Graphic Novel Reporter recently spoke with three librarians who work primarily with middle school students. All three had (within the past few years) helped initiate graphic novel programs into their respective libraries, and have been unilaterally been delighted with the results.
The takeaway here is that a great way to broaden the overall comics market is simply to get comics into places where kids have access to them. All three librarians were not just pleased, but floored at how well their graphic novel programs were doing. Especially with so little (if any) promotion on their part.
Which ultimately points us back to the major limitation of the direct market. It's a closed-loop system; newcomers are inherently kept from getting on board and the system is forced to perpetually feed on itself. And unlike Ouroboros, that does NOT make it immortal but, rather, it ensures a decidedly finite lifespan.
What would the cost be, I wonder, for a publisher to ship some of their books out to libraries for free? Not everything -- that would almost certainly be prohibitively expensive -- and not necessarily to ALL libraries -- again, too expensive. But maybe five or ten books to the biggest, most-trafficked libraries. Some good, all-ages material. Wouldn't that kind of exposure almost guarantee more sales? And, more to the point, those sales would most likely be from completely new customers entirely removed from those of us already in that loop.
Seeing how financially feasible that was strikes me as a project somebody with access to some hard numbers ought to take up!