Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Numbers Game

I worry these days for the direct market, especially for the survival of independent comics. Because when I do the math, it doesn't add up.

Follow me here, in my admitedly poorly-thought-out argument:

(I may be mistaken in some of my assumptions, but I think I'm close; and I'm rounding-off to make the math easier.)

The are approximately 3000 Diamond accounts (though probably not all of these are actual comic stores).

I've also heard it said (I forget where, but I've heard it more than once) that the magic circulation number for a black-and-white, standard-sized, self-published comic is 3000 copies; that is, if the comic sells over 3000, a decent-enough profit is realized that the creator(s) can continue the comic.

That would mean that each comic store would need to purchase, on average, 1 copy of a title for it to survive. Which doesn't seem to be that unobtainable; the problem is that there are just too many items in each issue of Previews for any store to buy one of everything on the chance that it might sell.

But wait, it gets worse. Because in truth, only about 10% of the comic stores order with any sort of significance past the premier publishers. This means that each of these stores would have to purchase an average of 10 copies of each of these titles for them to survive, which is even more unlikely.

Now I'm not some sort of polyanna who thinks that all comics deserve to survive; this is a marketplace after all, and bad comics (or those that just aren't wanted) should die off, so that their place in the comics ecosystem can be taken over by comics more likely to survive. But in the current market, the odds of anything surviving are just brutal, and perfectly good comics wither and die.

There are other markets of course, such as the emerging bookstore market. But that's a much harder market to break into than the direct market, especially for an indy creator.

I really have no solutions here, or much of a point for that matter. I'm just making an observation, and welcome your observations on this topic as well.


Brian Cronin said...

I think you're absolutely right, Dave.

However, I'm slightly more pollyanna-ish in that I believe that it IS unlikely that a truly excellent comic to not survive.

I think some marginal comics may not be able to survive (and I agree, that IS a shame), but outstanding talent (especially artistic) is always going to be appreciated in the comics industry, I believe.

Greg said...

I'm probably completely off-base here, but it seems to me that it's a marketing problem and and oversaturation problem. DC and Marvel are killing themselves by cannibalizing everything that ever worked for them. How many books star Captain America? How many star Batman? Wolverine? They don't care about other publishers, but if they cut down their ridiculous output, other publishers might have a chance. Retailers don't order independent comics because Marvel and DC are shoving three different books with variations of the Avengers in them (in Marvel's case) in one week. Idiotic.

Brian Cronin said...

In the case of Marvel, though, Greg, what you have is them being a public company, and they have a need to show a profit.

So if sales are going down (and they are), they are trying a "quick fix," which is to come out with MORE books...which, while they sell less copies EACH, as a grand total, they make about the same amount of money as they do over fewer titles selling more copies each.


It certainly appears so.


I think so.