Yesterday, I wrote about the path the video game industry has taken to the mainstream. Today, I'm going to talk about how far the comic book industry has fallen.
There was a time when comics were selling like crazy. To use my favorite example, the Marvel Transformer series was canceled in the early Nineties at its 80th issue due to low sales - less than 100,000 copies per month. This June, only ten titles broke that threshold.
Comic book sales may be better than they've been in a decade, but that's not saying a whole lot, historically speaking. Why is that? Because the comic book industry is working from the same playbook as the video game industry, but they're making the exact opposite decisions.
While video games are sold both in dedicated specialty stores and mass retail stores, comic books are practically non-existent outside of their specialty stores. While video games are advertised on television and in non-industry periodicals, when was the last time you saw an ad for comics outside of Wizard or Newsarama? While video games rely on several overlapping audiences, each purchasing a different selection of product, comic books focus all of their product on the same market, hoping the audience will buy everything they produce. While video games have continually tried to expand their market, reaching wider or different markets, the comic book industry caters to an ever narrowing slice of its original market.
This is how just under a hundred thousand copies sold goes from "not worth the effort" to "solid performer". This is how you can own a major icon like Superman or Spider-Man and still sell for crap.
So, why the hell are Marvel and DC still in business, if they're selling so poorly? As I've said before, the companies aren't really in the business of selling comic books. Sure, the floppies better make some profit, but I maintain the two companies only keep publishing to defend trademarks that'll make real money elsewhere.
Take a gander at Marvel Entertainment's most recent earnings report. For the three month period ending June 30, Marvel Licensing's operating income (basically, profit before taxes*) was greater than the net sales of the Publishing (read: comics) arm. For the six month period ending that day, the disparity is even greater - Marvel Licensing's operating income is nearly twice Publishing's net sales.
Marvel Licensing makes more money after expenses than Publishing makes before.
If you're a Marvel stockholder, the logical conclusion is clear. "Yeah, yeah, Civil War, nice. Print more fucking T-shirts."
Tomorrow: Where I'm going with all this.
* This is a major oversimplification, but work with me