Jul. 18th, 2012

angelophile: (Kirk - LIEFELD?)

(Reblogged from Tumblr)


filmsfoodandfandom asked: Do comic book company execs care about enraging their fanbase? There's been a nasty rumor ever since OMD that Marvel intentionally tries to make their fans angry because "angry fans are more likely to buy issues than happy ones." I know that's nonsense. But I can't help but sarcastically think the same is true for DC. Do any DC execs or editors actually CARE about upsetting fans? Because at this point it seems like they couldn't give two shits about their fanbase.


This answer is a little complicated.

Okay, no, they don’t want to enrage the fanbase, I have never heard that. However, there is definitely a line of thinking that some people have, and it’s not just publishers, that the more people are talking about a book, good and bad, the better it sells.

It’s hard to argue with, in some ways. I don’t agree with it, but everything that has INFURIATED the internet fanbase lately has sold really well…the New52, like it or not, reinvigorated the entire industry…even other publishers came up and said that it gave retailers the resources to support other publishers. The AvX thing that everyone was pissed about is Marvel’s biggest hit in years. The Harley stuff that made people so mad is actually making Suicide Squad one of the only books trending UP in sales.

It’s the flip side of things like the One Million Moms’ failed boycotts, that only made sales of the targeted books stronger.

I don’t agree with this thinking, and even if I did, I think it’s a mistake to deliberately upset loyal readers, it’s uncalled for. But some people do believe it.

The thing that I do believe, and this upsets people every time I say it, but the vocal contingent on message boards and social networks sadly do not seem to reflect the readership at all. I’m not sure if they ever did. I know this is sometimes sad to hear, but it’s true, it’s absolutely true.

If it were true, the best-selling books at DC would be Batgirl and Secret Six and at Marvel, they would be X-23 and Young Avengers, and so on.

If it were true, the top ten books, with a few exceptions, would sell almost nothing.

I know it stings a bit. But the vocal internet community is an elite part of the readership. They are like gourmet readers, in my view. They have very good taste as a rule…but the books they love the most sell nothing and the books they hate are huge hits.

We have to address it, we have to quit kidding ourselves. Critical acclaim is lovely, but Tumblr buzz bears no relation to a book’s actual success, in general (I’m sure there are exceptions).

So, I think we have trained publishers not to take internet upset too seriously at this point. If we are outraged and disgusted by crossovers, and they continue to sell like hotcakes, eventually, publishers listen to numbers and not to bloggers.

I wish this weren’t the case…I don’t know if it’s the same for prose and film and music, but in comics, people will rave and rave about a book, it sells nothing, and then because they have raved about it so much, the poster or blogger feels that the company hates them personally because that book was so loved.

But no one bought it.

I don’t like talking about sales, I have never taken an assignment for sales. I don’t keep track of sales issue by issue like some writers do. I don’t find out what an issue actually sold til months after it has been out. To be honest, I am sad even to bring up this topic at all.

But realistically, if a book didn’t sell with a great creative team, the odds are not great of it EVER selling with the same or similar team. And there are people at each company who have to watch over that stuff. They have my sympathy, sometimes it means they cancel their own favorite books, or books by their good friends.

But eventually, books have to make enough money to continue publishing them.

I’m not sure if you are asking about the Steph thing. But if you are, I’m disappointed, too. When BQM told me he got Steph in Smallville, i was delighted, and I did my best to promote the book without giving away the secret. It makes me sad they took her out…best case scenario is they want her to make a debut somewhere else, worst case scenario is some arcane thing I don’t understand yet, I guess.

Anyway, hope that makes sense. If the only place you get comics intel is Tumblr and message boards, you are almost guaranteed to get a skewed version of what’s actually popular. That’s why I also talk to retailers as often as possible, to find out what people are actually buying, you know?

It sucks, but we (tumblrs and message boarders) are kind of the elite, and as such, our tastes are always going to differ some from the mainstream taste. It’s a good thing, and sometimes a sad thing.

I think it's pretty relevant to acknowledge the disconnect that exists between sales to retailers and sales to readers, too. One thing that I seldom see addressed is that it's not what readers buy into that drives print sales, necessarily, but what retailers buy into. 

Those sales figures for big events are healthy because retailers buy into them and stock them in bulk. At the end of the day, it's not the readership that's necessarily the arbiter of taste, but retailers. They choose what books they buy and in what quantities, what they put prominently on the shelves and by the main, retailers are a conservative lot. Understandably, because it's their money they're investing, but they're a lot more likely to stock an X-book in large numbers because they traditionally sell, rather than some new book that may not have a ready-made audience.

I'm pretty lucky in that my LCS owner is pretty varied with his purchasing and stocks shelves of indie titles as well as the mainstream stuff, but he doesn't buy in great quantities. I've missed out on more than a few occasions, when I've gone in a week or two late to find that the six or so issues he's stocked of a more obscure title have been snapped up and he hasn't been able to re-order because the title's sold out. Whereas there's piles of Nu-DC #1s lying around. In that respect, he's a typical comic store owner - they buy into this new #1 and relaunch business a lot more than the actual readership does and buy stock accordingly.

That's why word of mouth can be so important. I know I've gone in and asked about a book before it was released, to indicate I want to pick it up, because it at least gives the retailer an idea there's a market for a book. But how many of us think to talk about comics that aren't out for a month or two yet? Retailers have to, but we have the luxury of being able to make snap decisions. And the above discussion is relevant here. Getting the readership talking about a book in any kind of way has to have some value. Even if you go into a local store complaining about a title, you're still putting that title in the retailer's mind. 

So, I'm not sure how much it is that readers don't rush out to buy more obscure titles and how much of it is that stores don't stock them in the same sort of numbers. How books are promoted to buyers as well as readers is rarely considered when looking at sales figures, I've found. And could publishers sell more obscure characters to retailers, and therefore the readers, if they really wanted to? Probably. There have been successes in the past. But it's not an exact science and older retailers cling to recognizable figures even if the readership might be more open to accepting something new. Between the retailers and publishers having an inclination to snap back to the old standards, it's probably amazing we get anything new or different at all. However much readers might be welcoming to something new, there's that barrier in the way.

Thankfully, it's not true of every store and my local comic book guy has happily pushed indie or obscure books and trades onto me that I would otherwise have known nothing about. 

There's also the mindset, seemingly, that print comic sales and the Diamond charts are the only ones that count, somehow. Comixology has, essentially bridged the gap between the readership and publishers and cut out the retailer bridge, enabling buyers to make their decisions as to what books they pick up. Accord to the Comixology CEO, there's been 10 million purchases since May, which suggests that the bestselling titles on Comixology must be racking up sales to rival print versions, if not eclipse them, and it's interesting to see the diversity that's on their bestseller list. It's not all the latest events from the big two - glancing at the latest bestsellers, backissues aside, there's everything from the Smallville comic through Scarlet Spider, American Vampire, Chew, Masters of the Universe through Swamp Thing, Guardians of the Galaxy and, of course, The Walking Dead. The latter's a success in print too, but the top digital comics, where the consumer has direct choice, looks like a different beast to what might confront you on the shelves of your local comic book store. It suggests to me that these supposed niche books are selling. Just not in the places anyone is looking.

angelophile: (The Thinker)
(Crossposted from Tumblr

On a somewhat related topic to the last post, there’s been some interesting discussion going on over at Comics Alliance and on Twitter about comics publishers’ failure to capture new readers, even when other media outings for superheroes are massively successful. Why do people flock to see The Avengers in their millions, but only a few then seek out comics with those characters at comic stores? Comixology’s CEO talks about the 75 million sales of digital comics through their app and mentions that “We know we’re reaching a ton of first time comic book readings and reaching a lot of people who can’t, for one reason or another, get to a local comic store” in the interview here, but since the emphasis always seems to be on printed media, what would get new readers dipping their toes in there?

A number of interesting points raised, about what accessibility to new readers actually means and whether publishers and creators who are on the inside looking out understand how it feels to be on the outside looking in, the pure saturation of titles with no way to know what’s “new reader friendly”.

(Marvel’s recent .1 initiative was supposed to mark an ideal jumping point for new readers, but the titles themselves didn’t reflect that. That’s not even getting into the fact that adding a decimal point to already complex numbering helps how? Or that the only people Marvel seemed to tell about this initiative were current readers or those reading comics related PR. Just how was a new reader, coming into a store for the first time, supposed to gravitate towards those titles in a sea of others? Even my friendly local comics store owner was bemused by that.)

One exception that proves the rule seems to be The Walking Dead, which appears to have managed the difficult task of converting viewers into readers, both in digital and in print. The trade releases have been cited as being the main reason the graphic novels sales for the last year look so healthy, the 100th issue was recently announced as the biggest selling comic of the last 15 years and certainly, in my local store, the owner can’t seem to keep the books on the shelves. So why has that comic so effectively converted mass media appeal into sales?

Surely some of it has to be down to the uniqueness of the product within a sea of superhero books, but that explains why it may have been popular to start with, but not the explosion of new readers since. 

So, there’s an obvious conclusion to reach. Walking into a local comic or book store and scanning for The Walking Dead isn’t a daunting experience. There’s about a dozen or so trade collections, all clearly numbered so you know what order to read in. The ongoing has a 100 issues. All neatly numbered, not rebooting every dozen or so. The short answer is that The Walking Dead is accessable in ways that most of the Big Two’s output isn’t, even with DC’s reboot trick. If you like Batman, what Batman book should you buy? Which order do you need to read in? What’s the difference between the books? If you missed some issues, which trade do you pick up, and so on.

It’s the reason why, at least for a little while, Ultimate Comics was a successful exercise. Before getting bogged down with its own continuity, or lack thereof, there were divisions. It wasn’t perfect because, well, how did any new reader walking into a comic store for a first time know what Ultimate was compared to other Spider-man books, but it certainly helped.

There has to be a reason why The Walking Dead has been so successful bringing in new comic readers and why the Nu DC has been merely recycling.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, while the characters are as popular as ever, the bloated nature of most comics and publisher’s output makes them a niche product rather than something that is likely to reclaim the mainstream audience enjoyed in the past.

July 2013


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