Over the years the business risk of making comics has shifted as has been outlined in the previous three installments of Making Comics is Risky Business.
As promised in this last article on the subject we will now take a closer look at the risky business of speculation and why crowd funding is the future for comics publishing.
When Phil Seuling developed the concept of the Direct Market in the late 1970′s he predicated it on the existence of comic book specialty shops that were springing up across the country, most of which depended on sales of collectible back-issues, the value of which were marked up considerably on many depending upon their rarity and conditions.
Though back-issues at the time were still generally affordable, they established a precedent for what would constitute speculative value. Premiere issues, popular creators, significant events and, of course, mint condition comics became sought after commodities by comic collectors who became the backbone customers of the Direct Market.
As the rising prices of collectible comics became a recognized investment, collectors began to buy multiple issues of their favorite comics, one to read and others to squirrel away in mylar bags, preserving their mint condition and hopefully driving up their potential value.
The customers became speculators and took over the position of financial risk takers in the comic market. Professional speculators bought specific issues in quantity, artificially driving up demand and inflating aftermarket retail figures.
Retailers and publishers took advantage of the speculator market and a secondary market of collectible supplies like bags, boards and boxes sprang up.
Independent publishers benefitted greatly from the speculative nature of the market during the 1980′s as collectors feared missing the next “Holy Grail” guaranteeing that at least premiere issues of almost any title could receive respectable sales figures.
As Independent publishers began to proliferate in the market presenting themselves as serious competition for Marvel and DC, the Big Two, in defense of their reign, launched an all-out assault of first issues featuring popular characters and creators. Focusing on the speculative nature of the market they employed novelty devises like mini-series, variant covers, crossovers and events to successfully flood the competition out of the market.
By the mid 1990′s the Direct Market was a bloated mess of over-inflated and over-hyped product that nobody wanted or could any longer afford, crashing the market and even forcing Mighty Marvel into bankruptcy. Diamond stood as the only surviving distributor to a market that was once serviced by over a dozen.
Through it all the emergence of the graphic novel and the success of imported Japanese Manga paved a road into traditional bookstores challenging the Direct Market’s role as sole provider of comics to changing readership. Digital media, however was lurking in the background, poised to change how comics could be delivered to a world wide audience.
The development of the web comic, which began with Eric Millikin’s Witches and Stitches as early as 1985, grew through the 1990′s and has flourished in the 2000′s, has changed the rules for creating comics completely and for the first time put the risk fully on the shoulders of the creators as, in most cases, they are the sole publishers and maintain complete autonomy of their works.
Though it requires minimal expense to post comics online, the true cost in publishing web comics is in the time it takes to create the material and cultivate the audience. Monetization of the web comics remains the biggest challenge as web comikers struggle to find ways to profit from their works. Most creators that have managed to bridge that gap have done so by rolling their web content into print product or digital downloads for mobile devices to be sold for retail.
Minimizing their investment risk, these unique independent publishers have taken advantage of today’s technology to put that risk into the hands of the consumer. Using Print on Demand suppliers like Lulu, CreateSpace, Comixpress, Ka-Blam, and others, they no longer need to sit on large quantities of expensive unsold books waiting for sales. Books are printed to order and shipped directly to customers, avoiding the need for distributors and returning a much larger portion of the profit to the publisher who is most often the creator themselves.
Finally, creators have found a way to control their properties which have been historically robbed from them by comic publishers for the last seventy years as wonderfully described by the late Steve Gerber in this recently resurfaced article Truth, Justice, & The Corporate Conscience, which I beg you to read and share with every comic creator you know.
The modern comic publisher also has a new tool at their disposal to minimize their risk and further enlist the consumer to share the burden. Crowdfunding through services like Kickstarter , and Indiegogo , capitalize on the strength of social networking and perks offered by campaign developers to essentially pre-sell comic projects.
Comic creators set a goal that represents the investment they will need to produce their project and they request financial support through pledges on these crowdfunding platforms. For various levels of financial support, rewards are offered as incentives. Though these rewards often vary considerably they generally include a printed copy of the project being promoted establishing a new form of marketing and distribution. If the established goal is not met, pledged funds are not collected and rewards are nullified.
Because crowdfunding does such a wonderful job predetermining the success of a project, some observers are viewing the phenomenon as a new form of market research avoiding the need for agents and pitchmen to sell a concept.
So, yes, making comics is risky business as has been proven over the last seventy-five years but it doesn’t have to be as risky as it has been. Now is the time for creators to take advantage of the resources available to them and take control of the direction of the industry so that they, themselves, can enjoy the riches provided by their creations rather than some domineering corporation that views creators merely as cheap disposable labor from which to capitalize on.