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Wednesday, November 18, 2009 

Boston Globe goes into freefall covering comics sales

The Boston Globe writes about the opening of a comics store in the city, and turn out the gazillionth whitewash of the industry and how it's doing:
The publishing industry is in a freefall, but comic books are doing fine. You may not recognize them, however.
They're not doing fine, in sales or storytelling, but they did get the latter right: I don't recognize the famous superheroes and their supporting casts anymore; their personalities, if anything, have been rendered absolutely awful.
They couldn’t find a single financial backer willing to risk a penny on a comic book store, but the pair knows something about their kind: namely, that comic book fans, who number more adults than kids these days, are serious about their reading material. Look no further than the man who posted a comment on the store’s Facebook page praising the recommendations of the “in-house sommelier.’’ Reed has faith that the business, which has seen heady peaks (hello, Stan Lee) and crushing lows (television nearly wiped it out half a century ago), is poised for another revival.
Um, isn't that admitting something is wrong? If there's far more adults than children these days, and even that's diminishing, that shows how there's not much of an audience to look for. And thus, there's no telling if there'll be another revival.
“The writing has gotten so much stronger,’’ Reed says, “and I think people really want these stories again.’’
When they make that superficial claim, you know they're blowing it.
It’s hard to generalize to what extent superheroes on the screen inspire moviegoers to seek out the source material. Henry Scagnoli, co-owner of New England Comics, a chain of eight stores, says there’s always a bump when a new film hits theaters - sales of the graphic novel “Watchmen’’ exploded when the film version came out in March - but that it varies wildly in size and duration. Moreover, the vagaries of the comics business are far more complex than fallout from a film.

“Readership changes but that’s more a function of storytelling. Each comic has its own ebb and flow. It’s like a TV show: If you have poor storytelling the popularity goes down,’’ says Scagnoli, who founded New England Comics in 1983. “To stick around this long you have to ride with the flow.’’
And that's just why Spider-Man, among many other mainstream comics, have been losing so much audience for 2 years now, because there's more than a bit of poor writing abound. How did that elude the people involved in writing this article?
...according to John Jackson Miller, a longtime industry analyst who runs the website Comichron.com and is himself a comic book writer, it’s the bound volumes of collected stories, called trade paperbacks, that saved the comics industry after a deep depression in the 1990s. They can be found in mainstream bookstores and malls across the country.

“We invented a new way of selling,’’ Miller says. “It’s like a DVD release for a movie, a second life. Publishers realized that it can help finance production, and it also allows Hollywood to see reader-tested stories. We’re up right now by about 1 percent over a year ago. Almost by accident, comic books are the healthiest magazine in the industry.’’
But not at the big two, which still carry much of the overall output. Over there, storytelling has been tasteless for years now, and their recent sales have reflected this. And if the bad crossovers start to take up the bulk of what you see on shelves at the store, that's why even sales for trade paperbacks may be declining now too.
More people are reading comics than at any time during the past two decades, yet readership is split among hard-core customers, who spend an average of $1,000 a year or more on comics, and a larger pool of casual consumers, who routinely spend only a few hundred dollars annually, says Milton Griepp, the publisher of ICV2.com, a website that covers the industry. The spread is bigger, but profits are not. And there are other challenges, especially for independent store owners. Tony Davis, owner of Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square, counts the ways in which a shifting commercial and cultural landscape is eating away at his business.

“We used to sit between Tower Records and WordsWorth Books - it was media city - and with those gone, foot traffic patterns are different,’’ Davis says. “Like any bookstore we’re facing online competition. There’s illegal downloading. And our customer base is graying. There used to be all these 12-year-old boys running around in here, and that’s a rarity now. The male adolescent fantasy has moved from comics to video games.’’
I'm afraid the part about casual consumers is very ambiguous, as it could just as well suggest people who're already used to buying comics, and are doing it now in hopes they'll find some simple slice of entertainment. But even that's becoming hard to find.

At least they admit what's become sadly clear for years now: that youngsters are becoming fewer and fewer at their stores.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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