Column by Rob Salkowitz
Posted by Rob Salkowitz on January 11, 2016 @ 12:46 pm CT
Verticalization and Mass Replication of the LootCrate Model. LootCrate has had an enormous impact on all aspects of the hobby business, but especially on the sales figures of comics included in the gift box. Other industries have observed the monthly merchandise subscription model, and you now see it emerging for everything from casual clothing to shaving and grooming supplies. That’s because the model works well for everyone: suppliers of merchandise get a nice sales bump, the distributor gets a predictable revenue stream and lots of valuable back end data, and consumers get Christmas every month.
There are already a few new players targeting super-micro market segments like the unfortunately-named PopInABox (for Pop Vinyls), as well as LootCrate wannabes like ComicBento and NerdBlock. Considering how many big players in the geek space have vertically integrated lines of merchandise, I suspect we will see a lot more companies get in on the action with, say, an all-Marvel (or Disney or Hasbro or Warners) box featuring comics, games, apparel, toys and other merchandise.
DC--The Final Crisis. It’s getting hard to ignore the stench of rot around the senior member of comics’ Big Two. Yes, they had a hit by once again animating the corpse of a 30 year-old property, and that prevented 2015 from being an unmitigated market share catastrophe. But does anyone feel this is a creatively or commercially healthy company right now? Considering how much is riding on Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice this spring – and how utterly awful the previews have looked – it is possible that the company’s 2015 migration to Burbank could be the industry’s longest funeral procession.
The lack of coherent strategy is even more baffling than the lack of creative energy. It’s 2016; people understand how transmedia works. Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and, potentially, Legends of Tomorrow give DC the makings of a decent TV universe. Lucifer and, down the road, Preacher, could also be hits. But Warner Brothers is barely going through the motions of integrating this mass media audience with their comics publishing business.
Meanwhile animation, which for decades provided a kid-friendly onramp to the DC Universe, has just about disappeared from Warner-owned outlets like the Cartoon Network and the CW, at a time when Marvel keeps rolling out well-crafted kid-friendly fare that ties in to their other story platforms.
Add it all up and you get the feeling that whoever is in charge of this stuff at a corporate level just doesn’t see the point to DC, beyond being a holding company for licensable IP. Honestly, if the existing team can turn things around, it will be a bigger surprise than a gigantic bloodbath.
Hollowing Out of the Convention Industry. Con-solidation was all the rage in 2015, and this year we will see the impact of most of fandom’s biggest events being owned and managed by companies like ReedPop, Informa, WizardWorld and LeftField Media.
For one thing, these deep-pocketed entities are better positioned to negotiate the rising rates for guests, which will make it hard for smaller shows to compete. We’re already seeing a shift toward straight appearance fees for top talent (in some cases going into six figures) rather than minimum guarantees on autograph sales. And with 3-4 big shows every weekend to choose from, it will continue to be a sellers’ market for nerdlebrities with drawing power.
We are also likely to see big shifts in the exhibitor area. Collectibles dealers, established artists (as opposed to local folks selling fan art and cheap prints) and midlevel publishers have a narrower path to profit at the big, expensive “everything” shows than at smaller regional cons or small press festivals, especially when they are bidding for floor space against consumer brands that see fan events as a way to target an influential demographic. The customers for traditional exhibitors are getting priced out of big shows, or simply outnumbered by next-generation fans who don’t buy the same stuff.
These forces have been gathering for a while in the Con space, but 2016 will be the year we reach a tipping point. Big megashows will merge with the consumer-entertainment complex; small shows will capture the residue of traditional fandom and those who appreciate comics as an art form; and doom will befall anyone stuck in the 25-75K middle ground.
Increasing Politicization of Fandom. Remember the good old days when the biggest controversies in fandom were DC vs. Marvel and “who’s stronger, Hulk or Thing?” As comics culture has become more mainstream, our intramural fights have become more consequential and more closely tied to issues in the larger society. The influx of Millennial-age fans and greater demographic diversity within fandom has also given the conversation a different flavor. We’ve seen this bloom in the last few years with eruptions over everything from the size of Spider-Woman’s butt to questions of whether a white creator has the “right” to tell stories featuring non-white themes and protagonists.
But if you thought 2015 was a political year, wait for 2016, which features a full-blown electoral death match between warring tribes convinced of their rightness and ungoverned by old norms of decorum and discourse. Geek culture is too influential in contemporary America, and too attractive to click-driven media, to avoid being a battleground in partisan pissing matches. So fans, be sure to carry an umbrella.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
--Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.
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