Back in the early 90’s, the best-selling comic book was selling in the millions. Today, it runs about 150,000. Why the drop-off? Well the early 90’s were part of the “speculation market,” where companies would print comics with 10 different covers and collector’s would buy 10 of each cover thinking it would be worth something eventually. But it turned out that they weren’t worth much of anything and the bottom dropped out.
Now, comic books today seem to have it together. They are written and drawn a thousand times better than they were then. There are more independent comics infiltrating the market place. There are some amazing books being put out right now.
So, how do we get more people reading these great stories in comic books? I think a lot of the problem lies with the industry itself.
The comic book industry is very unique. The way it works is basically monthly comic books are sold almost exclusively at Direct Market Stores aka Comic Book Stores. Nearly all the monthly comic books are ordered through one distribution company called Diamond.
The Big Two comic book companies, Marvel & DC, keep these book stores alive as they create the vast majority of monthly comic books.
Comic books are also collected every 6 or so issues into Trade Paperbacks (TPB) or created originally in long-form books called Graphic Novels. Some of the terminology switches all around, but this is how I think of it, so this is how I’m referring to it. TPBs & Graphic Novels are also available at most major bookstores such as BN or Borders.
You can compare it to Television. If you wanna watch the Office, you can watch it weekly on NBC or purchase the DVD at the end of the year. NBC is the only place you can watch the Office weekly. The Comic Book Store is the only place you can read comics weekly. But you can still buy the Office DVDs at Wal-Mart. And you can still buy TPBs at Borders.
But, if no one watched the Office weekly, then it would never be released on DVD. In the same way, if no one read the monthly comics, they would never be released in TPB format. So, the Comic Book Stores are, in many ways, the life-blood of the comic market. Without them, the industry would be much more limited, as it’s more difficult for writer’s and artists to take off a year to create a Graphic Novel. With the monthly comics, it creates a source of revenue to keep them going.
Now, the problem is that a lot of times people are turned off to Comic Book Stores. Many of the stereotypes unfortunately turn out to be true. The snooty “comic-book guy” behind the counter. The disorganized floor. The fact that they are hard to find.
So, are there some ways to improve the Comic Book Store to better bring in new customers? Here are my suggestions:
A) Starbucks-ing Comics
As far as I know, there are no franchised comic bookstores. A guy may own one or two, but for the most part, they are individually owned and operated (funny that they all seem to look like though…)
What if someone had some capital and they took the initiative to start a comic book store franchise? As a franchise, they could negotiate a deal with Diamond for more of a discount since they would be ordering more books. Or better yet, Diamond should start their own stores, offering books at a massive discount to get people in the door.
More than just price though, a franchised store could set themselves up as non-‘comic book guy’ friendly. Where an average Joe (and especially average Jane) could walk into the store, be greeted by the friendly, knowledgeable, and hip staff who ask them if they need help finding anything. The staff could ask what other media they are into… “What’s your favorite movie?” Based on their answer, they find them the book that best suits them.
Maybe they have a Barne’s & Noble-style open policy, where the books aren’t bagged, but someone can come in and sit and read a comic if they want without the staff hounding them.
Basically we need stores that are all over the country where a normal person wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in them.
B) Selling Out to Corporate America
As I mentioned before, BN & Borders both have sections for Graphic Novels & TPBs, but their monthly comic sections is VERY limited. What if these stores created a section for monthly comics that carried everything from the hottest Marvel book, to the most out-there indie.
Many of these stores, from what I understand, order through a variety of distribution companies, so by starting a good monthly comics section, they most certainly would rise up some competition to (near monopoly) Diamond, thereby dropping prices.
Not only that, but these are stores that are already accepted. If someone is walking through looking for the latest Stephen King novel and runs across his Dark Tower series put out by Marvel, then they might pick it up. Whereas, this King fan would never be caught dead inside a comic book store.
C) 50 Years in the Future
Digital comics are coming our way, just not very soon. One day, you’ll be able to get online, order a comic book, be able to download it immediately, copy it to your “digital book” device, and read it right there. This will, of course, change the way people receive and read their comics.
The problem is, right now, no one wants to read a comic on their computer screen. There is nothing that can replace the touch and smell and sight of reading a new printed comic.
But one day, as technology grows, we’ll have devices that will take the place of books and no one will be complaining. Comic books could very well herald this technology in, as I would assume, pictures with words will look better on these things than just words.
I, for one, will hang onto the physical books as long as possible. But, if one day, it would be this easy to receive comic books, it is possible that the industry could grow enormously as we take out any obstacle one might face of buying a comic, whether that be embarrassment or just not being able to find a place.
I do think that something needs to change in order for this industry to grow. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.