Ilan Strasser of Fat Moose Comics and Games in Whippany, New Jersey writes in to discuss the trend of steadily declining sales he's been experiencing for comic books and graphic novels and offers some solutions to halt the declines:
I have wanted to comment on several stories during the past six months, but had serious, recurring email issues with my computer. Hopefully resolved, here I am with a comment about declining sales in comics and graphic novels. Marvel and DC, our big 2, have had to notice the decline in sales over the last six months. Overall, the trend has been steadily downward even when accounting for occasional small percentage increases. If they hadn't noticed themselves, I'm sure that Diamond would have pointed it out to them -- after all Diamond tracks all the monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers. You would think that Marvel and DC, having this serious and depressing information at hand, would revise the manner in which they do business. If they care at all about the future long-term health of the pamphlet comic book, you would think these two companies would take immediate steps to stop the irresponsible behavior they have shown over the last 15 years (at least). What should they do? What issues should they address? Broken record time...
(1) Stop the big event with the multi-part crossover storylines. (2) Price comics back down to an affordable level based on real costs and not short-term greed -- comics pricing has far exceeded the increase in inflation over the last decade. (3) Solicit and publish their books on a timely basis. There is a world of talented writers and artists out there -- use the ones who can deliver product (let's call it what it is) on time and forget the big name, prima donna basis for utilizing talent, and create a system that punishes said talent when it fails to live up to its commitments. (4) Stop publishing more than one monthly title of your major characters and don't produce miniseries that aren't exceptionally high in quality. Stop clogging the shelves with shit. (5) Work TOGETHER to raise the health of the industry. Stop endlessly fighting to be first. You will always be one or two and within reasonable percentages in terms of volume and dollar sales. Wouldn't a scenario where a publisher isn't always first, but makes exponentially more money overall be better for either publisher? (6) Start treating your retail partners like they really matter instead of conduits for your cash flow.
I have been a comics retailer for 27 years now and really, this notion that comic sales are cyclical is bullshit and always has been. If you know what you're doing as a retailer, sales, cash flow, and profits can be regulated. Comic sales have always declined as a result of bad decisions by the publishers. Like raising comic prices 33% in the last year in the midst of a global recession. But even our best efforts as retailers are undermined when those who publish our product insist on making self-serving choices, diminishing the market and its long-term viability for everyone. In a 1987 Marvel hosted event at NYC's Waldorf-Astoria, Terry Stewart, then Marvel's
head honcho, actually blamed the retailers for the declining orders that retailers were placing for Marvel books. When he was done with his diatribe, I stood up and spoke for fifteen minutes. My comments were followed by overwhelming applause. In rebuttal, Stewart shocked the room by saying he felt that I was addressing issues that only concerned me and not the majority of the other retailers present. He said he would be more than happy to speak to me afterwards and then avoided me the rest of the day, even though I made several opportunities to sit down with him. This kind of corporate behavior has persisted in the 22 years since and shows that Marvel (and DC) care little about their retail "partners" or about the overall health of the comics industry.
Several stores have shut down in my part of the comics universe over the last six months. My lease is up March 31st of 2010. I wonder if that will be the end for me as well. If I do shut down, even after 27 years, I guess I'll just have to finally agree with Marvel and DC -- they didn't do anything wrong -- I was just another lousy retailer.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
'Trend Has Been Steadily Downward'
Posted by ICv2 on September 1, 2009 @ 5:00 pm CT
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