There is a lot of talk about what is wrong with the comics industry right now and it largely stems from an article on ICv2 by Phil Boyle of Coliseum of Comics (who is a Manage Comics store) – It’s Nearly 2024 and I’m More Than Concerned – ICv2
He mentions several problems with the industry, but there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the overall “tone” of the article, and his focus on the content.
Listen to the full episode on the Meanwhile…at Manage Comics podcast.
I think there are several problems within the industry right now that we’re seeing, some of them are overall issues we are seeing in all walks of life, while others are unique to the comics industry and I thought it might be good to bring these up, as well as some solutions.
I want to start off by saying I am NOT a retailer, I put down my comics retail hat in 2011, and while I deal with hundreds of comic stores every single week, I do not have the day-to-day experience most of you do. With that said, I have been to dozens of shops this year, and I have witnessed the way shops have changed in the last several years. I’ve been instrumental in helping shops get online and turning them into hybrid brick + click stores.
Before we get to the individual issues and solutions, I want to tell an anecdotal story. I’m the owner of Manage Comics, but I’m also a client. I use Manage Comics classic through the Canadian shop All New Comics which I used to co-own, and through my local shop LA Mood which uses Manage Comics for Shopify.
I am fairly up to date on comics, but sometimes stuff slips by me. One example of that is Outsiders. I’m a huge Planetary fan, and I initially glossed over the Outsiders solicit, but last week I saw a preview online. I was already too late for issue #1, but figured my shop would get a few copies in. Unfortunately they did not have extras. There’s another store in London (there are now only 2 comic shops in a city of 500,000 people which has a university and a college), but I don’t know if they have any in stock and won’t be able to get there until Friday night. I popped onto LA Moods site on Tuesday and figured I would subscribe to the series…only to find out that the FOC for #2 had happened on Monday! I looked up a few other books and was shocked to see how common an occurrence this is. Spider-Boy #2 (the first issue was released last week) was on FOC before #1 came out.
I am as “in the know” as it gets, and yet I had no idea that this was a common practice. How are we as consumers expected to get excited about stuff that isn’t available to us? How do we order the next issue when the current issue isn’t available? How do you expect numbers to increase over time if the first couple of issues aren’t available?
Meanwhile publishers are spending valuable marketing capital (either earned media or paid media) on release dates by which time product is usually already allocated.
One issue that comes up time and again is that sales are down. This is true in pretty much every industry right now. The federal banks are attempting to slow the economy, and they’re succeeding, we’re also seeing record inflation, the cost of everything from Milk to Rent has increased, at the same time interest rates have continued rising, and wages continue to be flat.
More money is going to more fewer places and consumers are pinched. This has happened before, and this contracting is likely the beginning of a recession, or maybe even a depression.
The only solution to this is to weather it out and batten down the hatches. From the marketing side of things, this is the time where you refine your marketing strategy, and prepare yourself for when the cycle changes and the uptick begins.
A Focus on just One New Release Day
This one is a small one, but it’s an important one. There should be one single new comics release day for all of the comics industry. We decided that was Wednesday long ago. Comic shops built their businesses around that and many close on Mondays. Wednesday SHOULD be that day, but an argument could be made for other days like Thursday or even Friday. Whatever it is, there should be one day, and everyone should stick to it, market to it, and promote it.
Solution: Agree to an industry wide “Single Day of Releases” and stick to it. This should be a no-brainer, a common “New Release Date” gives customers a reason to go into the store every week, it simplifies the work for retailers, and can help prevent early release of product.
Move to One FOC Date
Retailers are currently scrambling to do orders multiple times a week, and it feels like the ordering work is never done. Coalescing around a single FOC day would give retailers more flexibility in how they do their job, and like a single new release day, gives customers a single day to focus on their “Last Call” orders.
Solution: One single “Last Call” date across the industry. Make it Mondays for everyone (for god’s sakes, give retailers Sunday nights off). Target publisher marketing around LAST CALL, not around release date.
Making FOC’s More Useful
Speaking of FOC’s, marketing to “on sale date” is useless. Numbers are locked in by on sale date, and can not be adjusted much up or down. Retailers cannot judge demand without having the issues in hand and going through AT LEAST one week of sales. Maybe this means that comics have to come out on 5 week schedules instead of monthly?
Solution: FOC dates that are a MINIMUM of 7 days after the previous issue was released. I don’t know if this needs more info around it, but retailers need to be able to judge how the last issue sold before they can figure out how to sell the next issue.
Full information by the Friday BEFORE FOC date
There is a lot of information missing by the time of final order cutoff. This includes solicitations, which creators are on the books, and especially the cover images. Far too often we have many “Product image not available” covers showing up on our covers.
Solution: All of the information about a comic should be available by FOC date. This includes final covers WITH full trade dress for ALL covers of a comic. This must be in hand by Noon EST on the Friday preceeding the FOC date.
How to solve increasingly downward numbers
Comics sell less and less, some of this is due to the way comics sales have changed. You can’t go into a shop and just pick up the latest books off the shelf anymore, you need to have pre-ordered items. Most stores operate this way now, and there are fewer and fewer places where you can browse the shelves. This means if you miss something before it comes out, you will likely never find it.
Solution: Full returnability. I understand that there are issues with returnability, but if it is based around some known number, like “70% returnability”, it can make sense, so if I order 10 copies, 3 of them can be returned. If I have 10 pre-orders for a book with returnability, I will order up to my return number with no risk! This is a no brainer, and can help you to grow your audience.
Grow the audience with first and second issues
Stores are shy to over order on anything that isn’t returnable. If you aren’t going to make the comics returnable, overprint first and second issues by a percentage that makes sense. We should not be looking at 5th printings of books like W0rldtr33.
Solution: Overprint on 1st and second issues, let’s get back to those thresholds where we’re not immediately pushing for a 2nd printing.
Covers are not the be-all, end all
Multiple Covers may sell more of the first issue, but you’re cannibalizing other sales. This is not a zero sum game, and the vast majority of comic collectors do not buy every variant cover out there. The overreliance on “whales” by comic shops can be disasterous, I have seen a handful of these folks leave shops, and the devastation they leave behind.
2 Covers is cool. 3 Covers is good for something super special, when you start getting 4 and beyond, you better have really REALLY compelling reasons for them. The G cover for a random issue of Superman is egregious at best, and predatory at worst.
Solution: Stop it. Just stop it!
Bad data across the industry
Good metadata is essential to selling comics in the modern era. Products must be easily searchable, the data must be true, reliable, and in all other ways correct.
Solution: The ComicsPRO COMET Standard – I’m working on a standard with the ComicsPRO COMET Standard group. We’ve done absolutely wonderful things, and it’s the first time a data solution has been created with input from all levels of the industry (distributors, publishers, and retailers).
I am not even a retailer and I am burned out!
Retailers have been through a LOT in the last 3 years, from the pandemic, to increases in rents, labour, stock, the increase in workload across multiple distributors, smaller overall discounts (made up for with shipping changes), and a basic wholesale transformation of their business models and tech stacks.
The solution is help. Publishers and Distributors need to help retailers out by simplifying things a little bit. A single release date, a single FOC date, and better marketing support as previously mentioned are some things that distributors and publishers need to do to help retailers.