As a life-long comic book fan, it pains me to write this: the comic book industry is hurting. According to Comic Chron, this past September “closed out the worst quarter year-over year” in nearly 15 years. Comic book movies are more popular than ever, so how can this be? How can the source for those billion-dollar movies be selling so poorly? Let’s look at the numbers first and give you an idea how far sales have plummeted for comic books.
Marvel’s signature series now is still arguably The Amazing Spider-Man. Ten years ago, writer J. Michael Strakzynski was on it and in September of 2007, the web-slinger’s book sold 146,170 copies that month. That same month, New Avengers sold 112,780 copies. Both series were in the top five that month.
Now let’s flash forward to September of 2017. The Amazing Spider-Man, with writer Dan Slott, came in at number 17 and sold 58,885 copies. That is a 60% drop in sales for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. A book selling around 60,000 copies in 2007 would have ranked you around the 30th spot that month. As for the Avengers, they rank 64th for last month with 33,967. How much of a percentage drop is that in sales?
Thanks Bill and Ted!
Comic sales in general are down ten percent from last year with roughly $392 million in sales. 2007 as a whole had $429 million, which was up 9% from 2006. I know the year isn’t over yet, but they probably won’t reach $430 million. So, what can the comic industry do as a whole to stop the bleeding and get people to actually buy comics again? Here are some suggestions from a comic enthusiast who doesn’t want his hobby to go the way of the dinosaur.
Reduce The Number of Titles Published
DC and Marvel are incredibly guilty of this. With 52 titles from DC, even that was too much. I know I covered this before and sound like a broken record at this point to all two of my loyal readers, but they both need to remember the old chestnut of “quality over quantity.”
One thing Marvel has done is go overboard with the Avengers and X-Men titles. Being an Avenger used to be an honor in Marvel. Now, it’s as easy as signing up for a Discover Card.
“Keith, aside from that hacky joke, wouldn’t reducing the titles they publish reduce their sales numbers?”
No. Think about it for a second. If you only publish one Avengers title, that’s the only Avengers title available on the market. People will have no choice but to buy it if they want to get an Avengers title. If you offer four or five Avengers titles, you’ve cannabalized your own market.
DC is guilty of this too. We don’t need a Batman book for every single day of the year, nor a Justice League team for every mood. When you flood the market with so much of the same thing, people get tired of it.
Reduce the Cover Prices
Want to know a good way to make sure a book doesn’t sell? Give it an outrageous cover price. This year, The Amazing Spider-Man #25 had a cover price of $10. Yes, it was an anniversary issue, but holy crap! Ten dollars for a comic book? You kidding me? NO.
“Nobody is forcing you to buy it.”
Yeah, but you shouldn’t force fans to spend $10 on a brand-new comic book. When you give brand-new comics high price tags, you kill impulse buying. You make the book inaccessible to potential new readers. Why do that?
Advertise the Comics on TV
Marvel and DC have multiple shows on network TV these days with Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Agents of SHIELD, The Gifted and countless more. You have a golden opportunity to advertise the comics on these shows, so why not have little trailers for upcoming comics? They plugged the first issue of Steve Rogers: Captain America during the Captain America special that aired on ABC last year. That issue sold almost 100,000 copies. Think it would have sold that much had it not been for the mention on the TV special? No.
I know Marvel made trailers like this for the comic mini-series Age of Ultron…
…But they have them exclusively online. Show them on television and I guarantee you’ll get new readers headed to local comic shops. You reach a much wider audience with TV ads than just replying to articles from us, Newsarama, Comics Alliance or Previews.
Don’t Have Every Title Available Digitally
I don’t have the sales numbers to back it up, but Im guessing that digitally available titles are taking a respectable number of sales from hard copies. Yeah, it’s convenient that you don’t have to leave the house or apartment to get the latest issue of The Despicable Deadpool, but what’s hurting the sales numbers is the fact every title is available digitally. I just prefer having a comic book in my hands. To me, there is something missing when you download a comic to your iPad or Kindle.
You would definitely increase print sales if titles weren’t available digitally. Maybe have low-selling titles available as digital-only, and the more popular titles available exclusively in print. That way, everybody wins and you stop wasting ink and paper on titles that just simply don’t move on the shelves.
When you buy a comic digitally, you are also hurting your local comic shop. I don’t mean for “Angel” by Sarah McLachlin to start playing in your head, but think about your local shop next time you want to download a comic rather than buying it. You’re taking money away from them.
Make High-Quality Books
I know this is rather subjective and not everyone has the same taste, but if you want to bring people back into the stores, make high-quality books. I know no editor at a comic book company sits in their office and says to themselves, “Let’s publish a ton of crap this month!” However, I can’t help but notice that the quality of a lot of comics has dropped.
I know the artists try their hardest, but a lot of the Marvel titles, frankly, have bad artwork. They look way too cartoonish. Look at this art from the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the All New Guardians of the Galaxy.
Tell me if that artwork would have even seen the light of day back in the ’90s or ’00s.
“Well, it’s better than anything you could draw, Keith!”
Yeah, buddy. And that’s why I’m not an artist.
DC is guilty of this too. When they relaunched Superman in 2011 with the New 52, the artwork was OK, but the story was bad even by writer George Perez’s admission due to editorial mix-ups. What should have been one of the key titles from DC wound up being a dud.
So, with all that in mind, let’s hope someone at the DC office or the House of Ideas see this article and take some of my points into consideration.
Have any ideas of your own that could save the industry? Hit me up in the comment section below!