Tuesday, February 28, 2006

IN CASE U MISSED IT: Speakeasy and the industry

A great summary of the Speakeasy situation over at Buzzscope.com, taken from Guy LeCharles Gonzalez article on the publisher's closure:

When Atomika #1 hit the stands and Speakeasy was officially born, almost a year ago to the day, Countdown to Infinite Crisis was still four weeks away, and House of M was just being teased. One year later, the direct market has been dramatically transformed as the return of the corporate mega-crossover has eaten up market share and retailers' budgets, and independent comics have taken a hard hit as order numbers have dropped across the board, with few exceptions. Even Marvel and DC's mid-list titles that weren't fortunate enough to be tied in to the big crossovers have suffered. In some cases, it's been a deathblow.

Much like the creation of the Direct Market back in the early 80s was the beginning of the end for young readers as comics became progressively harder to find, today its continued retraction, focusing primarily on fans of long-established superheroes and licenses, is to the detriment of the kind of variety publishers like Speakeasy have admirably attempted to offer. Any independent publisher with an aggressive plan for growth that's relying solely on the Direct Market for its survival these days is doomed to failure, and to having that failure hammered mercilessly. Too many independent publishers have no clue who their audience is, or how to reach them, so instead, they continue to target that narrow 5-10% slice of the Direct Market that's willing to take a chance on an independent publisher and hope they can somehow stand in the sea of titles that populate the back pages of Previews every month.

And every time a CrossGen, Dreamwave or Speakeasy comes along with a bold plan that fails, it makes it that much harder for the publishers who are left behind as retailers justifiably become less and less willing to take chances on non-returnable inventory. While Speakeasy's failure can primarily be laid at Fortier's feet, the old "buck stops here" maxim in effect, it is but a symptom of a larger and steadily growing illness in the comics industry.

The times are a'changing, and it's only going to get tougher out there. The publishers who find a way to break out of the superhero-driven direct market, to carve their own niches out of the much larger audience of general readers who never step foot into a comic book shop are the ones who will survive. For the rest of them, fighting over Marvel and DC's leftovers, it's only going to get uglier.
As a self-publisher in today's market, I can attest to just how brutal things are. Super Real started off with relatively strong numbers, but is seeing the requisite drop off from the debut issue, it's now in a seriously tenuous state, where it must bridge that gap and start building on the positive critical buzz, and realize the potential the series is built for. Fortunately, everything about the book is designed to appeal to today's direct market, whether they know it or not (and also coincidently, these are the elements I'm passionate about working with). It's just a matter of continuing to communicate that to the market. Which is, regrettably, my main focus.

All of the creative work I can muster would be for not, without an intense, time consuming, and never-ending focus on promotion. It's just a fact of the market right now, but it's a challenge I'm well aware of, and totally committed to. Speakeasy's demise is bad for the industry, but it's also good for those independent publishers left standing. So hopefully some good can come of it.

The key, as I focus TSL, and indeed Super Real, is taking an active part in maintaining the diversity that the US comic industry affords. It's on all of us to do our part to keep diversity part of the industry, and not let it slip away.


Javier Hernandez said...


I have to say that Guy's comments about indies 'fighting for Marvel & DC's leftovers' is a very honest and frank way to look at the direct market situation.

Also agree with his statement about those creators who can make inroads to the 'real' book market will find success, or at least wider audiences. Course, one's product has to be popular enough to warrant a book publisher and the shelf space.

I always look at the fate of publishers like Speakeasy and the others with regret, of course. But also with a sense that they launched an ambitious line, with a lot of money and very high hopes, in what is known to be a VERY risky biz.

Of course, that's not a reason why any of us should hestitate in our self-publishing efforts. As long as one's prepared to do all the hard work, and know who your base is.

Jason Martin said...

Yes, anyone could see that Alias and Speakeasy were throwin crazy numbers of content at the market. The thing both spoke about at launch, and either never followed through with, or materialized, was some kind of "other" market ability/plan, outside the direct market. For Alias, it's true they sell direct to the Christian market, but outside that, I've never seen anything to back up those statements/goals.

So just looking at the DM, it appears silly to hope to sell that amount of product out the gate...

Thankfully, Image and Dark Horse are still around and going strong. Both of those successful publishers either started out with slow measured success, or incredibly strong, and successful talent. Something that was sorely lacking in any recent major publishing equation...

Hopefully the market will always support genuine, self-published, creator driven content. Not because that's me, but that's always been my favorite part of comics. Books like Cerebus, TMNT, Bone, etc.

Maybe these mid-level publishers failures will make more room for books of that nature.