Journalista for June 7, 2010: Lobster in a pot

Posted by on June 7th, 2010 at 2:27 AM

 

 

“Sometimes looking at old work I can’t even comprehend it. I ‘know’ the pages so well that they’re completely meaningless to me. It takes real effort to actually read one of my old books — generally I read it once, as soon as I get the printed copy (it isn’t ‘real’ until it’s in print) and then it stops having any meaning and I kind of stop caring about it. Copies pile up around me and I am glad other people can comprehend them but they are not for me. I kind of wonder how much I’ll look at Scott Pilgrim at all after this summer is over. Maybe it’ll be a few years before I pick up one of those books again.”

 

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From an old Reuben Awards program, Pogo characters ©1967 Walt Kelly.

 

Recently posted to our homepage:

  • Let’s start off with an audio recording of a live discussion from last May on comics criticism, featuring moderator Ben Schwartz and panelists R. Fiore, Brian Doherty, Sammy Harkham and Joe Matt (78MB downloadable MP3 audiofile).
  •  

  • R.C. Harvey looks back at Reuben Awards past, and presents the first installment of a three-part history of the National Cartoonists Society.
  •  

  • Rob Clough reviews minicomics by Dina Kelberman and Derik Badman.
  •  

  • GutterGeek‘s Chris Reilly interviews Derf.
  •  

  • Over at The Hooded Utilitarian, Domingos Isabelinho, Caroline Small and Robert Stanley Martin continue the roundtable discussion on David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp.

And in the news…

 

Above the Fold

 

Marvel flirts with same-day digital delivery

Marvel Comics has announced that it will release Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 for sale digitally on the same day that the issue hits comics-shop shelves:

“We’re pleased to offer readers two options to experience Matt Fraction’s absolutely thrilling work on Invincible Iron Man,” said David Gabriel, Senior Vice-President of Sales and Circulation. “Fans going to their local comic store can pick up the entire Invincible Iron Man Annual at a low price that day or all three chapters through the Marvel Comics app.”

Interestingly, the announcement is tagged as having been posted online last Wednesday, but was only noticed by the comics press on Friday, which (if I’m not mistaken) gives retailers less than a week to adjust their orders on the print edition. Gosh, how did that happen, I wonder? Also noteworthy is the fact that the word “iPad” never appears in Marvel’s announcement. Instead, the press release notes the issue’s general availability on the iTunes store and in Marvel’s Web-based subscription service.

The subject of same-day digital downloads has been on my mind lately, owing in part to a brief exchange I had with Sean T. Collins a month ago. Responding to Tom Spurgeon’s interview with California retailer Brian Hibbs, “in which Hibbs expresses as his overriding, number-one wish regarding digital comics that the Big Two publishers avoid same-day digital delivery,” Collins wrote:

Simply put, I think that if Marvel and DC ever really get involved in digital comics, Brian doesn’t have a prayer of his wish coming true. In the wake of the iPad I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you see moves in that direction this year, in fact.

I replied twice in the comments section of Collins’ post. First:

“In the wake of the iPad I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you see moves in that direction this year, in fact.”

I would. Take the million iPads reportedly sold to date, divide it by the number of actual long-term customers Marvel would likely have (as opposed to the curious bystanders who downloaded a few introductory freebies or sampled a 99¢ comic or two out of sheer novelty), and I don’t think the remaining customer base is nearly large enough to justify the sheer rage that such a move would engender among retailers.

and then:

What the big companies have to lose is hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue, if they play their cards wrong. Remember, the music industry still hasn’t recouped the profits lost when digital trading ate their lunch, despite several years’ in sales on platforms like the iPod store.

Lost in all the iPad hype is that it still isn’t even close to being a competitor for the cellphone market, let alone the Web. Those channels are where all the eyeballs still are. Marvel and DC still aren’t remotely close to the tipping point that forced the record labels’ hand, which means that if they’re smart, they’ll be plotting for the future.

My guess is that the transition to digital won’t a sudden bang, but a slow trickle — less shooting a deer in the head than boiling a lobster in a pot. If I were Marvel, my next move would be to debut a few select titles three months after release, on both the iPad and the company’s online subscription service. Give it a few months, let the market get used to the idea and the customer base demonstrate the revenue potential and then, if it goes well, start transferring titles from that timeframe to digital until everything from three months ago is online. Wait, then repeat the process using titles from two months back. And so on.

In a subsequent post to Marvel’s announcement, Collins takes time out for an I-told-you-so:

It’s only one book right now. It’s a major movie character people will recognize, and it comes from a run of comics that’s both quite good and seems appealing to fans of those movies. It’s going onto the very zeitgeisty iPad, Dirk Deppey be damned. And of course it can bask in the awestruck adulation that’s always generated whenever DC or Marvel is the first to do a particular thing — y’know, like kicking off your link roundup with words like “gamechanger.”

More importantly, if you buy the comic for the iPad in its three chapter-long chunks for $2 a pop, it ends up costing you [$6 rather] than the $4.99 print version. In other words, it’s a way to get people who don’t want or can’t go to a comic shop, or to whom the very idea of buying print comics at a comic shop is totally irrelevant, to buy the book without incentivizing the people who do go to the shops every Wednesday to pick up the print version to ditch the shop and buy it online instead. That’s a pretty neat way to square the circle. It doesn’t answer how they’ll competitively but not destructively price a book that doesn’t contain 66 story pages, and it certainly doesn’t mitigate against the already overpriced monthly pamphlet format in the first place, but still, it seems smart. [Note: math corrected.]

Question: If Marvel really is betting on the “very zeitgeisty iPad” to “get people who don’t want or can’t go to a comic shop,” why on Earth are they betting on a device that has sold just over two million units, as opposed to the more general cellphone and smartphone markets, where such numbers are considered a drop in the bucket, or their website subscription service, which is available to everyone who owns a computer? Answer: They aren’t, which is why the “very zeitgeisty iPad” is never mentioned in the press release, while the other two avenues are. Oh, the Iron Man Annual in question will doubtlessly be available on the iPad, but that’s not what Marvel is selling here, and if I’m going to be damned in Nerd Court, I’d like the prosecution to at least get its facts straight first.

Above and beyond anything else, you need to keep in mind that no legacy media, — film, television, music or print — has found a proven and stable way to make the Internet pay for itself in the same way as has their previous business models. While it’s difficult to get firm music-industry statistics without paying for them, Wikipedia notes that record sales shrank by close to 40% in the United States between 2000 and 2007. A 2009 Yankee Group report makes the claim that television advertising revenue is dropping faster than the increase in advertising revenue for online video. This isn’t a swamp into which a content publisher leaps lightly, especially is you’re a division in a larger company, and doubly so if that larger company in turn is owned by Disney.

The Direct Market is far and away the single largest source of income for Marvel’s publishing division, and they’re not exactly rushing to kill the goose currently laying their golden eggs. Don’t believe me? Let them tell you themselves. From Marvel’s most recent filing available from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website:

[…] Our digital media activities have had a small but growing impact on our Publishing segment revenues, mostly through online advertising and digital comic subscription sales. We expect continued moderate growth and diversification in Marvel digital media revenues as we continue to increase our online presence.

Translation: “Don’t expect us to throw the old business model out the window anytime soon.” Hence my lobster-in-a-pot theory. What makes Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 the perfect book for a short test-run in the Same-Day Sweepstakes is its semi-plausible deniability. As Collins alludes, there’s a new Iron Man movie out, and while the launch date chosen for the comic’s release isn’t close enough to really capture much in the way of synergy with the film, it’s nonetheless close enough to make the claim without looking like a complete ass. Marvel can effectively offer up a version of DC Comics’ old Alan Moore/Watchmen Buttons Argument: “Oh, this is a promotional effort, not a sales effort. We wouldn’t dream of undercutting you guys. C’mon, who wants a tickle under the chin?” Depending on how conspiratorial you’re feeling, the fact that Marvel’s announcement didn’t filter out until a few days from the retailer cut-off date would seem to reinforce this theory, as it undercuts comics-shop owners’ ability to get outraged, chat amongst themselves and decide as a group to reduce orders for the issue in question… but because it doesn’t blow the cut-off deadline entirely, no one can directly accuse Marvel of doing an end-run around them. Marvel doesn’t want the lobster getting too alarmed, and would prefer that it had as few avenues of recourse as possible. (Seriously, how did an announcement like this escape the Marvel-obsessed comics press for two full days?)

It’s for this reason that I’m doubling down on my gradualist theory of online-distribution strategy. I think that Josh Flanagan and Heidi MacDonald are closer to the mark, with their inching toward same-day releases with baby steps, than Collins is with his game-changing move. The latter, after all, implies that the game has in fact been changed… and it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway: While tablet computers are the best platform yet devised for comics, sales haven’t reached the point where there’s a potential tablet-accessible readership big enough to support mass sales, and that’s not going to change for another year or two. Companies like Marvel are going to want to have their ducks in a row for when the new market will support them, but pulling the trigger too early will throw chaos into the Direct Market before the online model is mature, which could lead to financial losses that Marvel would doubtlessly just as soon avoid. You want the heat on that lobster turned up slowly.

Related: Rich Johnston surveys retailer reactions, while Brigid Alverson offers commentary.

 

Life in interesting times

  • Mike Gold brings word that cartoonist Tony DiPreta died on June 2:

    Best known as the last artist on Joe Palooka (1959-1984) and Rex Morgan, M.D. from 1994 until 2000, Tony got his start at the fabled Quality Comics as a letterer in 1940. He assisted Lou Fine, Gill Fox and Bob Fujitani before working on such notable features as Airboy, Uncle Sam and Daredevil (the original pre-Marvel character).

    Lisa Chamoff, Mike Lynch and Mark Evanier offer obituaries.

  •  

  • Francis Metcalfe, who blogged manga under the name Tiamat’s Disciple, died on Friday after battling cancer. Brigid Alverson has the details.
  •  

  • Christine Ferretti reports that retailer and convention organizer Michael George has been released on $500,000 bond, pending his re-trial for the murder of wife Barbara in 1990.

    (Right: Michael George.)

  •  

  • According to Rich Johnston, Gary Friedrich has lost a court battle to wrest ownership of Ghost Rider from Marvel Entertainment.
  •  

  • ICv2: “Bennett S. LeBow, who recently invested $25 million in the cash-strapped Borders Group, has been named Chief Executive Officer of The Borders Group as well as Chairman of the Board.”
  •  

  • “On May 23rd 2010, after a year of organising and discussions, the Comic Book Alliance (CBA) officially launched itself as a voice representing the UK comic book industry at the Bristol Comics Expo,” reports Paul Birch.
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  • Newspaper Death Watch: After 154 years in print, the Honolulu Advertiser publishes its last issue.
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  • Howard Altman looks back at the career and downfall of slain Timespirits writer Stephen Perry.
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  • Tom Spurgeon speaks with retailer Chris Butcher about organizing conventions and selling comics.
  •  

  • “You walked into this one, man.”

 

Today’s Format WarsTM report

  • Sony claims that e-books will overtake print within five years.

    (Link via Dwight Silverman.)

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  • “This year’s center-stage rivalry in tablet computers is shaping up as Apple versus Android, according to analysts. Windows, meanwhile, remains hobbled by its PC past.”
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  • Clay Shirky:

    Every increase in freedom to create or consume media, from paperback books to YouTube, alarms people accustomed to the restrictions of the old system, convincing them that the new media will make young people stupid. This fear dates back to at least the invention of movable type.

    I suspect that webcomics have been spared this argument thanks to the history of the Direct Market, which for a significant period of time allowed even the most talentless and unimaginative of cartoonists to self-publish. We’re used to the phenomenon, which means we don’t freak out over the existence of shitty online comics.

  •  

  • Matt Blind disputes the notion that e-books will totally replace bound volumes.

 

 

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Graphic NYC

 

Profiles

 

  • Nicole Rudick on Al Columbia


    From Pim and Francie, ©2009 Al Columbia.

    “I have cartoonist friends who say, ‘Oh yeah, I got lots of drawing done last week.’ And I think, ‘How do you do that? How do you sit down and concentrate?’ I don’t remember how to do that. So I really don’t draw much. A very little bit at a time. Once I get into it, this noise starts to build up in my head, like a bunch of angry bees. It’s a painful experience. I don’t find any solace or meditation or peace in it. It seems to open up too much.”

 

  • Martyn Pedler on Joe Kubert

    “All I try to do — and have tried to do since I started — is to not be ashamed of what I’ve done. It started when I was a kid. I was 12 or 13 when I sold my first work, and even at that point I knew my parents would see it. I wasn’t about to show them something I was ashamed of, or something I could’ve drawn on a toilet wall. As I grew older and had children of my own, I couldn’t bring myself to do things that would embarrass me or them. I don’t describe myself as a puritan — but I’ve been very lucky in this business, and I just haven’t had to do anything I didn’t want to do.”

 

Also

 

 

¡Journalista! continues after this commercial message.
Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics

 

Reviews

 

  • Martyn Pedler on BodyWorld

    “If technology allowed, I have no doubt BodyWorld would prefer to rub its contents straight onto your skin or inject them between your toes or beam them straight through your third eye. For now, consider Dash Shaw’s art the rough blueprint for the storytelling machinery that’s yet to arrive.”

 

  • Douglas Wolk on Ten Thousand Things to Do

    “Mostly, it’s a detailed portrait of American bohemian life in the late ’00s–the day-to-day existence of an artist who’s just getting by on his art, playing in a couple of bands, hanging out with his many friends, traveling a little bit, and usually sleeping from early morning to early afternoon. It’ll be a priceless historical document a few decades from now, even though [Jesse] Reklaw’s thorough attention to quotidian details often means that not a lot happens on any given page.”

 

Also

 

Commentary

 

  • Katherine Harmon: Why so many artists have lazy eyes, and other things art can teach us about the brain

    “As someone who has worked in pen and ink for decades, cartoonist Jules Feiffer realizes that ‘what we see is often quite divorced from what is actually there,’ he noted. He calls the two-dimensional representations metaphors, noting that ‘the metaphor is often more understandable than the real thing.'”

    (Link via Paul Laroquod.)

 

Also

 

Comics and Art

 

 

Also

 

Comics Culture

 

 

  • Shaenon Garrity: NCS Reubens Weekend 2010

    “This is my third NCS weekend, and now Andrew and I know the score. We wax nostalgic around the newcomers, dropping tidbits about the Bourbon Street parade in 2008, the barbecue at Cathy Guisewite’s place in 2009. I feel like a grizzled veteran, at least until I glance over at Mell Lazarus, who I’m pretty sure attended the first NCS weekend in Mesopotamia.”

 

  • Your Not-Comics Link of the Day:

    This video, which features time-lapsed photography of streets, cityscapes, landscapes and other public places in Japan, is the most achingly beautiful thing I’ve seen so far this month. Watch it full-screen.

    (Link via Dale North.)

 

Events Calendar

 

This Week:

 

  • June 8 (New York City): Steve Dillon makes an appearance at Forbidden Planet on Broadway, beginning at 5PM. Details here.
  • June 10 (San Francisco, CA): Gene Yang will be signing books and meeting readers at Giant Robot on Shrader Street, from 6-8PM. Details here.
  • June 10 (London, England): Steve Bell discusses the reportage work of Ronald Searle at the Cartoon Museum on Little Russell Street, from 6:30-7:30PM. Details here.
  • June 12-13 (Dearborn, MI): Kids Read Comics! offers workshops, panels and presentations for the whole family at the Henry Ford Centennial Library on Michigan Avenue, and it’s free! Details here.
  • June 12 (San Francisco, CA): Joe Wos mixes live drawing and storytelling at the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission Street, beginning at 12:30PM. Details here.
  • June 12 (Seattle, WA): Join Megan Kelso for an artist’s reception and book signing at the Fantagraphics Bookstore on Vale Street, from 6-9PM. Details here.
  • June 12 (Chicago, IL): Daniel Clowes appears at Quimby’s Books on North Avenue, beginning at 7PM. Details here.
  • June 13 (Los Angeles, CA): Drew Friedman will discuss his work and sign books at Family on Fairfax Avenue, beginning at 7PM. Details here.

 

Want to see your comics-related event listed here? Email a link to dirk@tcj.com and let me know. Please include an online link to which I can send people for more information. No sales-only events, please — it’s nice that you’ve marked things down at your store or website, but I won’t be listing it here.

 

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9 Responses to “Journalista for June 7, 2010: Lobster in a pot”

  1. […] Friday, and I think the best place to find a nuanced argument would be courtesy of Dirk Deppey at The Comics Journal’s Journalista! who writes: [You] need to keep in mind that no legacy media, — film, television, music or print […]

  2. […] Digital Revolution: Dirk Deppey recently pooh-poohed the notion of same-day digital and print releases, but Marvel announced last […]

  3. Dirk, you’re right that the PR didn’t mention iPad by name, but it hardly needed to, as the “Marvel Comics app” is an Apple-only app available only on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, and was moreover unveiled on the day the iPad was released. At any rate, you’re the one who couched so much of your discussion of day-and-date in the context of the iPad and whether or not it’s all it’s cracked up to be, and then went after the strawman notion that the transition would be industry-suicidally rapid–all I said was that in the wake of the iPad (by which I mean the Marvel Comics app for it), I wouldn’t be surprised to see moves in the direction of same-day digital release this year. That’s what has happened.

  4. Dirk Deppey says:

    Right — I apparently misinterpreted your statement “moves in the direction of same-day digital release” to mean moves in the direction of same-day digital release, rather than a one-off stunt. My mistake.

  5. Dirk Deppey says:

    Also: Mentioning that a comic will appear on a cross-device app automatically means that it’s meant to spotlight the specific device that you want to emphasize, despite the fact that Marvel themselves don’t mention it, means that said specific device… I’m sorry, you’ve lost me here. What?

  6. I guess I should have said “move” rather than “moves.” Touché! Anyway, I don’t think this is a one-off stunt and I think I’ll be right and you’ll be wrong. Also I don’t want to emphasize anything, I couldn’t care less about the iPad one way or the other and never said I did and didn’t stake this on the iPad in any way, that’s your thing bro. All I said was “It’s going onto the very zeitgeisty iPad” which is true, and that you can buy it on the iPad which is also true. That said, if you think this has nothing to do with the iPad and internal Marvel happiness with how the app looks on it, I again think I’m right and you’re wrong.

  7. Dirk Deppey says:

    Look, I’m perfectly happy to agree to disagree and all that, but I think we may be arguing about two different things, here. (Okay, I’m tweaking you with your attempt to tweak me with the iPad, but aside from that…)

    The impression that I’ve gotten from your initial post (and subsequent posts, your bet-hedging aside) is that you believe that we’ll see firm moves toward same-day distribution, across the board, by the end of the year. Am I wrong here? Because you’ve made it increasingly difficult to pin down exactly what you’re arguing.

  8. I think we’ll see firm moves toward same-day distribution on a larger scale than this, but if by “across the board” you mean “Marvel or DC’s entire line,” I wouldn’t go that far, no. They haven’t even adopted the $3.99 price point for the print books across the board yet. I’m not hedging any bets, I’ve always said exactly what I thought and meant, which is that you’re gonna see the big publishers move toward day-and-date this year, and that’s how I’d characterize this, rather than as a one-off stunt. Time will tell I guess.

  9. Dirk Deppey says:

    I don’t think you’re stating that Marvel will move its entire line to same-day distribution by the end of the year. But I don’t think that Marvel will move anything resembling a significant portion of its output to same-day digital distribution this year, either. And I don’t think that this announcement is the opening bid toward doing so — it’s an information gathering move, an attempt to see what they can get away with, what it could earn and what avenues are the most promising. To use a space-race metaphor, it’s less the beginning of the Apollo program than it is the equivalent of sending a box of hamsters into orbit to see how long they’ll live.