I don’t think that you can be a comic book fan and not hate change – Jim Lee
For as long as we can remember (and that’s a long time), we’ve been forced to listen to industry “experts” and inside “pundits” who have never worked in the comic book business declare as loudly as possible to anyone who willing to listen, that comic books were on their last legs, the business was dying and that within a decade, the four-color medium that we fell in love with when we were kids, would be deader than the Dodo.
We’ve had the same black suit and tie that we were warned we’d need to attend the long muted funeral of the comic book industry since ninety ninety-one, and we still haven’t worn it, and we’re sure that we never will.
The comic book industry, despite what you might have heard, isn’t going anywhere.
Even though it isn’t dying, we’re aware that the business isn’t exactly thriving either, and that it has seen better days, and will almost certainly see them again when the world slowly, but surely corrects itself in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
The reason that so many “noted” and “respected” authority figures seem to be convinced that the business is dead, is due to a conclave of seemingly separate events all happening at once, that while shaking the foundations of the industry, haven’t managed to topple it yet.
It was the lasting effects of the rattling and shaking that made us take a closer look at the state of the comic book business in an effort to understand what was really going on, and whether or not we should be worried.
While the truth was and is slightly concerning, we’ve been here before and we know that the cyclical nature of the business, despite the changing trends that it’s guided by, will inevitably steer it through the rough seas that it’s currently sailing through.
The Global Pandemic
COVID was, and is, a once-in-a-generation virus that has wreaked havoc on the world, claiming nearly a million lives and all but destroying the worldwide economy as entire countries shut down in a desperate attempt to halt it.
Diamond, the largest single distributor in the comic book business closed its doors (for the duration of the pandemic) and stopped shipping comics, graphic novels, and collectibles to comic book stores all over the country in an effort to keep its staff and the staff who would be selling the product in their stores, safe.
While it was the right decision, it didn’t make a lot of difference when the business distribution giant drew its blinds, as the stores that sold the books couldn’t open anyway, as they were declared non-essential businesses.
As the margins were, and are so tight for most stores, by the time some those who couldn’t and didn’t manage to switch to an online ordering system for their customers were able to open their doors and start selling the books that Diamond started shipping again, it was too little, too late.
Some stores weren’t able to weather the storm, which fed the naysayers fire and made them shout a little louder about the woeful state of the business.
They seemed to forget, however, that it wasn’t just comic book stores that were forced to close by the pandemic. Restaurants, bars, cinemas, clubs, and theme parks were too, they took the same sort of hit, as it was, after all, a global pandemic. Sure, it hit the industry hard, but it didn’t kill it.
The Amazon Effect And The Digital Revolution
A lot of the doom-laden experts are quick to point out that the unabated rise of Amazon has all but destroyed the independent bookstore, and that in doing so, the multinational giant hammered another nail into the coffin of the comic book industry.
And if comics relied on the conventional book stores for sales, that might be true. But they don’t.
Their sales model is built on direct subscriptions from specialist online stores and traditional comic book stores, who in turn get their comics from specialist distributors, that aren’t affected by Amazon’s relentless onslaught on the printed medium.
And as for the digital revolution being detrimental to the industry, if anything the opposite is true.
All of the largest, and most indie, comic publishers make digital editions of their comics and trade collections available at the same time as the physical product, which leaves the choice of medium that they prefer entirely up to the fans.
It was the digital revolution that encouraged Amazon (which also sells physical editions of trade collections) to launch ComiXology, their specialist comic production and digital distribution service, which helped to increase the number of comics being sold globally.
The Changing Face Of The Medium And Year On Year Sales
Are there more children’s graphic novels and comics being produced now than ever before? Yes, there are, but it hasn’t had any impact on the number of traditional, or more conventional books being sold.
And since when was attracting new fans to the medium and encouraging it to spread its wings a bad thing?
The kids reading Disney comics today will be the adults reading DC and Marvel books next year, so don’t be fooled into thinking that somehow the industry has changed to become more youth-oriented. It hasn’t, it’s just expanded its remit.
And as for year-on-year sales falling, nothing could be further from the truth. In two thousand and twenty, at the height of the global pandemic, the comics industry sold more books than it did during any other year of the last decade, with sales totaling one point two eight billion dollars.
That’s not too shabby for an industry that’s supposed to be in its last legs.
The Final Word
It’s true, the comics industry, even with the help of the burgeoning and ever-popular superhero cinematic universe has been through a rough time, but it’s managed to stay the course and it’s going to bounce back to be bigger, better, and stronger than it’s been for a long time.
Comics, just like rock ‘n’ roll, will never die.