Column by Rob Salkowitz
Posted by Rob Salkowitz on December 18, 2023 @ 4:39 pm CT
The DM moves into its next half-century facing more uncertainty than ever. For the past year we’ve been celebrating 50 years since Phil Seuling and Jonni Levas transformed the comics industry, first commercially and then creatively, by connecting fans, publishers, distributors and retailers through the direct market. But as we end the year, the typical howls of catastrophe are growing louder and more convincing than they have in over a decade, and driving a lot of fevered conversations. Sales of periodicals are sputtering, inflation and other economic ills are taking a bite out of already-thin retailers profits, and the collector market is cooling (see "Is a Post-Superhero Direct Market Even Possible?").
The glass is definitely half-empty, but also half full. Stores that can embrace the tactics of product diversification and transform themselves into destinations for next-generation fans are seeing healthy results. New publishers have entered the scene with a greater commitment to periodical publishing and direct market sales, and there have been some notable sales successes. Creators are pitching ideas, some more harebrained than others, for saving the industry. And trade groups and distributors are helping to share best practices. Will it be enough to offset a cyclical slump that feels worse than usual? That’s going to be the story of 2024.
However flowers are already blooming at comiXology’s gravesite. New digital platforms like Omnibus, Global Comix, Mangamo, Azuki and Manta are giving readers more choices for content, business models (subscriptions, pay-to-read, pay-to-download) and reading experiences, while giving publishers and creators more ways to reach readers (see "Startup Digital Comics Platforms Aim to Get the Market Moving Again"). And DSTLRY, founded by former comiXology execs David Steinberger and Chip Mosher, just launched their promised digital platform with a unique angle.
It is still uncertain whether digital can ever shatter the 10-15% market ceiling, but for the first time in a decade, there are more companies leaning forward.
kaijus, and the ongoing dramas shaking up Disney and Warner Discovery, this has not been Hollywood’s finest hour. From the comics perspective, it’s easy to point to disappointing box office results from Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, The Flash, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, Blue Beetle, and Marvels as signs that long-term rot may be settling in.
based on a Vertigo comic, now on Netflix), plus comics-adjacent series like The Last of Us (HBO/Max), Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount Plus), and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (AppleTV) won high praise from viewers and fans. And who knows, maybe Aquaman 2 won’t sink straight to Davy Jones’s locker.
Either way, the narrative of 2023 is that superhero franchises are on their way out. We’ll see if the big releases of 2024 can make a dent in that.
Newish crowdfunder Zoop, with more of an exclusive comics and collectibles focus, is starting to scale up and delivered some nice results for fans of Howard Chaykin (new graphic novel Fargo), Conan the Barbarian (a new art book) and various benefit projects like Maui Strong and Comics for Ukraine.
Crowdfunding got a lot of people through the pandemic and still seems to be a core business strategy for small and mid-sized publishers. We’re also getting closer to it being well integrated with DM and bookstore distribution, so that crowdfunded projects can reach a much larger crowd.
Censorship is on the rise. I hate to end on a down note, but 2023 was one of the most chilling years in decades when it comes to censorship of comics and graphic novels. Organized efforts are underway across the U.S. and elsewhere to remove comics and other controversial content from the bookshelves of schools and libraries, and to target librarians, retailers, creators and publishers.
Censorship is a bigger problem than just comics, but comics are always on the leading edge because would-be censors don’t need to strain their precious little brains reading a lot of words: they can raise objections merely to pictures that rub them the wrong way, irrespective of context. The CBLDF had its work cut out for it in 2023, and 2024 – an election year that brings out the scolds and demagogues in force – is likely to be even worse.
That about does it for my list of big stories. Next time I’ll tackle predictions for 2024, including a scorecard for how my prognostications for 2023 panned out.
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 and an Eisner-Award nominee.
For Adults, Teens, and Children
March 1, 2024
The ALA released its top graphic novel lists for adults, teens, and children.
Column by Scott Thorne
February 26, 2024
This week, columnist Scott Thorne talks about the Dungeons & Dragons 2024 core books and the D&D Beyond promotion announced for Vecna: Eve of Ruin.
Column by Rob Salkowitz
February 20, 2024
In this column by Rob Salkowitz, he talks to London about current times, how the pandemic changed their business, acquisitions, and more.