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Monday, February 18, 2008

Dirk Removes the Blinkers from The Direct Market -- I had meant to post something late last week about the ridiculous 2007 Bookscan analysis Brian Hibbs posted at Newsarama, but Dirk Deppey beat me to the punch.

This is all policy-wonk, inside-baseball stuff, so if you're bored of the talk of comics retailing and the future of comics, feel free to click over to Comics Continuum and read about what's happening in next week's issue of Justice Society or whatever.

If you are interested in where comics retailing is going, though -- especially in the heinous self-deception that otherwise smart guys likes Hibbs subscribe to in order to tell themselves all is well within the terribly broken direct market -- please read Dirk's deconstruction of Hibbs's Bookscan analysis.

Dirk's common-sense, home-run point is obvious to anyone who actually dares to step out of the shadows of the direct market and into the light of the greater overall marketplace for comics and graphic novels:
"How are companies like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics managing to afford all those pricey hardcovers that they’ve been releasing lately? And where do they go? Do Chris Oliveros, Brett Warnock, Kim Thompson and Dan Nadel all get together in some hidden forest somewhere, back dumptrucks into a big bonfire and burn copies of Storeyville and Acme Novelty Datebook while they dance around laughing? How long before the credit-card companies and investment bankers who are probably supplying the money for all of this get wise? I really should update my resumé, shouldn’t I?"
It always makes me sad to read someone intelligent like Brian Hibbs distorting the truth about the direct market and the ongoing transformation of the comics industry; but at times like these, I remind myself of the phone call I received from Hibbs a few years back in which he told me, quite seriously, that "everyone who reads Love and Rockets also reads Superman."

After I read Hibbs's pound of baloney last week, I dropped a quick email to Fantagraphics publicity czar Eric Reynolds to ask him about what seemed to me to be the obvious fallicies contained within Hibbs's "analysis." This is what Eric told me:
"Brian can compare Bookscan and ICV2 numbers all he wants, but the fact remains: our bookstore sales have outstripped DM sales for something like 7 years running. I'm glad the DM is closing the gap, though, if in fact they are."
As far as artcomix selling in mainstream bookstores, all I know is what I see with my own eyes. I bought Shortcomings at my local independent bookstore (Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, New York) because it was the first place I saw a copy. I often see non-superhero graphic novels appear in non-direct market bookstores days or weeks before they appear in comic book stores, and if it's something I want, and something I have not pre-ordered from my retailer, then I buy it then and there. Like a normal book buying member of the public. And it goes without saying that Manga's dominance within the mainstream bookstore arena is virtually unprecedented in my comics-reading lifetime, which began in 1971.

More and more I sympathize with the plight of otherwise good comics retailers who just aren't seeing the big picture. It's not altogether hard to understand why they have such a blinkered point of view -- at the moment, their business model is working for them, as it always has. And yet a hugely more profitable market for comics is constructing itself just outside their field of vision, like a Death Star with a cloaking device. But the cloaking device seems to me to be constructed by the retailers of the direct market themselves, who don't want to see what the future holds for their way of doing business, and like Brian Hibbs last week, distort any available information to convince themselves that the sky is not falling.



Blogger Brian Hibbs said...


I absolutely DID NOT say "everyone who reads Love and Rockets also reads Superman."

What I said was that MOST people who buy L&R also read superhero comics.

"Most" is not "everyone" and "superhero comics" is not "Superman"

Pretty much any DM retailer can confirm for you that this is the case -- that the "art comics purist", where they ONLY buy "art comics" is a rare and elusive beast.

And the steady, sustained and continual growth of the DM over the last x number of years makes it pretty darn clear that the sky is NOT falling. Sheesh.


18 February, 2008 14:25  
Blogger Joe Willy said...

But isn't there a legimate question as to whether that growth is more highly skilled cannibalizing of the current market or the result of actual growth in the actual number of customers? And are these are new customers (if they exist) actually old customers from the 90s boom days returning to comics after an absence or are these kids who are developing a life long interest in comics? It could be said that if there aren't more customers and that if they aren't kids then any recent growth is just a maximizing of short-term profit and not sustainable growth that signals long-term prosperity.

19 February, 2008 18:36  
Blogger David Wynne said...

A week late to this (I was on holiday in Spain) but:

"Pretty much any DM retailer can confirm for you that this is the case -- that the "art comics purist", where they ONLY buy "art comics" is a rare and elusive beast."

This sentence is missing the words "In DM comics shops" off the end of it.

Seriously, do you think an "art comics purist" is going to bother shopping in in speciality comics stores, when they can get everything they're interested in at their local book shop earlier and cheaper?

Most people who shop in DM stores read superhero comics, yes. Because most DM stores are superhero memorabilia shops, when you get right down to it, and the only selling point they have is that they are the only place you can get the latest issue of Spandex Gymnast Adentures.

24 February, 2008 08:08  

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