Monday, October 22, 2007

Comics Vs. Graphic Novels

On Friday I had two separate customers come in and talk to Craig and I about weather or not people still bought single issue back issues and comics, or if trades were taking over. One customer even suggested that I discuss this on my blog.

Well Jeff, it's a great idea. So here goes. First, let me start off with a quick survey - what are YOU reading? (if this poll jumps to the bottom of the post, I have no idea why, as I'm an HTML idot, but please scroll down there and fill it out)

Choose one answer. I hope you can also post an answer here in the comments as to why you made the choice you did.

As I discussed with both customers, back issues, at least at Neptune, are fairly slow sellers these days. There are still fans of single issues who refuse to buy a graphic novel no matter how hard an issue might be to find or what the cost of buying them in that format might be. Many do so because they want to collect them, often in the hope of seeing them increase in value. Others do so because that is just the format they grew up on and prefer.

On the other hand, over 40% of all of the total revenue we take in here comes from new comic book single issue sales. All of those people who come in week after week looking for their weekly dose of comics keep the single issue floppies as our #1 best selling category.

Graphic novels are our second best selling item category. What graphic novels sell? It is quite a variety! We sell lots of super hero graphic novels, but of course there are a lot of them for people to choose from. We also sell a ton of the non-superhero graphic novels like Walking Dead, Fables, Invincible and Powers, for example. With some of the non-superhero titles we sell more of each of the graphic novels than we sell of any single issue of the corresponding comics. While titles like Superman and Spider-Man, characters that have been around and loved for years, sell great in single issues, but not that well in graphic novel form. Often many of the super hero collected editions sell well the first few months and then drop way down to selling on rare occasion, while the non superhero stuff can sell fairly well for years. But, there are of course some super hero graphic novels that sell well for years too: Watchmen, Batman: Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come and Marvels are some examples.

Neptune wasn't around when this happened, but we have heard the stories of how many comic book retailers cringed when graphic novels first came onto the scene. For years comic book stores made a good deal of sales, and money, off of single issue comic books. Some feared what graphic novels would do to those sales. Since then, I believe that many comic book stores that refused to embrace the graphic novel as part of their product mix suffered financially. Between graphic novels and eBay, many of those old-school single-issue-only stores went the way of the dodo. Some have endured, some closed up, some travel the country doing comic book conventions, some sell on-line only. But it is, in my opinion and based on my experience, difficult to run a profitable comic book store without graphic novels. Here at Neptune, because we are a newer store, we specialize in new products and have very little older stuff. And because of that, we could easily survive without a single back issue comic. We don't - there are a few back issue bins here in the store - but we could. I had one customer tell me that the store he used to shop at told him he didn't like carrying graphic novels because he "didn't make any money on those." To this day I wonder what exactly this store owner was trying to say.

Graphic novels seem to have gained such popularity, however, that it seems like just about anything gets collected, no matter how poorly it sold or how horribly it was received. The other day I was at a Hollywood Video store that was going out of business. They had lots of DVD's left on the racks, but not much of anything good - it was a great demonstration in how much utter crap ends up getting made into a move and put on a DVD for anyone to buy or rent. Graphic novels are starting to go that way as well. There are a ton of great collected comic stories, and a ton more that are absolute dreck! Vertigo, for example, has a number of single issue comics that sell less than 3,000 copies per issue, but yet they print the trade, and the trades might only sell another 2,000 copies.

While graphic novels could replace back issues in my store, they could not replace new comic books. We need those single issues every week to stay in business.

Retailer Brian Hibbs recently said, "At the end of the day, I think the serialization is utterly crucial for the comics marketplace as it is constituted; and anything that works against maximizing the amount of periodicals sold (even if there’s a long term goal of having a strong-selling perennial product at the end of it), is something to be strongly avoided. Yes, books are wonderful, profitable things, but without a system to healthily feed the creation of individual pages, production and profit has to dramatically tamp down. Heck, even the steamroller that is manga is (nearly?) universally serialized first in Japan before being collected in a perennial format."

You can click here to read the rest of what retailer Brian Hibbs says about trades in a recent Tilting at Windmills column.


ManoDogs said...

Hi, Neptune! Hate to see you took me off your blogroll, but I haven't been very active in a while, thanks to some personal issues, so I understand.

I wanted to weigh-in on this one because this is a pretty frequent "argument" in some circles and has been for years and years.

I grew up in the 1970s-80s, and was there when the graphic novel came into form. It wasn't so much (from my recollection) that shop owners feared the new format - there were all sorts of new formats back then (prestige, bookshelf, etc.), not to mention all sorts of experimental stuff (that Marvel computer-generated GN - was that Iron Man? - Eclipse did one rendered completely in pencils, etc.), imports (Moebius books, Lone Wolf & Cub, Akira, Kamui) - it was that they didn't think they would sell because of the high prices. But they did - especially the collections of back issues and mini-series.

The big problem came about when Dave Sim released the phonebook collections of Cerebus and circumvented Diamond completely, distributing it on his own via direct mail. That was a free-for-all, head-over-heels debacle which still (barely) resonates today and brought up all kinds of bad juju because by that point (or right around the same time), the big book chains had started carrying graphic novels too (Waldenbooks, Borders, etc.), and that is what scared the heck out of shop owners!

I purchase GNs whenever there's something I want, but seeing as how I do collect (as much for investment as for the titles I enjoy) and GNs rarely go up in value (only Watchmen first-printing really ever did significantly), I'll wait until I get a small windfall or something and can actually afford it before I pick it up.

Single issues I buy every month.

Michael Rawdon said...

Invincible and Powers are "non-superhero" graphic novels? Well, maybe Powers is, but Invincible seems like straight-up superhero fare, to me.

I buy lots of new comics, and often buy hardcover collections when they come out. I only buy trades of a few things, and mostly things I'm not buying as comics (Powers, for instance). I prefer hardcovers to trades because of their durability. I tend to avoid black-and-white reprints because I prefer color.

I do buy a number of back issues, of old comics I enjoy, and I tend to prefer them to trade collections because, again, they're more durable. For the most part I'll even take the low print quality over the poor durability of paperbacks.

So I buy a little of everything, but mainly with an eye towards keeping stuff on my bookshelf, in good condition, for years to come.

Lisa said...

manodogs - glad to see you're back. Let me know when you get your blog rolling again and I can add you.

the Cerebus situation sure helps explain why some retailers get so angry when they find out that publishers are selling stuff direct. Interesting!

Lisa said...

Michael - I meant more independant than non-superhero, since yes, Invincible is a superhero comic and we even have it shelved in our graphic novel area in the superhero section. Still, the comic of that goes from selling 0-2 issues where we can sell 5 copies of the newest trade paperback within the first few months of the trade's release.

You are very similar to a lot of my customers. You buy some back issues, lots of new comis, and some trades. It's a nice mix that helps keep us comic retailers going! Thanks!

Ben from Arizona said...

I prefer to buy back issues of stuff (I'm a completist)... HOWEVER, if I wanna get into a series and its on issue #60, I'll buy the trades – I prefer to read the stories that way. I wouldn't buy a couple issues, then buy trades. If I'm reading a series, I'll want the next issue in my grubby paws ASAP.

ManoDogs said...

Thanks for the warm re-welcome, Lisa! We're back up and going now, just had some slow weeks throughout the last few months because the site changed hosts and because of some legal "problems"...

Anyway, I'm glad the whole Dave Sim bit helped historically. I forgot to mention that it really put him on your good friend, Steve Geppi's, er, ah... "poo" list. He and Geppi were at each other's throats over this whole thing, with Geppi threatening to cancel (or did, I forget) at least one of the other Aardvark-Vanaheim imprints (Ms. Tree, I think) and the fit hit the shan from there.

Sim, Laird & Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and a whole host of other cats got together and did this whole Creative Rights Summit - the effects of which are still very much resonating throughout the industry today, having led to the founding of Image and new imprints at DC for creator-owned properties.

All told, Dave Sim is one of the top-three most important people in comics since Stan Lee, with Frank Miller being the other and, well you know, I always like to leave one slot open just to avoid controversy...

Scott King said...

Graphic Novels Rule Comics Drool!

My big thing is that I care about story and I hate just reading part of a story. It's like I would never watch just part of a TV show. I would watch a whole episode. So with comics I want to read a full story-arc at once not in bits and pieces. Plus graphic novels look better on my shelf then those ugly comic boxes.