Category Archives: The Comics Are All Right

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The Comics Are All Right… But Need Your Help

Recent months have seen the world thrown into chaos. The spread of the coronavirus/COVID-19 has caused communities to “social distance,” shelter-in-place, and even complete lockdowns. Normal interactions and habits have been disrupted and millions have been put out of work as entire industries have been upended. The future is unknown.

Every aspect of the comic book industry has been thrown into disarray. From publishers and creators to distribution, to the stores, each point in the creation and selling of comics have been impacted. What the industry will look like a week, a month, or even a year from now are guesses at best. No one knows what tomorrow brings. Distribution has been disrupted, projects have been canceled, and stores have been shuttered completely or limping along with a limited ability to sell their stock.

While there have been federal and state programs in the US launched in an attempt to help businesses and individuals, everyone in the industry can use our help as fans.

While I’d love to be happy and go-lucky in saying the industry is fine, it’s definitely wounded. Comics will exist after this is all done but what that may look like and who’s a part of it is the million-dollar question.

Publishers: Publishers are in an unenviable position in that they have no idea when normal may return. They’re at this time struggling and scrambling to not only figure out how to keep the lights on but also how to actually publish their comics (many printers are closed or overwhelmed) and distribute them. With Diamond Comic Distributors temporarily closed, publishers’ main distribution channel has been cut off unable to get weekly releases to comic shops, though backstock is still being sent. Publishers have been forced to cancel projects and delay others impacting creators who need every paycheck. So, even after things get back to normal and comics already in the can are released what comes after is unknown and a likely diminished output.

Numerous publishers too have taken money from investors who want a return on their dollars. A few months of six-figure losses could cause any investor to get skittish and want to bail or cut off further funds. While disaster relief funds might fill some of the gap, the reality is numerous publishers may close, consolidate, or be bought out in a fire sale.

Publishers need sales and with stores closed or struggling with limited ability to sell they’re being forced to pivot to digital sales or sell directly to consumers. Some have taken on the challenge faced by offerings parts of their sales to comic shops, they still need every dollar they can get.

How You Can Help:

  • Buy Comics: this is the most obvious way you can help. Purchase directly from the publisher is the most direct way. The money goes directly to them but does not help comic shops. Many have online comic shops and digital comics you can purchase. Back issues and stock that are not replaced from stores doesn’t help right away as the items have already been paid for (more on that later). This also has the benefit of helping creators in residuals (depending on the contract). Some publishers are splitting their mailorder sales with local shops to help benefit them. Black Mask, TKO, and Joe Benitez have all announced this initiative.
  • Promote Comics: When someone asks what they should be reading, suggest some comics. Parents are desperate for educational things for their kids to do and read and there are many comics that fit the role. Help them out with some ideas. Link to sites. Share their social media postings. Get the word out!

Creators: Many creators, probably most, are independent contractors which means every dollar counts. Lost and delayed jobs mean delayed checks and makes paying the bills difficult. Creators often have to pay their own medical expenses and in these times that’s vital (can we get a Guild pleases!?).

Projects are being canceled and delayed. Some creators are already talking about seeking work in other industries.

But, there’s also some opportunity for creators. Technology has allowed them to interact directly with fans bypassing distribution and stores. Many you can buy directly from (even getting signed items) and many have moved to selling creator-owned comics digitally through numerous platforms or working with popular sites like Webtoons. Just because there might not be a weekly comic on the store shelf doesn’t mean those creators aren’t turning out new comics.

How You Can Help:

  • Buy Comics: this is the most obvious way you can help. Purchase directly from the creator is the most direct way. The money goes directly to them but also does not help comic shops. But, without creators, there’s no comics. Many have online comic shops and digital comics you can purchase.
  • Seek Out their Digital Work: Webtoons is an example of a platform that has big-named creators publishing original material digitally. There’s also sites like Gumroad and a digital platform like comiXology that regularly posts new releases you won’t find in shops. Take advantage and see what you might have been missing. Just seeing an ad is enough to support creators and think about the tip jar if there is one.
  • Listen to Creators: Many creators are on social media and directly coming up with ideas on how you can help and promoting what they’re doing. Follow them on social media and there’s the added bonus of getting some “director’s commentary” in a way on projects as well as sneak peeks. You can also share your favorite creators with friends. Much like with publishers, Get the word out!

Stores: Stores are in an unenviable position. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Some are open. Some are closed. Some are limited in what they can do forced to do curbside pickup and mailorder. They have rent that needs to be paid and employees that need salaries. With no “new” comics coming in they’re also scrambling to fill the gap in sales that leaves.

How You Can Help:

  • Are they Open?: Find your local shop at this handy site and see if they’re open, providing curbside pickup, mailorder, or delivery. Take advantage.
  • New to You: Just because there’s no “new” weekly comics doesn’t mean there’s not new comics. You have read every comic released and here’s your opportunity to try something new. Check out a trade or graphic novel you might have missed, a publisher or creator you’ve never read, or an indie creator you’ve never heard of. Comics have been around for decades and there’s 100s of thousands of things for you to still read and discover.
  • Buy a Gift Certificate: Getting a gift certificate helps put money in the store’s till and you can get something you want when shipments resume.
  • Pay Ahead for Your Pull list: Many of us have a pull list where our comics are filed away for us to pick up. Many shops don’t require deposits but you can pay ahead for your pull list and keep the money flowing. Plus, you’ll be ahead of bills!
  • Pick up Your Pull list: If you have comics sitting at a comic shop, pick them up! It’s that simple. You ordered these items, go pay for them.
  • Pay it Forward: A great idea that has sprung out of this is buying a bunch of comics and allowing the shop to hand them out how they want to. They can donate them to kids, a hospital, a local group. It’s a nice simple gesture from comic fans and shops to spread our love.
  • BUY COMICS!: The good thing about purchasing comics at the shop level is that it rolls up. Shops will have money to buy more from publishers which then benefits creators. A purchase at a shop benefits the chain from top to bottom.

The above is not a full list of ideas of how to support publishers, creators, and shops. Have other ideas? Sound off in the comments below and we’ll highlight them on our Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube!

The Comics Are All Right: Actually, They’re Left

When putting together the monthly Demo-Graphic reports that looks into the demographics of those who like comics on Facebook, I collect much more data than what’s reported. Beyond demographic data like age, education, and gender, I also look into party affiliation, incomes, and more for those in the United States.

So, when I’m not analyzing comic sales, marketing, and retail specifically, I thought it might be interesting to dive into this data revealing it for the first time. Some of this data goes back to 2014.

So, lets begin.

Along with data such as age and gender, Facebook also tracks your political leaning and places individuals into five categories (at one point non-partisan was used but that stopped being a category in 2014):

  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • Moderate
  • Very Conservative
  • Very Liberal

This is based on what you label yourself as as well as to how you interact online. I’m categorized as “very liberal” as an example which is absolutely correct.

Each category has an overall total and then there’s the amount within the United States (someone can be engaged in American politics overseas, Americans abroad is the best example of that) Here’s where Facebook stands today based on the 230 million individuals in the United States.

Overall – 218,751,337 total individuals

  • Conservative – 41,658,731 (18.11%)
  • Liberal – 56,457,376 (24.55%)
  • Moderate – 50,636,131 (22.02%)
  • Very Conservative – 28,610,146 (12.44%)
  • Very Liberal – 42,388,953 (18.43%)

Within the United States – 196,000,000 total individuals

  • Conservative – 38,000,000 (16.52%)
  • Liberal – 49,000,000 (21.30%)
  • Moderate – 46,000,000 (20.00%)
  • Very Conservative – 26,000,000 (11.30%)
  • Very Liberal – 37,000,000 (16.09%)

And lumping these categories into more simplified categories:

Overall

  • Conservative – 70,268,877 (30.55%)
  • Liberal – 98,846,329 (42.98%)
  • Moderate – 50,636,131 (22.02%)

Within the United States

  • Conservative – 64,000,000 (27.83%)
  • Liberal – 86,000,000 (37.39%)
  • Moderate – 46,000,000 (20.00%)

We can see that liberals outnumber conservatives on the Facebook platform and even “very liberal” almost outnumbers “conservative.” Here’s the above data since March of 2014. We can see that liberals weren’t always a majority and that “very liberal” has seen a surge in 2017 coinciding with President Trump’s first year.

And here’s that data combined into just three categories.

We can see that liberals outnumber both conservatives and moderates with those that are conservative being the second largest population.

How do comic fans compare?

While there was a point that conservatives were a majority, that isn’t the case when it comes to comic fans. Going back even further to December 2013:

We can see that there is indeed a difference between the general Facebook population and comic fans. While moderates are briefly a majority of the general population, that’s not the case with comic fans and we can see the how things dip with the general flow of the comic population.

What’s particularly interesting is the difference between liberal (and very) and the other categories compared to the general population. While the general Facebook population seems to have similar regular growth across, we can see the comic population is pretty volatile (beyond the population ebbs and flows).Looking at the combined data what’s interesting is that those labelled as conservative comic fans are close to those that are moderate. This is in stark contrast to the overall Facebook population. Comic fans are not only liberal, they lean very left compared to the overall Facebook user base in the United States.

So what does this mean?

Comics have a long progressive history. The earliest talked about class and society. Superman’s earliest villains were crooked politicians and slumlords. Captain America advocated entering World War II a year before Pearl Harbor. There’s a long tradition within the pages.

While some regressive individuals think comics are too political, too left, “full of SJW (social justice warrior) crap,” the reality is that the fans are absolutely that. So, if the industry is supposed to market to the readers, why shouldn’t they also be progressive, liberal, and diverse?

The Comics Are All Right: It’s the Top 300 Stupid

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, the motto “It’s the economy stupid” become a driving force of the campaign as a reminder to focus on what mattered and not get distracted. Here at “The Comics Are All Right” I’m taking some of that advice leaving opinions and biases at the door in an attempt to suss out what might be going on in the comic book industry. In short, what do the numbers tell?

While much of the blame of 2017’s downturn is focused on Marvel, when you look at the overall numbers, you notice a story of a different sort, blame sits at the feet of the “top 300.”

Via data published on Comichron, I’ve been crunching numbers to see what, if anything, stands out. For this report, I’m going to focus on the last five years of data.

Lets first look at the yearly numbers. From 2013 we see an increase across the board until 2017 where the overall dollars drops to the second lowest amount in five years.

Here’s what stands out between 2016 and 2017’s numbers:

  • Overall Diamond drop $58,660,000
  • “Dollars sales for All Diamond’s Comics” dropped $36,000,000
  • Diamond’s Top 300 Comics dropped $35,870,000

That means dollars earned from what’s not in the top 300 only dropped $130,000.

But, the unit sales tell us an even more interesting story.

Here’s the key takeaways:

  • Unit Sales for All Diamond’s Comics dropped 9,610,000
  • Unit Sales for Diamond’s Top 300 Comic Books dropped 9,610,000

Wait…. what?

Yes, according to the data, the unit sales lost from 2016 to 2017 is solely focused on the top 300. Unit sales not in the top 300 remained the same from 2016 to 2017.

We can see this in the monthly trend below which is the same information of units broken down by month.

While we can see units not in the 300 has dropped in months like overall comics, the trend increases over time.

Maybe it’s not comics overall that are struggling after all?

So, knowing the “top 300” is the problem, the question is, what exactly within the top 300? That’s an exploration for another time.

The Comics Are All Right: Is the Economic Index an Indicator for Comics?

Diamond Comic Distributor‘s Decembers numbers have been recently released so I’m diving in crunching numbers over the last year to see if there’s any upsides to a down year (the answer is, yes). While final numbers for the year won’t be released until later this year, we can do some initial looks and see what stands out.

2017 ended seven years of gains when it comes to comics released through Diamond with an estimated $522.2 million in comics, trades, magazines, and more sold through them. That number is still higher than 2013’s $517.7 million the middle of the boom.

One thing I remember when running my own store was that geek shops do better in down economies. So, I decided to put that to the test by comparing monthly units shipped with the Gallup Economic Confidence Index. For those unfamiliar:

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is based on the combined responses to two questions, the first asking Americans to rate economic conditions in this country today, and second, whether they think economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse. Monthly results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 15,000 national adults; margin of error is ±1 percentage point.

And below is the results for the last three years (and I plan on going further back).

While it 2017 and to some extent 2016 matches well up to the belief, 2015 throws it into question. We can probably say though that there’s something there and it merits further research. It does seem that the comic industry did better when confidence was low overall for the last three years and as confidence increased in 2017, the comic industry decreased.

Now, to see if this holds up going back to 2008….

The Comics Are All Right: Iron Circus Shows Alternative Paths are Winners

One reason I generally dismiss a lot of takes on the “state of the comic industry” is their focus on the big two, traditional distribution, and traditional retail. I’ve written before that the comic industry is so much more than Marvel and DC, Diamond, and local comic book shops. Many creators are paving their own path by creating new revenue and distribution models that break the mold and can find success.

One example of this is C. Spike Trotman and Iron Circus Comics who has carved their own niche in the industry and doing things in a way that works for their product, fans, and building a community.

Founded in 2007, Iron Circus Comics is Chicago’s largest alternative comics publisher. The publisher is dedicated to strange and amazing comics, amplifying unheard and unique voices, and giving creators a fair deal. ICC pioneered the widely-used bonus model that has reshaped the compensation system of small press, and helped jump-start the current renaissance of alt-comics anthologies. ICC is an example of a publisher incorporating crowdfunding into its business model, netting over $1,000,000 on Kickstarter to date for its slate of new work from emerging talent in the comics field.

Yes, you read that right, Iron Circus Comics has netted over $1 million on Kickstarter but also hasn’t ignored traditional brick and mortar stores either. ICC is distributed to the trade by Consortium and you’ll find physical comics in local shops and through conventions.

Trotman has founded a publishing empire focused on inclusive, diverse, sex-positive books, an audience and genre overlooked and under served by publishers. And that’s not to mention doing so in an environment filled with hostility and harassment by regressive trolls. There was a space and Trotman has filled it to the tune of seven figures and counting. Titles have “netted five-figure unit sales before major trade distribution” and you can find Iron Circus at conventions, look for the mobbed table (that’s my experience at SPX).

But when “experts” talk about the comic industry, they’re excluding Trotman and this new model to their dismay. Yes, some comics are hurting, but others are booming and this is an example of that. And example other publishers and creators should be learning from. The industry has been in the middle of a disruption that has been occurring for years in other industries, and those disruptions create new entrepreneurs to stand out and fill a needed space.

So, when other sites and individuals talk about the failing comic industry, step back and wonder if they really are talking about all comics or an ever shrinking outdated genre and business model.

The Comics Are All Right: The Truth is Out There, We’re Going to Find It

Call this a manifesto, a vision, but this to me is to get my thoughts about where I’m taking my writing and particularly this column. Launched two years ago, the concept of “The Comics Are All Right” was to give a data driven take on the comic industry. Much is written out there but much of it is opinion or shallow deep claims. Very little analyzes what’s underneath, really crunches the numbers without agenda, or takes a different perspective on things. That’s where this comes in.

There’s much been written and buzzed about lately about how the comic book industry is full of doom and gloom, a broken system that needs to be torn down before being corrected. So many digital pages have been spent blaming certain publishers without much context or deep dive into the what or the why of it all. The industry as a whole is presented as an over simplified problem with blame focused squarely on the main comic distributor Diamond Comics, and as a conspiracy by the big two, Marvel and DC Comics, to squeeze out smaller publishers making it difficult for them to publish or they’re to blame for all of the woes.

The reality is further from the truth.

The reality is, it’s complicated.

The comic industry has issues, don’t get me wrong. From publishers and creators through distribution to stores and fans, everything can be improved, but that will always be the case as marketing, business, technology, and more evolve.

I’m about data and coming up with solutions. I’m returning to this weekly column looking at the reality of the comic market both good and bad, and offering actionable solutions, not just griping. Any claims will be backed up with facts.

You won’t fine claims like “Marvel is sinking in sales and destroying the industry” without a hard look at the numbers not just this year, but decades past, and more importantly how that compares with other publishers or even other years. When we discuss the sales of each month we’re going to go beyond the percent of the market. We’re going to challenge the “wisdom” that pervades the industry.

And most importantly, there’s no agenda here.

I don’t have it out for any publisher, I want them all to succeed. But, we’re not going to pull punches and most importantly, we’re going to let the data take us to wherever it does. This may back up beliefs from the chattering class. It may contradict that. But, what we’re going to absolutely be doing is providing the hard numbers and data to back up any claims we make.

This’ll be interesting and I’ve been gathering the data to set us upon our journey in the next column for some months now and have no idea what I’ll find. What I know is, it’ll be based in reality, not opinion, and it’ll actually ask the tough questions and speak the truth about where the industry has been and where it’s going.

I’ll be back next week with the first real entry for this column with a beginning dive into the year that was.

 

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Diversity and the Comic Market Part 2

I kicked off what will be at least a three-part series looking at the state of comics and a shift to more diverse characters, stories, and creators. The first part looked at 2016 as a whole for the comic market.

On a macro level more units were shipped with a lower average cover price resulting in an overall loss in dollars. Since we just have estimated numbers from diamond we don’t know sell through at the store level. These numbers also include some sales through services like Loot Crate which doesn’t benefit stores. It’s flawed, but the best we have.

I felt before moving on to individual series to really look at trends it was good to take one step down and explore shipped units and sales by month from 2015 to 2017.

When we look at the trends since January 2015 we see the overall volume has increased slightly, but generally has remained steady with some increases which we’ll discuss.

On average 7,361,111 comics have shipped for the top 300 while 8,147,778 for all comics shipped by Diamond.

What the above clearly shows is the sharp increase and hard crash in the comic cycle primarily due to major launches or events.

  • April 2015 – Star Wars from Marvel and Convergence by DC Comics launch
  • July 2015 – Secret Wars launches from Marvel
  • November 2015 to December 2015 – Secret Wars wraps launching new first issues for Marvel, Dark Knight III launches from DC Comics
  • June 2016 to November 2016 – Civil War II plus new first issue series for Marvel, DC Comics launches Rebirth

While I don’t want to call the above launches “stunts” we can see events and series launches boost sales creating an artificial bubble of sorts that eventually crashes. April 2015’s high was followed by a loss of about 33% for a September 2015 low. December 2015’s high also sees about 33% loss for a March 2016 low. With 2016’s “stunts” taking place over a longer period we should be about in the low from that event’s high just in time for upcoming events in April.

There is the issue of overships for Marvel which in December could have been in the 100s of thousands of issues. Even when taken into account, the amount shipped is equal to year’s past. So, volume is higher (we can quibble on overships), so again lets look at the cover price during the same time period.

In June 2016 we begin to see a drop of weighted average cover price of comics with lows through much of the rest of the year. These lows for cover price are the lowest since before 2015 and that dime an issue adds up. In Marvel’s interview with ICv2 they said October 2016 is when they heard/saw issues beginning. That’d be after four months of weighted cover prices dropping. So while comics were being sold, more needed to be sold and when it comes to shops with a physical space, that changes a lot of math as to dollars earned per square feet of retail space.

There’s clearly volatility looking at the monthly numbers driven by the ebbs and flows of events and relaunches and add in a decreased average cover price being sold. All of that together creates an uncertain time, but can we chalk up that volitility to any one publisher?

Below I took the reported top 300 units shipped and top 300 percentage of the market as reported by Comichron for each month.

We see Marvel on a decline since June 2016 with some of their lowest months in February and March 2017. When Marvel says they see sales diminishing, this could be what they’re discussing and again look at the massive drop for them from June 2016 to September 2016. That’s a decrease of about 1.8 million units.

Compare that to DC Comics increase which begins to spike in June 2016 before things stop from falling in December 2016. Though DC is doing better in the latter part of 2016 than at any point since this data from January 2015 it’s still not enough to make up for the Marvel freefall. Remember DC’s cover prices have been $2.99 compared to Marvel’s $3.99 so again units being sold for an average cover price that has decreased impacts perceptions.

And we’re not seeing other publishers picking up the market. Most remain pretty steady with spikes here and there due to one comic with a solid release (an example being the recent The Walking Dead 25 cent promotion for Image).

But what about dollars? Below is a rough estimated of what the above equals in dollars.

From the highs of June 2016 from Marvel and DC each publisher has dropped about $8 million and $4 million by the time March 2017 has rolled around. We see a decrease in units resulting in a decrease in dollars.

So, while the big picture for 2016 looks mixed, we can see from the above that the latter half of 2016 has seen the bubble pop resulting in a sharp slide to where we are in 2017.

But what isn’t working? For that we need to look at each individual series. We’ll explore that in part 3!

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Diversity and the Comic Market Part 1

Much has been discussed these last few days about diversity and comic sales. In an interview with ICv2, Marvel‘s David Gabriel discussed the last year and the perception that there’s been a shift in the comic market and sales are lagging. Though clickbait articles have spun Gabriel’s comments into “Marvel blames diversity” or “Marvel blames comic buyers” he said nothing of the sort. Here’s the actual exchange with an emphasis added:

Now the million-dollar question.  Why did those tastes change?
I don’t know if that’s a question for me.  I think that’s a better question for retailers who are seeing all publishers.  What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there.  That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

Gabriel was just repeating “what he heard” from retailers and if you read the full interview you’ll see that his thoughts on the subject are much more wishy-washy without much of an answer. This isn’t about defending Gabriel, this is about answers and reality.

The comic industry absolutely needs to do a better job of inclusion in creators, content, and engaging audiences. Publishers are dominated by hetero-white male creators. Other industries have recognized this and found success. Fox (yes Fox) has acknowledged this. Jordan Peele’s Get Out has so far made $167.6 million worldwide on a $4.5 million budget, a 37.24 multiplier (so far). There’s an audience hungry for diverse entertainment from diverse voices. And all of that is being planned to be discussed in the second part (and third, fourth, etc. if needed).

We’re not about clickbait here, so lets discuss the reality of the comic market, Marvel’s sales, and diversity in 2016 using facts and the data we have. First up, lets look at the industry as a whole.

Here’s the reality according to the numbers.

Fact: 2016 had more UNITS shipped by Diamond than 2015

Fact: 2016 had less revenue in due to an average lower cover price (ie the hold the line at $2.99 dropped the average). The industry lost roughly $9 million or about $3000-$4000 per shop.

Fact: January 2017 had the most units shipped for a January in 20 years.

Fact: February 2017 was 5% more units shipped than February 2016. If the end of 2016 sucked you’d see a big downturn in units shipped about now. That’s not happening.

All of this data is based on the excellent reporting of ComiChron based on Diamond’s estimated shipping numbers. Now, what’s shipped isn’t what’s sold, far from it. But, you’d think stores are smart enough to order about what they can sell and if a series begins to tank orders will adjust over time and we’d see a rapid decline eventually.

What’s reported so far is Diamond Comic Distributor’s estimated sales. Diamond is the primary distributor for comic shops, so this is some of the prime data that we’d want to look at to see the “health” of how shops are doing. Again, I stress as I always do that this data is estimates and not perfect in any way.

diamond-data-2016

But what’s the year to year like? Below we see the gains and losses for 2015 and 2016.

diamond-data-2016-year-to-year

That’s a bunch of red in 2016 compared to 2015.

  • All comic sales are down in dollars
  • The Top 300 is down in dollars
  • The combined top 300 comics and TPBs are down in dollars
  • The average price of the top 300 weighted by orders is down

It’s not all bad though.

Comics not in the top 300 increased compared to 2015 selling 820,000 units more. Trade paperbacks too saw a massive increase in dollar sales.

Unit sales have increased as well.

  • All comics increased by 1 million units from 2015
  • Top 300 comics increased by 180,000 units

Trade paperback sales are up. Non top 300 comic sales are up.

The problem is pretty clear from the data, even though there’s more comics being sold, they’re returning fewer dollars, and there are two data points that back that up.

Dollar sales for the top 300 comics is down nearly $9 million and add in the 11 cent decrease in cover price the picture is obvious. More is being sold at a lower price which is causing a pinch of dollars.

If I sell 1,000 units at $3.96 I make $3,960 but if I sell 1,025 units at $3.85 I make $3,946.25. Even though I sold MORE comics, I’m making LESS money.

It’s unknown exactly how many shops there are in the United States but estimates has it between 2,000 and 3,000 shops. $9 million split that way equals some serious dollars.

shops-loss

To emphasize how big of a shift just 11 cents a cover makes. If 2016 sales had 2015’s cover price the dollars sold would have increased $15.871 million in 2016 compared to 2015.

That’s a lot of money per local comic shop that’s vanished. Take into account some shops are doing well, that means there’s potentially a bigger loss for other shops. Those numbers above represent a month’s rent at least for some shops gone. Even with margins, these numbers show shops absolutely should be feeling a money pinch compared to 2015 and that there’s something that needs to be corrected.

It’s pretty clear cover prices are a major problem for the 2016 comic market. But what about the myth that diversity is the problem? We’ll discuss that in the next article. Stay tuned for part 2!

 

The Comics Are All Right is a regular featured column looking at the positive and negative in the comic industry using data and measurable statistics.

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Geo-location, and Contextual Marketing

Last week Marvel announced they were making some changes in their email program and would start advertising comics in movie theaters and on television. The news was covered with some praise, which it deserves, but beyond the announcement itself there wasn’t much as to what they were actually doing. So, this felt like the perfect opportunity to go into more depth as “The Comics Are All Right” column’s point is to point out the negative, positive, and present things with actual facts and data.

But, to better understand the Marvel announcement about geo-location and marketing, you need to first understand email. I’m not talking about the email you send to one person, I’m talking bulk email where special programs are used to send thousands or even millions of messages. When these messages are sent there’s a few extra steps compared to a one off message you send to a friend, and one of those is adding more information to the email. That info might help track people who open or click the message or it might change parts of the email like adding your first name to the message or changing an image. Usually, that is based on static information in a database, like a first name or a product being sold based on past purchases or your behavior on a website.

What Marvel is doing is doing that, but it’s on steroids.

By teaming up with the company Moveable Ink, a leader in what’s known as contextual marketing, Marvel is able to leverage more information than what’s in a database and also able to power their email program in a different way. Moveable Ink is a technology leader in what’s known as contextual marketing. This type of marketing delivers content based on behavior and data. You probably experience it every day without noticing. Moveable Ink makes that marketing easier in email through their toolset.

In the announcement, Marvel said they’d be including information for local comic book shops in the emails they send promoting their spring comic launches like X-Men Gold and Secret Empire. In the past, that information would be static. Marvel would use information like a zip code to match your location with a local shop and that information would be merged into the email. Where this program differs is that the information can constantly change. If Marvel leverages Moveable Ink in the way it’s supposed to be used an email you’re sent can show different shops based on your actual physical location. In one location on Monday you’ll be shown one shop and in another location on Tuesday you’ll be shown a different shop. The email evolves based on your physical location.

The above the scenario is what Marvel touched upon in their announcement without that much detail and also left out is the cost of it all. Moveable Ink is not cheap. For 600,000 opened emails a company would pay around $15,000. Marvel has an email list of about 1.5 million and averages about 14% opens per email. So, they’re spending about $5,000 per email sent using this system. But, it’s a successful tool and can boost sales, though I haven’t ever discussed real world purchasing with Moveable Ink only online sales when it comes to their success stories.

And that’s a big question to me. How success will be measured? A digital sale is easy to measure, but driving someone to a store to buy a physical product is a bit more difficult. The publisher can look at opens and then cross reference sales to a store, maybe, but it’s not an easy task laid out. Add in the fact this will need to boost comic sales by the 10s of thousands to be profitable and you have to respect the task at hand.

But, what Marvel didn’t lay out in their announcement email is the other uses of the tool. Sales can be updated when they end. New release information can be swapped out. Events can be better tailored to the individual and promoted. The same email may look different in the morning than it does in the evening. There’s a long list of possibilities and to see what they do with this new found tool will be interesting.

This is a big leap for the comic industry, one that is woefully outdated in the marketing and promotion. This technology has existed since 2010 and I’ve been aware and working with it in my political email career for 4 or 5 years at this point, and was checking it out for years before. Hopefully, other publishers take note of this move and truly understand how powerful this technology is and how much it can benefit them. Someone needs to be first and Marvel has stepped up.

The Comics Are All Right: The One Where I Say “We Told You So”

i-told-you-soWithe ComicsPro over, the thoughts of store owners as to the state of the “comic industry” and the past year have trickled out. Some of what I’ve heard discussed is building communities and better dialogue between stores, publishers, and fans, and that some of the blame for current struggles is due to lower cover prices (we showed that was the case a month ago). Add in news DC will again be partnering with stores to include ads in front of movies (something we’ve brought up numerous times on our radio show), and I’m left here thinking this all sounds familiar. Add in how we were ahead of the curve about “women comic fans” not due to opinion or anecdotes, but with numbers, analysis, and trends.

It sounds familiar, because, these are things we have directly reported and analyzed or some of the articles we’ve run for years now.

So, instead of just repeating “we told you so” over and over for a 1000 words, I decided to put together a recap of key articles so that it won’t be a few more years before folks catch up with what we’ve already been saying now for a while.

And, for those that enjoy these columns, there’s a few months worth to catch up on.

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