Whenever conversation turns to the current comics industry, I usually get a little fired-up. The reason for this is that I loved comics as a kid, and I still get a great deal of pleasure from reading old comics as an adult -- but I feel completely alienated by an industry that, nowadays, seems dedicated to fleecing hard-core geeks out of their spare income, while completely ignoring the rest of the world.
It makes me furious that the only place I can buy a comic book (floppy, single-issue, not a trade) is a comic-book shop, but not because there aren't any around (while that has been the case for long periods of my life, I happen to have a comic shop about seven blocks away these days). The reason it ticks me off is this:
Viz's Shonen Jump handily out-sells the most successful monthly titles of either of the "big two", but it ain't because it's the best-written/best-drawn comic on the shelf. It's because when mom's in the deli picking out a package of pork chops, Billy is in the magazine aisle reading comics. I guarantee you he'd be just as likely to have his nose in Spider-Man, or Justice League, but he's not reading either of those because they're simply not there.
It's pathetic that I'm even writing this, because every comics industry blog has been lamenting the current state of distribution and public exposure for years, but nothing changes. It boggles the mind why Marvel and DC zealously court the general public in the movie theater, but continue to ignore them in the supermarket and at the news-stand. I presume they're thinking "if they like the new movie, they'll be inclined to go into the comic shops and pick up some comics, right?" Wrong. Even if it did work that way, there's a slight problem: while there are about 70 movie theaters in Kansas, there are only about 15 comic book shops. Unfortunately, not every kid has a mother like mine; one who loved to drive and didn't mind going 75 miles to the nearest comics shop.
But let's be honest with ourselves. Marvel and DC don't want to waste their time on supermarkets and drug stores because they know that their product doesn't stand a chance in an environment where the shopper is looking for the best value. The reason they stick to the direct market is because the industry lives and breathes on the dollars of fanboys who don't mind shelling-out $3.99 for 24 pages of over-dark, over-printed art and 500 words of text. The other reason Shonen Jump does well is because when mom sees 200+ fat pages of comics, she thinks that $4.99 is a fair price for something that will keep Billy quiet for at least an hour.
Oh, and there's one more reason why Shonen Jump does better than the other monthlies: stability. For the magazine industry in general, about 50% of sales come from subscriptions, with the other half coming from the newsstand. Publishers love subscription sales because, even though the per-issue profit is less, it's money in the bank. Stable. Easy to budget with. Shonen Jump, like any healthy magazine, also accounts for 50% of its sales through subscriptions, but there isn't a monthly comic book that comes anywhere near that. Why? Because comic books are unstable. Creative teams move around, story arcs start, end, and get preempted by crossovers, and titles get canceled. Why in the hell would I commit to a year of Green Lantern when the whole thing might go to shit in two months? This is the entire reason the anthology format is a good idea; because when you provide five good titles per month in the same package, if the reader sours on one or two of them, they're still getting three or four satisfying stories per issue, and are more likely to keep picking-up the mag.
But anthologies never sell, so I'm told.
I wonder why.