Nice column, Matt.
I look forward to a more in-depth look at the various issues that were brought up in the future.
Well howdy! It's THURSDAY, and I'm sick, but I'm here. So lets check out what's going on here...
Last week, good ol' Forby posed some really good questions that get to the core of things we're exploring here. What I really want to do is look at examples and whatnot of trends and happenings that we see going on in the world of comics on all levels...
But what Forby was asking for was MY opinion. Scary stuff, that.
So, since he was kind enough to basically outline a column for me, let's just knock these questions down one by one and see where it takes us! The over all base question (as in, the question that should be considered when exploring the questions that come after it) is: "where do you see comics in 10 years?"
Sheesh. Where do I see comics, or where would I like to see comics? Maybe we should get on to the other questions better answer the broader question.
Do you see companies like Marvel/DC doing it the same way still, but at almost $6 a pop?
First off, credit where credit's due, Forby didn't just pull this figure out of his butt. The average comic cost $1.50 in 1998. 1988? Yep, $0.75! So its not without reason that an estimate for a cover price of your average comic to hit $6, double today's $2.99, by 2018.
There's has to be a boiling point though, I would think. Without having any sort of figures in front of me, there will be a point where quantity of sales and the price increase get to a point where producing a comic book becomes pointless. I think, before comics hit a $6 mark, and almost certainly within the next ten years, it will hit a point where it becomes more economically sound for publishers to produce things like trades that have a higher price point, but offer more value for your dollar.
The flip side is that comics are a very culturally ingrained medium. So a total departure from the pamphlet is hard to imagine, and probably a hard move for a lot of folks. So I could see some "old guard" clingage to the pamphlet format-- but like I said-- there has to be an economic boiling point where it just no longer makes sense to do pamphlets.
I'm starting to get into things addressed by the other questions so lets move on!
Do you see a shift from physical collectibility to something to be downloaded?
I see the shift happening right now. Both on the legal and illegal planes.
You want an idea about how big comic downloads are right now, check out this weeks Lying in the Gutters. Marvel is advertising their digital download service on torrent websites (that is, they're advertising legal paid downloads where folks go to illegally download their comics). If that doesn't say there's a market there, I don't know what does!
You're seeing something similar to what happened to the music industry when mp3s and Napster came about. This is the the other side of the economic boiling point where folks, instead of "waiting for the trade" (which may or may not come out) have the comics readily available to them at no cost.
This will be problematic for companies that have used the publishing model for so long. When you're not talking about physical items, people are becoming more and more accustomed to free content . And I'm not just talking about illegal downloads, folks. No. I'm talking about all the content available on the internet. Blogs. MySpace. YouTube. You name it. There's tons of free entertainment out there, and all of that competes with comics. People have plenty of places to turn when reading comics is no longer economically viable.
This is why I've taken so much to webcomics (which, I admit, I was a hard sell at first). I, as an independent creator, can easily distribute and market my comics to people on a global level with practically no difficulty or expense (aside from time). The trade-off is, its free for the readers, so the trick comes with monetizing the comic. In my case, the solutions will be ad sales and merchandise (which, yep, includes printed comics).
Okay. Well, that's probably not good enough for large established publishers like Marvel and DC, who already make money of both of those monetizing options PLUS sales. In short they'd be taking a cut. Here's my idea:
Develop something along the lines of the Kindle, but specifically high resolution optimized for comics. Give it some functionality outside of comics too (how about wi-fi comics news service?), so people would actually pay money for it. Develop and patent a format for comics that can only be read on these readers. Have the software to create this format so expensive that it deters would be "casual" pirates. Make sure that the digital comics resolution totally blow scanned comics out of the water. Probably wouldn't hurt to use the term "experience" in the marketing.
There will always be ways around it, but I think if companies hope to sell digital files, they have to put out some effort to make it worth fans' while.
Do you see them no longer publishing single issues and moving toward events, as they seem to have done?
Yes. And once the companies come to terms with this as a good idea, the better off comics will be.
Obviously I'm exploring a lot of different directions for the future of comics (Elseworlds if you will), but one of the things I'd like to see is a move away from the mandated ongoing series to series' of mini-series.
Unfortunately, right now, the bigger companies are approaching this with events that are escalating in proportion, that not only have to involved every character in a respective universe, but also all of the monthly titles. Sometimes it works, but usually its obstructive, obnoxious, and detrimental the the main bulk of the story-- especially when they go so far as to make you have to read a tie-in to understand the main series.
What I would like to see is a move away from the ongoing monthly with cycle after cycle of creative teams. Instead I think they should publish a bunch of mini-series with an eye towards eventual trade paperback collection (or even some kind of digital solution if you want to go that route). Commit a creative team to a specific project. Then do it as a stand-alone set.
I think this could be beneficial in many ways. For fans, you won't have had to have read 100 back issues to know what's happening. For creators, a little more freedom from continuity. Publishers - I think trades will sell better when they're their own book, and not a snapshot of a larger series.
I also think that this will cut down on the amount of filler "garbage" we get when no what knows what to do with a series. I Think that can be a source of apathy for some fans.
Do you think we'll get a higher page count (story content) with the higher price point? Or will things move more and more to the web, with the thought that paying $.99 for 22 pages (maybe a little less) is better than paying $6 and having it be crap? And then possibly publish a trade after that?
I've already touched on this, but wanted to acknowledge the question. Whatever the distribution method, I think they'll have to find and equilibrium between price and what length satisfies a customer. I have a feeling printed trades will probably still exist. The book market, for comics, is growing. Probably a lot more stuff coming out on that end. As long as there's a printed book market, I see a market for the trades (as long as the publishers hold it together).
And any thoughts about the domino effect that going almost exclusively to the web would have on everyone else, from artists to publishers to retailers to readers?
BOOM! That's the biggie.
I think there's no doubt that various shifts are happening and, I think that the folks that will hurt the most, either by a transition to web, or transition to just trades, are the retailers. I mean, they're already hurting. The whole catalyst for me doing this column is my local store shutting down.
Let's face it: Running an LCS is not exactly something easy to be successful at. Gone are the days where as soon as the new issue is out, you can jack the price of the back issues 25 cents to a dollar. Now, I'd bet shops are lucky to move older issues below cost to compete with trades, etc. How is that a money making model (I'd love to have some experienced input in this department). So retailers are already, for the most part, teetering on the brink. I think any big shift could pretty much do them in.
This is probably why the pamphlet is still hung onto. Once that goes away, book stores and the internet will dominate sales for comics publishers. I think that the publishers probably realize this, and for fear of losing those targeted outlets all at once, continue to make the pamplet as so they can still sell product in LCS's. Think about it: all the merchandising, your toys, t-shirts, statues, all that BS... are bookstores going to pick up that slack? No. I don't think a lot of that knick-knackery would sell as well online either, if you couldn't see it in a shop as well.
So what I'm seeing is more of a fade away than a sudden topple over effect. Will it happen over the next ten years? Hard to say if there will be a COMPLETE shift over that period, but I think its safe to say that it will be a totally different landscape for sure.
Thats like 5 columns in one! Good thing. Next two Thursday's are holidays.
Big thanks to Forby for helping me get rolling on this one with his questions. We'll probably revisit a lot of these thoughts in greater detail in future columns, as they come up.
But for now: Happy holidays! See you next year,
Give the gift of COMICS!
Matt Grant is a graphic designer and self-publishing comics and webcomics creator. His comic MastorisM can be read at www.MastorisM.com and updates Tuesdays and Thursdays. A long time comics fanatic and advocate for the medium, Matt eats, sleeps, and breathes comics. "Life well spent!"
Matt would love nothing more than to hear from fans, retailers, creators, and publishers that have anything relevant to contribute to his column. He believes that, only by working together, we can bring the comics medium to a wider deserving audience. Please feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, private message him here, or harass him on the street! Matt does not claim to be an industry expert in any way shape or form, but rather an opinionated pundit on the sidelines.
Nice column, Matt.
I look forward to a more in-depth look at the various issues that were brought up in the future.
Here's a thought.
While it becomes less economically feasible to put out monthly issues, and more cost effective to go the trade route, how will that work with comics being periodical in nature.
Comics come out in weekly "episodes". That's part of the draw. Like the Saturday Morning serial films of old, each week you get the latest installment. If they go to trade only, will they continue on that monthly schedule? Bi-Monthly? Quarterly? Annually?
It's sort of like the difference between making a TV series or a movie. A movie is longer and higher production, but you get one every two to three years (if the movie is a series) vs the weekly episodes of a TV show.
Or, you could end up with a glut. Spidey currently comes out 3 issues a month. If they started putting out monthly trades ranging from $9.99 to $16.99 per month, how would that affect people's ability to buy them.
How will it affect the way stories are told. The single issue story would be gone or the book would have to be an anthology. If they go the anthology route, reader's lose the ability to skip single issues they don't want or like, but have to purchase the whole book. You could be paying $16 or more for a book that contains only one story you actually want. If they go the sweeping one extended story route, some staple tricks of suspense building and story telling are lost, as the whole tale is given in one shot. Gone is the cliffhanger or even ability to maintain surprise, as anyone can flip to the end of a story. And if they do try to tell a multi "issue" tale, it takes two years for a six trade series to come out, and costs $100 total.
While, going quarterly with trades may draw in some new businesses, it will also shed off some of the old.
Like any habit, the longer you go without, the easier it is to quit. And if something gets delayed, you could only see a new story every other year. That's a long time to decide you've lived well enough without reading it, and that you don't need to pick it up anymore.
Plus trades are thicker, and heavier than regular comics, and you fit less in a box. Therefore, shipping costs go up, as a box weighing 10 lbs can contain 500 comics, but only 50 or so trades. They take up more room to store, and only fit 2 to 5 deep on the shelves.
As for the electric downloadable comics, it seems like a great way to invite viruses into your system. Plus, a power surge here, or computer crash there, and your entire comic collection is lost. I can't say I'm comfortable with that.
E-Comics as a supplement to actual comics, YAY! E-Comics as a replacement for actual comics, BOO!
There are a lot of variable to consider with a change of this nature.
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
I agree that I would miss the monthly, too. I'm a monthly collector. Its who I am. Yeah. But, I think I could be just as happy getting serial mini-series VS. on-goings. One thing that bugs me about collecting on goings is that you tend to go, very frequently, through periods of filler issues, and crap just to keep on the series. Minis would cut back on that by having dedicated creative teams. Also, you could chose not to get the mini without feeling like you're giving up on a whole series. The minis could be anywhere from 3 to six to twelve issues... just depends (most likely 6 plus would be my guess... book stores.. you know). And then collected in trades.
I'd say the overwhelming majority of folks that I know that are comics fans (talking people I grew up collecting with/a slim portion of whom still actually read comics) have gone to the "Wait for the trades" mindset. Some of these
folks have passed that and gone on to downloading arcs as soon as they're completed. Like it or not, this is what's happening. Economics. Even at 4 bucks a pop now, its more economically sound to wait for the trades. What would cost you $24 to buy in monthlies, only costs 15-18 dollars to get as a trade.
I think what's happening too, and for us old dogs its harder to cope with (I know, I'm right there with you, seb) is that the "collecting" mindset is on its way out, and the "reading" mindset is what remains. So physically having all the issues as ISSUES isn't as important is just plain getting to read the story. I don't really think that folks who download comics are worried about keeping them as a collection per se. Maybe if they want to read it a again later, they burn it to a disc, the same way they'd do a movie, or a song, or a tv show.
You know. I'm such a collector and, collecting is a strong mindset. It really is. I have a few versions of DKR. I consider also buying trades of stuff I liked as monthlies. Hell, I used to collect records and CDs too, I could tell you I have 4 or six distinctly different versions of Metallica's Kill Em All on various formats (oooohh baby). So-- I know that vibe. But I think the trend among people is moving away from considering comics as a physical possession to hoard, and more towards a form of entertainment to read and enjoy, and currently, there are a plethora of ways you can do that.
Ultimately I think that a move toward the reading trend (not saying that collecting isn't reading I mean "reading trend" as reading but not collecting) is somewhat of a good thing. I think that one of the stigma that keeps non comics folks from getting into reading comics is the idea that comics are only about having a rabid collecting habit. I think that's unattractive to some folks.
I would though, like to see my Mini concept be a model that is worked toward. I think its a good solution for everyone. Retailers still have something to sell, collectors still have something to collect, and the end product is something that's easier for a casual reader to get into.
I'd also like to see that stuff gets developed for various markets separately. IE - more OGN type stuff going to bookstores, perhaps less trade-minded monthly series in LCSs... I dunno.
-- that sorta rounded out what I had to say, but I went back and looked at a couple of your other comments (cause I just kinda went off heheh). I'd say that if things moved towards trades, stuff would be approached more like standalone stories, except in certain cases.
Also, I read 52 as four 13 issue trades (much longer than your typical 6 issue arc trade, mind you), for 20 bucks a pop-- 80 bucks total, over the course of less than a year.... which would have cost me well over $150 if I bought them weekly (I wish i had done that with countdown... I think I would have only spent 20 dollars... hahahahaha! Instead I shelled out 3 bucks every week waiting for it to "get good"). I was fairly pleased with that.
Anyway... I totally see you're side, but the way things are going, I think a lot of us are going to have to adjust. Monthly collecting, I think, is pretty niche as it is, and in order to compete with all the other things (especially video games) that are out there competing for comics' attention, they're going to have to learn to adapt to the ways that people want to read them.
Look at it like this. When I was a (very little) kid, if you wanted to see a movie that was out of the theater, you had to wait for it to come on TV-- sooner if you were lucky enough to have HBO. Remember all those saturday and sunday movies on TV? Then you could get a VCR and rent the movies, OR buy them for a ridiculous amount of money. Like lots of folks, we'd tape em off of TV. My parents still have our extensive collection of TV taped flicks. THEN suddenly they became cheap, just in time for DVDs to take over, and now if you want to watch a movie at home, you just wait for about a week after the movie is out of theaters and buy it for 20 bucks. Plus with Blu-Ray, it will look and sound even better than in the theater. Or crap-- even get it via netflix or whatever...
But then, even with all that, Dark Knight can nab a billion dollars worldwide in theaters, so I guess thats a crappy analogy, other than what I was getting at is-- people still like to watch movies at home, but just the way that its approached is different.
Blah... this is even longer than my column almost. I ought to shut up and go draw me some comics.
Thanks for the stimulating conversation, good buddy... hope we can rap some more!
Holy crap! Don't drink two Monsters and start posting to forums...