Let Me Explain This To You, Tom

Posted by on September 23rd, 2010 at 8:21 PM

In a recent posting at The Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon wonders why DC wouldn’t move its publishing business to Los Angeles along with its electronic media stuff.  As someone who didn’t see why DC would move its print publishing business out of New York, as posted here, I thought I might be able to elucidate.

(And let me point out, since Tom seems to have picked this up, that I never said the story was ridiculous.  That was Dirk Deppey’s interpretation.  What I said was that DC moving its print publishing business to Los Angeles made no sense.  That didn’t mean it couldn’t have been true.  We’ve been thrown into a near-depression because major corporations did things that made no sense.)

My sense of this actually comes from my vague knowledge of the movie business.  (You live in Chicago, you probably get to know a little about slaughterhouses.)  For the last 20 years or so various states and localities have attracted movie and television location shooting through tax breaks and subsidies.  This has led to occasional scare stories about Los Angeles losing its supremacy in the picture business.  These stories will invariably be based on year-to-year fluctuations in location shooting in the Los Angeles area, i.e., “days of location shooting have decreased xx% from last year.”  If you know the least little bit of the movie and TV business (and this is about the level of my knowledge), you know this is nonsense because movie and TV studios are not self-contained operations.  The picture business depends on hundreds of independent craft and technical shops that provide various services on an as needed basis.  For the picture business to move permanently to another locality this whole service infrastructure would have to be moved or recreated there.

I know even less about the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry than I know about the picture business, but my common sense assumption that a similar service infrastructure exists for publishing in New York.  Keep in mind that unlike the independent comics publishers that sell almost exclusively through the direct market, Marvel and DC were built to sell comics on newsstands and are plugged into that level of the publishing business.  While there is publishing done in Los Angeles, it’s on nothing like the scale it’s done in New York.  Furthermore, as west coast publishing shrinks as all print publishing has been, the service infrastructure shrinks along with it.  Now, what I could say specifically begins and ends with the word “infrastructure,” but my common sense assumption is this is what’s at work.

Furthermore, there’s the question of talent, the most important part of the infrastructure.  Talent tends to cluster around where the work is handed out, particularly when it’s freelance.  Given Marvel’s dominant position in the market, if DC were to move the center of gravity of talent would remain around Marvel.  This would put DC at a competitive disadvantage.  DC moving its print publication business would have made no sense.

Be Sociable, Share!

4 Responses to “Let Me Explain This To You, Tom”

  1. Brigid says:

    Well, that was certainly the case when I was a book editor in New York back in the 80s—the “infrastructure” was right there. For me that meant freelancers, typists, couriers to get things back and forth—things that could exist in other places, but in New York they all fit together into a pretty smooth system.

    Beyond that, though, there is a value to having a lot of different companies in the same industry clustered together. I had a lot of friends in the biz, simply because we all started out in the same place and then moved on. That meant a lot of creative discussions and networking could take place, even in the days before LinkedIn; between my connections in other publishing houses and having the NYPL right there, living in New York was almost as good as having the internet.

    One of my friends moved to Cincinnati, which at the time had only one publishing company. She loved her job, which was just as well, because if she burned out on it, or got a nasty new boss, there was nowhere else to go. And she had no one to talk shop with after work. LA wouldn’t be quite as bad, but I suspect a lot of the DC talent will take stock and decide to stay put rather than move to a city that lacks both the infrastructure and the physical density of New York.

  2. GeneHa says:

    Very informative, thanks for writing this. Makes me feel calmer about my NYC based editor friends.

    For the record, the great Chicago Union Stock Yard closed in 1971. Chicagoans learn about it the same way you do: old books by Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg and Studs Terkel. Cow killing is now done regionally. With efficient refrigeration, it’s cheaper to ship a carcass than a living cow.

  3. Allen Rubinstein says:

    I’ve been thinking that the reason for layoffs is for much the same reasons in reverse. With the infrastructure already in place at Warner Brothers and Hollywood, many of the DC operations they’re moving from New York are redundant. Bringing them out means you can winnow down the employees and get the same work done with fewer people.

  4. WLLilly says:

    …That is interesting coming , too , from the Journal , with its rendency to automatically/just-add-milk populistly bash ” the New York comics comanies “.Rather like all those predictions of paper being dead , dead , dead , and everybody telecommuting…How long’s that been being predicted ?
    A decade and a half now ?