Friday, January 18, 2008

So The Web Is What? Chopped Liver?

Brian Hibbs' recent "Tilting at Windmills" hits on two main points. First, that you can't generate a brand identity for a line of comics out of thin air -- at least, not an identity that anyone will care about. Second, that the general move of capital-A Art comics away from a periodic schedule to a sort-of annual/graphic novel approach is resulting in a huge drop-off of Art comics regular purchasers.

Now, let me start by saying that I think Hibbs generally knows what he's talking about. He's run Comix Experience successfully for almost two decades, and that's in large part, I think, to having a good head on his shoulders. While I agree with him on his point about branding, though, I think there's a problem in at least one of his conclusions on the Art comics portion.

I certainly can't argue against his facts. If he says his regular Art comics customers have dropped to a quarter of what they were, I'm going to assume that's accurate. I'm sure his business in Art comics has dropped and his customer base has a greater percentage of Genre comics fans than it used to. And I'm sure that the change in Love and Rockets' format will mark further sales changes to that end.

Now certainly, Hibbs has a concern over revenue in this matter. The more people he can get into his store on a regular basis, the more money will flow into his cash register. That's simple business; I can't fault him for that. And that his Art comics regulars are either dropping out entirely or switching to shopping at chain bookstores -- that sucks.

But his issue with the higher price point making a barrier to entry for customers is a non-issue because there are plenty of opportunities to sample Art comics for free online. Even if a creator isn't savvy enough in his/her marketing to put samples online, places like Amazon frequently scan the books' contents themselves for their own site. A quick search on "Peter Bagge" shows that nine of the first 16 results have a portion of the books' interiors scanned. Dan Clowes has seven of the first 16 -- and six of Adrian Tomine's first twelve -- results have Amazon's "Search Inside" feature active. So, while you can't buy a smaller sampling of their latest work for a few dollars, you can easily get a flavor of their body of work for free. And that's with zero marketing effort on the part of the creator(s) and/or publisher(s).

So the notion that customers aren't buying Art comics because they can't sample them first? Bunk. Customers might not be buying them at Comix Experience, which is a shame, but that's not to say anything about the number of people's eyeballs who get in front of a sampling of Art comics. I daresay those numbers have actually gone up, thanks to the Internet. And, for all we know, sales numbers and/or revenue might be up overall as well, but the reporting system on those fronts is about worthless -- but that's a whole other tirade!

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