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Friday, April 10, 2020 

Someone at CBR agrees with me about need to change focus to paperbacks, graphic novels and hardcovers

A writer at CBR is making the case I've been trying to make for goodness knows how long, that the industry needs to consider making a move to something easier to market, and could pave the way to a tidier approach for storytelling:
After a week of digital-only releases from DC and nothing from Marvel, many fans are questioning the future of the comic industry. Diamond Comic Distributors -- the largest English-language comics distributor in the world -- is on indefinite hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and now may be the time for publishers to reevaluate the floppy model. It’s becoming clearer by the moment that the standard method of publishing isn’t cutting it anymore. Publishers need to explore new ideas to get books into new readers' hands, which may mean broadening how they think about comics -- and breaking into the book market with graphic novels and trades.

While the market hasn’t changed for major comic companies in a number of years, more non-comics publishers have been publishing their own original graphic novels. Most of these comics are targeted toward bookstore audiences, as publishers like Scholastic and Random House -- which both have dedicated graphic novel imprints now -- deal directly with bookstores, rather than going through the direct market and Diamond.

According to Bookscan, there was a 25 percent increase in sales of graphic novels for kids between 2015 and 2016. Last year, ICv2's Milton Greipp reported a 39 percent sales increase for children's titles in bookstores and a 20 percent increase for them in comic shops in 2017 and 2018. Graphic novel sales take up about three quarters of the market across the board. Graphic novel sales in bookstores rose a whopping 16.1 percent in 2019 alone and graphic novels aimed at kids -- particularly the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier's books -- are becoming so popular that The New York Times reinstated its bestseller list for graphic novels and big box stores are displaying graphic novels in cardboard standees the way they often do DVDs or CDs.

This doesn't mean comic shops are dying, although many have had to close their doors because of COVID-19. It does mean publishers would do well to shift the focus from working exclusively with Diamond and producing mainly floppies, to producing more trades and original graphic novels. Since these can be distributed through multiple markets, it opens up more potential revenue streams, including bookstores and non-comics online retailers.
Let's put it this way. It's entirely possible to set up a store built around sales for GNs. It's also possible to take what would've been published as a miniseries in 3-12 parts years before, and release it as a single GN instead, thus saving a lot of money on two different formats for the same story.

So it's pretty amazing somebody at a site that's long lost its edge in comic journalism is willing to call for the same steps I've been urging for possibly years already. All that would matter then is a focus on merit. And that's where the article seems to slip, alas, if the following says something:
Plus, many series don't find their footing in the floppy market, but do see new life when released as trades and sold to bookstores as well as comic shops. For example, The Unstoppable Wasp and Ice-Man had low sales numbers during their original, monthly runs. When they went to trade, they had a sudden increase in sales -- so much that Marvel brought both back for more issues. The trades gave the books a much needed second life that would not have been needed if they were released as trades or graphic novels in the first place. Other publishers, like Image, release certain books as trade-only because the market for them is stronger with collected issues than single floppies.

DC Comics has found new life and a larger audience with its line of original graphic novels written for young adults and kids, which are sold in bookstores as well as comic shops. These titles are aimed at new readers, featuring well-known characters and tailored to younger audiences. One of the most successful titles was Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo, which debuted on USA Today, Publishers Weekly and Amazon Bestseller Lists. Not even 24 hours after it was available, it was in the top #25 titles for Amazon. Using its wide array of characters has allowed DC to put these comics into the hands of people who may have never stepped foot into a comic shop. A book like this would not have seen the same success in a floppy model, but sold thousands of copies in days as a complete graphic novel.
Wow, no kidding, the solo book building on Brian Bendis' premise of turning Iceman homosexual supposedly had better success in trade formats? And DC's young adult GNs are actually finding an audience with the PC crowd? Please, tell us about it, but if you don't mind, could you kindly cite some sales figures? Because I've noticed on ICV2's chart listings that there's some GNs which only sell several thousand copies each; again, far from a million, and not proof of epic, coast-to-coast success. In any case, most common bookstores do sell GNs, and people who don't visit and buy at comic shops are still bound to have seen them in some way or other at the typical book shop. There's people who, if they don't go to comic stores, chances are they're not interested in comics available at the regular book stores either.

Which brings us back to the point about merit-based writing: there's no mention of that here, but if there's to be a shift to GN-only formats, it'll have to count. Otherwise, how does CBR expect sales to be convincing? In fact, for the mainstream superhero publishers, they'll have to come to terms with how their repetitive reliance on line-wide crossovers isn't appealing to anybody anymore, and the time's come to abandon them altogether. In addition, they could focus on clearing away much of the garbage storylines from the past 2-3 decades that ruined continuity, if that's what could help restore it to a more coherent state. That's another reason why a shift to GNs only would help tremendously. Until then, the best way to send a message we don't approve of denigrating past creations, ruining continuity and flooding the market with company wide crossovers is to vote with our wallets and stick with stuff from smaller companies who aren't making the same mistakes as the majors.

It's impressive somebody at CBR's willing to make the same case I am for moving to trade paperbacks and hardcovers. It's a shame, however, if he taints his argument with political correctness.

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"Because I've noticed on ICV2's chart listings that there's some GNs which only sell several thousand copies each; again, far from a million, "

ICV2 covers only sales through Diamond to specialty comic shops. It does not include sales to the broader market through other channels. If a series Like Wasp or Iceman did badly as floppies in the comic shops, it is not going to do any better in those shops in the collected version.. But if it appeals to a broader audience it could sell well in the regular book stores.

I think you two are forgetting one factor: the attention span of the average reader.

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