For those of you just joining us, the comic industry is in a state of creative expansion but financial decline. With an aging demographic, little attempt at attracting younger readers, and greater choices in entertainment to compete, comics face an uphill battle. However, after years of bland made for T.V. movies on the Sci-Fi channel and goofy blockbusters, Hollywood finally took notice of comics and their potential for box office gold! Soon, events like the San Diego Comic Con became less about the comics and more about promoting the next big comic book film franchise. While some “purists” bemoan this switch in the industry, I see it as a good thing. Assuming the comic book creators don’t bow down to the wishes of Hollywood, everything will be just fine. I mean, you really think we Geeks would get to see life-size Iron Man armor or Night Owl’s ship in the flesh (or steel) without Hollywood’s help? Not a chance, sir.
Too bad Hollywood isn’t the answer…
Not that I hold this against them, but Hollywood is out for Hollywood. They will only care about comics for as long as comics give them a good return on investment. After that, they’ll go back to crappy remakes and pray some young filmmaker can finally turn a video game into a good film. (Mark my words, it will happen, games are just running the same curve comics took a decade past). Marvel might be onto something by producing their films under the Marvel Studios Brand. They own their properties and the money stays in-house. However, that business model assumes the masses will not burn out on comic book movies and they’ll continue producing quality films. As it stands, comic book movies are batting a solid .500, good for a baseball player, not so much in movies. (I know, they can’t all be Pixar Films, but when millions and millions are at stake, the half-crap, half-good is a bumpy road). Or, you can use Marvel’s other technique, by charging four dollars for 23 pages of 4-color entertainment! Then again, take one look at the music industry and tell if that business model works.
Although, the comic book industry could learn from the music industries mistake.
Don’t shy from the internet, in fact, embrace that digital beast and jump on the file sharing bandwagon. Make it your own! Now, I don’t mean the comic book industry should allow for the rampant piracy of their books, but it is time to face the fact that nothing will stop the hardcore pirate. There just isn’t. But, instead of bemoaning the internet as the cause of lagging sales, embrace the opportunity the internet provides. Comic book companies already have a time-tested brand. Simply transform the means of delivery. Yes, I am about to advocate for digital comics. Well, not completely, but as a foundation upon which the rest of the comic brand may stand.
Start treating comics like cable.
By that, I mean instead of comic book fans dropping $2.99 (at a minimum) for every title read, they pay a monthly or annual subscription fee. Every month you get your titles delivered without fail to your inbox. No more delays from shipping. No more having to sacrifice a title because you don’t have the money that week. Nope, you get your monthlies without fail. (And, no more dealing with the monolithic demon that is Diamond Distribution). Not only would this provide the comic book companies a more honest way of tracking title sales, but also it would help them improve upon their brand. The reader would move beyond simple audience member. With an online subscription and sales service, a comic book company could better market to your likes and make honest suggestions.
But what if you love reading your comics in gorgeous book form?
Well, ask yourself. Do you reread all of your titles, or simply read your favorite story arcs? Not to answer for you, but you know the answer. You only read your favorite stories over again. As do the bulk of the non hard-core comic book fans, as is evidenced by the explosion of the trade paperback in comic book and traditional books stores. So, how would I receive the experience of reading a book if all my titles come via the internet, be it PDF or Flash format? The comic book companies could offer printed options of all their titles. If you truly loved a story arc or a particular issue, you can order your own hard copy. You will probably end up paying more than a traditional shelf copy; but you’ll really want that issue. Or, you simply wait until the trade hits the stores (or your online profile). That would save the monthly floppy fan from getting “double-dipped”, while also giving better odds to the reader that is “just gonna’ wait for the trade”.
Would it work?
Honestly, I don’t really know. Plus, this style of consumerism doesn’t factor in the effect upon your neighborhood comic book shop. Ask any comic book fan and they will tell you they enjoy their local shop owner. Part of the fun in being a comic book reader is engaging other comic book fans, even the ones lacking certain social graces, we love talking with them all. A subscription-based service would take a huge chunk away from the comic book shop. I just don’t know how to help the shop, apart from the comic book industry switching to a pure trade paperback and graphic novel format. Something they may need to do.
Perhaps my idea isn’t the best idea. Hell, it probably isn’t a good idea. But the fact remains, the comic book industry isn’t in the best of shape. The people at the top need to start being proactive. If not, Seduction of the Innocent won’t be the only nail that shut the coffin.