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Research, Research, Research: The Direct Market: The Indie Comic Book Industry

A column article by: Ace Masters

CORRECTION: It was recently brought to my attention of an error I made in this column, which I will now correct. Initially I wrote the following: "In fact many of them, IDW, Dynamic Forces, BOOM! Studios, Dark Horse, Bongo, Titan launched their companies with licensed properties and the backbone on their publishing is licensed properties." The error is listing BOOM! Studios as having launched with licensed properties. Something that is not accurate. It is an error on my part that is now corrected. My apologize for this oversight to BOOM! Studio. Ace Masters. Before I get into the meat of this column and into specific points of the Indie Comic Book Industry, I want to review a few things mentioned in the last column concerning Marvel and DC. These points also hold water for the Indie side of comics, and I want to cover them first before diving into the numbers, market share and other information regarding the Indie market. Three points I mentioned in the previous column: •It is important for any new publisher to know his industry and know his competition. •Study Marvel and DC – both their business practices and what they do. Learn from them. •Pay attention to what hasn’t worked for Marvel and DC. I made these specific points in my last column concerning Marvel and DC because you need to know all you can about their companies. Study and learn from their successes and their mistakes. But it’s important to note that these same three very important points can, and should, be applied to all major Indie Publishers (Dark Horse, Dynamite, Image, IDW and others). Know the Indie companies; know what they do and how they do it. Study and learn about what works – and doesn’t work – for them, just the same as I mentioned should be done with respect to Marvel and DC. Please note the following chart: (The above numbers are November 2010 Comic Book Sales Figures Reported by Diamond Comic Distributors. Information courtesy of the Comics Chronicles.) These numbers are very telling. Consider this: the top company in both Overall Units and Overall Dollars is Image, and even their Market Share is 30% less than Marvel and DC. Keep that in mind while doing your research and planning. I used only the top five independent companies to illustrate a point: the market share of independent comics. After these five companies, all Market Shares in the demographics fall off to less than 1%. Other companies that are listed in the demographics above include (listed alphabetically): Archaia, Archie, Avatar, Bongo, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Hachette, Oni, Random House, Titan, Tokyopop, Viz and Zenescope. These numbers are very important and they should be researched, but you need to look at more than just the numbers. Specifically, look at what each company does. What kind of titles do they publish? How do they promote? What do they have in common? At the end of the previous column I asked the following questions about the Indie Comic Book Industry: What makes it tick, why do the big indie companies succeed and what is the back bone of this sub-section of the Direct Market? The most commonplace and favorite answer from many people is the creators. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into the titles they produce. They are what makes the market tick, why is succeeds and are its backbone. However, this is a generic answer that actually avoids the entire point. This answer is often used to make independent creators seem more important – and by default, care for the industry more – than the creators who work for Marvel and DC. Make no mistake: without talent, there would be no Indie market, which means the creators who work for the Indie market are indeed a huge piece of what makes the industry tick and succeed. If you look at any new release shelf you will see a number of established, licensed properties from the major, and minor, indie companies. In fact many of them, IDW, Dynamic Forces, Bongo, Titan launched their companies with licensed properties and the backbone of their publishing is licensed properties. Of the top five companies only BOOM! Studios and Image can really lay claim to building their foundation on original characters, and even they have published licensed property. Dark Horse did launched their company with Dark Horse Presents, but didn’t really take off until they published Aliens. Many other companies (Archaia, Archie, Fantagraphics, Hachette, Oni) focus on original characters and properties, but unfortunately do not have the market share of the top five indies. Note that the major plus of a licensed property, such as Star Wars, Transformers or Buffy, is a built-in audience. People know these characters and want to see more. But with original characters you have to work harder to draw in an audience that doesn’t know who your characters are, nor if they will like them. You need to understand all this in order to know and be realistic as to where your company will likely be in the Industry. Do not plan or expect to become one of the top five, or ten, comic book publishers immediately. That may happen, but it will take time. (Unless, of course, you strike gold and get the rights to an established property or license a hot property right away to start your company.) My next column will feature the True Indie Comic Book Industry. Odds are, this sub-section of the Market is where you will begin, but that isn’t so bad. Breaking out from this should be your long term goal. Until next time, Ace Masters.

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