Our article last week on comic orders for March (see 'Top Comics Below 100,000') provoked a lot of reactions -- in fact, the most reactions of any article we've published since we launched a month ago. In addition to reactions we received directly, there was considerable reaction on various industry discussion boards, the Delphi Comic Retailer Forum and Comicon, most notably. We thought it appropriate to do a follow-up story and respond to some of the comments we got. Here are some comments and our responses:
'The numbers were too low.'
We received input from a variety of sources telling us our estimates of March comic orders were too low. While we haven't exhaustively examined all of that input yet, everything we've looked at so far tells us our numbers were an accurate reflection of what we said they were -- initial orders from comic stores to Diamond. We believe that the difference between what our calculations showed and orders some publishers reported receiving were due to late orders to Diamond, extras ordered by Diamond, advance reorders, rounding, or other adjustments to the initial orders. We should have pointed out more clearly that those elements were not included in our numbers. Also, based on the differences between initial quantities and orders to publishers that we obtained, our statement that. '...It is probably safe to say that these quantities reflect 80% or more of sales on almost all periodical comics,' should perhaps have specified 'most' instead of 'almost all.' Regardless, that doesn't affect our over-all conclusions -- that periodical comics have been in an extended period of decline.
'The comparison to 1991 was unfair.'
We reported major declines in the sales of benchmark titles vs. ten-years-ago figures. Some have suggested that a significant portion of that decline in comic sales over the last decade has been due to the fact that there was considerable speculation at all levels ten years ago -- from distributor to retailer to consumer -- so the numbers ten years ago were artificially inflated. We compared figures from 2001 with figures from 1991 precisely to avoid the worst period of such inflation--1992-94 (and because a 10-year comparison is just more interesting). This is not to say that inventory levels throughout the distribution chain or in consumers' collections were not larger ten years ago, but those factors again do not change the underlying conclusions of the article.
Some called us to task for reporting bad news, calling it 'gloom and doom' and worse. We don't view our conclusions as gloom and doom for the industry at all; in fact, we're bullish on the prospects for specialty retailers, the pop culture products industry in general, and comics (broadly defined) in particular. We point out in our article that other comic formats are growing rapidly and that there are exciting opportunities there. The fact that periodical comics are declining doesn't mean that the industry is dying -- it's changing. Where almost all new consumers of comics used to be children that first bought cheap comic periodicals--usually superheroes--sold in mass market outlets, now new consumers may first buy comic trade paperbacks or graphic novels--not necessarily superheroes--as teenagers or young adults in bookstores. Where specialty retailers used to be successful by managing the sales of quick-in/quick-out periodicals and occasional back issue windfalls, now they are learning the skills of managing increasing numbers of backlist book titles as ongoing stock items. Adapting one's business to these changing trends isn't necessarily easy, but pretending that the industry isn't changing, or trying to fight the broad societal and industry trends that are producing those changes aren't the ways to grow the industry.
As to the tone of our coverage of the comics business, in the 22 publishing days since we launched the ICv2 site, we've published at least seventeen articles bullishly pointing out industry growth areas and opportunities. Most of those articles talked about mainstream media coverage or large media events that can drive increased comic sales. Here are a handful of highlights: