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Friday, May 25, 2018 

The Houston Press is right: monthly pamphlets are getting too costly, and trades are preferable

The Houston Press addressed the increasing price of the pamphlets or single issue formats, which have long reached a solid $3.99 each, and are getting way too expensive for anybody to embrace the serial format in its current form, and company wide crossovers are making it worse. It's also said that:
The rise of the superhero movie juggernaut has led to an explosion of content available, but not necessarily content bought. In an interview with Publishers Weekly about declining sales, Julie Sharron, a staffer at the Secret Headquarters comic store in Los Angeles said, “There’s just too many [superhero] titles. People get overwhelmed, so it’s hard for customers to get into it. It seems like [superhero comics publishers] can’t figure out what people want.”
Or what they don't, such as the ultra-leftist politics we saw of recent, which are still lurking in some form or other, with Captain America one of the biggest victims. And what we do want, like the Spider-marriage with Mary Jane Watson and even reuniting the Atom and Jean Loring, to name but some examples, aren't being done out of childish dislike for fictional characters as though they were real life. This is just one of the reasons why older readers were discouraged, and even newer ones felt the same.
I can sympathize with her customers. Keeping up with superhero books has become a nightmare, especially if you’re a fan of staple heroes like Batman or anything involving the Avengers. It’s not to say you can’t pick a book and stick with it, but more and more they are tied to these massive interconnected universes that are designed to be consumed as a whole.

It often takes great books and shifts them into park just as they are getting going. I was combing through my longboxes the other day and decided I wanted to delve back into Wolverine and the X-Men again. I loved that book. It had a great cast of charming lesser characters like Quentin Quire and Broo and a self-contained Saved by the Bell vibe that made it utterly endearing. I stopped reading because it got dragged into the whole Avengers vs. X-Men thing and sort of ground to a halt. Same thing happened with Batgirl and Red Hood when Death of the Family was going on.

That’s not to say that these giant events are bad. I loved Secret Wars for example, but it makes simply following a serialized format a constant battle to catch up on.
Just what I've thought, and to be sure, there's others out there who've learned the hard way that crossovers ever since the original SW from 1984 have been one of comicdom's biggest undoings. DC's still been bearhugging the whole approach like nothing wrong comes of it, with Dark Metal and Doomsday Clock their most recent crossovers, and they've doubtlessly got more in store soon enough. In fact, why must some of the new characters they've introduced in DM be introduced as part of a crossover, and not by ways of a one-shot special or an anthology? On that note, I think all the attention heaped upon the crossovers might've played an indirect role in the demise of anthology series. Some of the last I know of with sustained success include Marvel Comics Presents (1988-95) and Legends of the DCU (1998-2001). Beyond that, there's been very few anthologies coming out. They used to be considered an ideal place to publish a story spotlighting minor characters to test if they could carry a solo book. But today's there's very few, if at all, and while miniseries are still around, they aren't exactly being put to use as the testing fields they once were. As a result, it appears crossovers have taken the place of these more stand-alone concepts, with one of the worst being 1993's Bloodlines, and only 2-3 of the new characters seen there ever found longevity.
That gets expensive. Make no mistake, regularly subscribing to books is rapidly becoming a rich-man’s hobby. The average cover price for a single issue is just shy of $4 now. That’s not a lot if you’re just keeping up with, say, Saga every 30 days, but it adds up really quick once those crossovers start getting involved. One of the main reasons that I stopped buying monthly comics is that it became like missing a bill and trying to double up the next month. Eventually I finally gave up and decided to wait for the trade collections.
Even if it's just one mere series, 4 is still way too much, and lest we forget, the company wide crossovers make everything worse. So the guy writing this is correct about something: trades should be the next step focus, and he continues thus:
Trade collections are where the focus should be if you ask me. There’s certainly a place for single issues, of course. Some of my favorite stories are one-shots, and as promotional tools they are top-notch. That’s how I hope the comic industry starts thinking of them, though, as promotional materials. Rather than a marketing each issue as a self-contained part of an ongoing series, market the first issue as a demo from free or a very small fee. [...]

It would be nice if comics, particularly super hero comics, moved into that model. It’s a given that every four to six issues or so is going to be collected, but the collection is still viewed as the ancillary product compared to the monthly book. That makes creators beholden to ongoing sales rather than the total consumption of their vision and limits the storytelling format. Trades as the intended ideal of the comic book would ultimately be healthier for the genre.
And, it'd ultimately cost less if one format were phased out as the other were allowed to continue from where it all left off. They could even arrange for book publishers like Harper-Collins and Random House to serve as publishers, and you wouldn't need to have Diamond's monopoly ruining everything as they have either. Best of all, it'd put an end to the company wide crossovers. So why are any and all comics publishers still relying on such an outmoded model for business and sales? And why aren't some comics pros, old and new, making the call for shifting to what'd make it a lot better for the medium too? Sooner or later, they'll have to start thinking what the next best step is for serial fiction formats if they really want to prove to the wider public it's a medium worth their time.

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Most small press publishers have opted for the web-to-book model, publishing first as a web comic and then collecting the pages into a trade paperback, skipping the saddle-stitch pamphlet format entirely. The advantage of the pamphlet is that it can carry advertising, something you can't d with a book.

Without the saddle stitch pamphlet format, most of the comic book stores would die off. The trades are available everywhere now; what they have that the book stores don't are the pamphlets, and what keeps people coming to the comic book stores is that regular Wednesday ritual.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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