Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are Trade Paperback Collections Ruining Comic Sales?

With publishers complaining about comic book sales being down, you have to look for reasons. The quality of the stories and art are the first thing that come to mind, but what else is there?

A few years ago, I began to notice a trend in my favorite titles. The days of the single-issue story were gone. Every single story arc seemed to take exactly 6 issues to run (Ultimate Spider-Man seemed to be the worst, though all the titles have taken this up now). Sometimes that would be all right, but there were times when it seemed like the story was just dragging in the middle to fill issues.

Then the trade paperbacks started pouring in. Suddenly those six months of wading through a story could be finished in one sitting if one was patient enough to wait for them. Eventually, I began to skip some titles completely just to wait for the TPB. Now with the TPB's arriving within three months of the final issue of the story arc, it makes more sense than ever to wait.

Individual comic books can cost $4 each (a long way from the quarter comic books I started reading as a child). Six issues of a story at that price will run you $24 sans tax. A TPB of the story will usually run an average of $15-$20, depending on the title. Buying from will get you an even bigger discount. So if you're willing to be patient and wait, where is the downside to this? There's not one!

Even though I love certain titles, most of my comic reading now comes in six-month increments. I catch up on X-Factor, Green Lantern, Brave and the Bold, Batman, JLA, and many others after patiently waiting for their six-issue story to end. As far as I'm concerned to those publishers, they could put out the title twice and year and make the same money.

Publishers lamenting the loss of monthly sales should consider that casual comic readers no longer have a jumping-on point in most titles. If you don't hit it perfectly, then you're in the middle of some story with no clue what's going on. Detective Comics is the only one that still ran one- or two-issue storylines last year, but even they have begun a 5-parter for the Batman R.I.P. story.

Now Marvel has taken it a step further by publishing certain titles as an omnibus. No longer sticking to six-issues, now you can get 25 stories or more in one hardcover collection. This will run you about $60 or more, and can break your arm if you try to just hold it and read, but it's a way to get a comprehensive look at a character in huge chunks. So now the question is no longer "Do I wait six months to read a story?" but is now "Do I wait a couple of years to catch it all?"

I know it's more convenient to read all six parts of a story in one sitting, but is that fair to the monthly readers? Publishers, if you are dead-set on six-part stories for future TPB sales, then don't lament the loss of monthly sales from those of us who just sit it out and wait. And yes, I understand not buying a monthly title actually works against it because that means low sales, and low sales is quick death to a comic now. But I try to stay on a budget each month, and you can spend over $20 just buying 4 or 5 titles in one week.

Originally, those trade paperbacks were called "graphic novels", and they were stories that you couldn't buy anywhere else. Stories like The Death of Captain Marvel, X-Men: God Loves...Man Kills, and others were available only as a TPB, and it drove sales to it. They were thick, had detailed artwork, and worth every penny. If publishers have so many six-part stories floating around waiting in line for a TPB, why not bring back the graphic novel as an art form? Give us those stories in one chunk in one sitting, and put it out there as we've never seen it before. Give us alternatives to the monthly stories. I'd be willing to pay $25 or more for one of those meaty stories, and it would build excitement for it because it's not something we'd already seen on the shelves. For now, we're just recycling the same stories.

To see the other thing I think is crippling comic book sales (at least for one publisher), here's my previous post about subscription services.

What about you? Are there titles you skip on a monthly basis because you know you can save money and read the whole thing at once later?


Kelson @ Speed Force said...

I've only got a few series that I read in trades only, and those are mostly the ones where I came in late and started by reading the first trade. Powers, for instance, and A Distant Soil. Both of which seem to come out on a "when the writer/artist has time between other projects" schedule. There are a few mini-series I've considered picking up and decided to wait for the trade, though nothing comes to mind at the moment.

Most of the time, though, I have no patience ;)

Rick said...

I sometimes wait for the paperback but with the prices of those now going up I may not be able to buy them either.

HP said...

Honestly, I only read my comics now in TPBs. I just don't have the space to hold a bunch of single issues and to be honest I much prefer completing a major story arc without having to wait a few weeks (or months depending on delays). It's also much easy to toss a trade back into my back pack for the subway that it is to carry a few single issues. Lasts longer too.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin