Showing posts with label business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label business. Show all posts

Friday, March 21, 2014

On Fandom: The Aw Yeah Comics Anniversary Bash

This past weekend, I attended Aw Yeah Comics' (the store) Second Anniversary Bash. A month or two back, a cousin of mine said that he had noticed this kind of new comics shop open near him and was wondering if I'd ever been to it. I hadn't -- it's just out of the way enough to be a little inconvenient for me -- but I was certainly aware of it and wanted to at least stop by to check it out at some point. Then he suggested that if/when I decide to do that to let him know, so that he could check it out too. He appreciates local shop owners and wants to help support them, but he hadn't been in a comic book shop for a couple of decades and wouldn't know where to start. Well, since I knew their anniversary party was coming up, I suggested we target then.

So we met at the shop around 8:00/8:30 in the evening, a good hour and a bit after things kicked off. My cousin kind of got wrapped up into a conversation with Marc Hammond (who co-founded the place and I think handles the day-to-day management) as he was walking in. Then we grabbed a couple drinks and started looking around.

They had pushed the center shelves that housed some toys and a few long boxes to one wall to allow for a little more movement, but you could still tell that it was a generally open atmosphere most of the time, even with the coffee table and comfy chairs in the center. The place was packed with people, though, and they seemed to have a great turnout. Which made for a great atmosphere, but a tad difficult to do a whole lot of browsing. From what I could see, though, it was a really nice shop with a good mix of material available. Very friendly and inviting layout and colors and such. If it were closer, I could easily see myself being a regular there.

My cousin and I spent about three hours there. Mostly chatting with each other about various aspects of pop culture. Everything from the general badassery of Batman to economics of serialized pamphlets relative to bound collections. We chatted with a few of the other patrons, one of whom may have convinced my cousin to attend a con. And before we left, he browsed around to pick up a few things. (He ended up with a Walking Dead TPB to see how it stacked up against the show, a Wonder Woman issue for his girlfriend who's a big fan but mostly by way of Lynda Carter, and a signed G-Man posted for a co-worker who's nicknamed "G-Man." I picked up a stack of TPBs for Christina Blanch's current SuperMOOC.)

Hammond checked us out, and we chatted a bit more with him. About the signed Kristen Bell photo he's got on the back wall, the other shop who was stocking up on various issues of Aw Yeah Comics (the comic book) while we were there, their mailing list... But what stood out to me was Hammond's response to our saying that we had a great time and it seemed like a great place. He said that they try to hold parties like this pretty regularly and make it just a fun place to be. And that most of the people who were there that night -- the ones who were casually chatting and drinking like old friends -- most of those people didn't know each other six months ago. These parties not only were there to drum up new business, but also to help create and cement relationships.

What kind of goes unsaid with that is that they're working to make Aw Yeah Comics (the store) a destination in and of itself. Sure, you can buy the latest issue of Action Comics there, but they're establishing the store as a place to go. You can get your comics from any of a number of places, but you go to Aw Yeah (the store) so you can hang out with the other people who go to Aw Yeah (the store), some of whom are comic creators in their own right. The shop isn't a means to an end, it's its own end.

I don't know how much money the laid out for this party, but they seemed to have plenty of drinks and snacks for everyone. And I expect most of the people there would come to the store regardless if they had parties or not. So it wasn't really a "necessary" business expense, and one that I haven't seen too many shops employ. It costs money, and probably doesn't show any direct returns. But it goes a long way to fostering a community. A group of people who come together, not just as comic fans, but as fans of the shop itself.

And even though it's a business decision here, it's one based on a very genuine sense of kinship and getting in touch with their audience. That leads to a kind of shop loyalty that you don't see in many other industries, and probably very few within comics. I've been arguing this comics-shop-as-destination model for several years now, and it's great to see it executed so well and working exactly as it should.

Monday, February 03, 2014

On Webcomics: Monopoly Number Two

Here's an article by Tyler James, author of Tears of the Dragon, in which he talks about some ideas behind designing your cover/promotional image for comiXology. Good ideas, well worth a read.

But let's think about why he's writing it for a minute. I don't mean why is James writing an article about submitting to comiXology, but rather why is James writing an article about submitting to comiXology? The answer is almost so self-evident that I think the question gets overlooked. In submitting a comic to comiXology, a creator is trying to tap into the largest distributor of digital comics. I mean, why wouldn't you submit your work to them? Getting work in there gives a creator (well, most creators) a much broader set of eyeballs. A lot more people could potentially see (and pay for!) their work. So writing an article about making your work stand out in that environment is obvious, right?

Back up a second, though. We're talking about comiXology specifically here. Not "a digital comics reader", not "a smartphone app". We're talking about one very specific company. Oh, there's other digital comic distributors out there, but is a creator going to get any traction with them? They're either specific to one company, or they're so obscure that it's essentially not worth your time. If you want your comic to be seen in the digital comic space, you have to go through comiXology.

Kind of like how if you want your comic to be seen in the physical retail space, you have to go through Diamond.

Let that sit for a bit. What Diamond is to print comics, comiXology is to digital comics. One has a monopoly on printed comics, one has a monopoly on digital ones. How/why do you think Marvel and DC wound up delivering their digital comics on the same day as their printed ones? You remember that whole "day and date" debate from a few years back? Where did that go? It's a non-issue now because the one distributor of digital comics convinced the two biggest publishers it didn't make sense to have multiple release dates. Sure, technically, it was Marvel's and DC's independent decisions to go ahead with that, but you think comiXology didn't provide more than a little influence there?

Look, I'm not mad at comiXology or am trying to launch some kind of campaign against them. They've got a good product, and done some great work in front of and behind the scenes. Many kudos to them.

But it's worth pointing out their similar position to Diamond as it relates to digital comics, and that the twelve years it took for Diamond to become a print comics distribution monopoly, comiXology achieved digitally in... what? Five years? (They launched in 2007 and got big deals with Marvel and DC in 2012.) Not to mention that Diamond came to the direct market game after the model had been around and somewhat established for a decade, compared to comiXology all but inventing their model.

In comics circles, we've talked a lot about the success of digital comics over the past few years and that has been almost exclusively due to comiXology's efforts. And it's fantastic that more people are getting more into comics. But that its long-term direction is effectively in the hands of a single company does give me a moment's pause.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On Webcomics: What Makes It a Webcomic?

David Barrack's Grrl Power is undeniably a webcomic. It appears on the web and nowhere else.

David Willis' Dumbing of Age is also a webcomic. However, Willis also makes collections available in print format for purchase. This is a pretty typical webcomic financial model.

Then we have Derek Kirk Kim's TUNE, which was started as a webcomic with the express intention of it being printed as a graphic novel later. In fact, publisher First Second went so far as to start subsidizing the web expenses after its initial launch.

Taking that a step further, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks was backed as a webcomic from the start, again by First Second. This time, however, it was expressly noted on Day One that the book was designed to be published on dead trees on a specific date. The webcomic version was pretty clearly a form of marketing to generate interest in the book before its publication.

The last example I'm going to trot out is Retail by Norm Feuti. The comic is distributed by King Features and is syndicated in I-can't-find-out-how-many-papers. But it also appears online on a dedicated website.

So in the first four examples, people generally accept and refer to those as webcomics. They showed up on the web first after all. But, strictly speaking, does Retail as well? Typically, each new installment shows up at midnight Eastern on the day it runs in the papers. Even the East Coast papers don't get finalized until a few hours later, much less the ones further west that are in later time zones. So Retail (and all other newspaper strips any more) technically get published online before anywhere else. So why aren't these considered webcomics for the exact same reason the first four examples are?

In giving this a little thought, I'd like to throw out this curious distinction. The main difference among these comics is in their business models. While the specifics of each case are obviously different, here's an interesting generalization: the first four examples use the comic essentially as a loss leader for making money through the sale of related items. Give the comic away for free, make money selling t-shirts, coffee mugs and printed copies. In the Retail example, the money is made primarily through syndication fees. King Features sells the rights to republish the comic in various newspapers, and Feuti's take-home pay is based, in part, on how many newspapers pay to run his comic.

In fact, despite the comic running in newspapers since 2006, it only just had its first collection released last month!

I think that's actually pretty noteworthy because it's not actually being published by any major publisher, but rather as a print-on-demand book from Feuti himself. And why do I think that's especially noteworthy? Because that is the standard webcomics financial model! Despite being a syndicated comic strip creator, Feuti is having to treat his strip as a webcomic. You see similiar examples with Dan Piraro (Bizarro), John Zakour (Working Daze), Justin Thompson (Mythtickle) and even Bill Amend (Foxtrot).

Let me put this analogy in your head. Right now, Dorothy Gambrell and Phil Foglio and a lot of webcomickers like that make their money from what they do on their website. That's how they earn their living. But the folks that aren't to that level of fame/popularity yet are still working away at some day job. So their income is primarily from the day job and any extra funds they get are from the webcomic.

Kind of like how Feuti and Piraro and Zakour get a regular check from their synidcates, and make extra money from turning around and treating their work as a webcomic. Instead of their employer being an ad agency or design firm, it's a syndicate.

So the question I can't answer yet is: if these newspaper strip creators are having to work just like webcomic creators, and their strips appear online before anywhere else, why are we still making a distinction between them?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Odd Wallpaper

I found this comic style wallpaper in the restroom of a downtown restaurant. Not only is the illustration style reminiscent of comics, there seems to be some semblance of a story (which I couldn't fit all in my phone's camera.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Pair of Kickstarter Case Studies

Despite people seeming to really get into Kickstarter enough to have multiple successes and pass along their learnings to others, it's still a venue that is new enough that we're still trying to figure it out. I've had two projects fly into my radar recently and it's interesting to me to compare the two. Both are by creators who've had successful Kickstarters in the past and, having contributed to both of them, I can attest to them both following through on delivery in a timely manner. We're talking about professionals here, who know what they're getting into.

First we have Frank Beddor, who's launched a project to complete his fifth and final Hatter M graphic novel, a spin-off from his successful Looking Glass Wars prose trilogy. Beddor's books have been primarily self-funded, I believe, and his previous Kickstarter for the fourth Hatter M graphic novel was his first attempt at crowd-funding things. Many of his rewards are enticing, including not only original art and a promise of getting written into future stories but also unusual items like a custom milliner's hat like the one used in the story and a Princess Alyss maquette prototype. Beddor also established the series several years before Kickstarter and is coming to the table with a decent fan-base, both of his material as well as the original Alice in Wonderland stories it's derived from.

Probably the biggest challenge he faces is that his reward tiers tend to heavily favor higher backers. This project includes four new books in total (one graphic novel, one prose novel, an art book and a "Millinery Academy Handbook") but the only way to get both the graphic novel and, say, the Handbook is to pledge $110 so you also get the art book and the prose novel. And while you can get a paperback version of the graphic novel at $21, the prose book is only available in hardcover starting at the $35 level. I don't know Beddor's costs on any of this, obviously, but it seems that he's setting the project up geared towards existing, fairly devoted fans. It doesn't strike me as conducive to folks with anything resembling a casual interest, or first-time backers.

Our second example is Ryan Estrada, whose project is based around a story he's been trying to get together for several years now. It's a series of stories he's written in which the villain of one story becomes the hero of the next. It sounds like an interesting take on the "everybody is the hero of their own story" idea, but spelled out through 18 different people. And while Estrada has written the whole thing himself, he's enlisted a cadre of talented artists to illustrate the different stories. Folks like Amy T. Falcone, Brittney Sabo and Carolyn Nowak to name a few. Estrada's also made something of a name for himself, although more for his own personal style and mission than with a single character or intellectual property, so he's got a fan-base to work from as well.

My guess is Estrada's biggest challenge lies in the opposite end of the spectrum. You can give him one dollar, and receive all 18 stories in a digital DRM-free format. So while Estrada's project has over twice as many backers as Beddor's, he's raised about $7000 less (as of this writing). His lower threshold for entry is apparently making it more difficult to raise enough to reach his $25000 goal, even as he attracts more attention and interest. The other aspect working against Estrada, it seems to me, is the focus on digital rewards; he's providing a lot of stories at lower tier levels but they're primarily available electronically with little in the way of tangible print items. In particular absence is the main Broken Telephone story itself; it's not available in print format at any level. So while people might be willing to drop a dollar or twenty for a digital set of comics, the project really has little to appeal to folks who have no interest in digital delivery comics.

That Beddor and Estrada are coming at their respective projects from two different angles, and are facing pretty much diametrically opposed challenges, strikes me as a fascinating study in how Kickstarters work. Beddor is looking at a smaller audience but one from a vigorously devoted fan-base, while Estrada seems to be banking on his own personality and word of mouth to win over enough casual readers. He's not going for fans as much as he's just setting the barriers so low that it's easy to reach the masses at large. But they're both about half-way through their campaigns and have each raised over half of what they're aiming for.

I suspect both will achieve their goals, although not with some of those spectacular 1000% results. But I think we should keep an eye on them to see just how well they do in these campaigns. Maybe we should check back in a few weeks to do some follow-up when they're both done.
 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

And Then Canada Took Over

You may have seen news recently about Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey's Kickstarter project to reprint Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Canada's first superheroine. I've known of Nelvana for a few years now, but hadn't seen any full-length stories, so I was eager to see the project successful. (Which it was.)

Interestingly, just as that Kickstarter was finishing up, I go notification of two more projects. A graphic biography of Frederick Douglass by Audran Guerard and a print edition of Xeric-winning creator Jonathon Dalton's webcomic, A Mad Tea-Party. The interesting part is tht both Guerard and Dalton are both Canadian.

Well, I suppose that they're Canadian isn't that interesting in and of itself. After all, there are something like 35 million other Canadians out there. But it's interesting that the Kickstarter projects that are coming to my attention now are primarily from Canadians. Of course, a fair amount of that has to do with Kickstarter recently opening its gates to Canada. Before now, Canadians couldn't start a Kickstarter project, so I suppose that some of this has to do with folks who've been itching to run a Kickstarter but haven't been able to. What we're seeing is perhaps the result of something of a backlog.

But! That's not to say anything regarding these projects' quality! No doubt some are going to be quite good, and some not so much. Some will undoubtedly make their goals, and some will fall short. But as Kickstarter has proved to be a stable and note-worthy way to launch a new project over the past few years, it stands to reason that people outside the United States want in on the game.

I've said here repeatedly that I'm a sucker for Xeric books and I already have Dalton's Lords of Death and Life, doubly proving to me that he can craft a great story. So backing A Mad Tea-Party seems pretty obvious. I'm not familiar with Guerard's work, but I do really like non-fiction comics, especially when they highlight significantly different perspectives than ones I grew up with. Guerard certainly displays talent with watercolors (which, being a media that I am absolutely rubbish with, I have a deep appreciation of) so I'm willing to pledge some money towards him to see his Douglass project completed as well.

But what I'll be on the lookout for are more Canadian-based comics projects that focus on those differing perspectives. Do I want to see a Canadian do another superhero story? Not especially. I want to see creators show me what sets Canada apart from the U.S.? I heard a year or so back that there was some confusion over what constituted a "Canadian identity" beyond "America Lite". Let's see if some more Canadian creators step up and show us what you've got!
 

Friday, November 01, 2013

Why Marvel's NY to CA Trip Is More Significant Than DC's

Two bits of comics news came out this week involving heading from New York City out to the west coast. DC announced that they'll be formally moving all of their comics offices from downtown New York to Burbank, California in 2015. A couple of days later, Marvel announced that Mark Waid will be writing a Daredevil story in which the character takes a road trip from his home in Hell's Kitchen to San Francisco. It's the latter of those two announcements that strikes me as bigger and more significant in the grand scheme of things.

Let me start by saying, for the folks currently working in the DC offices, that move is a HUGE deal. They're basically looking at either upending their whole life, dragging their family out to the other side of the country, and disgarding much of the social support network. Or they're out on the street looking for a new job in an not-really-great-economy using a skill set that might not directly translate anywhere outside the comic industry. So for those people, yes, this is absolutely a big deal and I don't want to discount that at all. I wish them all the very best, and I hope DC does provide them with some good options for either relocating or walking away with a nice severange package.

But in terms of the overall industry? I don't see that huge a change. As has been rightfully pointed out elsewhere, many of the freelancers actually creating the books are all over the country as it is, so they won't change their processes at all. Jack Kirby moved out to Thousand Oaks back in the late 1960s, and produced comics from there that he sent back to both Marvel and DC. Today, creators don't even have to change the addresses they're sending material to since it's all done digitally. The biggest issue might be a day or two of server downtime while DC's IT group re-locates parts of their internal network, but I suspect even that will be largely invisible to everyone.

But still, why is a story about a fictional road trip more important?

Well, it's not so much the comic story that's important (obviously) but the whys and hows of its rollout. See, this is NOT about Marvel doing another story that's being delivered digitally. Both Marvel and DC have done stories like that in the past, and have some on the market currently. But the difference here is that we're talking about Daredevil.

With Marvel and DC's other efforts, their digital books were addendums to their printed ones. You could still read the adventures of Batman or Wolverine in their printed form; the digital stories were just something else. Something in addition to the printed ones. If you just really liked Wolverine, you could still get a printed copy of new Wolverine stories every month and never see the digital ones. There were both print and digital outlets available.

But the monthly printed Daredevil book was just announced as being canceled. And, unlike Wolverine and Batman, the character doesn't regularly appear in any other title. If you want to read about the character on a regular basis, you have exactly one choice. By cancelling the printed book, and then launching a digital one, Marvel is able to continue producing Daredevil stories but still only giving readers one choice. If you want new Daredevil, you HAVE to buy it digitally. And that is why this is significant.

What Marvel is doing here is a big test. They're testing to see how many of those old school print readers will migrate over to digital reading. As others have also pointed out around this endeavor, there's historically not a lot of overlap between print and digital readers. And Marvel is trying to push some hard numbers against that. Does a reader's preference in format trump his/her interest in the character or story? What is more important: that I read Daredevil every month or that I read pulped wood comics from Marvel every month? That's the question Marvel is trying to answer with this.

And, to extrapolate a bit further, if this is successful (and I don't know how Marvel might be defining success here) what does that suggest for their broader publishing strategy? If they get 90% of their print readers on board with a digital format, they might migrate ALL of their titles to digital only. After all, they'll keep nearly the same readership levels but drop their operating costs exponentially since they wouldn't have to pay for paper, printing, distribution, etc. Which would mean more profits! And what company doesn't want that?

(For the record, I think a 90% conversion is wildly optimistic! I don't think they'll get nearly that. But I think it's safe to say that, if they got that kind of conversion rate, Marvel would undoubtedly deem this a success.)

And before you start thinking I'm going all doomsday scenario here with the demise of comic shops and such, I don't think Marvel would switch all of their titles in one fell swoop. If they were smart, what they'd do is convert one title at a time to digital only. Then, after readers of a title got used to reading it digitally -- say, after 9-12 months -- then they could reintroduce the title in a printed form as well, bringing back the readers who were more staunch in their refusal to take up digital comics. So now they're back to the same, or even higher readership, with a greater majority of them reading digitially. That is, more profitably.

I think the business implications here could be enormous if this goes well for them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Improved Kickstarter Model

Waaaaay back in 2008, I reviewed Jane Irwin's webcomic, Clockwork Game. Good tale about an unusual little corner of history. She finished serializing the story last month, and last week she launched a Kickstarter project to print it. That's pretty typical, right? Run the story online to get everyone's interest going, and then use the traction you get in the free webcomic to make a few bucks in selling hard copies of the thing.

But when Irwin was telling me a bit about this the other day, I was struck by something that I don't see very often in Kickstarter projects. Namely, she's done.

I mean, yeah, the story is complete. You knew that, and it's not all that unusual. But she's got the whole book done. The forward has been written, the book's been laid out with all the end notes and bibliography in place (she sent me a galley copy), the printer (who she's used before) has got time alloted to print everything... Irwin's got pretty much everything done with the exception of actually printing the book itself. At this point, her project's even been funded to nearly her first stretch goal, so the only real thing she needs to address is the quantity of books she'll ultimately have printed.

Now what this means is that, despite this being her first Kickstarter project, she's going into it with about as many of the variables known as possible. There's no "Oh, I guess I'll need to find a printer now" or "I suppose I'll have to actually create this story" or anything. It's just done. She just needs to send the file over to the printer with the number of copies she needs. Boom. Done.

The practical upshot of this is that I'm pretty confident that she's going to hit her estimated delivery date for all the rewards. Nearly all of the successful projects I've backed have run late; I've even got projects I've backed from 2011 that still haven't been fulfilled yet! (For the record, most have been fulfilled at this point and most of those who missed expected delivery dates were only off by a month or two.) But in Irwin's case, the majority of the work surrounding the book is done, so there are fewer variables she needs to factor in. With fewer variables, there's less chance for error and a greater likelihood her delivery estimates are accurate.

Going into a Kickstarter project with the work effectively done? What a concept!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween Decor

I have a number of Christmas ornaments and decorations that are comic themed. Mostly DC and Marvel superheroes, true, but they're mire frequently based on the comics as opposed to the movie versions of the characters.

So my thought tonight is: if Halloween is the holiday which Americans spend the most money on, second only to Christmas, why are there no Halloween decorations based on Marvel and DC characters? Especially with characters like The Demon and Werewolf by Night, and many superheroes wearing masks, it seems to me there's a more natural connection between comics and Halloween than comics and Christmas.  Plus with those two publishers being more licensing studios than actual comic publishers, you'd think they would be all over that.

Just some idle thoughts on a Friday in October.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Digital Backlist Profits

Marvel and DC have huge catalogs of back issue stories in their respective libraries. While most of their income stems from licensing those characters and a reasonable amount from selling new stories featuring them, they also make a bit of money from selling older stories. It used to be just pamphlet reprints, but the trade paperback market has boomed and you can get fairly handsome editions of even fairly obscure titles.

This has ushered in something of a change in how comic shops stock their stores. Since it used to be that reprints were few and far between, you had to track down an original copy of the story you wanted to read. And we saw comic shops with row after row of long boxes, where one could find comics ranging from just over a month old to ones that were printed decades ago. As publishers moved more towards the TPB direction, following readers' lead, comic shops have started removing the long boxes from their floor space in favor of bookshelves to house these new TPBs.

I don't know the specific breakdown of costs, but conceptually at least, the basic formula shops had been using remained in effect. Publishers sold their goods to a distributor, who wold them to retail shops, who sold them to readers. Whether that's a pamphlet comic or a TPB doesn't really matter in the sense that the retailer, distributor and publisher still gets a percentage of the sale.

But here's the interesting thing: the money the they all individually make off that sale happens once. But the retailers, collectively, can continue making money off the same comic.

Once a comic makes it to the retailer, they sell it to a reader, right? Then the reader might sell it to another retailer, who sells it to yet another reader. So now the comic has been sold by two separate retailers and (unless they're making some poor business decisions) they've both made a little profit from it. But the publisher and distributor only get money from that first sale.

Which means that Marvel made their money from Strange Tales #135 way back in 1965. The only way they've been able to make money on the original story that introduced SHIELD was by reprinting it in books like Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos Annual #2 or Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But in each instance, it's essentially like selling a new book where the distributor and retailer still get their respective cuts. It's less costly for Marvel to print, since the bulk of the labor from generating the story is already done, but they're still sharing profits with retailers.

Now we have digital comics.

Marvel can scan the artwork from Strange Tales #135 and sell electronic copies through comiXology. Marvel is still the publisher and comiXology is now acting as both the distributor and retailer, so that part of the model doesn't change even though there's fewer companies involved. But here's the interesting thing: Marvel can continue to make sales on that issue indefinitely. Every time someone buys a digital copy of Strange Tales #135, Marvel gets that money. They don't have to reprint it in another title featuring the same character, or as part of some collected edition; they can just let it sit on comiXology and sell.

Now there's probably not a huge clamoring for this particular issue, and I think it's safe to assume Marvel is earning quite a lot more money with the new SHIELD television show than all the Nick Fury comics they have online combined. But five years from now, they will keep making money off that Strange Tales issue. If somebody who's only two or three years old now discovers The Avengers movie at that time and wants to find out about this Fury character, they'll be able to get to the origin with almost no difficulty. Anything that's been scanned can continue to be available without the bean-counters trying to figure out if they'll sell enough copies to pay for the printing costs.

It's essentially an infinite backlist for the publishers.

None of that is news to you, right?

But I find myself wondering today, where the retailers fit into this? We've seen that their concerns over readers fleeing print for digital regarding new issues were largely unfounded. But, not being a retailer myself, I wonder how much of their income came from dealing in back issues? And was that already undercut by ebay? And how of that was undercut by the move to TPBs?

I'm not doing any "sky is falling" shtick here; I genuinely don't know how much retailers these days rely on back issue sales. Is that a non-issue? Have back issue sales dropped so far prior to comiXology anyway that their debut made zero impact in that realm? Any retailers out there willing/able to share some insights into this?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Garage Sale Comics

I was driving along yesterday and saw someone had posted a "garage sale" sign in their front yard. Nothing unusual there as there are a number of them around here this tine of year. But what struck me was a second sign next to it that simply said "comic books."

Garage sales used to be a decent source for finding old comics. The theoretical box someone found in the attic or the stash that "mom threw out" shortly after you left for college. But the monetary value of comics has gotten enough press over the years that comics aren't just thrown in garage sales any more. They gey taken to comic shops or sold on ebay. On the off chance that they DO show up in a garage sale, they're hugely overpriced because the owner inists that an dog-eared two-year-old copy of Amazing Spider-Man is worth ten bucks because there was a movie about the character around then.

So I didn't hold any high hopes as I stopped in. Turns out the woman's niece just had a baby and the husband needed to get rid of his books because of storage, and maybe get a few bucks for diapers. They had six long boxes of almost exclusively Marvel books from the past 4-5 years. Each one bagged and boarded. A buck a piece.

I thought, "Wow. They're in good condition and priced about what they should be! Who'd have guessed?"

There was very little I actually recognized much less had any interest in but I did pull out ten books that looked like I might've bought were I still reading Marvel. Apparently that's about the same cost as a box of diapers so they were pleased.

But, hey, comic books at a garage sale! Didn't think I'd see that in the 21st century!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts On MTV Geek

So, you've heard that MTV Geek is shutting its doors, right? Despite being a pop culture site, there was a very respectable amount of coverage there about comic books, due in large part to the various editors that have shepherded the site over the past few years.

I've been a columnist there since not-quite-the-beginning but played only a very small role compared to the output the team produced as a whole. Lots of talent there, both in terms of generating basic content, but generating interesting content that went well beyond press releases and fluff pieces that keep a lot of other sites going. I'm sure I have some bias here, but MTVG was doing, for my money, a better job covering comics than any other pop culture site, and better than most comics-only sites.

It would seem, though, that the money isn't there.

Or, rather, there's more money worth having elsewhere. My understanding is that all the full-time folks working on MTVG are being shuffled around in the MTV network, so it's only the freelancers who are taking any sort of financial hit. And I don't think MTVG was that significant source of income for any of us that you'll have to worry much. But that they're keeping all the full-time folks tells me that they're not losing money per se, just that they think they can make more profit by focusing those same resources elsewhere. (That's my guess, mind you; I don't have any real insider info there.)

I do, of course, appreciate getting paid for my writing, and I'm thankful they let me keep at it for three years. I would've thought for sure that I would've gotten sacked long before now. ("You write well enough, Sean, but nobody ever reads your columns! You're somehow even generating negative site traffic!") And while, like I said, they weren't my dominant source of income, they did provide me with the broadest platform and the widest reach. I'm very grateful for that.

I'm also grateful for the schedule. Having to write a column every week on webcomics and another one on fandom forced me to stay on my toes with those topics. And, given everything else I've had happening this year in particular, that was no easy task! My blog here does something of the same thing, but with a subject as broad as "comics" I can go all over the place. For as much as this blog was (in part) designed to help make me a better writer, MTVG did much the same but in a more targeted manner.

All in all, I enjoyed working on my small corner of MTV Geek and I am saddened to see it go. I'm told the site will stay up, with all the pieces I've written remaining intact if you want to refer to them again at some point, but there simply won't be any updates. I'm welcome to take "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" and/or "Top 5 Webcomics You Missed This Week" elsewhere to continue them, but their Friday updates won't be seen on MTVG.

As I do have a bit more free time on my hands suddenly, is anyone in the market for a comics or fandom columnist? I also do consulting work.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Who Or What Is Duggie?

My buddy Matt and I go way back to my days running the old FFPlaza.com site. He's just launched his first Kickstarter for a comic called No One's Ark. I'm pretty sure I'm not the best person to explain it, though, so you'd best click over there if you want to find out about it!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

In Which A Yeti Is Kick(start)ed

Despite not having actually launched a Kickstarter project myself, I've had a few people ask me for my thoughts regarding their projects before they go live. Advice was given (with recommendations of a grain of salt) and now we have the first opportunity to see if I know what I'm talking about as the first of said projects has gone live. The Yeti Press folks came up with a great Kickstarter project and I didn't have much to suggest honestly, but I think an idea or two of mine might have accidentally snuck in.

Regardless, they've turned out some great books in the past couple years and the new ones they've got lined up for this project seem equally cool. Do me a favor and check them out. Oh, and tell them I sent you over -- maybe I can weasel some kind of commission out of RJ!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Missing The Obvious

I was in a sporting goods store yesterday and noticed a rack of boys' t-shirts with Superman and Batman chest logos on them. Some neat colors and materials but a bit small for an adult. Then I came across a rack of adult athletic shirts in the exact same styles. Plus they also had one with a Captain America shield. These were all nice shirts that were specially designed for running and I can totally see the appeal of sporting a Superman S-shield while you're, say, running a marathon. In fact, it's past time the running gear industry caught up with the biking wear people when it comes to licensing like that!

What I'm wondering, though, is why they didn't have any shirts with the classic Flash lighting bolt emblem? Seems like a no-brainer to me! I mean, that's his whole shtick - he runs. He runs very fast. Wouldn't that be precisely what a real life runner wants to emulate?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

T-Shirt Marketing

You know, I've generally assumed that t-shirts bearing the characters and logos of webcomics did little more than provide some financial support to the creator. I might buy a shirt so that I'm sending $20 to someone whose work I appreciate.

But today I was in the pet store wearing my Abominable Charles Christopher shirt. The checkout guy says that it looks really cool and asks what it's from. I tell him it's a webcomic called Abominable Charles Christopher at which point he runs some blank receipt paper through the register, tears it off and makes me repeat the name so he can write it down. He thanks me as I start to leave.

I stopped a bit at a display near the exit and was looking over some material there when the guy rushes over to me with his iPhone out. "Is this it?" he asks pointing to the screen on which he had called the site up.

So I guess t-shirt marketing works after all!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Wizard World Panels Post

Part Three of an ersatz series on this year's Wizard World Chicago. Part 1. Part 2.

I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I tend to really like going to the panel discussions at comic cons. And not the ones where it's one guy reminiscing about stuff he did 20-30 years ago, but something that I have a deep interest in and won't just find the panel just a rehash of things I've heard before. (Seems like a nice guy, but when was the last time Stan Lee had a new story or anecdote to tell?) I was only at the show for a day and a half, but I hit most of the panels I wanted to. Not surprisingly, they were mostly comics-focused.

What I liked about the panels that I attended is that I learned something from each of them. Not just a snippet or brief anecdote, but something fundamentally interesting and, at least at some level, profound. I was particularly surprised at this in the Batman & Psychology panel. Not that I was expecting it to be just an hour of fluff, but there were some very interesting points brought up about the Batman mythos that I hadn't considered before. The "obvious" questions like "is Batman crazy" or "does Batman have multiple personality disorder" were old hat for me, but the notion of applying psychology to Batman and his extended family concept as a whole proved illuminating.

The Roger Ebert panel was very educational, too, though not in quite the way I'd expected. The Ebert/comics connection was more loose than moderator Danny Fingeroth originally anticipated, but there was a deep discussion on Chicago comics fandom. And while it paralleled what I've seen/read in many other places, the specifics of Chicago-area fandom were interesting.

I also attended Brad Guigar's two webcomics panels. I was impressed with his overall approach. He talked about the more technical aspects of webcomics and largely eschewed the basics of comics construction itself. Although he didn't expressly say as much, he basically said that people making or seeking to make webcomics spend so much time on the comic itself that they forget/skip over all the other elements involved like user interfaces, marketing, etc. Despite having the mic to himself for both pieces, too, he made a point of adding that this was how he's found things to work based on errors he's made and, while it may not work for everybody, try to at least think about and understand how/why things might work differently elsewhere. Some of the content may have been a bit advanced for some people, but if nothing else, it prepared them to see some things they might not have expected.

I think my favorite panel, by virtue of it's broad content message, was Michael Foster's "Reinventing Information." I had expected this to be more about user interfaces and the technology of tablets, smart phones, etc. Instead, it was about using contextual appropriated media references as a means of a communication above and beyond the mere appropriation in the first place. Basically, an extension of the idea's classically portrayed in the Star Trek: TNG episode "Darmok." Interestingly, my referencing that episode also emphasizes the point that I'm making.

There were a few more that I attended, but didn't get much out of, and plenty I would've liked to have gone to but couldn't, but those were some of the highlights. Again, this was a show I hadn't put a whole lot of stock into because of its long reputation on focusing on pop culture, but the panels I sat in on were both very focused on comics, and pretty insightful and meaty ones at that!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wizard World Ramblings, Part 2

Following up from what I said yesterday...

One criticism I personally would make is in regards to the layout and resulting flow of traffic. This was the first time the show was split into two floors, and it seemed overly difficult to navigate between them. Which was not helped by a lack of signage or direction between floors. The registration was on the first floor, but there was no signage directing people to where that was if they came across on the skywalk on the second level. In fact, coming from the skywalk dumped people right into the area by the programming rooms, and they had to have a security guard stand there to direct people down the escalator off to the side and around a corner.

Once your ticket was secured, you had to exit that room and make a hard left to get the main ballroom... which was also unlabled as the entrance. Further adding to the confusion, people coming in from the street had to cross through the line of people coming, the line of people going up/down the escalator, and the line of people going into the main ballroom, as well as pass through the Wizard gift shop, before walking directly against the traffic of people who were coming from the registration area in order to get their own tickets. Once you were in one of the two main halls, getting around was pretty simple and straightforward -- in fact, the aisles were generally pretty open despite a lot of people trafficking through. I also heard of some early issues about retailers having issues getting in/out through certain entrances, although the same people said this was corrected by Friday afternoon.

The biggest complaint I heard from retailers and exhibitors was that traffic/sales were not up to their expectations. Some of that came from people who had never done a Thursday show before, and were thinking it was going to be pretty close to a typical Friday. Some felt that their product was perhaps a little too far afield from the average Wizard World crowd. One retailer noted to me, though, that he felt the show was simply getting too large. That the number of retailers had grown substantially more than the number of attendees, so each retailer was getting a smaller portion of the overall money being spent at the show.

I only heard one person expressly say they probably wouldn't do another Wizard show; he was also one who noted that his product probably didn't mesh with that audience particularly well.

The programming rooms were tucked aside a bit. The initial ones weren't hard to find, but some of them seemed really remote relative to the show. Most of the rooms were in a central area, but some of the remaining ones were through another set of exit-looking doors and further down the hall and around another corner. There were some white board signs directing people to various room numbers, but they seemed too few and too temporary for as far apart as some of the rooms were. I couldn't help but notice, too, that the one panel on women in comics was the absolutely furtherst room away from the show.

The rooms all seemed adequately sized -- although I didn't hit any of the really major panels that were generating the most interest. And the most noise. A few panels I attended were actually difficult to concentrate on because of the volume coming from the next room. The occasional bout of thunderous applause is to be expected, I suppose, but listening to what sounded like a concert was a bit much. It did get turned down eventually, I believe, thanks to some Wizard employees, but it still lasted quite a while.

In general, it seemed to me like the new size/configuration wasn't logistically thought out as completely as it might've been. From what I could tell, it did seem like the convention folks were recognizing when/where there were problems and trying to correct for them, but there were some pretty significant issues that simply could not be addressed without some fundamental changes to the broader layout. It'll be interesting to see how they address some of these things next year.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Some Wizard World Thoughts

As noted on Thursday, I hit Wizard World Chicago yesterday afternoon/evening and today. I'm not generally very comfortable striking up conversations, but I've gotten to know enough people now that I ran into several folks that I was comfortable talking with, so I was pleased today to get a wider sense of the show that what I've been able to see myself. And what I thought was interesting about Wizard World was echoed by several others without prompting. It's possible I might not get to the show on Sunday like I thought, so I thought I'd throw a few reflections on tonight.

I'll be honest that I haven't been too keen on Wizard World for several years, largely because it struck me as more of a pop culture show than a comic show. Going into this year was no exception. They're promoting lots of actors and wrestlers and folks that aren't really associated with comics in any way. They had comics people, too, but that hasn't been the focus of their advertising.

But after getting to the show, it seemed to me there was actually a greater focus on comics than at rival convention C2E2! I think the Artists' Alley was at least as big, and there seemed to be a greater percentage of comics folks there (as opposed to just artists who do work that happens to appeal to comics-appreciative audiences). There were certainly more retailers selling comics there too. Now, there were certainly people there selling anime DVDs, and cosplayers dressed up like various incarnations of the Doctor, and a video arcade, and some RenFest folks, but I go tthe impression that there was less of that here than at C2E2.

Furthermore, I had a few people say similar things.

Now, that being said, I also talked to some comic folks who weren't doing as well as they had at C2E2. One guy said he probably would just barely break even, and almost certainly won't do the show next year even though he's local. I talked to another guy who figured he was going to end up with less than half the profits he saw at C2E2. Others came off as much more positive, but I can't say if that was just optimism (real or generated for my benefit) or they were genuinely having a better show. There certainly seemed to be enough traffic that everybody was confindent they would at least walk away from the show with some positive cash flow.

But, despite being billed as a pop culture show, and despite having the likes of Dennis Rodman, Ralph Macchio and Andrew McCarthy as guests, there was still a significant and almost impressive comics presence there.

I'll share some more specifics about the show later.