- Posted August 18, 2011 by
New York, New York
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The Digital Age of Comics
Comic books like all other media including books, newspapers, movies, and music obtain profitability by reaching the widest audience as possible. The arrival of the internet as well as the subsequent technologies to access them has provided these mediums access to a boarder audience. Now these various mediums are undergoing their digital age as their physical representations (books, newspapers, DVDs, and CDs) are declining as downloading and file sharing increases between internet users.
In July the Economist reported newspapers in rich countries is declining as individuals are accessing and sharing information through social networking sites including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. However various digital models rose to train readers to pay for digital copies of their favorite newspapers. These models include pay walls allowing them limited access to articles and having digital copies available during the weekdays and going to print on Sundays.
Books, movies, and music are facing competition from torrent sites and other illegal downloading platforms. The comic book industry is facing declining monthly sales due to alternatives of entertainment and the ongoing battle with online piracy. It’s time to revaluate the economic and digital models for the comic book industry.
The Printing Publishing Model
The Direct Market represents the comic book retail stores which is based on selling a lot of comic book copies on a relatively few number titles. While die-hard comic book collectors are interested with tangible copies they can read, collect, and savor their value within the secondary market. Comic book fans want the collectability aspect back within their books so they see it as an investment to spend their cash.
To reestablish a lucrative secondary market, comic companies need to publish titles with quality writing and art. According to an interview with former Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter for NYC Graphic Novelists.com, when he was running Valiant back in 1992 the company was making two million dollars pre-tax profit a month with only eight books, while Marvel was struggling and flooding the market with 164 books. Flooding the markets with 164 books from one publisher diminishes the quality of the books and cannibalizes their own titles. Readers do not want to exchange cash for crap.
After Jim Shooter departed from Valiant, the company increased their titles from eight to sixteen. The quality of their stories suffered without the creative input of Jim Shooter and sales dropped and before long they reduced their titles back to eight books shipping them bi-weekly. Learning a lesson from the 1990s, increasing the number of titles hurts sales when the quality of each book is low.
Comic companies must also stop publishing second printings when digital media is now available. Brian Hibbs of Savage Critic believes overproduction is harming the Direct Market as overprints and second printings create unwanted inventory for retailers. Second printings are cannibalizing the comic markets – why go through second printings when you can offer digital copies and have first printings. Any second printings of any comic diminish the value of their first printings. Comic companies must encourage late arrivals to purchase digital copies, buy the comics from the secondary market, or wait for the collected edition. This will increase interest within the title and generate higher sales for the company in the long run. The increase in the secondary market value of the comic alone is enough marketing itself to generate interest within the title.
The Digital Publishing Model
Digital readers compared to print readers want to read a story as a temporary distraction and move one. An Amazing Spider-Man comic costs $3.99 allowing an enjoyable read for at least 25 minutes of distraction. While Amazon.com offers the cheapest one hour TV series at 99 cents. Bringing the cost of digital copies down is the only way to compete against alternative forms of entertainment.
An Amazing Spider-Man comic with an average monthly print run of 60,000 would be able to increase its circulation of digital copies if the price was 99 cents. Lowering the digital copy would encourage more readers to the series on a monthly basis. Amazing Spider-Man could easy break 100,000 copies between both print and digital copies.
Recently Marvel instituted their Point One comics to introduce new readers to their characters early this year however the program has not boosted their sales. DC Comics is taking it one step further by renumbering and relaunching all their titles in September 2011 offering the same price for digital copies on the same day as they are released for $2.99. After the first four weeks the digital copies will drop to $1.99. Depending how these comic books are marketed – customers can either perceive them as a gimmicks or value-added collectibles.
Online readers are used to reading material on the internet for free. Why would they purchase a $3.99 or $2.99 digital copy? Tailoring digital copies to their proper audience will increase readership by lowering the cost of the digital copy. Eventually the digital medium will surpass the printed comics however the volume it will bring would certainly boost profit to the comic publishers.
According to Against Intellectual Monopoly, the United States was free to reprint any foreign publication. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was sold for $0.06 with residuals going to the author while the book sold for the $2.50 price point in England.
However due to the low price an increase number of Americans were exposed to his works compared to England. These readers were anxious for Charles Dickens’ next work so the American publishers offered more for his works than the ones in Britain.
Piracy has increased brand recognition for Charles Dickens and his work was paid for as his credibility as a writer flourished.
Recently comic book creators Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber wrote the five-issue Underground series, which is available for free at Undergroundthecomic.com. The site has a donate button allowing downloaders who have read the comic to give the suggested donation of $5.00. The donations run on the honor system. Some have given more than the suggested donation because they have enjoyed their content. The two creators have embraced piracy by offering their content for free and accepting responsibility as creators to keep us entertained.
Comic Books are Advertisements
Comic books are basically advertisements for characters to branch out into other mediums such as film and television. The first Transformers film made over $700 million worldwide while the second earned over $800 million worldwide. However the Transformers 3 Movie Prequel comic only surpassed over 5,000 copies as of May 2011. While the first two Iron Man films made $1.2 billion worldwide, the monthly Invincible Iron Man comic surpassed just above 44,000 copies as of May 2011. The current price tags for both of these comics are $3.99. Now if the digital copies were 99 cents then more individuals would have access to these characters.
The Green Lantern comic is one of the top ten monthly books surpassing 75,000 as of May 2011. However the current Green Lantern film spent too much too fast without developing a relationship with moviegoers. It was the first time the character transitioned into films. Moviegoers need to trust the films they are watching. How many movies have trailers which are better than the film itself?
The film spent over $200 million on their budget and $100 million on their marketing campaign. Imagine if you could cut your marketing campaign to $10 million just by giving away free Green Lantern comics written by Geoff Johns. Comic book publishers must properly execute their characters into other mediums and leverage their comic books as pieces of advertisements in both print and digital forms.
Leveraging Both Print and Digital Mediums
A comic publisher needs to be profitable within both print and digital mediums. Publishing alternatives must be available in multiple platforms to reach the widest audience as possible. However the key is to understand the differences between audiences within these platforms which will help create greater market share. Collecting monthly comic books is an addictive habit, which will not go away as long as the comic characters are grounded and relevant to the current cultural trends.
DC Comics http://dccomics.com
Marvel Comics http://marvel.com/
NYC Graphic Novelists http://www.nycgraphicnovelists.com/
Devil Comics Entertainment http://devilcomics.com/