Sunday, July 31, 2011

Making the Shift

Month after month it is the same story.  Comic sales are down. Declining steadily over the years from the boom of the 90s, it seems like nothing has worked to do anything lasting to boost sales.  Toy tie-ins haven't boosted them.  Cartoons haven't either.  Big budget Hollywood movies have made movie studios millions, but that have never translated into any kind of lasting boost in actual comic sales.  Even the use of well-known writers has done little to make any meaningful impact and most of those writers have gone on record as saying that they made very little money doing it (just ask Joss Whedon).  And in the face of decreased sales, what have comic book companies done?  Increased prices and decreased new material page count in their monthly titles.  That has ended up driving more and more readers (this one included) to waiting for the trade reprint for a story and worry less about the collectability of something that nine times out of ten ends up being in a dollar bin three months after they come out.  And then there is digital.  It worries specialty stores and though sales have doubles over the past year, it is still a very small part of the market.  There is usually very little savings to the reader when it comes to issues not having to go through the printing process which is tauted as one the biggest reasons for the price hikes of issues over the years.  And don't get me started on the initial cost of going digital.  Good e-readers are not cheap.  So, where does that leave you or me the average reader?  Well, it puts us in a position to make a shift in how we get our monthly comic fix and it leaves the comic book companies at a crossroads as to how to handle their content.  I have put some thought into it and here are my ideas...for whatever good they will do anyone.

First: Is it time for comic book companies give up the monthly format?  Over the years long runs of comic books have become more the more scarce.  Fantastic Four is no more.  Uncanny X-Men is over soon.  Avengers, Hulk, Thor...over and over again we have seen long running Marvel series ending and being restarted with new number ones.  Soon, all of DC will be starting over from scratch too.  It is done to boost sales with a new #1, but over and over those titles tend to settle back into the numbers that they sold at before after the initial bump in revenue.  What is the point anymore?  Storylines are set up in five and six issues arcs now a days and sold that way when companies produce the collected trades.  Why not just produce one long story and release that as one cohesive collection, similar to what manga has been doing for a long time.  There could still be continuing adventures of your favorite characters, just broken up into chunks, which is the way they are presented these days anyway.  So many tie-ins to comic events are presented as mini-series, why not just put them all together as one unit?  They could still produce big limited collectors editions of things (similar to the Absolute collections that DC produces), but make just the straight series also available at a lower price point.  So many people wait for trades now a days, why not just cut out a step.  That way we would have had the complete Kevin Smith Bullseye series or gotten the entire Damon Lindelof Ultimate Wolverine/Hulk and not have to have waited better than a year before it was finally wrapped up.

Second: Good e-readers are too expensive.  There needs to be a company step up and make something easy to use and affordable for the masses to use when it comes to digital comics.  For a business that was founded on younger readers being the principal early adopters, young people don't typically have the money to spend on e-readers and if kids don't adopt technology that would be needed, digital comics may never take off the way they need to be.  There needs to be something cheap that works...otherwise digital comics are going to remain a least for the foreseeable future.

Third: Digital comics are too expensive.  Over and over again we have been told that the printing cost of comics have driven up the price of the monthly copies, but then when it comes to digital copies, they are just as expensive as the paper ones.  That doesn't make sense.  I am all for people making money on the things that they produce, but give them something special and extra if they are paying full price for digital.  DVD style extras, behind the scenes, creator commentary...something.

Fourth: Finally...there are too many options for digital comics right now.  Since digital books make up such a small percentage of overall sales, there really hasn't been enough competition to drive one or two ways to digitally deliver comics to rise to the top.  Also, you have several different delivery options that have exclusive deals so you have to have several different apps to view all the comics you want and you have no unified way of dealing with your collection, which is annoying for collectors.  We are an OCD lot who like to have our collections in a certain way...if we can't get it all together in one way that makes sense, we won't bother.  It would be nice if there was at least one file type that would make it easier for you to get the comics you want and view them in the app that you want, no matter where you buy them from.

I know that this is just my opinion and it is totally up for debate, but I just feel that things need to change to keep a hobby that I love alive and thriving.  Hope this stirs you to think about what you would want out of comics.  Till next time, imaginary readers...

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