The comic book industry is in a state of crisis. I know you can say that about a lot of industries amidst a global pandemic, but the comics industry has been extremely hard hit. Shipments of new comics have ceased. Comic shops are likely to go out of business without that influx of new product. The industry that I’ve loved since I was a kid has never been this vulnerable.
It’s very depressing. I certainly have felt that after multiple weeks of no new comics. A handful of people, namely the whiny agenda-pushing loser types, have been talking doom and gloom about the comics industry for years. However, this hit has nothing to do with some overly political T-shirt that Mockingbird wore.
Even after the pandemic ends, this industry that I love will never be the same. It can’t go back to the way it used to be. This crisis has shown, among other things, that the current model that the comic industry utilizes just isn’t sustainable. It needs an overhaul of some kind.
I’m certainly not smart enough to know what that overhaul entails. I doubt few people are. However, as a long-time fan and follower of the industry, I have a few ideas. To keep it simple, here are four steps to saving the comic book industry in a post-pandemic world.
Step 1: Emphasize Quality Over Quantity
This is a simple metric. There are just too many books coming out all at once. However, this is a problem that predates the current crisis. It’s a problem that has lingered since the industry almost crashed completely in the early 1990s. It came down to simple economics. Publishers made too many books that not enough people bought. Even if they were only a dollar apiece, there’s only so much consumers can consume.
This is not a sustainable business model. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics grew the most when they were just publishing a dozen or so titles a month, with a few mini-series on the side. You could, conceivably, follow every major event in the Marvel or DC universe for less than $40, adjusted for inflation. That kind of easy access is what helped create the massive fandom that these franchises enjoy today.
That said, this isn’t the mid-1960s. The world is changed. Markets and consumer habits have changed. However, there’s still a place for comics in the publishing world. It’s just a matter of making those products more valuable. Books like DC’s Earth One series are basically single-issue graphic novels that tell a rich, complex story at a higher price and it’s worth every penny.
At a time when people are strapped for cash and looking for value, the comics industry is in a perfect position to tap into it. Make every comic count. Make every dollar feel like it was well-spent. It won’t just keep new fans happy. It’ll help create an entirely new generation of fans who are less inclined to go to crowded movie theaters.
Step 2: Embrace Digital (In A Novel Way)
This step plays directly off the first in that it embraces new technology. Decades ago, comics were easy to access because you could buy them at news stands and grocery stores. As a kid, I got most of my comics from the grocery store at first. They were easy and, much to my parents’ delight, cheap ways of putting a smile on my face.
These days, you can’t find comics in grocery stories. However, digital comics have grown a great deal and are more accessible than ever, thanks to companies like Comixology. Most comics are already released digitally on the same day they come out in shops. That’s great, but it’s basically just an extra convenience for those who don’t live near comic shops. That can’t be the extent of how digital comics impact the industry.
At the moment, digital comics are only a small part of overall comic sales, but they’re growing rapidly. In conjunction with that growth, the industry needs to embrace the other opportunities that digital offers. Services like Marvel Unlimited are nice, but they’re just giving us products that were already released. Why not give us something we can’t get anywhere else?
I’m not sure what that something is, be it a motion comic or something that sets itself apart from a traditional paperback. I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but digital offers so many rich opportunities. The first company to figure it out will make millions and entice a new generation of fans.
Step 3: Make Comic Shops More Than Comic Shops
I love comic shops. Some of my fondest memories have occurred in comic shops. I don’t want them to go away. However, embracing digital comics doesn’t mean the same as ditching these important brick-and-mortar structures. It just means changing their role in the overall comics infrastructure.
When I was a kid, there were two types of stores. One were the stores you could hang out in and the other were the stores in which the owners kicked you out if you lingered for more than 10 minutes. The future of the industry needs to embrace the former rather than the latter.
Comic shops can’t just be about selling comics and merchandise. Too much of that is online and relying on that model is doomed to failure. Instead, comic shops need to be part comic shop and part coffee shop. Make it a place where you don’t just browse the racks for new material. Make it a place where you can sit down with friends, get some coffee, get a snack, and enjoy comics in a communal manner.
Once comic shops are an experience again, people will visit them and not just because there are new comics to buy. If comics can become a popular hang-out once more, then they’ll have a place in a new market.
Step 4: Empower Creators (Instead Of Screwing Them Over)
As much as I love comics, I don’t doubt that it has engaged in some shady business practices. There are many stories about comic creators getting screwed over by major publishers. While every industry has shady practices, the comics industry relies too heavily on brilliant creators to screw them over.
While Marvel and DC have their Disney/WB overlords to please, they can’t just rely on being farms for intellectual property. There has to be a new and better way for compensating creators. Alan Moore may be a cankerous blow-hard, but he really did get screwed over when DC flat out broke their promise to him.
Broken promises always cost more in the long run, especially with respect to comics. It’s not enough for the publishers to just acknowledge the contributions of creators. They need to have a way to profit. It’s not impossible. Apple does it with their app store, creating a means for creative developers to profit from their creations while still making Apple billions.
When both benefit, everyone benefits. It’s really that simple.
I know the comics industry is undergoing rapid change. I don’t doubt I’ll be upset with some of those changes. However, I also understand that the industry needs to change in this increasingly chaotic world. These are just some ideas on how to go about it.
Whatever happens, I hope this industry that I love continues to thrive. I don’t know how, but I do know that a lot of people love it and they’ll find a way to make it work.