Trouble with Comics

So You Want To Publish Comics?

If you want to publish comics, you’re not alone. Something in the raw appeal of comics storytelling makes a large portion of the audience want to try it themselves.

If I had to guess, I’d say this phenomenon is far more common to comics than it is to other storytelling media. Sure, a small percentage of moviegoers want to direct their own movies, but most people are happy just watching an entertaining film. Something about comics, it seems to me, spurs the impulse in a far higher percentage. So much so, in fact, that those of us that really don’t want to make their own comics, and yet have a prominent voice in the comics community, are often wrongly seen as wannabe comics creators. I wish I had stories to tell, in comics or any other form, but I really don’t have a lot of fiction inside me waiting to be set loose. And I certainly don’t want to start my own publishing company. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that!

So, if you’re one of those crazy people that wants to publish comics, here’s some advice based on decades of observing companies try and fail to establish themselves in the marketplace.

Cerebus the Aardvark

First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first few years of its existence. If you want to publish comics, you must have a enough capital on hand to withstand the indifference your initial offerings are likely to be met with. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of cash from rich Uncle Fred or Aunt Betty, chances are you are going to need to find investors. And those investors are going to want to see a solid business plan. Familiarize yourself with business plans by doing research online or at your local library. Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the many technical details of starting a business, you may not be ready to publish comics.

If you do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first few years, and that you’ll be able to stick to your business plan and keep your investors happy, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be especially aware that new superhero universes and American-created manga-style comics are extremely unlikely to succeed. You might want to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of such companies as Speakeasy and CrossGen Comics, to see where their founders went wrong.

Start small, with just one title. Make sure its creator(s) are able to meet the schedule you plan to release the book on, and make sure that the creator(s) focus on putting together a professional product at every step of the process. Make this as easy as possible by communicating your needs and intents clearly and in writing, and by paying them fairly and on time (every time) for their work. Conduct yourself as an ethical publisher who understands your business depends on the efforts of those you hire to fulfill your desire to publish comic books. Be aware that every issue you publish should contain a satisfying story unto itself, even if it is part of a longer, continuing story. Pay a lot of attention to proofreading, a virtually lost art these days, and be aware of professional lettering techniques. Bad, amateur lettering can spoil the reading experience of even the best-written and best-drawn comics. Warning: If you don’t know when to use the letter “I” with serifs and when without (“sans”), you don’t know enough about lettering comic books.

And how do you pick the creators that will write, draw, and letter (and possibly colour) your comics? Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. Be aware, when looking for talent, that writers and artists professional enough to make your dreams come true will be willing to work with you and for you, provided you are professional enough to help them feed their families and help them pay their rent, again, in an ethical manner and with written contracts fair to all parties. Warning: If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and an accountant, you can’t afford to publish comics.

If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next few years.

History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Starting a line with a number of titles only dilutes your brand in the marketplace. If Dave Sim had released seven or eight other titles the same month he debuted Cerebus the Aardvark, it’s pretty likely you would never even have heard of that title, never mind the seven or eight others.

Be generous with review copies. Send real copies (not PDFs or other web-based previews) to every competent comics critic you can find, from reputable online critics and bloggers like Tom Spurgeon, Johanna Draper Carlson and many others, to online and print magazines like The Comics Journal and Entertainment Weekly. It’s absolutely vital that you get the tastemakers talking about your book, and it would be wise to pay careful attention to their criticism and suggestions, as well. Since they don’t know you, they can offer an unbiased assessment of what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. Trust your own judgment, but listen to the experts, too. Warning: If you can’t take an honest, critical assessment of your comic books, you are not ready to publish or create comics.

Finally, and most importantly, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible — either yourself working many extra hours a day, or a paid employee, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book. You must familiarize yourself with publicity and marketing techniques, and be aware that message board posts and banner ads on comic book sites are only a small part of the equation when it comes to publicizing your comics. A professional publicist will have insights and inroads into getting the word out about your book that you never imagined. It will cost you money, but if you want to be a publisher, you must get used to spending money, and lots of it. It will likely be years before you start making a profit, but if the books are high quality and you start small and grow at a considered pace, and comport yourself as a professional business person with an ethical and moral grounding, there’s a chance you could one day be considered a professional publisher.

Alan David Doane

TWC’s Trouble With Marvel Comics

I recently reviewed Marvel’s Thor Omnibus here on Trouble With Comics. That’s likely the last time you’ll find on this blog a review of a Marvel Comics product that stems from the original work created by Jack Kirby, unless Marvel Comics changes its corporate policies enough to do the right thing for the heirs of Kirby’s legacy. I’ve discussed this with my colleague Alan David Doane, and we agree that, even though we’re just one small part of the online comics discussion, we’re going to be true to our own values and not continue to endorse Marvel’s profoundly unethical treatment of the Kirby family.

The older I get, the more I prefer to just read and review comics and leave the punditry to others. And let’s face it, being a pundit/industry commentator is a fulltime gig, and who wants someone like me only piping up a few times a year to touch on the issues that dozens of others are already addressing quite capably. When it comes to the recent Kirby  heirs vs. Marvel lawsuit, which found in favor of Marvel but is now set for appeal, luminaries like Tom Spurgeon and Stephen R. Bissette have written eloquently on the issue, more towards the moral and ethical aspect rather than the legal side.

As far as my own opinion, I just wanted explain where it comes from, and then explain how it will affect future content on this blog. My day job is underwriting Workers Compensation insurance. While it’s a legal requirement for employers to carry such insurance, the layperson probably doesn’t know just how subjective it can be to set pricing. Some of it’s driven by competition, some by analysis of the information that varies based on each underwriter’s knowledge and experience. You may think superhero comics are grim ‘n’ gritty, but how about a job where it’s better if an employee falling from a scaffold dies rather than becomes paralyzed, because death claims don’t cost as much? Some lives are worth $5MM, some $500. My world is not one where there is good and bad but where everything has its price.

Is it fair to hold Marvel Comics to a higher standard than a corporation whose products are not of the intellectual property variety, just because Marvel’s properties are characters who represent the triumph of good over evil? I’ve wrestled with that. I don’t think Marvel is evil or horrible because of some bad policies, and obviously it’s no coincidence that Marvel’s good fortune in being bought by Disney, having successful films, etc., leads to them being targets of lawsuits like this, but opportunism doesn’t by itself invalidate a position. I tended to always follow the precept that whatever a court of law decided in the case of creative ownership lawsuits, that was good enough for me. Wolfman’s Blade? He had his day in court, he lost, end of story. But the impact that Jack Kirby’s co-creations have had on Marvel Comics over the past 70 years is just too overwhelming for me to continue that stance.

I’m no paragon of virtue, and will get off the soapbox now, but the fact is that Marvel/Disney have the resources to make things right with the Kirbys without it hurting them substantially. It’s the right thing to do, it’s good PR, and quite frankly, it seems rather shortsighted to continue thinking that you can keep these old characters going forever with work-for-hire deals with talent who keep their original ideas to themselves. Legality and morality are fluid. What seemed fine in the ’60s doesn’t work now, just like we no longer own people like chattel, marry our 13-year-old cousins, etc. Marvel likes to be an industry trend-setter and seem progressive. Day-and-date digital comics are fine and all, but wouldn’t this be a more significant way to put their money where their mouth is?

Until such time as they make things right on this issue, Trouble With Comics will no longer be commenting on or reviewing Marvel product that derives wholly or in part from the efforts of Jack Kirby. We urge our fellow writers-about-comics to consider making the same commitment.

Christopher Allen

A Retailer’s Response to DC’s Relaunch

John Belskis is the owner of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York and the organizer of the twice-annual Albany Comic Con (an advertiser on Trouble With Comics). The following is his response to DC’s recently announced plans to relaunch their universe of superhero comic books and provide same-day digital download capability for their titles.

If the words, “desperate times need desperate measures,” were ever really spoken, I can’t think of a worse time to put them to use. The comic book business has seen its share of both, through its 85 years or so of existence. Even the direct market has had a fair share of both in these last 25 years, like Marvel’s hiccup, and bankruptcy, and Diamond becoming the sole distribution life of DM stores. As a longtime retailer, it’s obvious that the times are a-changin’ again. And probably need to.

DC’s market share has been dreadful, so I understand the need for change. With this economy, this much change this quickly can be, and probably will be, a disaster. Never mind that with 52 new #1s, there will soon be 52 old #6s, or that this is as much a “jumping off” point as it may be a “jumping on” point. The major focus here is about money, and getting more of it.

Now let’s talk about recent history. DC bought into the theory that it was okay to basically disregard small stores by arranging their discount structure to not allow smaller retailers to compete with a fair discount ( loss of market share). That was all handled matter of factly, with either “buy the amount we say, or forget you.” Any small store that was left, ordering with a 35% discount, was put off even more when they made all of their comics $2.99. Again making it more difficult, if you were on the cusp, to maintain that 50% discount (losing more market share).

Now, we move to, “Let’s reboot every title, oh yeah, and by the way, readers can buy them directly from us, at the cover price, online.”  So now the larger stores that have maintained their discount can get squeezed out, too. Now, you can call this sour grapes, if you want, and maybe it is. But, I have to say, having been called “‘DC’s retail partner” for over 25 years, I think the partnership has been dissolved. I have been out of DC’s plans for two years now, without a phone call, or a rep saying “Hey, you have been an account for over 20 years, how can we help?” Terms have always been dictated, and Diamond has capitulated.

 As retailers we were always obliged to carry the product so our customers can see it, and choose. Those days are done. The day and date release will only enhance the customers that already read the comics for free online now. For everyone who wants to own a printed copy, the problem will be finding a shop that will carry 52 #6s. I don’t think many will, forcing more readers to pay the online price, to read the books they cannot find. I doubt that DC will allow readers to read the book beforehand, as shops have done forever. This trend will eventually get people reading and using the online system, even if they don’t want to, and the segment will grow.

Finally, it will be easier, less travel, and less hassle to just get your books online. Here is the wrinkle that I want everyone to think about. When the shops are gone, and it’s just the big boys left with the major market stores, and DC’s online comics: Do you think they will be worried about keeping the price affordable for you? After all, you’re whose pocket they wanted to get in, in the first place. How much will you be willing to fork over for your Batman fix? In essence, you will be DC’s new “Consumer partner.” Have fun with that. I’ll enjoy my front row seat, at the destruction of the direct market. Thank you very much.

CA and ADD on DC, FYI

Christopher Allen: So, as everyone knows by now, DC Comics is relaunching every single one of their ongoing series on August 31st, as well as a bunch of new ones. Kevin Melrose at CBR and Kiel Phegley at Newsarama have done good work tracking the news we have so far. Basically, on that date, there will be 52 #1 issues, meaning relaunches of most current series as well as several more. Note, some are taking this to mean 52 new ongoing series, but DC doesn’t actually say this, so knowing their publishing practices, there will likely be several one-shots or miniseries addressing the aftermath or previously unseen, unnecessary crap related to this reboot. The other big news, though less sexy, is that on this date, DC will start offering their books digitally on the same day they hit the stands, a move rival Marvel Comics has yet to make.JLA Reborn

Alan David Doane: It might be a good idea if top-flight talent were set loose on the titles and allowed to create great superhero comics. If Geoff Johns is writing Justice League, no such luck. Made of fail. Once again, as with Brightest Day, as with Marvel’s recent whatever-it-was-called relaunch that restarted Avengers and other titles, you can’t really have a new direction if you have the same talent on the books that have necessitated the new direction in the first fucking place!

CA: As far as the creative teams announced so far, I’m only interested in Superman, written by Grant Morrison and an as-yet-unnamed artist, with the two caveats that Morrison already wrote a great, self-contained Superman series already, and that DC may very well saddle him with another Kubert or someone worse. At least we know he won’t have Phillip Tan, as he will be doing his part to keep James Robinson’s Hawkman from soaring, pun intended. I would rather Morrison tackle Green Lantern (which Johns will naturally be keeping), or Hawkman, but from a career perspective, I understand him picking one of the biggest characters available. Johns will also be polluting Aquaman’s waters with Ivan Reis, another DC clock-puncher given to gore, clenched jaws and clenched buttcheeks. Johns and Jim Lee will be handling Justice League, at least for the first story arc, as Lee’s track record and multiple corporate duties will probably force him to hand off the book after that. Not very excited by the image I’ve seen so far; it’s easily the worst Superman Lee has drawn; the little collars on the costumes of Supes, GL and Aquaman are needless decoration to what were pretty elegant costumes. I don’t mind getting rid of Superman’s red trunks, though; makes sense. Lee’s Wonder Woman redesign looks better when he does it, I’ll admit. Not terribly excited about the Cyborg redesign, which looks more like, I dunno—Stryfe? It was a nice design that’s been turned into more of a ‘90s Image artists idea of kewl, but if you lose some of the fins it’s okay. Apparently Lee is a big fan of Cyborg, which explains his complete lack of involvement in anything to do with the character the past 15 years. But Jim Lee doesn’t age, so there wasn’t any hurry.

I thought this comment was funny: “He’s a character I really see as the modern-day, 21st-century superhero,” Johns said. “He represents all of us in a lot of ways. If we have a cellphone and we’re texting on it, we are a cyborg — that’s what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves.” In other words, folks, Da Vinci? Shakespeare? Anderson Cooper? Anyone who has ever conveyed any information through a medium that did not originate within their own bodies is a cyborg. I mean, we already knew that about Anderson Cooper, but still. Johns is the architect of the DCU as it stands…

ADD: I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

CA: …and being in the catbird seat with JLA, he’s going to unfortunately suck other writers into whatever the next big invasion/uprising/resurrection event he’s got planned. Let’s be honest: if the DC Universe truly started from scratch in 2011 and you had the likes of J.T. Krul, Tony Bedard, Fabian Nicieza and Judd Winnick writing your big superhero books, the company would go bust in six months. I think it’s great but typical comics fandom silliness that many folks are upset about Gail Simone not writing the new Birds of Prey (or Marc Guggenheim not writing JSA). Gail is a solid writer and a good employee, always online and enthusiastic about what she and her peers are doing. She doesn’t complain that her books never get much promotion or that her characters don’t play pivotal roles in the rest of the DCU. But Birds of Prey (and Secret Six) found their sales level under her, and it wasn’t high and it wasn’t going to improve. Try someone else and give her two new books.

ADD: As to Johns’s cyborg analogy, by that definition I think a monkey sticking a stick in an anthill to get a tasty treat is a cyborg, right? Johns’s ability to wear his high-70s IQ on his sleeve never fails to amaze me. To me this entire reboot looks like a catastrophe waiting to happen, a truly apocalyptic, end-of-everything-as-we-know-it disaster. Not that everything as we know it isn’t well and truly due for a punch in the face, but a lot of retailers are going to have trouble making their rent and paying for food if this goes bad, and there’s a greater than 50/50 chance that it will. I think dumping 50+ new #1 issues in one month could very well be the end for them. Apparently no one explained that one man’s jumping-on point is 50 fans’ jumping OFF point! But maybe I am biased, I haven’t bought a new issue of a DC title since Greg Rucka stopped writing Batwoman and I think Geoff Johns is the worst thing to happen to DC creatively in its entire history, so of course the lead book is his JLA, which I predict will be as lousy as the LAST time the title re-launched. How you can have a book called “JLA” and have it written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, one of the architects of the incredible animated JLA series, and STILL screw it up, only DC could pull that one off. But as trainwrecks go, this one should be entertaining to watch. I just wish it wasn’t coming at the expense of the livelihood of many thousands of retailers, and and at the expense of the goodwill and patience of readers — “fans” if you prefer — who have supported the company through their last half-decade or so of unreadability. The digital thing will be a disaster too. Apparently they don’t know that EVERY COMIC PUBLISHED is available FREE within 24 hours of release on the internet, and that the only people left buying paper copies are the very same ones who don’t want digital or don’t know how to get them that way. Never mind that the freely-available digital versions come without digital rights management and all the hassles that that entails.

CA: Well, I disagree with you on the day-and-date digital initiative. First, digital is becoming the way people read. They had to do it and they can’t give up just because there is piracy out there. You can find pirated movies, too, but that’s not stopping Netflix from streaming.

ADD: Agreed. My point, really, is that DC and everyone else should be looking at how pirated comics works in order to create a working model that will make them money. If they charge a good fraction of the retail price of a printed copy and include Digital Rights Management, you’re not going to bring the many thousands of people reading pirated comics for free every week into your big tent.

CA: As far as day-and-date digital affecting comics retailers, well, you can only keep back progress so long. DC and every other publisher are there to sell comics (well, service trademarks on intellectual properties that can then be exploited more profitably in other media, but that’s another discussion). Publishers already agree in many cases to sell collections in comics shops weeks or even a month before they hit online retailers like Amazon. As readers become more comfortable with digital comics, the ubiquity of TPB/HC collections will decrease, as will these longstanding agreements. DC is not there to help keep the charming, struggling LCS in business. They just give you the products. If the products are now available online, well, that sucks for you, but it just means the LCS has to do an even better job of offering additional value to the consumer. When I go to the shop, it’s partly because it’s the fastest legal way to get monthly issues, yes, but it’s also for the experience, the cool feeling in the shop and the opportunity to shoot the shit with the guy behind the counter about what we’re reading, what’s happening. But you know, for many people, they may find that it’s just as enjoyable to download their comics on Wednesday and then go talk to geeks where they buy burritos or coffee. As others have written, many of your superhero comics fans are quite comfortable with technology. Just as DC makes most of their sales from an aging, existing, dwindling fanbase, they have to give that fanbase an easy way to get the product. I do totally agree with the comment about jumping off. What if you’re a potential new reader who enters his LCS for the first time in October? Nothing but #2s all around. Very weird and short-sighted not to stagger things out over several months. Guess what? OMAC can wait his turn. It will hurt these second-and-third-tier books worse, but then DC usually takes a kind of Mama Seaturtle approach: a lot of those babies won’t make it to the water.

Ultimately, Alan, you said that the plan should have instead been to let top-flight talent loose to create great superhero comics. I’m not a guy who remembers a lot of quotes, but one that always stuck with me is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A lot of fandom is made up of those little minds, and publishers like DC have the tough task of trying to grow beyond those fans to reach new readers, while at the same satisfying those who are concerned that every story fit with every other story, even if that can’t help but hurt the quality of some of those stories by the restrictions it puts on the writers. The positive aspects of starting everything with some semblance of a clean slate are going to be immediately undone by the fact that some stories would have been better without a clean slate; that the talent leading the charge as announced so far is with one exception mediocre; and that the show is being run by Bob Harras and two Chief Creative Officers unproven as officers and not known for being creative, at least if you take creative to mean having a sense of wonder, novelty and the spark of life.

I don’t know exactly why I’m fired up. In very real terms, this affects me almost not at all, because I don’t read that many DC books to begin with and I have plenty of other things to read, and watch, and eat, and lick with my time. It would be nice if there were really cool DC comics for my kids to read, but my kids aren’t even really into comics. They liked the Timm/Dini cartoons and they like the recent superhero movies, and Bone, but most comic books I give them go unread. A forward-thinking company would be treating each book as its own special thing and exploring different formats and abandoning house art styles and intertitle continuity and crossovers and bullshit grubbing miniseries and specials. You want talent from a wide, and in many cases, younger, pool, rather than hiring that guy who meets his deadlines, toes the company line and regularly sells 15,000 copies. You want an atmosphere where almost anything can happen, where readers might be shocked and even irritated by what you’re doing with “their” heroes but it’s so entertaining you can’t stop reading it. Instead, it’s a culture where people are having meetings in conference rooms about whether the new Black Canary should have fishnets again, and which hero can be kill first so we can bring them back as a zombie.

Reproductive Rights and Wrongs

No, this is not about sex, as much as you might wish it was. Over at Comics Comics, Tim Hodler considers two methods of reproducing old comics for today’s readers. This is an issue I have been thinking a lot about recently, actually because of one of the books Hodler mentions.

I think up until a few years ago, I would have preferred the “Theakstonized” approach of upping the contrast in Photoshop and trying to make the old, scanned pages look shiny, white and new again (and yes, I realize this is not how Theakston’s process is accomplished, or at least was when he invented it, but the end result is much the same, hence the quote marks). But somewhere along the line, I began to really appreciate the value of a high-quality but mostly-unretouched scan of the original comics pages. Let’s face it, the original art and/or films for 95 percent of all comics ever printed are probably long gone, and I can tell you from my experience as a radio station production director, you can make a digital file different but you absolutely can never make it better than the original sound file, art scan, whatever digital file format you happen to be dealing with.

Knowing that, I think publishers ought to take a real interest in making sure, if they are reproducing old comics, that they have people on their staff who are experts at all aspects of scanning in old pages, and making sure they resemble as closely as possible the (hopefully decent-condition) ancient artifacts they are preserving and resurrecting for a new generation of readers.

Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #6

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from Jevon Kasitch of Electric City Comics in Schenectady, NY.

How will the price change affect your store?

I don’t think the change will have much direct effect on Electric City. People seem to have budgets, and spend X dollars per week, and add and drop titles to fit that amount. As prices went up they shaved books they enjoyed less and kept shaving until the budget worked. If prices go down, we’ll see the same dollars just spread across more piece sales. A zero sum game in general.

How do you think the change in pricing will affect the buying habits of your customers?

As I said, I think folks will re-add some titles to fill in the slack in their budgets. This means they may sample more, and be more inclined to try a mini-series if it looks interesting. We found that $3.99 was over the “wow, that costs a bit much” mental line that people had, and sales often were stopped by that voice in their head. Overall I think it will make it a bit easier to sell a book to someone.

What changes do you think this move is likely to result in for the direct market?

For the market as a whole it should bring piece sales up, which given the dismal numbers we’ve been seeing would be a plus. Having a larger number of viable titles makes for more room for that surprise hit to pop out from. For that new writer to be heard, etc. Over all I feel it’s a healthy move for the direct market.

A healthier move would be for both Marvel and DC to chill out on the number of titles published per month and cut line-size down to more manageable numbers. Fewer books of high quality would be welcome. A lot of what’s being shoveled out the door every month is crap, and the customers know it. And they avoid it… And by extension they are super wary of all new projects. But this is a digression from your topic.

Thanks to Jevon for taking the time to respond to my questions.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #5

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from Christopher Butcher of The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario.

In addition to what Peter Birkmoe offered, I’d say I’m probably going to increase our order numbers by 10%-20% across the board on DC’s ongoing series at the new price points, at least for the first two issues. I am anticipating a good measure of interest and curiosity in the price drop, but it’s really going to come down to the quality of the work to see if that consumer interest is maintained down the road.

It’s also interesting to note that the price drop is coming in January, historically the slowest month of the year for sales. I imagine that some retailers are going to see a combination of lower sales during that month, and a lower per-unit profit. Not a good match.

Thanks to Christopher Butcher for taking the time to talk with Trouble with Comics about this issue.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #4

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, New York.

How will the price change affect your store?

There may be less resistance by customers in trying a new title or storyline.  Most customers are on a budget for their comics, and with $3.99 comics, now more than ever, people have been forced to choose titles to cut. There’s a big difference for the customer coming in with ten dollars and walking out with three comics instead of walking out with two comics. We need readers and we need to keep the price accessible.

How do you think the change in pricing will affect the buying habits of your customers?

Despite the content, a $3.99 book is nobody’s favorite.  I suspect the price drop is a move by the publishers trying to stave off a jumping off point for readers and to continue life support for the 32-page pamphlets, floppies, singles or whatever we’re calling monthly comics now.

What changes do you think this move is likely to result in for the direct market?

With all the talk of digital download, I see it as a move by Marvel and DC for commitment to the single issue format, with the hopes that it still has some life left in her.  Hopefully it will entice readers to try other titles and possibly preventing some from quitting from the hobby. With the money the big two make from movies and merchandising, they can probably afford the performance of single comics to be almost a loss leader.

Any other thoughts on the price change?

Although the price is dropping on most books, there is one fact that seems to be glossed over. With the price reduction, there is also a reduction of story pages. Two less story pages don’t seem to matter much to the people I’ve talked to in my store, they all said that it seemed to be a fair trade to pay a $1 less.

I’m also sure that publishers are now noticing that retailers are ordering much less product from them.  Sales on all comics are down and the smell of the ’90s crash is lingering in the air, so it makes sense for the publishers to make a move such as this. Now all they have to do is reign it in on some of the titles being released now.  I mean, how many Batman, Thor, X-Men, and Deadpool books do we need in one month anyhow?

Thanks to J.C. Glindmyer for taking the time to address questions on the impending price changes.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #3

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from Peter Birkmoe of The Beguiling in Toronto, Ontario. Peter told me that the store’s Christopher Butcher may have more to say on the issue, but he is at the New York City Comicon this weekend, and so he was not immediately available for comment.

Peter, what impact do you think the announced price changes will have on your store?

Of all the price changes we have seen in all formats, I can’t say that I feel this one will have that significant a short term impact.  It will definitely help take some of the pressure of the general sense that the $3.99 single issue is an overpriced item for a fleeting and fractured unit of entertainment.

When sales change for us drastically on a title, it can almost always be attributed to content/creative team.  A change across the board on the pricing of a publisher becomes much more diffuse in its effect on numbers.  In our local market, this year has seen a number of other shops in Toronto close leading to an influx of new customers, and further uncertainty in our numbers.

Thanks to Peter Birkmoe for taking the time to talk with Trouble with Comics about this issue. More retailer responses as they come in.

— Alan David Doane

Marvel and DC Price Changes: Retailer Response #2

Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from John Belskis, owner of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York and organizer of the Albany Comic Con (an advertiser on this site, it should be noted.)

As a small retailer, I unfortunately don’t see a price change as being enough to bring new customers in.  It will result in more smaller retailers having a difficult time making the dollar amount to qualify for the 50 % discount necessary for a retailer to bother carrying more DC comics. With no middle tier on the discount structure, it’s easier for smaller retailers to opt to find other products (IDW or Dark Horse, even Image) with a higher available discount than to bother carrying any excess DC comics, no matter what the price point may be. I see this as a loss for everyone, as larger retailers may order more DC, but rack sales being what they are, they will be bound for the dollar bin. If they keep their order the same, they lose money. Small retailers, who already are having trouble making the minimum order, will move to other product. It once again speaks to me as DC’s plan to be able to charge the retailer (who they consider the true end user) a premium, by way of manipulating the discount structure, and keeping the smaller retailer, who has to carry a certain amount of DC comics to keep his clientele happy, paying more for those comics. A 35% discount is an insult to a retailer, and can be achieved by anyone without a wholesale account being necessary. This may look good to retail customers, but in the end may well hurt retailers again.

How will the price change affect your store?

I will still order only what I will absolutely sell through, so I will in fact make less on DC comics.

How do you think the change in pricing will affect the buying habits of your customers?

I don’t think enough people will take a chance on titles they don’t already collect or consider buying. Add on sales have been decreasing every quarter for almost 2 years, and I don’t think that will change. Customers will be happy to pay less for what they already buy, however.

What changes do you think this move is likely to result in for the direct market?

Without the support of a middle tier in the discount structure, the direct market will either pay more for DC comics, or make less money with what they already can sell. I don’t see this price change as being significant enough to help direct market retailers, and may in the end hurt them.

Thanks to John Belskis for his response. More retailer responses as they come in.

— Alan David Doane