Digital vs Reality, Where Comicshop.net Gets it Wrong

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In an article posted yesterday ComicShop.net responded to another article about digital sales, brick and mortar stores and the habits of bloggers for not quoting facts.  The article spends the first half attacking bloggers while the second glosses over the bigger issue of digital sales versus real world retail.

When comic blogs speculate about the doom of shops as the digital option increases, they either refer to each other’s blogs as evidence. Or worse they lazily use the “some people say” method where they don’t have to actually cite anything, but speculate openly as if that all that’s being talked about on the street or in the square.

The generalization might be the case for the sites writer Chris visits, but he himself throws out statistics and makes assumptions in this article which aren’t “fact” either.  Let me show an example.

When it comes to digital comics, let’s go with the assumption that the target demographic is the same as print which is 18-24 year-old males. Only 15.2% of iPad owners are between the ages of 18-24. That’s a lot of kids, but the majority of iPad owners are older and wealthier. And maybe that’s because of the price. The average income for 18-24 is $15k per year.

The article should be focused on facts about digital comics.  It’s a growing area of retail and revenue, that is true.  I wish I could throw out stats, but the companies that have shared those with me have sworn me to not divulge them, but it’s increasing leaps and bounds.  At the same time, as those digital sales are increasing, physical sales seem to be shrinking, according to statistics published on sites like ICv2 or ComiChron, the year is down.  At the same time, attendance is up at conventions.  So what is the deal about digital sales and physical sales?

Comicshop.net is more than likely correct when it says that the death of Borders is likely due to poor management, not the state of print.  At the same time, this article comes at the same time Atomic Comics announced it’s closing it’s doors.  No matter how you cut it, sales are down, the stats show that.  Is it due to the economy?  Are people just tired of comics?  We won’t have a real answer unless someone asks the customers the industry is hemorrhaging.

But, convention attendance is up.  So, what’s the disconnect?  Could it be people are tired of the idea of monthly serials?  Do they not want to make weekly trips?  Or, is the metric for sales not showing the complete picture?  There is no one measurement that tracks digital, direct market and mass market sales.  Maybe people are leaving stores and instead purchasing items from other sources like Barnes & Noble or Amazon?  Maybe they’re going to digital sales instead?

The real figures of who is reading digitally is interesting.  It’s not the youth Comicshop.net cites in their hyperbole of an argument.  Doing a search on Facebook, those who identify they like digital comics is actually in the 31-40 year old range.  The largest segment is those age 35-40.  That skews older than the rest of the comic market on Facebook by over a decade.  Digital comic fans (on Facebook) are older, and more educated.  We can also guess that they probably have more income than their younger counterparts (but that’s conjecture).

If you really think comic shops are slowly dying off because of the demand for digital, your privilege is showing. Comic shops are dealing with a tough economy because comic books are a luxury—the first thing that gets cut when people are trying to save money. Food or comics? There’s no app for that.

But, what Comicshop.net fails to cite with this is statistics.  Here’s actual sales numbers for DC and Marvel over the years.  In a similar economic climate of the lates 70s, sales dipped, but stayed somewhat steady.  The market also boomed during the recession of the late 80s and 90s at the same time gimmicks took off.  The mass market was shrinking as the direct market grew.

During the 2000’s graphic novels exploded and have seen continued growth in popularity, but during that time period we also saw their increased exposure in the mass market and big box stores.

Instead of blaming the economy, which it seems sales is inconsistent, but slightly weaker, the history actually seems to show that sales has suffered from the loss of the mass market.  That’s as much as the economy seems to be a likely culprit and issue.  Less exposure in high trafficked and high exposure stores is where we should be looking as much as anywhere.

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5 comments

  • And with this, I’m deleting this site from my RSS feed. I’m not even mad at you, Brett. I’m just tired of reading comic book commentary from people with literally no ability to separate themselves from the issue and ask the hard questions. Every week, you do reviews and the only things that seem to get reviews below an 8.5 are the ones that say ‘poopy’ too often. Of course you’ll never understand why sales are declining: you freaking love comics. All of them. Even freakin Archie! NO ONE LIKES ARCHIE! Not even ironically! In fact, the reason the comic books are in their predicament is because 40 year old fan boys still BUY GOD DAMNED ARCHIE.

    Look, sales are declining for one reason: comic books are not worth what they are being sold for. Period. Now, there are a myriad of reasons why (digital, bootlegging, the age of the demographic, whatever) but the bottom line is that if comics were worth $4 a piece, people would buy them and no one is. This shouldn’t be hard for anyone to grasp, but since the only people who actually talk about comics are the comic book creators and shills like you, everyone dances around the issue: the Big Hero Comics just aren’t that interesting anymore. I’m sorry, literally every Superman story that is allowable from DC has been told and retold. Rather than -I dunno- rethink what Fantastic Four means, or do something completely out of left field, Marvel makes a gigantic media event over a character dying when LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE ON THE TEAM HAS DIED AT SOME POINT. And all the fan boys do is fawn.

    So, if you want to know the problem: it is the most dedicated fans that will buy literally every issue DC puts out every month because they have been buying it for the last 25 years. It is the review sites that pound their chests in glee about the Wolverine v Blob crossover. It is this ridiculous negative feedback loop of idiocy between companies TERRIFIED of making any decision that would negatively impact sales and groups of forever-17-year olds that pull a knife on someone with the temerity to say something like ‘You know, as much as I like Grant Morrison, Battle for the Cowl makes literally no sense unless you have been following Batman for 15 years.’

    To underscore the point: name an in-canon comic book with a Major Hero you’ve read in the last three years that you could hand off to someone that has never read comics before that they would enjoy. Hell, I’ll even up the ante: name one they could understand without relying on a half dozen crossovers, or a pre-reading of someone’s backstory or blah blah blah. Now: tell that same person that in order to read the comic as it comes out the first six issue arc is going to cost $24. Also, the moment you purchase that comic, it is literally worthless, so all you collectors that spent years upon years putting together a set: just pitch it at this point because no comic will every be worth what you paid for it ever again.

    You know what they are going to say? “I can download the best arcs of all time in order, crossovers integrated for absolutely free, no DRM and I can read it on literally any device anywhere. Better yet: I can try entire runs of comics and decide which ones to invest in rather than blindly purchasing Nightwing & Dogboy: Arkham Lives just because Joker makes an appearance on page 16. Also, if comics do go the way of the DoDo, I’ll have time to actually read and enjoy the older stuff I could never get to because I’m always chasing down FLASHPOINT V GREEN LANTERN CORPS V 52 CROSSOVER EVENT OF THE YEAR bullshit! Hell, the only reason I wouldn’t do this is out of some misguided loyalty to companies that gleefully raked in cash by guilting me into believing that comics are collectible and worth your hard earned dollar while simultaneously flooding the market with crap. ”

    Sorry, continue with your reviews. Oh, you were saying Fear Itself is a 10/10? DO TELL

    • Do you read read what I write? I’ve been bashing Fear Itself and where do I praise Archie? The only book from Archie I read is Mega Man, which deserves praise.

      I’ve spoke out against the “deaths” and the fact the only big news coming out of the majors is when that happens. I’ve brought up the fact that they need to make news other than gimmick events.

      The reason my reviews tend to be more positive is because the vast majority are books I want to read, I pay for those books with my own money. Of course they’re going to be good, if they weren’t I’d stop buying them.

      I agree the big hero comics haven’t been as good for a while now, but to say comics as a whole have been terrible is a broad statement that’s just not true. There’s amazing variety with the best books being non-super hero comics from publishers other than the big 2.

      Before you bash this site, maybe you need to read a bit more of what’s written here. I advocate for change, something needs to be done.

      But, the point of this article is the fact the statistics cited in the article referred to aren’t correct and the right questions aren’t being asked.

      While you have one opinion of what’s wrong with the industry, it’s not the only one. No one knows where these former fans have been going, there’s no mechanism to find out. That was the point of this article.

      Out of all of the sites, this one calls out the shit. Listen to our first radio show and the 20 minutes spent bashing The Infinite. Is it a more positive site when it comes to reviews, sure, but that’s due to the reasons above. When it gets to a point I read a lot more, you’ll see me reviewing the dog shit that’s produced.

      Overall, for someone that has such a negative opinion of the industry and comic websites, I find it odd you’re reading this one.

  • OK, is this one of your reviews?

    http://graphicpolicy.com/2011/07/25/catching-up-on-reviews-part-8-fear-itself/

    I’m not sure who quinnelk is, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that the site ostensibly advocates for what -in my opinion- seems to be one of the biggest problems in the industry and that is placing BIG TIME EVENTS above actual interesting and compelling writing. At the very least, I’ve not seen a review that is anything more than “Oh, this was awesome.” or “This could have been more awesome.” On top of that, much of the content I get in my feed reader is press releases and very little commentary.

    And, you are right. I didn’t get into the meat of what I thought was wrong with the article, so I’ll try now. You (rightly IMHO) accuse comicshop.net of boiling down a complex issue to “Eh, bad economy.” Then as a counterpoint you claim that since conventions are seeing more attendees, this somehow means comics should be selling more robustly. You ask “What is the disconnect?” The disconnect is that comic conventions have nothing to do with comics. When Wizard World came through Chicago, the top-billing went to Patrick Stewart. I’m not even mad that he was there, it’s not like Brian Azzarello is going to bring in that level of hype. But, you make that suggestion and don’t even see how silly that argument is. You are debunking a site for making ill-founded connections between economics and purachasing by making an even more tenuous connection between convention attendance and purchasing.

    Now, you say that I can’t say comics as a whole have been bad. You are correct, which is why I didn’t say that. You say the metrics aren’t there to understand where fans is going and are completely serious. My point is that the big two drive sales and people aren’t willing to pay what they are charging. It is similar to the film industry right now: people aren’t going to ‘tentpole’ movies as much because they were made to appeal to the broadest range of people and end up appealing to no one. But, just like film, some of the best comics ever written have come out in the last five years. I’ll put Scalped against anything out there, period. But JMS’s Superman? A retread of Midnight Nation, at best? And this is what DC comes up with? You can’t bring yourself to say that the product is shit, so you look at other metrics to prop up an argument that holds no water.

    I’m not saying you specifically advocated for Superman (though if I went back and looked I guarantee the comic gets at least a 7.5) but you do post press releases for Archie comics and whatever else gets sent to your inbox from the PR folks. And to me, posting those daily along side reviews that almost always fawn over the material comes off as a shill. That is the problem with posting an article about claiming to have a better idea about what is going on in the industry, or debunking someone else’s theory of those problems. It all comes off as hollow as the reviews for Schism.

    So maybe your podcast is calling these things out. I wouldn’t know because after reading the site I don’t have a reason to tune in. As for how I found it, I was suggested the site from Google Reader, a shot in the dark. Finally, you summed it up better than I ever could: I shouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place. It isn’t because all comics are bad or even solely because the industry is shit. It is because of the painfully myopic bloggers that won’t point out either of the above because they are afraid of the same things that the companies who make them are: offending fanboys or alienating the companies that create the stuff they love.

    Actually, scratch all of that. I just realized that none of this is warranted. I’m making the wrong argument to the wrong person and I sound like an internet zealot. Good luck in whatever it is you want to do.

    • And Ken is another person that posts every so often. Interesting that two people who’ve read the same thing have two different opinions. He also pays for his comics out of pocket as well, so, like me, you’ll get more positive reviews because again, why would I buy shit?

      An open invite to you to begin posting here and reviewing comics, you’re clearly quite opinionated and think you know what’s wrong with the industry.

  • “When Wizard World came through Chicago, the top-billing went to Patrick Stewart. I’m not even mad that he was there, it’s not like Brian Azzarello is going to bring in that level of hype.”

    Wizard World is an entertainment convention, not a comic convention. Baltimore Comic Con is a comic convention. I stand by my point.

    “My point is that the big two drive sales and people aren’t willing to pay what they are charging.”

    Where is this shown? That’s not a fact, that’s an opinion. The average donation on Kickstarter is just under $50. People are willing to pay for quality.

    “and to me, posting those daily along side reviews that almost always fawn over the material comes off as a shill. ”

    People like previews. At least on this site, I make clear what’s a press release as opposed to changing a few words and calling it original content.

    “I’ll put Scalped against anything out there, period. But JMS’s Superman? A retread of Midnight Nation, at best? And this is what DC comes up with? You can’t bring yourself to say that the product is shit, so you look at other metrics to prop up an argument that holds no water.”

    I can’t say the product is shit, because I don’t read Superman and clearly some people like it since it’s one of the highest selling comics out there. It’s not your cup of tea, but for some it is. You’re arguing taste.

    “It is because of the painfully myopic bloggers that won’t point out either of the above because they are afraid of the same things that the companies who make them are: offending fanboys or alienating the companies that create the stuff they love.”

    Yup, that’s why I’ve been cut from quite a few company press lists, because I’m a shill and a flack, you got me there.

    “Good luck in whatever it is you want to do.”

    Thanks, look forward to not having you as a reader.