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by beau Smith

Beau Smith

Comic book sales aren’t very healthy .

I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

I know reasons why sales are dropping, but I don’t have the line of rope to pull those sales out of the hole.

If you read Beauology 101 on a regular basis, then you know I don’t sugar coat stuff. I don’t see the sense in it. It may make things taste good for a bit, but after it’s been digested then it turns to acid reflux. nothing is ever very pretty coming back up.

If you look at things from outside the direct market, through rose-colored glasses, you may be led to believe that things in comics are great. look in any way the successful and much hyped motion pictures and TV shows that are comic book based, Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, The Human Target, Scott Pilgrim, The walking Dead, as well and the upcoming green Lantern, Avengers, Thor and Captain America. I can see where folks would think that the world of comic books is doing wonderfully, but they aren’t. It’s hard for the top selling comic books to crack 100,000 in sales. ideal now you’ve got publishers dancing a jig when they manage monthly sales of 35,000. A few years ago a book would be canceled if it even lurked around those kind of numbers.

I speak to comic book retailers, booksellers, librarians and university bookstores each day and have for over twenty years. I get real information from them, not the slap on the back, things are just peachy reports.

Here are some cold hard facts as to why comic book sales are dropping:

** The direct market generally has one distributor. I don’t care what kind of service you’re in, having one source of product is not a good thing. In the 1980s the direct market had over 20 distributors and each of them had at least three to five smaller warehouses across the country and often the world. then the 1990’s came along and folks started to get greedy. With the short term QVC-like world of short term sales of chrome, variant, Beanie Baby, Chase Card covers, marvel Comics got the bright idea that they could make even a lot more money if they gotten their own distributor, so they did. and it failed. Badly. It set into motion the world of exclusivity. Each distributor did their best to get publishers to sign on with them in an exclusive contract. larger publishers and distributors gained from this, for a short while. smaller distributors went out of service or were swallowed by larger distribution houses. smaller publishers were then told what they could publish or were driven out of service as well. We ended up with where we are today with one distributor and a couple of strong publishers. That’s not enough to make for a strong industry. even with the best intentions, having just one distributor breeds complacency. It happens, it’s fact of service life. If you don’t have someone biting at your heels you don’t run as fast. That complacency trickles down to the publishers as well. everyone looks short term and not at the big landscape. This weakness leads us to the next problem…



** Technology. The comic book market is a cart with a broken wheel. no one saw what the explosion of technology would bring not only to the world, but to the service of comic books as well. digital comics and digital distribution has been seen to some as a snake in the box, or a sign of the Apocalypse. technology moved so fast that it caught everyone with their pants down and their hands where they wasn’t meant to be. publishing and distribution has found itself in a giant-sized game of catch up with little hope of grabbing the baton as it’s being handed off. A percentage of merchants that don’t want to change their long time bad routines whine and don’t see digital comics as the opportunity that it genuinely is. Distributors were looking so short term that they still don’t know how to step swiftly and become a part of what is a major part of the comic book future. a lot of publishers have stood back and waited for someone else to dip their toe in the water first. They’ve all paid dearly for the delay.



** The editorial direction of mainstream comic books has put a self-imposed stranglehold not only on the writers of comic books, but the characters they are in charge of. Writers have been stifled from creating new characters and opportunities for the characters that they have been hired to write. The editorial/management of marvel and DC Comics genuinely think they are doing what’s ideal for the foundation of characters, but in reality they are killing them in ways they don’t even realize. It’s a slow lingering death that they are inflicting upon heroes that must be thriving during these ever-changing times. very few new heroes and villains are being born. There are no new characters for what little youth that are reading comics to cling to and call their own. books like The wonderful four and Spider-Man used to be the fertile breeding ground for new characters like The Silver Surfer, The Black Panther and The Punisher, but no more. The birth and longevity of characters is in severe danger. Does any individual seem to care? It doesn’t appear so. The heavy hand of editorial needs to be lifted to allow creators and characters breath again. Crossovers and events are the leftovers of a Thanksgiving dinner that went stale decades ago. I’m sorry, editors today are no longer teachers and counselors, they’re butchers that aren’t trimming off the unwanted fat from the prime piece of meat.


** Sales and marketing in comic books is dead. They have become one big back alley abortion clinic that is killing off new readers and alienating older readers. The comic book service has little or no idea about how to cultivate new, younger readers. They keep trying to prop up the old crop of readers and disregard to plant new seeds for readers of the future. Sure, some publishers do a few “all ages” comics. They do it because they have to fill a small quota for the suits, but they do next to nothing to promote and sell those books. They want to do as little work as possible and keep trying to sell to that slowly dying off baby-boomer generation that they wish were going to be immortal . I’ve been in those marketing meetings where apathy for change is so heavy it would crush a two-ton bus. It’s not a pretty place, my friends. Land speed records are broken in those meetings where the buck is passed.

Do I sound a bit angry? I sure hope so, because if I didn’t that would indicate I was as apathetic as those folks and situations that I’ve pointed out above. I only wish I were smarter or had the clout to fix these problems, or at least work on them from within. I hope there are people out there who are smart enough and care enough to make these changes and check out even a lot more of the problems that I didn’t have the space to address.

These are MY opinions and thoughts on the service situation, not those of Westfield Comics, or you. I hope you understood that as you’ve been reading this. Please know that there are some very good comic books out there that have compelling stories and characters. We are at the beginning of a new creator-owned surge that we haven’t had considering that the mid 1980’s. That’s a terrific thing, but it is being fueled partly out of the problems that I pointed out above, where new characters are not being created in abundance within mainstream marvel and DC Comic books.

There are smart merchants out there that do want to take comic books additionally into this century. They work hard and have innovative in-store promotions and sales techniques that are win/win for comics and the comic book reader. These fine folks must be supported and observed for their hard work.

Please don’t think that I’m discarding on the one distributor that we do have in this business. I’m not. I think they are overwhelmed by the changes that have come in the last decade and even a lot more so with the changes in the last five years. We’re in the midst of hyper-fast changes in technology and the way printed material is and must be sold. everyone has to be aware and ready to adapt as fast as possible. Our eyes need to be kept on the future if there is going to be one for comic books as we know them.

Believe me, amigos, the world of comic books is hurting and no amount of morphine is going to help turn things around overnight. As readers, you need to demand the best, the new and for changes. As consumers you need to wield your power through your budget in a positive manner by supporting the books you do really take pleasure in and weed out the ones you don’t by not getting them and demanding something better take its place that you will buy.

Captain America

As I said before, change won’t come overnight if it comes at all. but you have to try and force the hand of change. If you want good comics, better comics, then you have to speak with your power as a consumer.

Your amigo,

Beau Smith

The flying Fist Ranch

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