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