Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Harsh Reality for Newspapers... & Comics?

The Project for Excellence in Journalism just published this report on the status of the newspaper industry. It's about what you'd expect in the broader sense: most newspapers are doing poorly, yadda yadda yadda... But I came to the report via this article in the The New York Times. In light of my blog post yesterday, I'd like to represent the Times piece here, but with perhaps a few creative edits on my part...
Last year, researchers at the Project for Excellence in Journalism persuaded... companies... to share private data about the financial performance of many of their papers comics. And the findings were grim.

On average, for every new dollar... in new digital advertising revenue, they were losing $7 in print advertising revenue. The papers comics seemed not to be diversifying their revenue streams or coming up with innovative products at a fast enough clip.

“Some of those we talked to seem frustrated and even uncertain about how to proceed,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the project, which is part of the nonprofit Pew Research Center. “But we also found signs that, if you can break out of old cultural patterns, there is another way.”

...

Mr. Rosenstiel said he and the researchers came away thinking that the future of newspapers comics could be affected quite a bit by business culture.

“The papers comics that are succeeding,” he said in an e-mail, “are those that... have pushed digital even at the risk of putting less effort into the old categories that pay the bills, have taken more risks — have fought against the deep ‘inertia’ that many of the executives describe.”

...
Hmmm. Didn't take much editing to make this sound very poignant for the comics industry, did it?

It's really those quotes from Rosenstiel that stand out to me. Even if you business model was sound a decade ago, the rest of the world continues to change and evolve; you need to be able to recognize those changes and adapt to them. Granted, that kind of adapting is not easy! But haven't we exhausted all of the superficial nonsense in comics (variant covers, new #1s, mega-crossovers, new costumes, etc.) several times over by now? Yes, those things provide a minor blip on the radar, but it's always temporary and only for one title.

You can't really blame the creators, and even the editors have fairly narrow confines to work within. There needs to be a person at the top setting a stronger direction instead of demanding rehashing the same tricks over and over. I think Mike Richardson has the right idea; I don't know that they've pushed far enough yet, but offhand I think, of the traditional comic publishers, they're in the best strategic position going forward. Marvel and DC will be alright by the virtue of having large enough companies behind them to throw piles of money at the situation late in the game. But that shift will be jolting for Diamond and all the local comic shops across the U.S. as it's going to come in late and come down fast.

I have a ton of respect for folks who own/operate comic shops. I know that is NOT an easy job. And I don't envy the day when Marvel and DC suddenly change their game plan because they no longer have any choice not to. That day is going to be a very painful one for a lot of people.