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April 8, 2010

Comic-book trade challenged by Internet, recession

The banks dunning Steve Geppi and the auction of his mansion suggest that the comic-book business, like other traditional media, faces kryptonite in the form of the Internet and the recession. But I can find surprisingly little recent coverage of the comic-book industry.

superman.jpg Geppi's wholesaler, Diamond Comic Distributors, has faced its own problems. The company "had a rocky year," according to a Publishers Weekly piece published in October -- "a move to a new warehouse in the spring coupled with a switch to a new software platform led to major problems with orders shipping improperly and lost books."

Diamond and comic publishers are trying to adapt -- putting out graphic novels and selling comics over mobile phones and other digital media. Even so, "concerns about digital caused a lot of unrest among retailers - and may again," the Oklahoman newspaper reported at a comics convention last this year. When Diamond scaled back distribution of the Classics Illustrated series last year, the president of the Classics publisher shot back in a press release: "That this is another example of a knee-jerk reaction to the tough economic environment everybody is struggling with to get through."

But publishers and stores are trying to reassure themselves that they're still relevant. "Comics are special," an industry executive told the recent ComicsPRO confab, according to Nerdage. "It's not something that can easily translate into other media." Sounds familiar.

UPDATE: Over at Read Street, Dave Rosenthal notes that the iPad is a big threat to Geppi and comic books.  


Posted by Jay Hancock at 8:50 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Media



Your readers can get more context of what Robert Kirkman (the industry exec) said here:

The comic convention last year you cite was actually the same ComicsPRO meeting a few weeks ago. Here's more context on that, as well:

I'd point out that nearly every publisher at that meeting said their sales in the direct market were up in 2009, in a very tough economic environment. Thanks for reading.

Having grown up in the late 60's and 70's, there's nothing like holding a comic book in your hand. It's tangible and like reading a book, it's a piece of art you can look at again and again. The digital age is taking much of this away from us. It's a niche business, but I have always found it interesting a hope that it can survive for a long time to come.

While the advent of Marvel's new electronic reader for the iPad is of concern to retailers, I would respectfully disagree that it is any sort of death knell for print comics, or comic retailing.
I've been in the business since 1996, and the industry has been dealing with the "internet effect", and the recession, for some time.
While business is certainly not at it's early 2000's level, there are still plenty of readers, and plenty of new readers. Comics are more entwined with mainstream media than ever. Superheroes have a new cultural relevence, and non superhero titles allow for a wider base of readers. Companies have huge in-print graphic novel backlists, not to mention the dozens of titles put out by dozens of publishers every week.
People still like to touch what they're buying. To look at it, to have a well informed staff available to tell them " what's good". The Kindle and other readers haven't killed the book publishing industry, and the iPad won't kill the comics industry. Readers will still have, and want, local comic stores.

One issue that everyone is missing as well is that we are now officially in the age of the $4.00 comic book cover price. When a comic book begins to rival the price of a afternoon movie or a paper back novel I think they are going to force many fans to go digital.

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.

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