In the age of the comic book movie, traditional comic book culture has come under enormous pressure; however, there are some reasons to remain up beat. Our Abel Loza lays out the case for optimism in his first article for ComiConverse.
Comic Book Culture Is Alive And Well
When is the last time you held a physical copy of a comic?
You’re reading this on a comic website so I can safely assume it has been recently. Now, when is the last time you held a newspaper or a magazine in your hands?
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If your answer is, “I don’t remember, but I think I skimmed through one while I was at the dentist”, then you’re on similar ground to the majority of people in the US.
Newspapers, magazines and any other forms of print media seem to be going extinct. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 17% of weekday newspaper circulation has fallen nationwide over the past decade. Magazines seem to be on the same steep decline. MagNet reported that in 2015, newspapers lost a collective $69 million dollars last year. Iconic titles like Time Inc. fell 13.1% and Werner Media, (who publishes Rolling Stone magazine) fell 15.9 % in 2015. Comic books, fortunately (not that I’m glad newspaper and magazines are dying faster than Yamcha versus anyone), do not seem to be going down the same path. The print comic books are beating the odds and are not only surviving, but are thriving in this era of digital content. Let’s take a look at the current status of the comic book industry, shall we.
In what other industries have not yet figured out, digital and physical copies of comic books seem to be growing simultaneously. In a 2014 CNBC report, digital sales were up to an estimated $100 million in sales, which were up from only $1 million in 2007. One could argue that the increase in digital copies is due to the increased opportunity of purchasing online comics today compared to the limited market in 2007. Apps such as ComiXology (which is an app all comic fans must have if you haven’t yet) which launched in 2007 has really been on the forefront of digital comics.
For most, digital comics are a convenient to have. The guided view function on most digital copy apps has really made it easier for someone to follow the panels of a story correctly. For others, however, the digital comic is the only opportunity we have to read a comic on its release date. Many small towns in the Midwest just saw the fall of the only viable option for physical comics, Hastings Book Store, so more are going to have to turn to digital copies for comic content. So digital copies of comics have become the only source of comics for some as comic book stores continue to go out of business.
One would think that the with the convenience of digital comics and the fall of the brick and mortar comic book store, the digital comic would outlast the print comic.
Not really. At least not yet.
Unlike the other media forms, comics have been able to grow in both print and in digital formats, side by side. In the same CNBC report, it stated that physical copies of comics totalled $835 million in sales in 2014, which was up from $675 in 2009. If we compare that to that same report on digital comics, both digital and print and digital comics have grown almost a billion dollars in ten years.
There are a few reasons why the comic industry has been able to grow so much in the past decade. First and foremost, the movies are obviously helping. Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, and to a greater extent Spider-Man in 2002, have made the superhero movie part of every summer blockbuster season and part of everyday pop culture. The success of both movie universes, (even if you don’t like the DCEU movies, they have been massively successful in the box office) have no doubt translated to a few new comic book sales. Until the New York Times develops a movie universe that expands into 5-6 movies and makes over 1 billion dollars domestically, I don’t think they are going to sell many more physical copies of newspaper.
Perhaps the biggest reason why comic books have been able to outlast the newspaper and magazine is the collectability factor. Comics, unlike any other form of media or pop culture, comics still have a thriving market in collectability. People will buy three issues of Batman: Rebirth #1 for three different variant covers. I don’t see many people clamoring for a first edition of any newspaper. This sort of comic buying did cause the crash of the 1990’s, but it is RARE for any single issue to sell 1 million copies. In the ‘90s, single issues were selling a million copies in what seemed on a weekly basis.
Comic book sales are looking good in 2016. According to Comichron.com, the sales of the top 300 comic copies sold are up 13% from the same month last year (2015), are up 46% from the same month 5 years ago (2010), up 16% vs the same month 10 years ago (2006), and up 38% versus the same month 15 years ago (2001). Bleeding Cool reported that at the Baltimore Diamond Retail Summit it was reported that there has been a slight dip on the overall sales from 2015, about 2.6% but there has been an increase in returning customers.
The comic book industry has a bright outlook in the near future. As sales from July looked decently well (August was not out at the time) it does look like there will be a continuing trend of the industry growing. The new initiatives from the big two publishers have also really pushed the inclusion of old mythologies to new stories (Rebirth from DC) and the addition of more inclusive characters to reprise the roles of old heroes (All New All Different from Marvel) have helped push comic books to new readers.
This also includes all the amazing content that is being created at the smaller publishers like Valiant, Dark Horse and Image. So I guess my main message is to KEEP READING THOSE COMICS!
Digitally or physically!
Are you more of a digital copy creature or the physical copy sort?
What was the last issue you bought on either platform?
Let us know in the comment section below!
Abel Loza is a Contributor to ComiConverse: Follow him on Twitter: @st_abel45