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Thursday, October 01, 2015 

Sales growth slows down

Publisher's Weekly tells how sales for the industry have been getting slower again, and if it's mainstream we're talking about, that shouldn't be surprising:
Despite Diamond's solid figures at the Summit--the event drew 25 publishers and some 450 attendees, representing 250 stores--many publishers are dealing with a host of issues. Some have been in response to retailer complaints about complex marketing gimmicks and late shipments. And recent layoffs at Archie Comics, as well as tepid sales following DC Entertainment's recent superhero relaunch, suggest a general softening of the market.
Now should that be any surprise? I think they know DC's reboots were only intended for short-term gain and didn't come with dedicated, talented writing. Even the artwork's open for scrutiny, right down the editorially mandated costume designs that make the outfits look even duller.

It's interesting to learn Archie's let go of some employees, which proves their attempts to stay relevant aren't working. It suggests they may be on their way out in the future, and they'll have only themselves to blame.

The panels also brought up the topic of variant covers, and here, they only discuss it from a superficial business perspective:
At an industry panel on Thursday featuring representatives from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW and Image—the five largest comics publishers—variant editions was the big topic of debate. Many publishers produce variant editions, commissioning popular artists to create multiple covers for a single issue, but the ordering process for retailers can be cumbersome. (Retailers can sometimes obtain variants by ordering them separately. However, in certain situations, they are only available as an incentive to order multiple copies of a less desirable title.) The resulting complexity of ordering has drawn increasing criticism from comics specialty retailers. Marvel’s Star Wars #1 had more than 100 variant covers, making it an extreme example of the problems surrounding variant editions.

Image’s director of retail sales Corey Murphy drew applause at the panel when she announced that Image will no longer be doing variant covers. Marvel senior v-p of sales and marketing, David Gabriel, also hedged on variants, saying his company will make it's much-hyped promotion involving hip-hop themed covers--the covers are based on famous hip hop albums--simpler to order. “We realize we made it too complicated,” he said, noting that order thresholds will be lowered 15-20%.
What's the point of keeping on with variant covers? Unmentioned is how many of them are sold to speculators who think they'll really have retail value someday, when it's long become clear they won't. Certainly not if the story inside is awful. Naturally, speculators have to shoulder some blame for keeping this nonsense going.

But if Image realizes now why it's best to stop, they're doing right there. At a time when the prices are getting higher and audience shedding, it'd be too expensive to hire so many artists to do multiple covers for one mere book. What they should really do is pick the most appealing artists based on the subject inside the issue and go with them. And the artists who weren't chosen shouldn't be jealous because they didn't get the gig. I suppose smaller companies are starting to understand why variants won't have long term payoffs. But the big two may still be keeping on with it.

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What's the point of keeping it on with variant covers? Evidently, there are still obsessive-compulsive collectors who "have to" have every edition, and there are still speculators who buy the variations, expecting them to increase in value. And there are still dealers who order the variants, to satisfy those two groups of customers.

And, for the publishers, variants are a great way to artificially inflate sales, with a relatively few customers buying multiple copies.

P. T. Barnum was right.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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