Friday, October 07, 2005

Preaching to the Converted

When I was a child, my Dad made model airplanes and tanks from Airfix and Revell kits, and would often take me into town to stop by a couple of backstreet hobby shops which specialized in the model kits he bought. I remember that he would also have to buy tubes of glue separately as, in the early days, there was none included in the box. As my reward for accompanying my Dad, he would take me to the local WH Smith newsagents and buy me a couple of comics.

I knew a lot of other kids who read and enjoyed comics. We would talk about comics and draw our favorite characters, and none of us knew any comic book creators or had even met an artist or writer. We barely understood the concept of writing and drawing, comics were simply magical creations that turned up on our doormats, or on newsagents' shelves every Saturday. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of comics were sold and read but there were no conventions or specialty stores devoted solely to stocking and selling comics.

These days, finding comic books in newsagents or, in America, drugstores or 7-11s, is almost impossible, if you want to read comics you have to find a specialty store or website that caters to your interest. I guess I'd call them, um, backstreet hobbyshops.

No single comic book sells a million copies of each issue any more; on average a top selling comic published by Marvel or DC Comics is lucky to break 50,000 copies. Just to give that some perspective, in the late 80's Marvel routinely cancelled books that sold less than 100,000 copies. Today, any book that breaks a 100,000 is considered An Enormous Hit.

Think about those numbers for a moment. An average comic sells 50,000 copies, and there are (slightly more than) 50 states in the US. If we assume that each state has at least twenty comic book stores (Diamond Comics Distributors deals with around 1,000 strong retail accounts) that order fifty copies of each comic book published then we have a thousand copies of the (slightly above-) average comic in each state. Of course, Diamond's numbers include books distributed to the United Kingdom and other countries which have stores that specialize in US comics such as Australia and New Zealand, so let's deduct 100 copies from each state for the distribution of 5,000 copies around the globe, leaving us with 900 copies on sale in each state. Except, because of the high concentration of commercial artists, animators and, um comic book professionals in cities like New York and Los Angeles, we need another 200 copies from the 48 states in between New York and LA to distribute evenly between the two cities. Now we have 5,700 copies on sale in New York state and California, 700 copies in the other 48 states and 5,000 copies sold in the rest of the world.

So if you live in Ohio, then MAYBE there are another 699 people in the state reading the same comic as you. Now, even if we assume that there are ten times as many people reading comics as buying one (slightly above-) average comic in each state, we're still only talking about 7,000 people in each state reading comic books. In a country of some 30 million people... well, You do the math. Of those 7,000, it seems to me that perhaps 5% are either actively involved in the publication of comics or WANT to be. With each passing year, I meet more and more people at shows and conventions who talk about CREATING comics as a hobby, rather than READING comics.

My point, and I DO have one, is that the comic book industry that centers on the network of specialty stores in the US is less of an industry now and more a hobby. The comic books themselves are like the kits my Dad used to buy -- templates that show people how to make comics themselves. If you don't believe me, take a look at Diamond's Previews and count the number of independent publishers and aleternative press creators out there. I'm one of them. The only thing I seem to be missing is readers. There weren't any in the box.


At 5:40 AM, Blogger Adrian Creffield said...

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