Outlook 2010: Comics in the Next 365 p.2 Editors, Publishers

Comic Book Outlook 2010: Retailers

It's hard to believe an entire decade has passed since the year 2000 began. As the comic book industry heads into a new decade in a few days, there's only one thing that's sure about what comes next: Everything will change again.

With the year 2010 looming on the horizon, Newsarama continues our Outlook 2010 series by turning this time to the publishers and editors whose job it is to make comics. From the top-selling labels to the small press publishers, we talked with a few industry insiders about what they feel are the greatest challenges and opportunities in the coming year.

Karen Berger, Executive Editor, Vertigo

The challenges and opportunities for all of us in comics next year and beyond are really one in the same. Theres so much vibrant creative work from so many writers and artists across so many genres from so many publishers, large and small. With so much regular mainstream press coverage that comics now receive, we are definitely being recognized and appreciated by more than just our inner circle. The ongoing challenge for us as publishers is to continue to find new ways to grow our readership. The good news is that even in a down economy, we've held our own, which is much more than most book publishers have achieved this past year.

At Vertigo this coming year, with Neil Young's Greendale adapted into a spectacular lyrical and literary graphic novel by Josh Dysart and Cliff Chiang, and the new American Vampire series by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque, which recreates the gothic mythology in a horrifically American way, we've got an immense opportunity to attract mega-numbers of new readers. The challenge is to get them hooked. We hope that once they discover the special magic of comics and graphic novels, they'll be here to stay.

Michael DeVito, Publisher, Th3rd World Studios

I would say the biggest challenge is competing for retailer and consumer dollars. There is a huge amount of product out there and, more often than not, products get lost in the shuffle. As an independent publisher, it's the age-old problem of, "how do I get eyes on my book?" It is always a problem, and is only made more difficult in the depressed economy we are currently experiencing. Last year we doubled our efforts to get out there by participating in things like Free Comic Book Day and much more actively promoting our titles. We have to take that even further this year even with the small success we've found thus far. Sitting around isn't an option for anyone.

Another big challenge for the industry as a whole is determining how publishing strategies evolve as the digital market expands. This year we saw a slew of iPhone applications like Comics by Comixology and iVerse break onto the market. We've already seen one of the big two getting on board; they aren't yet the print destroyers that many predicted, even though they have met with a good deal of success. In the coming year, if not sooner, we will be presented with Longbox and the rise of tablet PCs, which again could change parts of the game to some degree, should they take off. The key for us will be taking a balanced approach that respects both the retail and digital parts of the market going forward. We personally have gotten a slew of crossover readers who discovered our books through the apps.

The digital age also presents a huge opportunity for large and small companies to extend their reach beyond the current comic market. I already have friends who haven't read comics in years, if ever, who are picking up and downloading things like Walking Dead and Abyss on the their iPhones. I suspect that it will be a growing trend, and to a degree some of the digital presentations can be looked at similarly to the preview packs that the larger publishers used to send out. It's a fantastic way to give people a peek at a new series where they instantly have distribution to hundreds of thousands of potential readers if not more. Especially in light of comics new pricing structure, this could be a nice way to lessen the resistance to take a chance on a new series. It's my hope that the market expands, anything that increases readership can only be a good thing for this industry. People who go to their shops every week are going to continue to do so, but maybe just maybe we can snag a few readers who don't have a store or have no interest in owning a hard copy, or maybe they decide comics are for them and they now go to their local shop and become a regular. There is no way to know for sure how things pan out, but it looks like the outcome should be good for everyone.

Dan DiDio, Executive Editor, DC Universe

What is the greatest challenge?

Our greatest challenge in 2010 will be to keep pace with the every changing digital marketplace and create content and stories to fit the various forms of distribution with the hope of maximizing our fan base, while simultaneously supporting the periodicals in the direct market and the still growing graphic novel business.

What is the greatest opportunity?

We saw a lot of renewed interest in the DC Universe in 2009 and I believe a much of that was attributed to an influx of new ideas and concepts into the stories of our existing characters, which helped re-energize the brands, and this is something we plan to continue into the new year.

Mark Paniccia, Senior Editor, Marvel Comics

The greatest challenge of 2010 is the same challenge we have in editorial every year: to entertain our readers. In order to do that, we've got to keep telling inventive stories that provide the best superhero escapism possible.

The greatest opportunities are with Marvel's movie, animation and motion comic releases. While many argue the effect that such initiatives have on sales, you can't deny that they increase awareness of our characters. Movies and animation are many people's first exposure to the awesome world of super-human fiction. From there, it's a great place to get immersed in the monthly adventures of the characters they gravitate towards, whether X-Men, Hulk, the Avengers or our many other offerings like the cosmic books or the Ultimate Line.

Scott Allie, Editor, Dark Horse Comics

The biggest, I think, is figuring out the internet, figuring out how we're going to get content out and income in through the internet. It's the next great frontier, like bookstores were 10 years ago. Will there be an iTunes, Netflix, Amazon equivalent for comics? I don't think so — I think it'll be a case of utilizing a lot of different avenues for delivery and reaching the audience. Will each publisher have to carve out our own path? Or will the industry sort of band together and crack this nut? This is so much the question looming over us that it's hard to pick a second, but maybe it's the whole question of keeping print alive, with declining readership, escalating paper costs, and an increasingly digitally oriented audience. The two questions are seriously interwoven. The digital question has so much to do with our future. They're the same thing, challenges and opportunities. The opportunity that digital poses is the next great step in taking the art form to a new level, businesswise.

Tom Brevoort, Executive Editor, Marvel Comics

- What is the greatest challenge for the comic book industry in 2010?

Moving into a world of digital media.

- What is the greatest opportunity for the comic book industry in 2010?

Same thing, moving into a world of digital media.

Robert Venditti, Top Shelf Comics

Challenge:

The economy, of course, but more specifically the effect of (what appears at this moment to be) a lackluster holiday shopping season on the amount of returns from the book trade and reduced ordering across the board.  I worked in book retail for almost 10 years before transitioning to comics, and the early months were always a time for returning unsold holiday stock to the distributors. The book trade has already had a tough year, and if the holiday season doesn't improve, the level of returns could put a lot of publishers (comics and otherwise) behind the eight ball early in 2010.

Opportunity:

Further inroads into mainstream culture. I see the increased number of colleges and universities adopting comics curricula and the addition of the New York Times Graphic Novels Bestsellers list in 2009 as real indicators that comics as an artform is continuing to gain ground with the general public. The former seems particularly encouraging to me, as it fosters future generations of comics readers.

PJ Bickett, president, Archaia

Challenges:

- Even More Production Companies Trying to be Publishers. The market is already saturated with fly-by-night publishers, especially with an ever increasing comic book audience. But, by adding so many new players in 2010, it will only force the direct market to focus its attention on Marvel and DC product because it has a 40-year proven track record.

As for the book market, these production companies will naturally gain favor with buyers because of bigger brand awareness than your typical comic book publisher, even though they have typically produced inferior comic book content than true comic book publishers that have been around for years. This means less category sales and higher returns, resulting in book market buyers less willing to take chances on the graphic novels category as a whole. I am fearful that the backlash will be even farther reaching into other ancillary markets that publishers have now become dependent on.

- A Slower Than Expected Economy Recovery. While consumer confidence continues to inch its way forward, I fear that book market buyers will pull back even further on ordering in the graphic novel category because of not seeing as quickly of an increase in sales across the entire book market sales, rather than judging each category on its own merits. What this will do is cause a seesaw effect throughout 2010 where some months will have unbelievable sales and other months no sales at all because consumers never know when product will be in stores. What will also happen is lower printing quantities by publishers because of uncertainties of order volumes by the buyers which will mean even further delays of getting product into the end consumers’ hands.

Opportunities:

- Big Increases in Graphic Novel Sales in 2010. Even though Graphic Novels took a slight hit this year comparatively against the past five years of year-over-year double digit growth, it is clear to see that the demand for graphic novel content in 2010 is going to be by far the biggest sales year yet. I would venture to say we will see at least 25% growth in the category that most feel has already matured. I point to the following reasons as indicators:

1. Over the past five years, the category has grown by double digits because of the marketplace’s willingness to take a chance on a higher dollar product. First it was the direct market accepting trades as a staple item; then the book market jumped in where the real growth started to happen. The past two years, box stores have taken a liking to graphic novels. The next two years, libraries and schools are going to elevate the category to a whole new level, which then raises a whole new generation of comic readers.

2. 2009 was essentially a year of cleansing for the entire category and it still has had modest growth. With Watchmen sales peaking in 2008, the book market purging the last five years of leftover product from its shelves in the first half of this year, plus all retailers taking a much more conservative approach to ordering, 2009 is proving that there is very strong demand for the category as a whole, especially moving into 2010.

3. Even though the category still had relatively positive sales and momentum, there is still a lot of pent-up consumer demand. And, with Holiday sales and gift cards for presents, publishers are going to see one of the biggest Q1 sales ever for the category.

- Finally Making Digital Distribution Viable. If you were to draw a bulls-eye with three rings, the center target would be the Direct Market of a core audience of roughly 350,000 highly active comic readers. Then, the next ring would be the Book Market, Box Stores and Libraries, accounting for roughly two million fairly active graphic novel readers. Now, the next ring is the digital market accounting for roughly 10 million entertainment-seeking pop culture readers. If publishers were to capture just 25% of this audience, this would be relatively close in size and scale of the Direct Market. Don’t get me wrong, without the Direct Market, there is no industry. All publishers would just become an extension of bigger business. But, to deny the size and magnitude of this emerging audience would be to sign one’s own death certificate.

Hank Kanalz, Vice President & General Manager, WildStorm

One of our greatest challenges is to build on the momentum that we’ve created in the last few years. Now, more than ever, our industry has more interest and more eyes on what we’re doing.  Finally, people “outside” of comics realize that this is a format, not just a genre, in which to tell great stories. We’ve been saying this for years, and finally, the world is hearing us! As we continue to expand on the variety of genres offered, our challenge is to increase the sampling and to retain the new readers with ever more interesting material.

Additionally, our own industry has a wider variety of formats in which to tell our stories, as well as more receptive venues. Balancing the tried and true print formats and markets with what new technology and avenues of distribution bring to the table, and making sure they all grow and thrive cooperatively, is a critical component to the future of our industry.

Ralph Maccio, Senior Editor, Marvel Comics

I think the greatest challenge will be to find ways to bring in readers from outside the normal comics buying public and make them into regular comic book readers, despite the cost and the poor economy. We need to grow the monthly comic business.

I think our greatest opportunity is to use the newfound popularity and prestige the industry has gained due to the successful films of the last few years and parley that into new, steady readers. We have a big chance here.

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