Long Tail Fail

21 Jan


Only a few posts ago, I was talking about how Marvel’s power play in the comics industry backfired. Now comes news that Diamond Comics Distributors is raising the order threshold for publishers. In English, this means that independent publishers now must pre-sell a higher number ($2,500 of which must reach Diamond) of comics or lose access to what is, essentially, the only distribution channel in the industry. Even before the economy went tits up, indie publishers were having a hard enough time staying financially solvent while also meeting Diamond’s requirements. Now, a bloodbath is all but assured. People like Thomas Friedman1 view this as the kind of creative destruction that revitalizes the economy. I’m sure most publishers facing insolvency might have a slightly different view of the matter.

That said, the current situation was untenable, and hopefully, there will be a silver lining to come out of this. Hopefully, more publishers view the iphone2 and the Kindle as more than mere novelties, and take the initiative in the field that the major publishers have not. Hopefully, more truly pissed-off publishers look to coalesce into a serious competitor to Diamond. Hopefully, this makes people who aren’t Marvel or DC realize what should have been painfully obvious all along: the Direct Market is not their friend, and never will be. In a medium that constantly fumbles for respectability (and an audience), the Direct Market only served to further ghettoize comics, while providing publishers with a comfortable, built-in (though ever-shrinking) audience that stunted the development of the medium, both artistically and financially.

Whoever emerges from this mess to create a sustainable business (and helps grow the audience for comics as worthwhile entertainment) will have to take the internet seriously, for promotion and distribution. They’ll likely have a creative commons-inspired ethos that doesn’t fear giving away (some) content for free. They’ll need the business acumen to run a serious distribution network. Most importantly, though, they’ll have the chutzpah to approach retail venues that haven’t traditionally sold comics, and demand a place at the table.

This isn’t necessarily going to be one business. The paragraph above may wind up describing forty companies that emerge from this mess, and most of them may well flame out within a year or five. But people are coming around to the idea that they don’t have a choice. This week, a whole lot of people suddenly got radicalized.

1 Read: people with ironclad job security who get paid to write about the excitement of economic disruption.
2 The Kindle itself isn’t suitable for reading comics (yet), but the iphone has rightly been described in multiple quarters as the greatest comics delivery device ever invented. This isn’t just a concern for publishers: writers need to explore the creative possibilities offered by the format.

Resources: For an idea of the brouhaha this has created, here’s some reactions from the community at large.
Warren Ellis’ forum
Philip Clark
Dwight MacPherson
David Lillie


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