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Overthought Bubble #21: The Quantity is Too Damn High

Written by Gavin D. on Thursday, April 14 2016 and posted in Columns

Overthought Bubble #21: The Quantity is Too Damn High

Too much of a good thing... Well, too much of a mediocre thing.

Note: In preparing this article I spoke with retailers. Retailers often prefer to keep their comments anonymous as to not inadvertently damage their businesses. Thus, all retailers will be referred to as Steve Saltzman of SNIKT! Comics and Coffee.

When you walk into a comic book store and approach the new release rack you will most likely see a myriad of Marvel and DC comics with some other publishers sprinkled in. Despite the existence of dozens of publishers, the majority of shelf space is absorbed by these two companies. Why is that? While the answer to that question is no surprise, the consequences of this inventory can be concerning.

On any given month, Marvel and DC own a total of 60-70% of the total number of comics sold that month. These numbers are based upon what retailers order for their stores, not what consumers buy, but if Steve Saltzman is ordering it then he thinks he can sell it. While the Big Two have had more trouble with sales number, Marvel and DC have still maintained their status as top dogs of the industry. Due to this, retailers order most of the Marvel and DC books released. Yes, even Lobo.

Since Steve Saltzman pays for the comics with no option of returns, he does not have the capital to take chances on the indie titles. Look at We Can Never Go Home, for example. This book became an indie success, but the first printing sold under 4,200 issues. Had Saltzman known the word of mouth that would spread regarding this title, those orders would be way up, but successes like that are few and far between. Is this for a lack quality? Personally I don't believe so, and Steve Saltzman of SNIKT! Comics and Coffee will tell you it is not the lack of quality but excess of quantity. After all, there is only so much shelf space.

In March, Marvel and DC combined to release over 160 comic books, or about 1/3 of all comics released in the US that month. So what happens when the Big Two start pushing out as many books as they can print? Steve Saltzman will order these books because they are more likely to sell than books from other publishers. Knowing this, the Big Two can expand their lines and effectively push the other publishers off of the shelves. Parts of Steve Saltzman believe this is why there is such a disparity between the Big Two and the rest of the industry. Retailers take a safe bet and readers never take a risk on a book from a smaller publisher because they never see it on the shelves.

Now this may sound like me faulting the corporations for profitable business practices, but I'm not. I'm faulting them for damaging the industry with business practices that simultaneously hurt themselves. As Steve Saltzman told me repeatedly and in various wordings, "If the book doesn't sell well enough, I take it off the shelf to make way for the next new series." The law of limited shelf space applies to Marvel and DC just as much as any other company. These companies are releasing so many books that they are getting their own books kicked off of the shelves. The casual reader who walks into a store once every three months will never get hooked on their series because within three months it is booted from the shelf.

Half of the Steve Saltzman I spoke with also believes that the excessive publishing habits are affecting quality. As one half of Mr. Saltzman has told me, "The bigger problem is that there's not enough good books." Quality books can bring in readers. Some of you may know someone who doesn't read comics but has picked up Sex Criminals or The Dark Knight Returns. Good books bring readers in, and if there were more readers, then the Big Two could print to their hearts' desire. Marvel editors are certainly disorganized as they fail to keep the name of their universe straight or accurately share information. As for DC editors... well we have special documentation of that. Regardless, less books could mean more focused work for editors.

The damage doesn't just fall on retailers and publishers, though. It hurts creators as well. With the constant flux of publishing lines creators have to be ready for their book to be dropped at any moment, and even then there's not much you can do to prepare for that. Look at Marguerite Bennett. She was writing Angela Queen of Asgard for seven issues before a stealth cancellation. Upon this cancellation and the rumored drop from Wonder Woman, she was forced to launch a Patreon. You may here argue that Angela was cancelled for low sales, and that may be true. However it should be noted that some series was going to be cancelled.

Look at Marvel's publishing line, and you will see that series are already planned to launch months from now. For example, Moon Knight launches this month, but has been announced since September of 2015. Unless their editors can take on more work or they hire more editors, if Marvel is planning to launch a new title something has to be cancelled. Marvel is preparing for low sales, and rather than address the sales drop they toss the book and launch a new one. DC can also be guilty of this, but less so.

The entire industry could benefit from smaller lines out of the Big Two publishers. Smaller output allows for more quality control, and higher quality brings in more readers. Don't expect the Big Two to make this move anytime soon though. Not until their damaging practices bleed the industry of money, and they can hear you over their stacks of plummeting second issue profits.


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About the Author - Gavin D.

Gavin Dillinger exists in a constant state of restlessness as he runs between two jobs and spends every spare moment writing articles or scripts. He has also perfected the art of being simultaneously dead tired and jacked on coffee, and is the best-selling author of When is the Right Age to Tell Your Highway It's Adopted. Gavin graduated Cum Laude from MTSU and should probably get a real job. You can follow him on Twitter or see a random thought on tumblr once every three five months.

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