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Friday, August 18, 2006

Civil War Lateness Endangers Superhero Convenience Shops -- You'd think Brian Hibbs suing Marvel for being chronically late might have been an early indicator that maybe you shouldn't tie your personal fortunes to the publisher's timeliness. But greed and the promise of short-term gain are historically more powerful than, well, paying attention to history. I cannot personally imagine allowing Marvel and/or Diamond to determine the health of my personal financial stability this late in the game. I have kids to feed.

I've been reading both the timely 52 and the now-late Civil War for free from the internet's Preferred Store (as it's known). I like CW enough to actually buy the eventual hardcover, whenever the hell it comes out. I loathe 52 enough that I have stopped reading it even for free.

The message to retailers, it seems to me, and it's been apparent for at least a couple of years now, is that the day of the fucking floppy is over, and you need to transition to the new reality. In other words, when BORDERS starts bitching about how Civil War is late, then I'll think it matters to comics as a whole.

This "tragedy" is mainly impacting superhero convenience stores, who should know by now that Marvel's Slurpees are an unreliable factor when planning out their long-term financial health. Over the next three or four months, the three-out-of-four people in my household who read comics every week will be affected exactly not at all by Civil War being late -- two of them (my kids, on the very cusp of becoming independent, comics-buying adults) read graphic novels and non-Marvel periodicals, and the other, the fat old nerd that hooked them on comics, is waiting quite patiently and happily for the trade, which will have a consistent writer and artist all the way through, and which may not be Watchmen, but will still be of interest to sooperhero fans ten years from now, unlike the timely-as-hell 52.

Diamond is no longer comics. Marvel is no longer comics. Look around, in libraries, in real bookstores. Comics is bigger than one distributor or one publisher, especially a distributor and publisher who historically cover their own asses to the detriment of those they do business with. Diamond and Marvel essentially supply Slurpees to sooperhero convenience stores, and they're all managed by guys who, if they are professional businessmen -- you know, have READ HIBBS'S BOOK ON BEING A PROFESSIONAL COMIC BOOK RETAILER -- know they need to study the history of their industry and of their own store, and make sound business decisions based on the information they have. The information about Marvel has been clear forever, to anyone not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Every smart retailer I know has spent the past few years diversifying their product line, opening up alternative lines of distribution so that their future and their financial well-being is not entirely, fatally tied to Marvel and Diamond.

I can imagine quite a few sooperhero convenience shops going under because of this. And you know, I felt bad for the people who had 100 percent of their stock in Enron, too. But they should have known better. I know nothing about investing, but I know you have to diversify your portfolio if you want to be solvent and prosperous in the long-term.

Diversification would have saved Enron's investors, and in the long run, it's the only thing that will allow comic book stores to exist in another five to ten years. The smart retailers already know this -- walk into Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts or The Beguiling in Toronto. Yes, they have Marvel available. As one of the many, many publishers they carry. And they have diverse customer bases that wants comics of all sizes, shapes, genres and languages. What percentage of income do you think Marvel represents for Borders? The ones near me all have some Marvel stuff, and quite a bit more Manga.

There's room for superhero comics, especially in North America. But the day of Ellis's Nurse Novel is long since over, and bravo to him for pointing this out so long ago:

"I don't doubt that there are excellent nurse novels in there. But the fact that in our nightmare bookstore, 90% of all books published everywhere are about nurses tends to choke off all other genres and a literary mainstream."

Diversify or die, comic book stores. The Civil War debacle is very likely the final warning bell.



Blogger aaron dumin said...

In the long run, I think Marvel made the wise decision to push back the release date of their comics, as opposed to just lasoing in a fill-in team to handle the creative chores. A year from now nobody's going to remember that the series had a scheduling hiccup, because they'll be reading it in a trade paperback. But, at least that trade paperback will have a consistant level of quality to it, and thus a longer shelflife due to it's sheer recomendability, something which can't be said for the majority of projects which are rushed out to meet their deadline.

Let's face it, how many people even remember how late The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, DKR, or Watchmen were? (Granted Civil War is nowhere near their caliber, but you get my point.) Yet to this day, they continue to sell precisely because they favored quality above the antiquated monthly production schedule that holds the comics industry in a veritable straightjacket.

18 August, 2006 10:31  
Blogger Michileen Martin said...

Aaron, one thing you're forgetting - something that Jason Richards (and I'm sure plenty of others by now) pointed out at A Comic Riot - is that, besides the obvious discrepancy in quality between Civil War and a lot of the books you mentioned, the situations aren't completely comparable because unlike Civil War, when DKR or Watchmen were late, that lateness didn't also slam the brakes on the release of a bunch of other titles. Absolutely, thank God that no one did a fill-in issue of Watchmen. But what if the wait between one issue of Watchmen and the next had also affected Justice League of America, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, etc. That doesn't negate your argument or ADD's, but I do think it demonstrates that it isn't as simple as a one-to-one comparison with Civil War to DKR, Watchmen, whatever.

Unless my local shop is somehow adversely affected by this to a point that it forces them to cut corners or close their doors (which I doubt), I am so personally unaffected by this that I almost feel guilty reading all the uproar on the Net. I read the first two issue of CW just to gauge whether or not I'd even be interested in the trade later on. I was pretty under-whelmed and while I probably will pick up the tpb once it comes out, I can't imagine it will be a priority.

I agree with ADD that shops need to diversify more, and in fact I've already read quite a few retailers comments at various places saying that this can be an opportunity to turn readers on to the non-Big-Two titles they might otherwise ignore (which, if successful, I would imagine would help retailers diversify). Further diversification would certainly suit my needs. In spite of the fact that I grew up a Marvelite, my interest in their recent series has slowed even more than their release schedule, and if my local shop carried more manga and smaller American publishers as a result, I certainly won't mind.

18 August, 2006 13:52  
Blogger aaron dumin said...

True, Marvel should have taken the proper precautions to ensure that this series would ship on time, but sometimes things just don't work out, and when presented with this instance Marvel chose to delay the comic rather than rush out something that they felt would be of inferior quality. To me that's commendable and shows respect to both the project and the creators involved as well as, believe it or not, the readers.

18 August, 2006 18:21  
Blogger jason @ RIOT said...

It's easy to say "diversify." But it's another thing to get your customers to purchase those diversifications.

I'm a huge proponent of indy publishers here at RIOT, turning people on to books by AdHouse, Oni and AiT (among others). But if the majority of my customers are looking for Marvel titles and I don't have them, I lose that potential money.

18 August, 2006 18:55  
Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

I never sued Marvel over comics being late -- I sued them for not fufilling thier side of the contractually agreed bargin; ie that those late and missolicited books would then be made returnable, per the contract that they themselves dictated.

Because of that, we got, arguably, a BETTER system for dealing with late books: the FOC system where we're free to adjust books as we choose.

(An exercise, might I add, I will be utilizing for CIVIL WAR #4)

You write good rant, but I have to say, calling on the example of such a stunning sales hit (especially to the civilian-to-Marvel audience) as proof that "the day of the fucking floppy is over" is, well, kinda stupid, to say the least. The *reason* this is an issue is that it is large and sprawling and, above all else, successful.

That superhero-only stores should probably diversify, yeah sure, I'm down with that 100%, but, really, the only thing that this is proof of is that publishers (of all stripes) have to stop soliciting things that aren't far enough along the production cycle to be 99% sure they'll hit thier solicited date. This is as true for Marvel as it is for Tokyopop as it is for Fantagraphics as it is for Joe Newbie doing his first comic out of mom's basement.

And it is as true for a periodical as it is for a book, ADD.


19 August, 2006 01:23  
Blogger ADD said...

"It's easy to say "diversify." But it's another thing to get your customers to purchase those diversifications."

I've never said diversification wasn't a slow and careful process -- it'll take years for most comic sshops to adjust to the new market for comics that has been developing over the past few years. And this is why I've been preaching diversity for about as long as I've been talking about comics on the internet.

But it's not Marvel that needs to change. It's the stores and the mindset and approach of the owners. Marvel either will or won't adjust, none of us has any say in that. History shows what they're likely to do and who they're likely to protect. All I advocate is learning from that history, and adjusting to the reality that to be a true comics shop, you have to have commics for everyone, and make that fact well known through how you present your shop to the world. Otherwise you're a superhero convenience store, and if that's what anyone wants to be, good luck to you -- you're certainly going to need it, as the headlines reflect.

19 August, 2006 03:20  
Blogger ADD said...

I could not agree more, Brian, that no material should be solicited before it is virtually ready to ship.

But we all know that's not how Marvel operates a lot of the time, certainly not with Civil War, which seemed to come out of nowhere and coincidentally shipped it's first issue the same day the final issue of Infinite Crisis shipped, if memory serves? A bigger, more obvious cash-in is difficult to imagine, even if it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it is actually readable and entertaining: compare and contrast with 52, which was in the works for a long time and still sucks ass, even if it ships every week on time. Hopefully retailers across the nation are buying up new boxes for the eventual quarter-binning of all those 52s I see piling up in virtually every shop I visit in my local area.

And I certainly stand by my statement that the day of the floppy is over -- the direct market is its last refuge. I don't mean to say they won't exist in ten years, but their dominance in comics as a whole exists solely in the direct market and those who don't peek outside that closed shop to see what the world is interested in. Hint: It isn't floppies.

19 August, 2006 03:26  
Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

CIVIL WAR #1 shipped on its solicited date, INFINITE CRISIS #7 was several weeks late, so it couldn't have been specifically conter-programed in the manner in which you imply.

Periodical comics are doing just fine, thanks -- Diamond's Top 300 alone have sold 46.8 million units in the first seven months of 2006, and have been steadily rising for years. The DM has been the "last refuge" for periodical comics for like 25 years.

I sell a lot of lot of TPs and GNs, you're arguing to the wrong person about the redemptive quality of the "book" in comic book, but I think that predicting the death of periodical publishing due to a rise in book sales would be much like predicting the death of weekly network television shows because of the rise of DVD boxed sets. That is to say that the value of amortizing production costs with a serial release really can't be understated.


19 August, 2006 20:16  

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