Stuart Moore:
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comic Shops and Such

This article by Tom Spurgeon does a really nice job of breaking down the direct market's purpose, potential, and problems in refreshingly unhysterical (ahysterical?) terms. I have a similar feeling about the worth of this market: Without comic shops, I'd have "aged out" of reading comics in my twenties, too.

I'd add a couple notes to the "scheduling" section. This issue tends to get heated very fast because it's actually two very different problems with related, self-reinforcing reactions. Fans hate late comics because, well, they want their comics, and because many of them grow to adulthood with the gradual realization that institutions they've trusted (parents, Presidents of the United States, DC and Marvel) aren't perfect and, in fact, sometimes do bad things. Late books are a very simple proof of a broken contract. And because the draconian newsstand distribution system of the '70s and prior made late titles almost unheard of, their current presence is evidence of a Decline in Overall Professionalism. (Which it's not, really. It's just that when Gil Kane or Neal Adams was late, the company would slap in a fill-in or a reprint.)

Late comics are a different and serious problem for retailers, especially cash-strapped ones. Comic shops budget tightly on nonreturnable product, and a late title -- or, to be precise, a high-profile late title -- can cause them real trouble, especially when that book misses its solicited ship date by months. It's therefore in retailers' interest to rile fans up about a popular title that's absent from the shelves for several months at a time. And the retailers' understandable agitation justifies the fans' feelings that the companies are screwing them.

Despite this, as I've said before, there's no evidence at all that fans stop reading late books. Readers read books they're interested in and stop reading books they're not, whether those books come out as solicited or months later. (Tightly-plotted crossover titles are a special case, but even there it's not clear the interest goes away unless the order of books published is seriously compromised. I don't think anybody's sitting on unsold copies of the later CIVIL WAR installments.)

There are ways to deal with late books; I used most of them when I was a full-time editor. And they should be dealt with, for the sake of retailers' fiscal health. But this topic kicks up a lot of smoke that obscures the real issues.


Brian Hibbs said...

I disagree, Stuart, to this extent: there is, without a doubt a segment of the readership that walks away from a late book, but that's often as much due to "lost momentum" as much as anything else.

We certainly sold fewer copies of CIVIL WAR #5-7 than we did of #1-4, and I attribute most of that to the "pause", where people were able to think second thoughts.

Second thoughts are usually bad for periodical comics.


Torsten Adair said...

Here's an example from a different angle... There came a time when I could not afford all of the comics which came out on a certain week. Since the retailerracked by week, I could postpone buying the lesser titles until next week. What happened was this: the next issue would come out and I would realize that I didn't care much for the title, and dropped it.
I did not spend less, but spent more wisely. I bought fewer Marvels and more black and whites.
I do not buy any comicbooks on a regular basis; I wait for the trade. (I am a bookseller and am building a comics library.) I will buy them if there's something special, like the Groo anniversary issue, or if something has a buzz, like Thor.
Does weekly shiping matter? When I had a pull list and a special order list, it didn't matter as long as something came in every week, and what was listed each month in Previews shipped on a somewhat regular schedule.
At B&N, I can give the general date, check distributors, and reserve a copy for the customer.

Stuart Moore said...

Brian: I hear you. But surely you would have lost a chunk of those sales anyway? Not everyone sticks around for the end of an event, or any other series.

Certainly the later issues of CIVIL WAR sold less than the early ones. But didn't INFINITE CRISIS, which maintained a pretty steady shipping schedule, follow a similar pattern? (I can't find the figures going back that far, right now.)