Comics Economics, Part 2

By | Monday, November 10, 2008 1 comment
Earlier I took a look at some of the hard data points in comics to see what it might suggest about our economy's current status. Now, I'm going to focus on some more anecdotal evidence.

As I stated earlier, there doesn't seem to be a lot of discussion about the current economic climate among comic folks. But the handful of times I have seen it come up, it's drawn some pretty solid responses. Valerie's post particularly, and even moreso if you focus on the responses to her first point. Here's a fairly typical selection of comments...
"What the Amazing Spider-man/One More Day/Brand New Day taught me is that I can drop any comic title from my pull list and never have to worry about it again. Even the titles where I have compiled in a zombie-like fashion 300-400 issue runs."

"A comic needs to be pretty great for me to justify spending money since I have two daughters that always need new shoes."

"I download everything except for trades I read at my local library."

"I now pirate copies most of my comics but i would pay for digital copies legitmately if they were made available."

"We dropped all pulls on monthly floppies with the exception of Steve Rude's Nexus, which comes out infrequently enough to justify any cost on. We buy trades & GNs now when we can."

Tom's last Five for Fridays brought in some similar responses...
"I would love to have Fanta's big new Luba collection, but didn't I already buy all those stories at least twice already?"

"I've already changed my comics buying habits by... waiting for trades."

"I could see my comics-buying habits change in 2009 in that I... will continue to buy those books that I know that I want, but I will be less likely to buy an unfamiliar book that is highly recommended. Or I will buy it much later, used, from a seller on Amazon."

"The last thing having to do with comics I'd ever give up is... downloading 'em for free off the Internet."

"I could see my comics-buying habits change in 2009 in that I... live in an area with a very manga/graphic novel-friendly library system."

The themes of "waiting for the trade", "reading it at the library" and "downloading illegal copies" were repeated frequently. Interestingly, the "waiting for the trade" and "downloading illegal copies" notions have been floating just on publishers' horizons for a few years now -- well before the economic crisis was seen coming by anyone. Both have been trending upwards, and the publishers collectively, from my vantage point, haven't really addressed either issue in any substantive capacity. But it certainly seems that, if the economy doesn't improve, these issues will become much more prominent.

The "reading it at the library" issue is comparatively new in recent memory, but historically, libraries have seen increased foot traffic during recessionary periods. (Personal Fact #5: My father does a lot of freelance work with public libraries across the state, and has made repeated reference to this after having talked hundreds, if not thousands, of librarians over the past several years.) According the American Library Association's web site, "For the past several years the federal budget has been hard on domestic programs. While libraries have seen increases to the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), many other programs that benefit libraries have been severely cut or in some cases terminated. We follow these other programs as well, because libraries are just one part of a much bigger picture that includes education, the humanities, the arts, and many other important societal functions." The long and short of which is: they've got more people coming in the door, but fewer resources to work with.

This is backed up by my father's evidence. He's working with fewer libraries this year than he did last year. Quantifiably. He's also talked with many of his peers nationwide who can definitively say that they're doing less work for libraries in 2008 than they have in past years. On the anecdotal side again, he's asked some librarians about this, and they've repeatedly said that they have to devote more of our resources directly toward the increased number of customers, instead of the indirect services my father provides.

Now, getting back to my how-this-impacts-you idea, what do all three of these (admittedly, still only anecdotal) trends lead to? Well, the primary and most obvious victims are Local Comic Shops. If people are downloading books or going to the library instead of buying them at their LCS, then the LCS will obviously be bringing in less revenue. The same is true for trade paperbacks, too. Even if fans still continue buying TPBs at their local shop, we're still looking at a difference of selling (for example) five pamphlet books for $2.99 each versus $12.99 for a single TPB. That's a loss of $1.96 which doesn't sound like much, but can add up as the trend increases. What this also does is stagger their income streams -- instead of fans coming in every week on a regular basis, they're now looking at once every five or six weeks. Theoretically, this could even out over time, but the transition from pamphlets to TPBs could substantially disrupt an LCS's current set-up if they're not already prepared for it.

And all that means that it's going to be more difficult for comic retailers to remain in business. If the recession continues throughout 2009 and into 2010, as many economic experts (including my company's CEO) are currently predicting, I don't doubt we'll see more than a few comic shops go bankrupt as they try to weather the storm. Because their costs aren't going down. They still have to pay the rent and utilities; they might be able to cut back on staff, but most of the shops I've seen run pretty lean already. Maybe one or two employees beyond the owners, and they are usually only part-time in the first place. So their costs aren't going down, but they're revenue streams are. Same expenses, less income with which to cover them.

So if the anecdotal evidence I'm citing here is at all indicative of the comic population at large, comic shops are really going to be hurting over the next 12-18 months, as reader look to sources OTHER than their Local Comic Shop.

To be continued...
Newer Post Older Post Home


kenny said...

This might sound mean, but I honestly don't care if any comic companies go belly up. When I was laid off before - and it certainly looks like I will be again - no one cried any tears for me, so I can't find it in me to care about them. Comic stores? I'd rather most of the DM go belly up. I have no economic use for them - I can get everything easier from Amazon. I think the comic store has held back the development of the comics medium.

I learned the last time I was laid off that cutting back on comics is easy and fun. I buy a few titles from a LCS, but I won't suffer any if I move to buying their trades from Amazon. I was pirating comics like a fiend back then, too, but it made me feel icky when I got a job again. Truth to tell, if I'm laid off again, I'll explore pirating again.

For the most part, I don't see how the medium of comics won't emerge better off if the market collapses. People have been begging the comic companies for an iTunes for comics. A lot of people pirate them because the pamphlet costs too much for the return. A collapse of comic stores would almost certainly spur the comic companies into taking digital comics seriously.