Jun 9th, 2010, 07:15 AM
Circling the toilet bowl
Here's a topic that maybe this crowd can appreciate... I often refer to print comics as a medium that's fast circling the toilet bowl in terms of its readership. Comics, traditionally, were a young medium. The average reader was in their tweens (a made up number that marketers use for ages 10 - 12) and as they grew up, many continued to read.
That's a healthy median age, especially when the number of comics sold for a top selling book numbered in the near-millions of units. The distribution system, likewise, was solid... with newsstands everywhere.
Then the direct market was born. Now publishers had one avenue that told them EXACTLY how many books a comic shop wanted. And best of all, as long as you weren't late... those books weren't returnable! So, like lemmings, comics companies followed this model off the cliff, practically abandoning their bread and butter.
Problem is, the people who went to these mancaves were typically young adults, as most self-respecting parents would never expose their children to the body-odor and mold-covered environs that could be found in the typical "comic book shop."
So the median age began rising. During the comics GLUT years of the 90's this wasn't seen as a bad thing, because these same young adults somehow couldn't comprehend the laws of supply and demand, and they began thinking that the comics they all hoarded in droves (especially anything with a #1 or a foil cover on it) would secure their retirements. So the numbers stayed relatively the same.
Unfortunately for the hapless publishers, this was a bubble, and once it came crashing down, it nearly destroyed the single basket that every comic company had placed their eggs in. The number of comic shops went from 10's of thousands to around 5,000. Further, due to a blunder on the part of Marvel to likewise understand the intricacies of their own market's fragile distribution system... their disastrous acquisition of Heroes World distributors led to the collapse of the distributors and left a MONOPOLY distributor - Diamond.
So ten years later, what we have is now only a few thousand stores, and a monopoly distributor... but also comic books that sell (at most) 100,000 copies and on average way less than 10,000 copies.
The median audience is now in their 30's with no sign of that number going down. The only thing that is propping the industry up are the movie industries, to the point where (and I've heard this from many sources) the comics companies only consider their books to be "Marketing tools" or "loss-leading source material."
And the creative teams have as much to blame as well. Stan Lee, for instance, always wrote his comics knowing that kids were reading them. He refused to dumb down his vocabulary and raised the reading capacity of generations in the process.
Today's writers all write for themselves and their peers. Most comics are not at all kid-friendly in their content. New reader acquisition isn't just a goal, it's snubbed in the face, stabbed in the neck and shat down their throats.
That's fine and dandy for the few thousand remaining audience... but it doesn't bode well for one of the few American-invented contributions to pop culture.
So to bring this analogy full circle, the current state of the industry are a few lingering floaters... anticipating that second flush.