Back in the late 70s & early 80s, there was some concern within the film industry over cable television. Many were wholly convinced that cable was going to wipe out the movie theaters. Fortunately for theater lovers, this didn’t happen, of course.
The comics industry faced similar existential concerns beginning in the early 90s, when the thinking was that the traditional comic book would soon be replaced by the trade paperback (TPB) or graphic novel. Then, ten to fifteen years back, it seemed that the digital format would be the downfall of the comic book—or, as it came to be referred to at some point, the “pamphlet.”
Well, the pamphlet still exists right now—but for how much longer? Within the last month or so, there have been several articles declaring the oncoming apocalypse, from DC cutting its line to Disney straight up shutting down Marvel Comics. Over at The Comics Journal, there was some recent discussion about the direct market sales model, albeit said debate was started by a store owner who was self described as an “inexperienced, sloppy, unorganized comics-shop owner with less than ten years of experience.” Still, it began a somewhat feisty debate.
I’m sure any regular readers here will know where I stand on this, based on pure nostalgia if nothing else. Nostalgia was once so powerful for me, in fact, that I couldn’t even consider a world without newly-published comics in it. But now, after all these stories, plus the closing of so many comic shops in recent years, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer the pamphlet can possibly last.
There’s a way forward, I believe, but this would involve a major change in the way comics do business. I believe they would have to stop chasing (and catering to) the niche audience of the direct market and strive to recapture the mass audience that made the business a success in the first place. I just don’t know that the people in charge are willing (or even capable of conceiving of the idea) to do this. The industry has been a slave to the direct market for so long, they simply know of no other way to exist.
We are whittling down to the nichest of niche markets now, and I just don’t know how much smaller it can get and still remain viable.