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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fortune: Comics "alive and kicking"

I only caught this now, but Fortune has an article on "old-fashioned [comics] publishing" and how it's helping Marvel. A lot of interesting numbers here.

A favorable piece — though there is that line that comics shops are "one of the most archaic distribution systems in existence." One might note to the author that those shops arose to replace a certain distribution system that's even older: the traditional newsstand, which is where most copies of Fortune are sold, come to think of it...

[Edit: Of course, by "copies sold" I mean to say single copies — not subscription copies. Although increasingly, subscriptions at mass-market magazines doesn't mean direct revenue, either, given all the promotional subs out there. Newsweek, which I have handy, reported 87% paid in its Statement this week, as compared with most comics, which are in the high 90s. I'd be interested in seeing the trendline for that stat.]
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Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

I feel that there is some undo snarkiness in your post. Just because monthly periodicals (like comics and Fortune) evolve is no need to take umbrage to a valid critique of the system. The comic industry distribution system is archaic. It does need improvement.

It is also likely that the majority of Fortune's copies are sold through subscription. Although, I cannot find any information to back up that assertion.

The LCS is likely one or two technological innovations away from being obsolete. The industry would be smart to recognize this and become the innovator. However, innovation is the antithesis of industry.

John Jackson Miller said...

Hi, Bill. No snarkiness intended -- though as editor of the trade magazine for comics retailers for a decade, I most certainly became a partisan. As much of the data yet to be posted on this site will show, comic books would have died in the 1980s had they not found an alternative to the newsstand's gross inefficiencies. Comics shops in general derive far better sell-throughs by more closely tracking their specific consumers' demands; the non-returnable market is part of the reason why comics are doing much better than magazine publishing as a whole, which does have to rely on the bloodbath that is the newsstand market as a feeder.

And you're right -- I did mean to say "single-copy sales" with regard to Fortune; depending on the distribution direction the publisher has set up, its single copies are probably in some combination of the old-fashioned ID (independent distributor) market that comics escaped and Ingram's chain bookstore distribution. I'm seeing a lot of these mass-market mags leaning more heavily than ever on free or "nominal charge" (like, in those frequent flier mile exchange programs) to get copies in new customers' hands -- Newsweek's Statement this week says it's moving four times the free copies as it's selling on the stands. So they've clearly got their own challenges, which is the point I was trying to (haphazardly) raise at that late hour.

I won't contest that comics shops could improve their services -- that was a mission of the magazine, after all -- but the comics direct market is, by recent historical terms, relatively healthy, and much healthier than the market for magazines in general. I'm not sure what technological innovations would come along that they could not necessarily follow as a structural matter (apart from digital delivery, which is a different product in my view); I'd hope that it's just a matter of resources, knowledge, and will. In any event, I think we'd rather face a transformative challenge with the shops of 2008 than the ones of 1998, where most didn't have the benefit of a few good financial years and most of the online resources that exist now.

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