Monday, March 20, 2006

IN CASE U MISSED IT: Tilting at Indies

A column that came out over the con weekend, that I haven't made comment on yet, but really want to, was Brian Hibbs Tilting At Windmills on Newsarama.

I follow the column regularly, and generally agree with Brian's assessments of the industry, and comic book retailing. However, this time, I think his summary of a quick study of some market numbers is a bit short sighted, or perhaps misleading.

In the column he takes a look at a Diamond order form from 1989 and compares publishing numbers to today:

it looks like Diamond was soliciting a grand total of 685 items back in '89. That includes comics, books, magazines, all merchandise like videos, shirts, games, and so on. The '06 order form has 4390 items with MAR06 codes - some six times as much.

In 1989, DC offered 60 items, Marvel comics offered 65. That's 125 books from the two publishers. Every other publisher combined offered 262 new titles.

Flash forward to 2006. Same criteria for counting. Marvel and DC are each offering 105 new comics/TPs for sale, for a total of 210 between the two. Every other publisher? 462 new titles.

From this he concludes that the big publishers aren't really crowding independent publishers out, as is often theorized in today's market, and that smaller publishers shouldn't blame bigger publishers for their struggles.

While I'm not sure his first conclusion is entirely correct (I'd at least like to see some more comprehensive data to come to that conclusion), I agree with the last part, I certainly don't look to blame the big publishers for conducting themselves as a business. I do wish the industry leaders weren't just tiny arms of large corporations that are forced to execute short-sighted business plans that do more overall harm then good, but I understand why they do, and I can't blame them for it. It's just an unfortunate truth of today's US comic book industry, the industry leaders have no ability to actually lead the industry.

Any way, he goes on to make the point that independents are their own worst enemies, and that if there is overcrowding, it's at the hands of the independent publishers.

Again, there's truth there.
In the last year we've seen several startups, all dump multiples of titles on the market:
and more spring to mind.

I guess the part of his argument that really falls down for me is this one:

In much the same way, there are certainly retailers who pretty much only carry Marvel and DC books – but it is a fallacy to believe that if there were less Marvel and DC books that these stores would magically start carrying indies. Not going to happen, chief. They’re limiting their racks choices not because they’ve somehow been brainwashed by the dazzling array from the “Big Two”, but because either that’s the type of material they want to focus on (and like it or not, it is their choice to make) or because they believe that they have to (and long-held beliefs are the hardest to change).

He's keying in on volume here, arguing stores wouldn't likely spend more time or money on smaller publishers if the volume from the big guys decreased is, which is debatable, or certainly questionable, but I think beside the point. I think retailers really ARE dazzled by the big two's current event-driven, big book, reprint, variant heavy output, and it can't help but impact their focus on smaller publishers, irregardless of the ratio of big to small publishing. (And again, I'm not faulting anyone here, just making a logical conclusion)

I think it's up to the independent publishers, as Brian also suggests in the article, to come up with their own solution. To take the fight to the big guys, and not just let them divert everyone's attention from our creative fair to their latest business-driven offerings. We have quality, true creative vision, and if there really are so many of us, and our output does vastly outnumber the big guys, numbers too. So of course there's strength in those numbers, if we utilize it.

It's something I've thought on a lot, and why I jumped at the idea of the Independents Day Campaign.

Also, aside from multitudes of independent publishing resources that could be pooled together, there are tons of disparate indie-publishing-centric websites and associations working to bring attention to smaller publishers. We just need to perhaps tie them together.

Okay, I'm rambling, it's late.
It's just that there really is a growing call to arms, and a need for it in independent publishing, for many reasons.
Hopefully someone, or something, can leverage that.

I'll keep doing my part.

1 comment:

Jason Berek-Lewis said...

Great post. It is an interesting discussion, and something that I am putting my mind to with Independents' Day.