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Friday, January 17, 2020 

SyFy Wire thinks the time's come for publishers to rethink the monthly model

Wouldn't you know it, somebody writing for a leading news publication seems to agree with my view that the monthly pamphlet model the industry's been going by for far too long needs to be altered. SyFy Wire has an article making the point something's got to change given how expensive the monthly serial format's become. But it's also got its disappointments, as we'll see along the way:
How I wish comics companies would look at the changes in TV and change the way they do business. Because just as broadcast television seems increasingly archaic with its 22-episode seasonal formula in the age of Netflix, comics seems trapped in the distant past with its monthly comics model. The monthly pull list is a dinosaur, a metaphorical meteorite away from extinction. That doesn't mean there isn't sales value in monthly comics; a look at recent sales charts show titles like the final issue of Doomsday Clock and the third issue of the new X-Men title selling 100,000+ copies. And when Saga comes back, I'm sure that will sell like gangbusters every month. But speaking for me personally, the few single issues I still purchase almost seem like I'm just maintaining a routine from an era that has passed us by.

I just don't have the time, inclination, or money to keep up with the monthly grind.
And without a doubt, no matter what anybody thinks of adventure fiction and serial formats, they're exhausted with it too, when a fully valid option lies before them at the bookstore. But he seems not to notice he's let slip just how low monthly installments really are. Even if that were 200,000 copies, it's still monumentally pathetic compared to film sales with their millions in tickets, and if most TV series with 22 episodes or so are often self-contained with just the occasional two-parter, that's a pretty weak analogy. It gets worse when you see what writers this guy's upholding:
I've primarily become a "wait for the trade" guy so I can read an entire story in a nice, compact single volume. My interest in the story doesn't wane because I'm unable to get to the comics shop to pick up my books, or if there is a delay in shipping (I'm looking right at you, Doomsday Clock!). Trades allow me to binge-read limited series like Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III's The Sandman: Overture, Dan Slott and Michael Allred's Silver Surfer, Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mister Miracle — or catch up on a series like Saga —and then place it on my bookshelf for the next time I want to re-read greatness. I know many other fans who, for similar reasons, have begun drifting away from monthly comics and sticking to trade paperbacks and hardcovers.
Oh, just brilliant. They just have to go along and whitewash some of the worst writers to litter modern comicdom like Slott, King and surely even Geoff Johns, whose Doomsday Clock evidently saw the kind of delays Kevin Smith caused for his Black Cat miniseries from the early 2000s, because his TV and film jobs - which he doesn't deserve - apparently bear far more importance. Even J. Michael Straczynski may have caused delays for a few of his books for similar reasons, and that's why it doesn't pay to hire celebrities who won't commit to one or the other. Later in the article, it asks:
...Wouldn't it be nice to see Lee and Geoff Johns team up again for another epic 12-issue story that was free of any continuity restraints?
Absolutely NOT. As I've argued before, and will again, Johns is one the worst things to happen to mainstream, and even Lee's not innocent of huge mistakes, ever since he became a senoir employee for DC. I wish these publications would stop lionizing such a pretentious man. And if a story he wrote were that long, it makes it all the more interminable.
As comics sales continue to erode, the industry has to change with the times. The law of diminishing returns practically demands it.
At least here, they're correct something's got to change for improvement. But that's not all. Company wide crossovers - one of the biggest problems kept afloat by the continued use of monthly formats - have to cease as well. And if you're going to make alterations in continuity or anything character related, it must be done title-by-title, individually, without using the approach DC's made alarming use of for a long time, and Marvel too later imitated in some way or other. And SyFy would do well to quit sugarcoating overrated writers whose works only appeal to niche audiences. Story merit counts, as does avoiding cheap sensationalism, which some of the above writers were known for.

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Comic sales are low compared to movie theatre attendance, but not bad when compared with books and other print media. And pamphlets allow for selling advertising, which adds to revenues, in a way that books don’t. Some books over the years have had ads for other titles from the same publisher, or even the rare insert color ad, but ads just makes a book look cheap.

Monthly pamphlets allow for and encourage audience feedback as a title progresses, and build a sense of a fan community, in a way that trades-only do not. Also, it allows for creators to get paid for their work on a regular monthly basis. That does not happen with trades. The main problem is not the floppy format, but the fact that the big publishers are now looking to monthlies as graphic novels on the instalment plan; the stories are structured for trades, broken into 6-issue arcs that will make a good self-contained novel, so all the spontaneity that a monthly format allows for is gone.

Most publishers, though, have already switched to either graphic novel only, or mini-comic and/or webcomic to graphic novel formats; only a small minority still publish the glossy mass-distribution pamphlets. Granted, that minority of a few publishers includes Marvel, DC and Image, so they are the elephants in the room. But small-press and self-published titles have largely given up on the glossy floppies, and the big publishers that now publish graphic novels have never published the monthlies.

Here's the deal, industry plant;

Comics are unpopular and unprofitable. It is a dead medium. Advertising is virtually non-existent in most comics because too few people read them.

Book publishing in a similar position with declining readership per book and lower profits per book. The emphasis on Amazon and other long-tail business models hides this reality that there are less people paying for and reading books.

The best-selling books are books subsidized by libraries, such as Young Adult fiction.

If comics are a dead medium, why do they attract so many hate-filled critics and internet trolls?

But I guess you haven't hear of Dog Man, or Captain Underpants, or Nimona, or Fun Home, or the Rabbi's Cat, or The Best We Could Do, ....

If you lift your head out of the fanboy Marvel/DC obsession, comics are fairly popular and well read.

Generally, media like television and comics are catering more and more to niche markets rather than mass circulation; that means more good work is being created and proportionately less lowest common denominator pablum.

Being 'subsidized' by libraries means that each copy of a book likely has more readers than is the case with a private sale; it shows the book is more popular and more read, not less.

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