness to me. Sales of 5 to 6 thousand issues a month for a professionally produced product would be complete, abject failure in any other medium. I’ve been pleasantly amazed for years that professionally produced comics continue to exist.
    As Mr Waids numbers show, the direct market comics store is serving only the tiniest fraction of the media consuming public. Digital can only grow the number of comics readers and that can only help direct market comics stores.

    Reply
    • Brian Hibbs
      April 4, 2012

      “Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies” (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006). And average sales have since fallen much more. According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.”

      So….. not really.

      (http://philcooke.com/book_publishing/)

      (Not that, he hastened to add, that BookScan is counting 100% of sales… but still….)

      -B

      Reply
      • Powell's Books
        April 5, 2012

        And 99% of books ever published are out of print.

        Reply
        • Brian Hibbs
          April 5, 2012

          Well, sure! They only ever sold a few thousand copies!!

          -B

          Reply
          • Nat Gertler
            April 5, 2012

            I am very dubious about the claim that 99% of books ever published are out of print… in large part because the rise of print-on-demand and such means that likely more than 1% of the books ever published were published this year. Print-on-demand also explains much of the lowering of “average” book sales – push out the pointy end of the long tail and you lower the average. But in general, those sort of stats are meaningless, except in showing that the book market is not as you perceive it – a lot of the books published are highly specialized tech books, text books, or business reviews, never meant to sell in the thousands.

    • Justin Jordan
      April 4, 2012

      The problem there isn’t the averages – as Mr. Hibbs points out, most books don’t sell all that well – it’s that our peaks our so low and the range is so small.

      While the majority of books are lucky to sell a few thousand copies, the tops books sell millions and millions, and a sizable minority sells in the hundreds of thousands.

      So the problem isn’t that books are selling 5,000 copies. It’s that there aren’t any selling 5,000,000 that’s the problem.

      (Well, in the US anyway. And yes, Walking Dead and all)

      Reply
  32. Jim McVay
    April 4, 2012

    Here’s a little spitball math about possible digital sales. I’m only going to talk about iPads just to keep it simple. Wikipedia (my unimpeachable source) says that 55.28 million iPads have been sold to date. Let’s says they’re off by roughly 10 percent and call it 50 million sold. One percent of that is 5 million. If that one percent bought one comic a month that’s a sales increase of 5 million books a month. If one percent of those people bought one comic a month from a direct market store that would be 500 thousand more sales per month. I think we’d call that a new golden age for comics sales.

    Reply
    • Jay G.
      April 5, 2012

      Your math is off. One percent of 50 million iPad users is 500 thousand, not 5 million. And one percent of 500 thousand is 5 thousand.

      So, 500,000 iPad readers and 5,000 direct market buyers.

      Reply
      • Jim McVay
        April 5, 2012

        Crap. I knew I wrote that too fast. Thanks for the dispiriting correcton.

        Reply
        • Brian Hibbs
          April 5, 2012

          Also? 1% conversion rate? In your dreams. One tenth of 1% would be gloriously generous…

          -B

          Reply
          • hebitudinous
            April 17, 2012

            One possible future is where Marvel and DC sell highly customized comic book experiences that are synchronized with their online role-playing games — your online accomplishments in the game are publicized in the digital comic book. In this world, there are only 100 customers left who are paying thousands of dollars a week for their fix, like the meth dealer who diversified his drug money into comic books.

            The reality in most media distribution businesses is that they end up defaulting to a monopoly position, whether you are talking about books, magazines or comics. You have got to keep pushing the envelope in search of ways to bring in new readers and new types of product. So what if CMX and Graphicly got out of the comics business. If the comic industry is like other media businesses, it needs to figure out how to shift 10-15% of its cost into new development.

            Book publishing will always be about risk management. The only way to grow the market without killing the existing golden goose is to continually make side bets and don’t be afraid to fail.

  33. Scott Bieser
    April 4, 2012

    Some good information here, but I have a cautionary story regarding CreateSpace: If you try to print a graphic novel through them with more than 150 pages, CS insists that you allow an EXTRA 3/4″ inside margin. Which is no big deal for a textual book — you adjust margins and re-flow the text. But a typical comic that is drawn to a specific page trim, margin and bleed size cannot be easily re-worked, keeping with CS’s limited number of trim sizes allowed, without unacceptably distorting the artwork. I had to cancel the last project I’d planned with CS for that reason.
    If your book is under 150 pages (actually, I think, more like under 175 pages)the inside margin addition is only 3/8″ which is manageable.

    Reply
    • Scott Bieser
      April 4, 2012

      Sorry, that should be, for a larger book CS requires a total inside margin of 3/4″ plus 1/8″ bleed, a smaller book requires a 3/8″ margin plus 1/8″ bleed. Most comics with bleeds are drawn to a 1/4″ margin plus 1/8″ bleed on both left and right margins.

      Reply
    • Nat Gertler
      April 4, 2012

      Scott: Let me note that CreateSpace actually supports you setting the trim size (within some certain size limitations) so long as the book is only available via Amazon and CreateSpace… and there are other reasons for sticking with that anyway. I’ve got a 6″x6″ book winging its way here right now, even though it isn’t one of their official sizes. It’s just that the set-your-own-size options are somewhat hidden.

      Reply
  34. Bill Walko
    April 4, 2012

    Yup. Three years ago when I started developing my own comic, digital was definitely the way to go. The whole comic distribution system is antiquated, and the current market does not support unknown creators with untested characters.

    I still print out “floppies” for conventions, because I do think there’s value in physical copies to touch and feel (and giveaway!) But comics – sequential art – is a medium, and it’s certainly not limited by the comic book format and Diamond distribution!

    Reply
  35. Hunter Ligler
    April 5, 2012

    Even I was thinking of covering the same topic but I guess you posted this nice article before me.. lol :)

    Reply
  36. Mason
    April 5, 2012

    I grew up on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere in southeast Oklahoma. I never had access to comics as a kid. I watched the Uncanny X-Men & Amazing Spiderman cartoons & that was about the only access I had to the world of comics. There were no comics shops anywhere. The few comics I had were packaged with action figures. Basically, I didn’t have access to comics until I was in college several years ago when I could order them online. But I’d still have to wait for them in the mail. Now though, I have the comiXology app on my iPad & have purchased HUNDREDS & HUNDREDS of comics digitally through them. Digital doesn’t compete with print. It reaches markets that weren’t there before. I hope that your experiments in the digital realm pay dividends & blaze a trail. Good luck sir.

    Reply
  37. Peter B. Gillis
    April 5, 2012

    I’ve been out of the biz so long that I’m not really qualified to comment except to give a little historical note–that I think is nonetheless significant: that Diamond did not become the only direct sales distributor by evil ambition, but by default, with the demise of Capital City and everybody else.
    The truth is that the market is too small and the margins too low for anyone to bother dislodging Diamond. And Diamond’s tactics, while brutal, are those of a marginal market.
    Digital is a great thing, but I felt well over 25 years ago that the only place for comics to grow to is bookstores–just like SF did when the pulps died. And (very much from the outside) I’ve seen that there are respectable comics sections in bookstores, a fever dream back then. And I’ve also seen that creators are writing graphic novels even when they’re chopped into pamphlets and called “story-arcs.”
    Another ancient observation: comics stores, at best, are bicycle stores. You don’t go into one unless you want a bicycle. Full bookstores allow for folks to discover comics even if they came in looking for a diet book or a gift book for their nephew. That’s the only way the readership grows–the way it did in the newsstand and drugstore beginning. When a real publisher with real money focuses exclusively on a bookstore model, we could get out of this slough of despond. But that’s as much a dream now as it was then.

    Reply
    • Noel Savory
      April 5, 2012

      Peter,
      Diamond became the last distributor standing, by signing up Dc, Dark Horse and Image to exclusive contracts, after Marvel made their ill judged decision to buy Heroes World and distribute themselves.
      This left Capital City with something like 70% of its income gone, which inevitably led to its demise.
      What was left only sustained the much smaller distributors that remained for a short time before even they too faded away.

      I agree with everything else you said though.

      Reply
    • Damian
      April 6, 2012

      Bookstores are dying, being killed by Amazon and digital and other forces. Otherwise, I’d agree that bookstores are the way for comics to grow! I think Digital will have to be the medium of growth, or not at all…how all those digital users will bump into comics that interest them is a big question.

      Reply
  38. Ron Domingue
    April 5, 2012

    Thanks for telling it like it is Mark.

    I think the actual number of comic shops hover around 1400 but I have to find a reliable source and confirm. I see firsthand the struggles that successful independent creators (some Eisner winners) have selling books. The print business for comics is rather bleak unless you have an intellectual property such as the Walking Dead.

    I’m trying to figure out digital myself, 60 million iPads versus 1400 comic shops is pretty easy math to me. I’m self publishing my own graphic album through iBookstore so I’m doing a bit of experimenting myself.

    Reply
  39. John Jackson Miller
    April 5, 2012

    If it helps, here is a visual representation of how much business by dollars the industry does in each venue, and of each product, save digital:

    http://blog.comichron.com/2012/02/big-picture-bookscan-comics-shops-and.html

    The digital dollar share was only around 1% a couple of years ago: I do not hazard a guess as to what it is now.

    Reply
  40. Charles
    April 5, 2012

    Nice post, Mr. Waid. Its unfortunate that Diamond does have a stranglehold on the distribution market and that they can hide behind the fact that they distribute magazines and toys as protection from any sort of monopoly status. I’ve watched a friend of mine struggle for years in this industry and its beating the life out of him and it saddens me. He’s right in the “sweet” spot you describes Mr Waid of about 5-6K a book and there is just no money in it.

    I like the idea of digital comics, but the problem is the audience finding your product. Sure if you have a name in the industry, its easy to get some sales that are nice. But how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? If anyone can publish a digital book, how do you know whats good? Other than some unreliable reviews or a recognizable name.

    Reply
  41. Ron Domingue
    April 5, 2012

    I’ve been trying to be part of the solution rather than the problem. I initially wanted to release a book under Image but saw the disparaging print numbers first hand.

    hotelwtango.com is my attempt at self publishing a book on the iPad. I hope this opens other opportunities for other creators. I know it’s really hard to sell 1s and 0s just ask the music industry.

    Reply
  42. Torsten Adair
    April 5, 2012

    Comics shop owners must decide:
    Are they a hobby store, or a specialty book store? Market your product and store accordingly.

    I got hooked on comics on Memorial Day weekend 1984 in Lake View, Iowa, (c.1200 people) where the local grocery store (one of three) had a huge magazine rack (five feet?) with special display pockets of comics. The next day, I visited another grocery store in town, and bought more comics. The third store didn’t have comics, but they did sell those Fleer DC mini-comics with the secret origins and cheap candy!

    I don’t believe either has much of a newsstand now.

    Were I to publish a comic, I would digitize it first. Set up an ad-supported site for free viewing, then sell a pre-ordered first printing (possibly funded by Kickstarter), with reprints fulfilled by print-on-demand technology. A digital edition would be offered as well, in a variety of formats (single issues, bundles, AR editions). Maybe a few limited edition comics for sale at conventions or on the website.

    Of course, one has the same problem publishers had back in the roaring 80s, when black-and-whites boomed and busted: how do you get noticed?

    (I’m fortunate… Omaha is an oasis in the Great American Desert. It has multiple comics shops of all varieties, in a metro area of 860K (#60). When I was growing up, there were two SF bookstores, four comics shops, and two amazing/legendary used bookstores. Now I live in NYC…)

    Reply
  43. John Nikolouzos
    April 5, 2012

    This is all well and good, and trust us it’s the same in Greece: Newsstand publishing is a mafia racket at best, and Diamond is slowly strangling any profits out of comic book shops. $3.99? Ha. Make that €4.50 by the time comic books arrive on readers’ hands.

    I completely agree, digital is the way to go. Now if only companies agreed on a standard format, I hear the iPad2′s new raised resolution doesn’t scale comics created for the old iPad correctly, resulting in blurry or blocky graphics and screwed up colors, and what am I to say for myself, someone who just turns my laptop sideways and reads comics on the monitor to the left like a book?

    Also, I am really starting to not like what Marvel Infinite’s trying to do with new reading features, to me they seem like they put too much extra stress on the artists on some levels, while cheapening the general feel with mostly reused panels. I’ll admit I can’t really judge until they have stabilized the formula though.

    Very informative article, kudos Mr. Waid!

    Reply
  44. Clint Hollingsworth
    April 5, 2012

    Just as an aside on digital publishing, y’all might check out a podcast called Webcomics Weekly. Look for the Episode entitled “Skottie Young” in which he describes how he took a small profect he had already printed for conventions and made a pdf of it, selling for $2.99 (I think). The pdf did quite well, though I admit Mr. Young has a name. I did the same thing with one of my standalone stories here (10 page preview and then the request to buy). Did a couple hundred books at $4.00 and FAR outsolde the print version on Amazon. http://wanderingones.com/story/44/1/

    Reply
  45. Clint Hollingsworth
    April 5, 2012

    Geez I so need to proof my posts.

    Reply
    • Jim McVay
      April 5, 2012

      I feel your pain.

      Reply
  46. Tim Jones
    April 5, 2012

    I  realized that comics were trouble when I tried to buy the new 52 Batman by Scott Snyder at the only comic store in a 60 mile radius, located in a major college town, and the owner told me he doesn’t really carry new comics because people don’t buy them.  He said people were only buying card games.  So I tried to go digital and bought the Kindle fire and it is definitely not ideal.  I don’t want to put words in Mark’s mouth but I believe he said that when it comes to digital we have a portrait medium in a landscape world.  This is completely the case.  I would think it would be easier to print in landscape orientation than turn my flat screen on edge if I wanted to read a comic on it.  

    But I just don’t think digital comics are going to truly take off until there is a affordable reader with a large screen and removable storage.  How great would it be to buy Mark’s run on the Flash all one one SD Card that you can just plug in and read?  I understand the nostalgic feel and smell of old comics, but I also love the ease and look of digital as well as the potential of what can be done with it.  I think not embracing digital is going to kill the medium and so I applaud you Mr. Waid, and I for one will support your efforts.

    Reply
    • Steve Broome
      April 6, 2012

      “when it comes to digital we have a portrait medium in a landscape world.”

      All we have to do is adjust. For my latest comic because of that, I’ve divided the printed page up into thirds, which allows for three landscape oriented divisions, which can then be subdivided into whatever layout you want. There are instances, like showing tall buildings, where you are losing the ideal layout, but you still have a lot of flexibility. It also lends a cinematic quality to the panels.

      And for things like splash pages you can still do those, all you’d have to do is divide the information in the splash page into thirds so that it works easily on digital devices, each one of these panels is exactly 1/3 of a printed page:

      http://coalminds.com/webcomics/thecall.php?p=1

      Agree completely about increased storage, although even with limited storage, comics are maybe the most efficient and natural medium for these digital devices. At exact ipad size, a 22 page comic can easily be squeezed into ~5mb at good jpg quality in b&w, more for color obviously but still reasonable.

      Reply
  47. Henry Martinez
    April 5, 2012

    Great read, thanks Mark.

    Reply
  48. About Waid’s “Print Math” | Savage Critics
    April 5, 2012

    [...] Waid has a very thorough post over here on “Print Math” that I think everyone should [...]

    Reply
  49. Sean Smithson
    April 5, 2012

    The other fat is…comics are too damned expensive. 4 bucks for what amounts to ten minutes for a lot of people?

    It’s just not affordable. It’s art for the people that has been priced out of the people’s hands. And digital versions being so pricey is just straight up criminal, I’m sorry. No paper? No 4 bucks. Digital comics should be a dollar from the majors. Watch sales skyrocket.

    Reply
  50. taki
    April 5, 2012

    Mark, I always thought you were cool, but you just got yourself a super cool status in my eyes.

    Do you know if bookstores like B&N are ordering GN from Diamond as well?
    And does no prose book distributors every work with comics?

    Reply
    • Brian Hibbs
      April 5, 2012

      Taki: Yes, OF COURSE some bookstores order periodicals through Diamond (http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/04/23/comics-to-make-big-inroads-in-barnes-noble-in-june/), and yes OF COURSE prose book distributors carry book format comics (but not periodicals) — every source is going to look for the cheapest possible way to purchase product, in all cases (and in the case of WalMart, they’re going to get you down to a penny-a-unit profit if they possibly can)

      In fact, as a DM retailer, I buy several publishers works from Baker & Taylor, rather than Diamond, because of price and returnability options — including Boom! studios.

      -B

      Reply
  51. Brian Hibbs
    April 5, 2012

    Mark:

    I wrote, um, like 3200 words on this, so I posted it to my own blog, instead over in the comments section here.

    http://www.savagecritic.com/retailing/about-waids-print-math/

    -B

    Reply
  52. Brian Hibbs
    April 5, 2012

    (damn, sorry, didn’t know pingbacks were working….)

    -B

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Reply
  53. D. Peace
    April 6, 2012

    I’ve been saying for years that the direct market system, as it exists now, is absolute shambles and not built to grow or even maintain for any serious length of time but, never so eloquently or backed by such bleak hard numbers. Thank you for writing this article.

    And thank you for speaking up in favor of digital. I know there is this notion deeply embedded into comics culture that the comic book specialty store was the savior of the medium back in the day and bolstering it is our future but it’s a tiny niche, one that is shrinking and poorly maintained to begin with. People still argue that print sales are much, much higher than digital and of course they are but look at emerging trends: Digital is a growth market and print is in decline. Digital is about open possibilities, in terms of potential audience, creativity and even marketing. The direct market is broken and I’ve known it since I was a kid in the mid 90′s, trying to find ANY well-kept, well-stocked comics store in my small town that didn’t immediately go out of business, I knew it when I was in college and comics culture was beginning to reach mainstream consciousness in an unprecedented way but it was still impossible to get people, even good friends of mine, in the stores because they couldn’t find the shops or the shops were terrible, and I know it now as sales continue to slip. Sorry for rambling but the point is: THANK YOU for being one of the few people with the courage to point at the writing on the wall.

    Incidentally, self publishers in prose, as well as in comics, would do well to explore the possibilities of monetizing ebooks rather than go the print-on-demand ONLY route.

    Reply
  54. Chris
    April 6, 2012

    Nice read and very informative. I live in Hong Kong and consider myself lucky that there are 2 comic stores in a small basement mall. The one I frequent is decently stocked, and even sells some independent comics although not as many titles as I would like. They do however order titles (and back titles) for customers on request.

    The store also sells figures and other collectables – I suspect the margin is much better for those and it is what he makes a living on. Surely, the number of comics (DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc) sold in Hong Kong can’t be that great …

    Reply
  55. Shane Chebsey
    April 6, 2012

    Hi Mark

    As a small publisher ourselves we have fallen into the Diamond Trap. We can’t sell enough comics to make printing them worthwhile.

    However… I do know printers that can print standard US comics x 5000 for well below a dollar :-) We only do Graphic Novels now though as we can get better margins with those and don’t even need to sell through Diamond to make a profit.

    The main problem is the whole direct market system itself. Comic shops are all about superheroes which is what’s killing comics. The public perceive comics as teenage junk when they are so much more. Mostly because of the domination of super heroes in America.
    It will take a whole generation to remove this stereotype and I am not even sure it’s possible in the US or the UK for that matter where most of the general public don’t even think comics are published here any more.
    We’ll keep fighting the good fight though! :-)

    Reply
  56. Mike
    April 6, 2012

    In 2004, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine wrote an article called “The Long Tail” in which he talks about online sales versus brick and mortar stores.

    Here’s the article:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

    It’s a longer article (for internet standards), but if you’re into the business of distribution and the power of niche audiences, it really is a great read.

    Even with these new forms of distribution, I still see these online services falling into the same pitfalls as the brick and mortar stores. While the brick and mortars have limited space and can’t accommodate everything, these online services have terabytes worth of room waiting to be filled. With the Marvel app, it’s great if I want to read Uncanny X-Men or New Avengers, but what if I want to read some Sandy Plunkett Marvel Fanfare? I love Mike Mignola, but I can’t get his first work on “Rocket Raccoon”? I know it’s early in the Marvel app life span and more comics and technology is coming. It just seems that recent comic apps are more evolution than revolution. My phone and tablet are fully functioning computers. I think we can do better than a PDF reader and some metadata.

    Reply
  57. David Hedgecock
    April 6, 2012

    Thanks to Mark for opening up the topic.

    I have a number of thoughts/opinions that I could add, but, I will spare the group from them. Instead, I will share some facts as it applies to my company, Ape Entertainment, and one book – POCKET GOD – in particular.

    As of December 2011, Pocket God Comics #1 had sold over 175,000 units on the iOS platform. With a launch date of August, 2010, I believe that would put us, by sales volume, in rarified air within the Direct Market over that period of time.

    That same book in print has sold less than 1,000 copies to date.

    Remaining DIGITAL SALES on the following 12 issues of the book as of December 2011 exceed 500,000 units. Sales on all issues continue to trend upward.

    Reply
  58. Allen Berrebbi
    April 6, 2012

    Mark is 100% right and I applaud what he is trying to do. For those of you who do not know me, a few years back Bob Layton, Dave Michelinie, Dick Giordano and I launched Future Comics. I served as CFO and was in charge of sales as well. Our game-plan was to bypass Diamond and sell direct to the stores.

    One thing we unfortunately realized very quickly was how few ACTUAL comic book stores there were, not just Diamond accounts. And this was almost ten years ago, I’m sure it’s a lot worse now. The DM is dying people, otherwise people would be opening more shops to take advantage of this “growing” industry but they’re not. The few shops we have left are dwindling in numbers.

    I wish we had launched right now. If we had, it would be digital only. I love a good comic shop as much as the next guy and miss the good old days but the sad truth is it’s not a healthy industry and there are not enough outlets for impulse buys for new readers.

    Digital may not be the answer but it’s potential is very exciting. Mark has a lot of guts and should be applauded for trying to move the industry in a forward direction.

    Steve Jobs was lauded for his ability to recognize not whats popular now but what WILL be big. We need more of that kind of thinking in comics.

    Reply
    • Jay Bardyla
      April 7, 2012

      If the industry is dying, Mr. Berrebbi, it is only because of people who spout uninformed comments like yours. All this negativity and this “war on print” from people who like digital is ridiculous. Turning your back on one format in favour of another will not allow you to succeed but that shows you lack knowledge about marketing.

      While I appreciate the information of this article, I’m not entirely sure what Mr. Waid’s purpose was in posted it. Was it to just provide information? Then why not balance it with some positive comments about the state of the industry? Was it to scare people off? That only contributes to the dwindling numbers problem. Was it to shine digital in a positive light? I think most people realize the benefits of digital but many of the comments above reflect that people haven’t clearly thought things through.

      The industry is stronger and healthier than it was in 1999. It is becoming more diverse and has greater media attention than it has had in decades. The trick here is to find people savvy and willing enough to capitalize on that growth and attention and build on it, both through print and digital.

      Yes people, they can exist together. Look at Order of the Stick. We can stay strong. Let’s pump the DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s AvX. We can grow. Let’s host workshops that inspire kids to make their own comics.

      In the past 5 years my business has seen it’s readership increase nearly 10 times and not by stealing from other businesses but by reaching out to new readers, lapsed readers and by hosting a venue that people can come together to share their passion for this great hobby. And I can say with great certainty that we will not be closing our doors anytime soon.

      Reply
      • Tim Jones
        April 7, 2012

        I would think anyone who loves comics would absolutely love to see print comics thrive again, and I would guess that all of us on here at least have a fondness of comics if not a full blown live affair.  But print comics are not going to thrive with their distribution methods.  I have to drive 60+ miles or preorder 3 months in advance to get my comics, and then pay for shipping ir gas on top of high prices.  So I dabble in digital and buy trades because it is what I can afford to do.  For the most part you have to search out comics there is no impulse buying anymore.  My mother in law happened across a book store with a spinner rack by the checkout and she bought some comics for my kids, because that’s how you use to do it.  You grab comics for the kids at the store and then the kids seek out the shops when they’re older.  It is just bad business the way things are done now.  Digital might be where comics are headed, or maybe they will be a tool to help keep the industry alive.  But I don’t think any if us wants to see print fail in favor of digital, but print failing regardless of digital could be what happens the way things are going. 

        Reply
  59. Colin
    April 7, 2012

    Thanks Mark, a very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing, it really does highlight the challenges facing the industry. I am looking forward to this journey you are embarking upon.

    Reply
  60. Malcolm Bourne
    April 7, 2012

    I think Mark (waid’s) right as far as monthly “floppies” goes. As some of
    the people who replied to him pointed out, the problem is really the
    narrowness of the market – it always HAS been the narrowness of the market,
    i.e. people who go into comic shops, or used to when they were younger and
    order their comics online/mail order. A longstanding – well, 5 decades or
    so – sometimes-vicious cycle has been set up which caters to superhero
    comics and superhero comics readers. Even whilst the advent of the GN and
    TPB have found a large niche in bookstores, alongside the Manga invasion, it
    remains the case that over 90% of what is read is spandex men and women
    aimed at mostly young adult male readers. The point about Diamond, I would
    say, is that their existence and ways of working perpeutates that
    narrowness. Digitalisation has an even bigger reach than bookstores. and
    what is clear to me spending a lot of time with teenagers is that unlike our
    generation, the portable screen has become the communications device of
    choice for entertainment. Even a 15 year old boy after a new Batman story
    will on average prefer this deliverred wirelessly to his iPad/Kindle
    Fire/tablet or even laptop. And of course there are then huge savings on
    printing costs. The principle of paying, in the UK, for instance, 6 pounds
    for an e-book which would be 12 pounds in print, is well established. Why
    not a dollar for a comic that would cost 3 bucks? And easier to break the
    superhero stranglehold too. Diamond as a result either moves into
    e-distribution or goes out of business…..even as an adult reader I buy
    very few monthly comics. I mostly buy trades or coffee-table-book
    hardcovers…

    Malcolm

    Reply
  61. Allen Berrebbi
    April 7, 2012

    First of all my negativity has nothing to do with the realities of the DM. Stores are closing, comics outside of the big two’s main titles are struggling with not only sales but even being on the shelves of the stores. For every one good shop there are ten awful ones. The fan base is aging and we are not getting enough new readers to compensate for the fallout. This is not negativity, this is fact.

    This is not a war on print this is a desire to save the industry and to give it a better future. As for the uninformed comment, you are dead wrong.

    Try self publishing a book and see how much support you get from this DM you love so much.

    Reply
  62. Allen Berrebbi
    April 7, 2012

    There’s a difference between loving comics and loving printed comics.

    I love comics and I love a really good comic shop. But if I had to chose between comics in general and the few good shops, the comics win out.

    We have limited resources, we need to focus on the future. It’s the same reason pc makers stopped putting in floppy drives. Yes there are still people who use them but it’s not worth putting in the resources to satisfy those few.

    We need to concentrate on what will grow the industry and the amount of readers. Tere is nothing as important.

    Reply
  63. Atomic Kommie Comics
    April 7, 2012

    I worked in a comic shop in NYC from 1978-1980, when the Direct Market was just beginning.
    At that point we had two options, returnable books from a newsstand distributor with a 40% discount (plus no leftover books as we stripped the covers from unsold copies and sent them back for credit) or non-returnable from Phil Seuling’s SeaGate Distributors with a 60% discount.
    We’d order enough non-returnable from SeaGate to cover pull-lists and fill the racks (generally around 40-50 copies per book), and order (sometimes over-order) the rest, as needed, from the newsstand distributor, who could deliver on a day’s notice.
    Worked beautifully, our profits were astounding, and, except for a standard 15 copies per book filed as back issues, no overstock!
    I left the store to take a job writing movie magazines in 1981, but it continued until the mid-1990s,when the speculator market finally forced it to go mail-order back-issue only.

    Reply
  64. Allen Berrebbi
    April 8, 2012

    That seems like a smart strategy. I always wondered why more store did not do that.

    Reply
  65. Atomic Kommie Comics
    April 8, 2012

    “That seems like a smart strategy. I always wondered why more store did not do that.”

    Because they wanted the 60% discount on the non-returnables!
    It IS more profit per book, but you had to order carefully.
    Unfortunately, once Diamond took over in monopoly-mode, the discount slowly went down until it hit the current rate (35-40% ?), and since so many titles are direct-only, there’s NO option of ordering newsstand (returnable) copies any more!

    Reply
  66. Allen Berrebbi
    April 8, 2012

    I get that but when that options was available, it seems like a smart way to stock more with less risk.

    Reply
  67. Leonard Rifas
    April 8, 2012

    Thanks for these interesting numbers! I have calculated some comparisons with the second edition of _All-Atomic Comics_ which I co-published with Last Gasp in 1977. (I originally published that comic in 1976 for 75 cents and republished it in 1978, 1979 and 1980 for $1.25 retail, so it’s easier for me to use the $1.00 second edition.) According to the inflation calculator that I found at http://www.halfhill.com/inflation.html, a $1 comic then is basically the same price as a $3.99 comic today. (Comics prices have risen faster than inflation because a Marvel/DC comic in 1977 sold for less than a dollar.) The wholesale discount also remains unchanged at 60%. I printed in black and white with a color cover on coated stock for about a dime each (in 1977 dollars) and sold 10,000 copies. By Mark’s numbers, a current comic makes about $3,000 to $3,600 after printing to divide between the publisher and creators. In 1977, _All-Atomic Comics_ made $11,852 in 2012 dollars to divide between the publisher and creators. (I researched, wrote, drew, and lettered most of it myself.) My publishing business was unable to make the transition from head shop distribution to superhero-dominated comics shop distribution, especially when I went to full color in 1982 with Keiji Nakazawa’s _I SAW IT_, ordering the “minimum” print run of 50,000 copies. Thanks to those who have posted on this thread for their additional information, especially Brian Hibbs.

    Reply
  68. Jonathan Meyer
    April 9, 2012

    Mark, I appreciate the post and will look forward to see where the future will lead.

    I agree that it is tough to work through one Distributor. But that did not happen by accident,and there are other distributors to go through for small publishers.

    But digital will not be the saving grace for comics. We can talk about the lack of shops in local areas or the fact that some shops don’t order small press books, but there are reasons for that. The market doesn’t support them, and taking a product that people are not demanding and making it digital will not magically sell it. And even if someone is far removed from a nicer comic book shop, they can always buy the print book online.

    I think that whatever your digital endeavors may be, will do well for you. You are an established writer, (a good one too) with a fan base and a chance to get some buzz going on your projects. But that is not the case for most creators. The hope that they can publish a digital comic and then get some viral buzz generated for it to sell it is slim. Digital comics will take digital marketing, and that cost may very well be many times the cost a comic print run of 5000 copies.

    I think digital is a great venue for creators and a great way to expand and open up to an untapped audience, but I also hope, as a retailer (who does carry Incorruptible and keeps the TPB’s in stock) and a long time comic book fan and reader (over 30 years now) that print will continue to be a viable and loved medium.

    Reply
  69. Evan Dean
    April 14, 2012

    Mark,

    I am a fairly new comic fan (less than 5 years) and only follow DC. However, I ONLY buy digital as well and can say that I am a Mark Waid fan BECAUSE of your support for the format. I picked up AvX Infinite and Luthor from you website. Continue the great work taking comics to the next level!

    Reply
  70. Alonzo Illiano
    June 27, 2012

    Hi there.. It is best info So many writers today donot take pride in their work the way you obviously do. Thank you for your dedication to excellent writing and creating this wonderful content. It is as if you read my mind. I LIKE IT

    PoIuYt

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Reply
  71. John Shableski
    October 4, 2012

    The one major thing missing from this conversation is MARKETING. So few publishers-be they traditional houses like Simon & Schuster or Random House or traditional comics guys really do a proper job of marketing books. Comics are just like cars, hamburgers, movies or toilet paper-you need to tell the world your product exists! If you dont invest in a marketing and promotion plan as a part of your production schedule for that awesome book, only a handful of your friends are going to find it.

    As for Diamond’s role in the industry(and as a former employee) they are a distributor whose role it is to move books from publishers to market. Having said that, it is a bit odd that a distributor is allowed to determine what titles will actually make it to the reader’s hands. In any other distribution relationship, the publisher provides the distributor with a list/catalog of pending titles for the next season and the distributor then helps to get those books out to the schools, libraries and stores.

    Diamond really shouldnt be in the business of determining what sells BUT they have evolved into this role because the comics publishers often dont have the ability to determine what a good story is. Diamond’s role in this aspect grew out of a need for some kind of efficiencies. The problem there is you now have some folks who dont understand how or what sort of power they have as taste-makers.

    Like any aspect of the entertainment world, there is a lot of crap getting produced and if you think about it, there really are only a few songs, books, movies, and tv shows that we can remember or remember liking from each year past. The rest, is just filler or crap.

    The stuff that sells has two things going for it: great marketing and very possibly, it’s actually a good thing that you want to own.

    Reply

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