Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disney Comics Go Boom! . . . and Fall Down

I had high hopes when I first heard that Disney Comics would be making a comeback via publisher Boom! Studios.  I even wrote about it here at 2719 Hyperion back in July of 2008.  It is two years later and I have to say that my disappointment in the endeavor is substantial.

At the time I noted:

"BOOM! Studios and Disney will most certainly need to somehow reach beyond the current comic book industry distribution status quo to reach those younger and hopefully receptive new readers."

Sadly, this has not happened.  And worse, Boom! has chosen to follow editorial and marketing plans modeled after superhero and adult fare, which I believe are strategies wholly ineffective in attracting the desired young readers they are looking for.

It's a distinct and undeniable fact--comic books directed at younger readers have declined dramatically over the last four decades or so.  To a baby boomer of the 1950s or 1960s, comic books were an integral part of your daily life.  You ate.  You slept.  You attended school.  You read comic books.  Four-color publications were cheap, enormously entertaining and ridiculously accessible.  And Disney comics were among the most popular on the market.

Jump ahead to 2010 and what do we have?  The younger generation of today has largely abandoned the medium.  Let me clarify just slightly--the younger generation defined primarily as kids aged 6-16; the medium being non-superhero, humor-centric comics marketed specifically at that younger demographic.  What is behind this dramatic decline of kiddie comics, of which Disney was always a major player, when other four-color genres, most notably superheroes, have continued to endure and often thrive?

The most common explanation:

There is simply too many other new and exciting forms of entertainment for young kids to enjoy.  Comic books cannot compete with all that is offered to children today.

Most definitely.  The playing field has changed dramatically for young consumers, especially in the last two decades.  Video games, computer technology, cable television, home entertainment, cell phones and portable devices all compete for the attention of that younger demographic.  How can a simple mundane comic book compete?  However, as valid as this argument appears to be, I feel that it tends to be greatly overstated and too quickly accepted.

Examine regular books for a moment.  Though they face the same types of competition as comic books, their decline has not been so measured and significant.  In fact, you could argue that the juvenile book market has enjoyed a sustained resurgence of sorts since J.K. Rowling introduced the world to her boy wizard a little over a decade ago. Kids still read books.  Kids still want to read books, despite a world filled with electronic and high-tech alternatives.

It is also important to note that superhero-based comics remain popular, viable and culturally significant, despite the fact that they compete similarly with other entertainment media as well.  In fact, the 16-30 age-group that drives the current comic book and graphic novel industry, are also the primary consumers of all the previously mentioned competitive media--i.e. video games, computers, portable devices, etc.

So then, what are the truly significant factors that have essentially diminished the kiddie comics market?

It used to be, comic books were everywhere.  You could find them at newsstands, drug stores, five and tens, grocery stores and mom-and-pops, just to name a few.  And that's not even considering the second-hand markets of yard sales, flea markets and your friends next door.  It was rare that a kid did not live within walking distance of a venue that sold comic books.  Thanks to what is known in the industry as the direct market, that is no longer the case.

Prior to the 1980s, comic books were handled by the same regional wholesale companies that  distributed magazines and paperback books to local retailers.  With the growing sophistication of superhero comics and the emergence of specialty comic book retailers, a new distribution system came into being--a direct market wherein specialty distributors such as Capital City and Diamond Comics sold directly to comic book retailers, notably on non-returnable terms, but at more attractive discounts.  

Unfortunately, this  dramatic shift signaled the decline and near-complete fall of kiddie comics.  Comic book retailers gradually and effectively eroded the market share of the wholesalers.  But being super-hero centric, those same retailers abandoned kiddie comics for more lucrative, fanboy-driven material.  They were appealing to a new comic book-buying demographic that what skewing to a more older teen, young adult composition.  Wholesale distribution of comics has all but disappeared in the last twenty years and where it has remained, it is greatly diminished. And even though wholesalers may have still have had some viable markets for kiddie comics, many chose to drop comics books altogether and effectively throw the baby out with the bath water.

Numerous comic book retailers attempted to keep the kiddie genre alive, but simply could not reach the kids they needed to support that category of business.  Today, for the most part, kiddie comics are largely ignored and unsupported by comic book specialty stores.

Editorial and Marketing Mismanagement
Here's where I will likely offend quite a few industry professionals who I otherwise admire and respect.

It's a simple observation.  You simply can't create, produce and market kiddie comics in the same manner as mainstream superhero comics and graphic novels.  Yet, that is what is happening today, especially in regard to Disney Comics that are being produced by BOOM! Studios under their Boom! Kids imprint.  To illustrate some of the points I'm about to make in this argument, let's compare two comic books--one published in 1954, another that was just released recently by Boom! Kids.

Casper the Friendly Ghost #23
Publication date: August 1954
Retail price: 10¢
Total pages:36
Total pages of content: 25
Average panels per page: 8
Content: 4 stories, 2 1-page gags, 2 text features

Toy Story #7
Publication date: September 2010
Retail price: $2.99
Total Pages: 28
Total pages of content: 22
Average panels per page: 3-5
Content: 1 story

First, let's get some basic premises out of the way:
  1. For nearly all young kids, comics are disposable entertainment.  They are without a "collector's" mentality in this regard.  They just want the fun and entertaining diversion that the content itself provides.  Kids are very content to read and re-read their comic books without worrying about maintaining them in mint condition and keeping them stored in plastic bags.
  2. Kids perceive and  appreciate value, though not entirely from a monetary standpoint.  Thus a comic book with multiple stories and features is considered a better offering than a comic with just one longer story.
  3. Kids prefer self-contained content to serialization.  They want to pick up a comic book that is free from prerequisite reading.  Kids do not have the patience to track down and purchase issues #1-3, just to be able to read #4.  Unless it's incredibly compelling and attractive, they'll simply toss #4 back on the shelf and look for something different.
Returning to our comparison between Casper #23 and Toy Story #7, the first thing that is striking is the difference in price.  Toy Story at $2.99 represents an astounding 2900% increase over Casper's humble 10¢ price point.  While it is easy enough to excuse this fact due to the effects of inflation over the course of fifty years, it's not quite that clear cut.  If you compare the prices of newspapers, magazines and paperback books in the same manner, you discover average increases on these publications to be between 1300%-1500%.  The price of a comic book today should be more in the neighborhood of $1.50.  This would certainly put it back in the "affordable" column as perceived by both children and their parents.

But wait, you're going to say that the production values of comics today are far superior to the cheap newsprint of Casper's day and thus justify the higher prices.   I can certainly concede that point, but in doing so, must raise another.  Why do kids comics, disposable and content-driven, require such high production values in the first place?  Do kids really care about high quality glossy paper?  Do collector-market incentives such as variant covers and zero issues  possess any real appeal for young kids?  What matters to an older, collectible-savvy  fanboy does not necessarily make good marketing sense when applied to a more practical 10 year-old consumer.

When you pick up Toy Story #7, or any other Boom! Kids comic, it is noticeable how slight and flimsy it is.  Well, it is in fact 22% smaller than what has long been the 36-page size for normal comics.  While it may come closer to Casper in page-count content (three pages less), it still doesn't exactly make a great first impression when you lift it off the store shelf.

But let's also consider how art style and presentation can devalue the product.  Toy Story #7 if chocked full of artistic and design bells and whistles, but its actual story content is considerably less than Casper #23.  By maintaining an average of 8 panels per page, Casper #23 provides almost twice the story and a longer reading experience than Toy Story #7.  While it's not immediately noticeable due to the page count, a kid reading the book will find himself finished with it in very short order, again diminishing the value of his $2.99 investment.  In fairness, panel counts vary across all of the Boom! Kids titles, but in general still tend toward less content than more.

While Toy Story #7 did present a self-contained story, numerous other Boom! Kids titles seem to be serialized on a consistent basis.  As an experiment, on a recent trip to the comics shop, I arbitrarily picked up two Boom! comics, Donald Duck and Friends #350 and The Incredibles #4.  Both contained serialized chapters that required the reading of previous and/or subsequent issues.  I was disappointed and I can't help but feel that many kids would be similarly frustrated. 

What becomes clear from this comparison is the previously stated tenant: You simply can't create, produce and market kiddie comics in the same manner as mainstream superhero comics and graphic novels.  But that is clearly the approach that Boom! Kids has taken with its line of Disney Comics.

Boom! Kids Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid (recently promoted to Chief Creative Officer) is one of the most respected individuals in the comics industry.  And rightly so.  I have long enjoyed his contributions to the superhero and adult comics market.  But unfortunately in applying the superhero/comic collecting marketing dynamic to the Disney line of comics, he and his fellow Boom! executives continue to contribute to the diminishing state of kiddie comics.  For a viable business plan in regard to Disney-based comics, Waid should instead focus on successful kiddie comics publishers of the past, rather than emulate contemporary adult market publishing strategies.   I chose to use the Casper comic book for good reason; Harvey Comics is truly an excellent model to follow in regard to both editorial direction and marketing strategies.

Take Advantage of Your Large Canon of Characters 
Harvey Comics certainly did this.  Characters were interchangeable throughout the various titles.  Wendy stories appeared in Casper titles.  Richie Rich comics also featured Little Dot.  This cross-pollinating was both shrewd and highly successful.  Dell was similarly successful with its Disney Comics by employing the same strategy to titles like Walt Disney Comics and Stories and its various Disney Dell Giants.  Apply these same ideas to the current Disney/Pixar canon.  Mix it up.  Be character focused rather than brand focused.  Imagine some of the possibilities for giant-size anthology titles in a Disney line, similar to what Harvey successfully marketed back in the day.  Woody's Round-Up, Lightning McQueen's Road Rally, Mike and Sully's Laugh Factory, Donald Duck's Duckburg, are just a few suggestions.  And for heaven's sake, why hasn't Boom! produced any Disney Princess comic books?  Juvenile book publishers have certainly exploited this lucrative brand.  Methinks the very entrenched male-bias of comic book publishing may be a factor here.

Produce Short, Self-Contained Stories.  Avoid Serialization. 
Realize that serialization is potentially more damaging than it is beneficial.  You are looking to appeal to the broadest audience possible and you can do this with self-contained stories and issues.  Kids do not support subscription-driven marketing that is prevalent among older fanboy consumers.  Create, promote and sell each comic individually, much in the way that Harvey, Archie, and even DC did in the old days.  The closest that Boom! has come to this type of editorial direction has been its Muppet Show series which has proven to be one of its more critically-celebrated titles.

Trade High Concept Presentation for Value
Don't worry about fancy paper, high concept art and variant covers and zero issues.  Squeeze as much content into 25 pages as you possibly can.  Multiple stories per issue.  More panels per page.  One-page gag stories.  Activities and special features.  Make kids feel like they are getting a lot for their money!  Kids do not require top-of-the-line print quality.  It would be no sin to return to (gasp!) newsprint and reduce prices appropriately.  Your products would be more affordable and desirable to the readers in your target demographic.

Think Outside the Direct Comics Market
Go Beyond Comic Book Specialty Stores
This is certainly the tough one.  Earlier Disney licensees Gladstone, Gemstone and even Disney Publishing itself have all desperately tried to step outside these very restrictive and too narrowly focused distribution and sales channels, but with little to no success.  But perhaps there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.  Digital comics are quickly becoming very viable, especially in regard to the very comic book-friendly iPad.  Boom! does in fact have an iPad Comixology-driven app, but it is currently only focused on their adult titles.  Archie Comics is very aggressively pursuing the digital platform with their own iPad app, and significantly, they are maintaining very kid-friendly prices of 99¢ an issue.  That is half of what the mainstream superhero publishers are typically charging per digital comic issue

Think this is all pretty questionable?  Well, one contemporary comics company has employed many of these editorial and marketing strategies with great success.  Upon examining Bongo Comics, it is remarkable how similar its line of Simpson Comics is in design and presentation to Harvey Comics and other vintage kiddie comics publishers.  And they have maintained success  in a difficult environment for nearly twenty years.  Bongo has managed to expand beyond the direct comics market by creating trade paperbacks (the equivalent of old school "giant" issues that distinctly remind us of the old Harvey and Dell giants) and making them available at large chain book stores and other retailers. Though nothing has been officially announced, I can't help but feel we'll being seeing a Bongo iPad app sometime in the near future.  Bongo's approach has always been decidedly retro, yet they are perhaps the most mainstream of all the major comic book publishers. 

A recent Simpsons Comic:

Simpson's Comics and Stories #170
Publication date: 2010
Retail price: $2.99
Total pages: 36
Total pages of content: 25
Average panels per page: 6-8
Content: 1 story

In fairness to Boom!, I must also criticize the $2.99 price on regular size Bongo issues.  But like the older Harveys, Bongo delivers more page content and more panel-per-page story content.

Similar to Bongo, Boom! also produces trade paperbacks of its Disney line that have been stocked at mainstream retailers such as Borders and Barnes and Noble and online with Amazon.  They are however slighter in size and page counts than comparably priced Simpsons editions.  (Boom! titles are typically $9.99 and non-discounted on Amazon; Bongo trades average around $12.99-$14.99 on Amazon but are typically discounted down to around $10.  Bongo trades also usually contain about 50% more content than their Boom! counterparts.)

On a related note, here is another example of publishing kiddie comics with a mistaken adult market mentality.  The Incredibles: City of Incredibles collected Mark Waid's own four-issue arc into a 112-page $24.95 hardcover.  Huh?  It appears that Boom! consistently publishes $25 hardcover editions of its trade paper compilations.  Why?  I'm not familiar with many young kids willing drop that kind of cash on an item that costs more than twice the sum of its parts.  I guess the easy answer is that this item is solely directed at the adult collector.  (In comparison, Bongo Comics published the oversize 208-page Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis hardcover for the exact same $24.95 price.  In design and size. their product was much more substantial and worthy of the price point and could smartly appeal to both kids and adults.  It made it onto the shelves of mass merchants such as Borders and Barnes and Noble.  Boom Kids! hardcovers--don't typically make that cut.)

But wait, let's add even more insult to injury.  Here's what a quick scan of the Boom! Kids online store revealed:

Toy Story: Tales from the Toy Chest #1 (Cover C) - price: $9.99
Darkwing Duck #4 (Cover C) - price $9.99

$10 for single-issue comics normally priced at $2.99?!?  Is Boom! applying questionable back-issue markups on what they are advertising on their site as new releases?  Sadly, this is a company clearly mired in collectible market dogma and is in turn squandering the potential of some of this generation's most popular and beloved entertainment properties.

All of this ultimately begs one primary question:  just who is Boom! Kids wanting to sell comic books to?  Mr. Waid, with all due respect and courtesy, there is no shame in creating and selling comic books to a strictly younger demographic.  And if you do it smartly enough, you can still reach adult buyers without having resort to direct market gimmicks and $25 hardcovers.  You do not need to oblige adult buyers in regard to this material at the expense of properly marketing to your younger readers.

C'mon, kiddie comics should be for kids.  Quit letting specialty retail, fanboy-driven marketing hijack this still high potential genre of four-color fun.


G. Brian Moor said...

You are right on the money here -- particularly with the accessibility of these comics. Kiddie comics have been, and remain still, a great medium for promoting literacy for kids. Disney has always presented great content for this medium. Some of my favorites were Duck Tales and Tale Spin. Super hero comics have their place, but they are too sexually charged and violent for a dad who is trying to introduce his son to the joy of humor-driven comic books.

I have to travel 35 miles to the nearest Barnes & Noble to obtain any of the Boom! titles. The selection is always sporadic and inconsistent, much to my (and my 6-year-old son's) chagrin. So, serial content is a source of great vexation. I have yet to get my hands on a "Darkwing Duck" issue. I suspect these are quickly snatched up by the fanboys before any kid can get a hold of them. Also, I can't afford to pay $9.99 plus just to obtain a back issue -- if you can even find them.

Boom! would do well to take your advice. But it looks like they've adapted to the marketing style that has been characteristic of Disney since the Eisner years. Kid comics are just the latest victim. Sad.

Slowjack said...

Note that by the general inflation rate alone, a 10-cent comic in 1954 would be equivalent to 79 cents today...even $1.50 would be a near doubling in real money terms.

By the way, in my house we have solved this problem by giving my daughter the Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics my wife and her brother read as children.

Nic Kramer said...

You do know we're still in the middle of a econemy problem, right? I think that might be why the comic page format is reduce. Plus, Boom-Studios is not as a big company as D.C. and unlike Bongo Comics, they actully had to license the characters. Also, unlike Gemstone, I see these comics pop up more at books store and some are in the children magazine section at Barnes and Noble.

Anonymous said...

Uhhhh...respectfully, you have a lot of opinions but not a lot of facts...as a comic shop manager who follows such things, here you go....

the C covers are incentives and are meant to be collectibles...both kids and adults buy these comics...these covers are aimed at the adult collector...

The hardcovers are for libraries, they prefer them...Duh!

BOOM comics are available in the newstand, Disney theme parks, book stores and comic shops...

Newsprint costs as much as glossy, comic publishers have been public about this for years....there you are....

Jeffrey Pepper said...

To Comic Shop Manager:

I believe I stated my facts rather well. Boom! is very obviously marketing to adult collectors, you say that yourself. That is what I disagree with. Of course I have a lot of opinions, I certainly did not present this piece as anything other than opinion, hence the tag, Thoughts and Commentary.

As a manager of a specialty comics shop, you have a built-in bias in favor of the very things I criticize, variant covers, hardcovers, overblown production values. It is in your best interest to keep the prices of comics artificially high and market comics to your target demographic. As I stated repeatedly, this does not serve young readers very well. Your justifications just serve to reinforce many of the points I'm making.

Boom! produces their hardcover line strictly for libraries? Give me a break. And if they do, why are the prices so inflated? Libraries certainly aren't inclined to drop $25 on a 112-page comic book. And just to note--both Bongo and Archie have produced exceptional hardcover products for that same $25 price point. More content, slipcases, bonus material. Boom! looks pretty lame, and definitely overpriced in comparison.

Boom! comics being available in the multiple locations you list does not even compare to the level of distribution kiddie comics had prior to the direct comics market.

Newsprint is just as expensive as high quality glossy? Sorry, I don't buy it. That's not even reflected in the newsprint products that comics publishers themselves publish such as the Essential and Showcase lines, and especially manga. But I guess if the comic book companies told you it was true . . .

Jeffrey Pepper said...


Yes, the economy is bad right now. All the more reason to make comics more affordable and a better value, especially for young readers.

As to the reduction in page count, it appears almost all other comics publishers are maintaining the 36-page size. As noted, the Bongo comic I featured ran 36 pages with 25 pages of content. The economy doesn't seem to be affecting them in that regard.

Thomas said...

Amen! What a wonderful, insightful post. I've shared this with lots of friends, with whom I've had very similar conversations. The current distribution structure for all comics, kids and otherwise, is flat out broken. I want to buy comics for my kids. I want them to be able to go to a local grocery or convenient store and be able to pick up comics regularly and reliably, just like I was able to do in the 80s. Instead, I have to risk venturing into dank comic shops which cater to clientele more interested in blood and boobs than enjoyable comic entertainment. My sincere hope is that Disney breaks free of the Diamond monopoly, and distributes comics widely and visibly, outside of the traditional comic shop paradigm.

zapjones said...

Lots of interesting points here. Some I agree with some I don't. I believe Boom is doing pretty much everything they can to get the Disney books in stores other then comic shops. They have distribution deals in place for newstands, they are in wal-marts, they are in the Disney theme parks. They are trying to increase distribution while still going after the collectors market to keep the line profitable. It is not up to Boom where their product is carried but up to buyers at the various companies. Yes it would be fantastic if the entire line was carried regularly at Wal-Mart instead of a few trade collections but that is not Boom's decision to make. All they can do is make sure the products are available to the buyers and encourage them to carry them. So far, they have made better progress then Gladstone, Disney, Marvel or Gemstone did when they had the line. Something that would help is if the Disney Stores carried the line but even that is subject to the whim of a buyer for the Disney Stores.
At Walt Disney World, I occasionally see a Boom trade paperback or two but ever since Disney purchased Marvel there are several places to buy Marvel comics on property.
Boom stopped publishing the Disney hardcovers awhile back.

Jeffrey Pepper said...


I agree that going beyond the direct market is the biggest challenge that Boom! faces. It was my concern two years and I emphasized it again in this post.

You stated:

All they can do is make sure the products are available to the buyers and encourage them to carry them.

This is where I totally disagree with you and where much of my argument on this matter remains.

If buyers at these mass merchants and distributors are not receptive to Boom! comics it is because Boom! is not creating and marketing products that are viable in their outlets. That is the fault of Boom!

But Boom! continues to stubbornly create and market within a direct market/specialty shop dynamic. They are not in any way tailoring their output to these mass merchants. Their products are overpriced, slight on content and put too much emphasis on collector incentives such as variant covers and zero issues. There are solid reasons why buyers reject these products, and they are not just whims.

I concede that it has been a number of months since I have seen Boom! list hardcovers in their advertising. I guess the libraries haven't been buying them up like they used to.

But I did notice something else in a recent issue of a Boom! Disney comic. A full page ad for CGC, a very high-end comics grading and preservation service.

Again, just who is Boom! wanting to sell Disney comics to?

Anonymous said...

You do have some valid points here, Mr. Pepper, but I do think you're being a little too rash.

Have you ever considered writing an actual letter or email to Boom! Studios? That's the only way to let them know if you think that something is amiss. That's what I would do if I felt that something was wrong with anything, whether it be at the Disney theme parks or anywhere else. Customer feedback is downright essential to all businesses, after all.

P.S.: G. Brian Moor, I disagree with your last paragraph, since Eisner is now gone from the Walt Disney Company and his ways of thinking have slowly been leaving the company.

Anonymous said...

>Boom! comics being available in the multiple >locations you list does not even compare to the >level of distribution kiddie comics had prior to the >direct comics market.

Yes Mr. Pepper, you are correct. Prior to the direct market of the 80s kiddie comics had wide distribution. But kids have a TON of other things to do with their time now and that is where your argument breaks down. This is the 21st century. It's been like this for 30 years. We have the internet, video games, 500 channels etc. etc. to entertain kids. They don't care about comics. That is until...

...Boom has reinvigorated the kids comics market and has tons of imitators quickly following behind. So what if they sell to kids and adults. When was the last time you saw these Disney comics in the major book chains? Walmart? Hell, when was the last time you saw a Disney comic in the theme parks? Boom has done all of that. And that is because what they are doing is a success. Have you seen non-Marvel or DC comics with this wide of distribution in the last 20 years? Absolutely not. Your whole argument is MOOT!

And FWIW, if you are not printing tons of 300 page black and white Essential and Showcase trades, then YES newsprint prices are totally negligible to glossy on under 50,000 print run comics. Not knowing this belies a lack of understanding of the business you think you know so well, Mr. Pepper.

Have a good day!

Jeffrey Pepper said...

To Most Recent Anonymous (and possibly comic shop manager from earlier comment?):

You said:

It's been like this for 30 years. We have the internet, video games, 500 channels etc. etc. to entertain kids. They don't care about comics.

Then how do you explain Disney Adventures magazine, the 17-year success of which lasted from 1990 until 2007? Much of its success has been attributed to its comics content. Upon its abrupt cancellation by Disney corporate in 2007, it had a circulation of well over 1 million readers.

Why was this publication so successful in reaching its target audience? Because it existed outside the confines of the direct comics market and specialty comics shops. It targeted kids, was content heavy,reasonably priced and didn't worry about adult collectors. It demonstrated that you can reach a much broader juvenile market if you are willing to step out of the fanboy box.

Its cancellation by Disney still has many in the industry scratching their heads. Supposedly, ad revenue was on the decline but it was still reportedly viable and profitable.

You asked:

When was the last time you saw these Disney comics in the major book chains? Walmart? Hell, when was the last time you saw a Disney comic in the theme parks?

Gladstone, Disney Comics and Gemstone all penetrated those same outlets (including theme parks) to some degree or another, primarily through wholesale distributors. Boom! is not achieving anything new in this regard and they certainly aren't "reinvigorating" anything.

You ask:

Have you seen non-Marvel or DC comics with this wide of distribution in the last 20 years? Absolutely not.

Absolutely yes. Bongo Comics. I believe I went on at some length about that in my post. Archie Comics. Which has long been successful outside of the direct comics market and is aggressively pursuing other non-direct market ventures such as digital and the recently launched Life with Archie magazine (which appears to be modeled very strongly after the aforementioned Disney Adventures.)

(Continued in next comment due to length)

Jeffrey Pepper said...

(Continued from previous comment)

You state:

. . . then YES newsprint prices are totally negligible to glossy on under 50,000 print run comics.

Still not buying that completely, but even if I choose to--you quite transparently betray your direct market loyalties. Why settle for print runs under 50,000? Oh, I guess because that is based on direct market-supported parameters that you use to define "success." My whole point in all of this is to shoot for greater levels of distribution that would support the larger prints runs that you now acknowledge would reduce costs.
If a Disney comic could even achieve one tenth the circulation of Disney Adventures cool million, you argument, by you own admission, falls apart.

What makes you so completely certain of Boom!'s success? Are you basing it on direct market sales statistics that only reflect what specialty shops are ordering (non-returnable) and not actual customer sales. Just because you may see them on the shelves at various mass merchants, does that mean they are actually selling? As I stated above, Gladstone, Disney Comics and Gemstone all had penetration into these outlets and all experienced unhappy endings. Disney Comics was claiming similar successes in the early 1990s shortly before its now famous implosion. In fact, the direct comics market and specialty comics stores have had a distinct track record over the past two decades of screaming success and then suddenly facing disaster and adversity without warning. In my market alone, I've seen close to a half dozen comic shops come and go in the last 20 years.

Finally, you say:

Not knowing this belies a lack of understanding of the business you think you know so well, Mr. Pepper.

Considering that you have no idea what my history and background is in regard to retail, wholesale distribution and the comic book industry, statements such as this are just pompous and hollow. Splitting hairs over the costs of print vs. glossy. If your are indeed a comic shop manager or other industry professional, that somehow doesn't bequeath upon you infinite wisdom and superior knowledge as a matter of course in this discussion. You have provided little more than broad and unsupported generalizations to make your points.

The length of this comment alone demonstrates that I have offered up substantially more to support my assertions.

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that boom undoubtedly saw Disney books as a money grab, something that could just be put out and would sell based on the license alone. Now that is hasn't borne fruit, they're scrambling to do more to appeal to the direct market, which is the problem in the first place.

Anyone notice the Muppet and Pixar books are gone from January previews? Looks like Boom has lost that part of the license and is canceling books mid-storyline. That's bad business, and not a good sign for this "2.0" spin they're trying to give the failing line...

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who works at Boom! And he says Mark Waid was never in the office, that his position there was just a figurehead to give Boom! Market credibility. He says all Mark Waid does is write a few books for them, and is not involved in any of the decision-making. So I'm not sure you can blame Mark Waid for Boom's inability to market these books properly.

Josh said...

Sorry to come to the discussion late, but I haven't checked out 2719 Hyperion in a little while, and I'm just now getting caught up.

As a comic book store owner, I can see both sides of several of these arguments.

Comics distribution has dropped dramatically since those heady days of the 1940s (when half the population of the United States, both child and adult read comics). At its peak resurgence in the early '90s, some of the top-selling books had print runs of up to one million copies, but those weren't common, and the whole collector market that developed and propagated that resurgence wasn't sustainable.

Today's market doesn't see - across the board - print runs that push more than a couple hundred thousand copies, and that's generally only for the really big pushes given to new titles by Marvel and DC with an anticipated degree of popularity.

Comics geared toward and marketed for kids are hard to carry, at least for us, because we just don't get a lot of younger kids in the door. And it's not for lack of trying to market to them. We do maintain a small section in our store that is just for kid-friendly comics. That includes the Boom Studios books, Archie books, and some of the Marvel and DC fare aimed at younger readers (Tiny Titans is a popular title).

Where we have the most success on kid-oriented titles is through our relationship with our local library. Their children's programs are extremely popular, and their Youth Services Librarian carries a lot of comics titles. The Boom Studios books, particularly the HC trades, are among the highest circulating comics they carry. But they cater to crowds aged 1-yr to 18-yrs, so even their focus isn't strictly on the younger set, and Frank Miller's Batman books are also very popular in that department.

I'm a Disney nut - always have been - and, like you, I thought Boom Studios had a lot of promise when they first started with the Disney and Pixar titles. Also, like you, I'm very disappointed with the quality of the products they put out. It's hard for me, in good conscience, to recommend many of their titles to people who come through the store.

There is so much potential to be mined in the pages of books like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo, but the writers at Boom Studios have really come up short on good ideas. The most popular Boom Studios titles at my store are The Muppets, Darkwing Duck, and Wizards of Mickey. And those are purchased by a fairly even split of kids and adults.

The recently solicited Chip an' Dale Rescue Rangers title is already picking up much of the same readership as Darkwing Duck, which tells me that kids who grew up with the Disney Afternoon TV shows are enjoying a bit of nostalgia. Only a handful of younger kids even know who Chip an' Dale are anymore, and none of them seem to know what the Rescue Rangers show was all about; so only a couple of them are showing any interest in that comic.

To keep this at less than essay length, I'd say that there may be some truth to your claim that Boom Studios books should be written differenly and marketed differently, perhaps based on the model from previous generations. The writing shortcomings should be easy to correct, and I wish they would.

Such a dramatic marketing and distribution overhaul may just not be feasible, but I really don't know. I'd like to see a rack of kid-friendly comics down by the register at my local grocery store instead of candy bars, but I don't know how likely that is to happen. Those stores have DVDs and Blu-Rays set up right there, and they net significantly more dollars per unit for those than they ever could for a comic. I just don't know that their volume of comics sales could justify (to their accountants) the effort required to carry comics and keep them stocked.

That's my two cents. Thanks for trying to maintain a civil discourse here; that is much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this post. Just look at how popular Disney comics still are in some European countries and you see that all these arguments are valid ones.

Weekly Topolino (Mickey Mouse) in Italy has an average circulation of 300,000+ and each issue has 164 pages and costs only about $3.25. It has much flimsier paper and it has many self-contained stories as well as lots of articles and editorials targeted at kids.

Do the many weekly and monthly Italian Disney comics have to compete with television, video games and the internet? Of course they do! Circulation has gone down since last decade, but it's still going strong thanks to the excellent marketing and distribution of the books.

Donald Duck in the Netherlands has a print-run of 314,000 issues every week. Each issue costs about $2.80 and is available everywhere where magazines are sold.

Another example: Aku Ankka (Donald Duck) in Finland, also a weekly magazine, has a circulation of 317,500 in a country of 5.5 million. That's an issue for every 17 people in Finland! The same holds true for other Scandinavian countries, and internet penetration in these countries is among the highest in the world.

With so many people reading Disney comics in Europe, there are also many titles targeted at collectors. There are hardcover books and special collector editions. But the classic weeklies that started in the late 1940s / early 1950s have stayed true to their original format: multiple shorter stories in each issue, with 6 to 8 panels per page, flimsy paper to keep the cost down and articles targeted at kids. Boom! should take an example from this.