I'm writing this here because, frankly, the comic book people, fans and pros alike, have the attention span of a marshmallow Peep. I read their discussions and want to give them a Gibbs smack, telling them, "Will you try to keep your eye on the shell with the pea under it?" There's a lot more going on than just what's in the news article, and it really needs to be considered.
Barnes & Noble is going to expand its comic book offerings. The internal memo states as follows:
New Comics Category in Newsstand
Thor, Green Lantern and Captain America are coming to your store! We’re excited to announce a new comics category.
In early June, we will begin carrying both Marvel and DC Comics titles that until now have only been available in comics specialty stores. We’ll also have new assortments from such publishers as Dynamic Forces, so series like the popular Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris will come straight to your store. We will continue to search for new and exciting titles to add to this category to drive customer interest and sales.
To feature these new titles, we will be creating new layouts for all stores. With your help and support, we believe Newsstand sales will increase and Barnes & Noble will become the destination for comics lovers.D-Day is June 7th.
My first thought was, Barnes & Noble carries comics? Then I remembered, yes, they do. Sort of. They're buried on the lower rack with the kiddie magazines. This is because everyone thinks comics, by dint of their nature, are for kids and don't realize the sex and violence inside them for the regular readers.
I don't know any serious comic fans who buy comics or graphic novels at B&N. Because the comics are simply slapped on the newsstand, your chances of finding a pristine copy are not good. The GN's? Those stupid anti-theft stickers get in the way. I've seen them on the actual comic pages, right over the art and word balloons. You're better off dealing with your LCS (Local Comic Shop) or Amazon.
Anyone down here in the trenches thinking this means they can do signings and stuff at B&N, you need to wake up. I've already tried that, and was informed that they only do signings for books (regular and comic) that they can get through their distributors. My Hannah Singer book, I could potentially do a signing for (notice the potentially in that sentence), but my self-published and self-distributed comics? Never. The books they are bringing in are bigger names from Marvel, DC, IDW, Dynamite, and so on. Drop much below the line, and you aren't getting anywhere.
I hate to say it, but I called this. When Diamond started throwing its weight around and trying to tell Marvel and DC what they will publish, they basically declared war. Diamond may have them as exclusives for comic shop distribution, but that doesn't cover the newsstand. DC has already been exploring this option thanks to Time Warner's magazine distribution network, and with Marvel being bought by Disney (and keep in mind, Disney has an axe to grind with Steve Geppi, so you knew they were looking at other options), they also have an alternate distribution network in place. I wonder what distribution channel these other Diamond exclusives are using to get in B&N....
This also means that comic companies are ready to tell comic fans to go fuck themselves. As a result of editorial decisions and inaccessible storytelling, the audience buying comics and comic related merch has gotten smaller and smaller every year. In the 80's, the New Universe, Marvel's attempt to create another universe for stories besides the 616 that everyone knew, crashed and burned because the books sold "only" 125,000 copies. They were bitching about how LOW that was. By way of contrast, there is rarely more than one book a month that tops 100,000 copies nowadays, and those are special event titles like Blackest Night or the death of Johnny Storm. Even the mighty Image titles that reshaped the comic industry are in the low five digits.
Comics need new readers. The approach of making all ages titles isn't really working. As great as Tiny Titans is, it only sells about 5,000 copies a month, and that's to established readers. The numbers are holding steady, no one is jumping on through it. The core group is getting older and can't be counted on to just buy whatever bullshit crossover is going on now. They brought back Barry Allen as the Flash to appeal to longtime readers. Sales numbers for the book are now what they were from before his return. If it weren't for Joe Quesada's editorial fiat, Brand New Day would have been retconned out of existence faster than the Spider Clone Saga was. Spidey titles are actually selling fewer now than before. Fresh blood is needed. And where do you look for fresh blood?
People who are outside the usual group.
Gears Of War was the biggest selling comic book a couple of years ago, selling 500,000 copies. But only 100,000 of those sales came from comic shops. The rest came through book stores and video game shops. What publisher looking at a dwindling fan base wouldn't look at those numbers and turn green with envy? Especially given how much top creators get paid. That's gone up while sales have gone down. The math doesn't look good, with royalties and profit participation from merchandising and such...
B&N's interest in this is obvious. This summer sees three major comic book movies in the form of Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America. The Avengers movie started shooting yesterday, and Warners has fast tracked a Justice League movie in hopes of it hitting theaters in 2012 alongside The Avengers. There's a ton of tie-in crap that B&N already carries, from young readers novelizations to the animated DVD's. This is just one more thing to sell, and given that comics are seen as fan items for movies now instead of standing as their own storytelling entities, you can pull people into the stores with them.
This is why, if I had to bet money, I don't think LCS and Diamond and them are going down. Regular comic readers prefer their shops where the clerks know their stuff (one shop I go to pulls any comic that Squirrel Girl appears in and sets it aside just for me) and there is comradery, where they can talk with fellow heads. Also, there's the pull list, which B&N won't have (or the discount for pull titles). And you can bet not only staff won't know as much about comics, but if you miss something, good luck running it down. No, B&N isn't making a play for comic shop people, it's going after people who don't go to comic shops, like me when I first got into comics. The first comic I bought myself was Sledge Hammer! #1, and then #2. Then the Star Trek The Next Generation miniseries. A local c-store sold NOW Comics, and as I was into The Real Ghostbusters at the time, I started picking that up, as well as Ralph Snart Adventures. Shortly into that run, I discovered the existence of comic shops and have gone to them ever since. I started newsstand, but soon switched. B&N's comic plan is a boogeyman -- frightening until you turn on the lights, then you see there's no real threat there.
This is also why, much as the comic companies may get additional temporary sales out of this, they won't replace their model with this. It helps garner bragging rights and it makes Diamond shit, but those sales carry an increased risk. People in these venues are more likely to reject comics that they disagree with. Do something different with religion, and you'll have Christians picketing your store. Endorsing gay rights? Oops, there's another group heading your way. Marvel has already gotten bad press for its leftist politics. Stores will simply opt not to carry anything that causes too much trouble.
This just saddens me because it further turns comics from an artistic medium to just another way to make money. True, some people may discover a love of comics and become regular readers like I did. But the odds are against it. This isn't being done to expand the audience that desperately needs it, it's being done for disposable income. Nothing wrong with that. They aren't breaking any laws (there's already comics being sold on a sort of newsstand inside Toys R Us), so if they make some extra cash, more power to them.
It's just not what I want to see to help my beloved art form survive these uncertain times.