Research, Research, Research: What is the Market?

A column article by: Ace Masters

What is the Market?

That is the question left hanging at the end of the previous column. Understanding what the concept of a "Market" is, will give you a greater chance of dealing in the Market itself.

Before I get into the idea of what a Market is, I want to dispel what it is not.

Many people mistake Marketing, Promotion and Advertising as being part of any market, which they are not.

Marketing is the act of performing market research and selling products and/or services to a particular market via promotional materials and advertising. Promotion is the act of promoting products and services to the Market. Advertising is the act of advertising products and services to the Market. (Promotion and Advertising are two different disciplines that will be discussed at a later date, along with Marketing.)

While Marketing, Promotion and Advertising involve the Market, they are not part of the Market.

What does "Market" mean in the business sense?

In the broadest business sense a "Market" is any place, system or structure where buyers and sellers exchange goods, services and/or information. That exchange usually involves the sale of said goods, services and/or information for money.

Historically the concept of a market arose from ancient (and current) Marketplaces where different peoples (vendors) would gather to sell their food items (and other goods) for mass consumption by the public to the public.

A market can be something as simple as your local grocery market, or every story in a chain of grocery markets (Bashsa's, Fry's Market Place, Kroger stores, IGA Foods). Super chains like Wal-Mart and Target are often considered their own markets, while still part of the larger retail market.

Or markets can be something as complex as the Comic Book Market, which has many layers and smaller markets and itself it part of an overall larger Publishing and Book Sales Market.

The comic book market, like many markets, is a sales market where vendors sell comic books and related items to buyers (readers like you and me).

Every time you go into a retail outlet (comic book shop, book store, etc.) and buy comic books, you are participating in the market process.

The comic book market can be broken down into different markets and many layers.

The main two comic book markets are Newsstand and the Direct Market. These are two very distinct markets with marked differences and their own plusses and minuses.

The different layers of the newsstand market are small and not as pronounced as the direct market, but they are there. In the contemporary newsstand world the layers are generally graphic novels versus monthly issues, Archie Comics and then (like the direct market) Marvel and DC and everyone else.

The direct market is far more complex and multi-layered than the newsstand market. The direct market is made up of mostly specialty comic book stores which sell only comic books and related items. A smaller part of the market is made up of mail order and website secondary subscription services.

There are generally four layers to the direct market: Marvel and DC, Indie Comic Books, True Indie Comic Books and Small Press Comics.

Marvel and DC could be considered two layers by themselves, and they can even be considered their own 'markets' (or submarkets). For this breakdown I have put them together as one considering Marvel and DC combined control a 90%-plus share of the market.

Indie Comic Books have historically been defined as any publisher independent of Marvel and DC. However, in the past few years there has been an argument among fans as to what constitutes independent publishing. Many argue that publishing licensed materials makes a company no longer independent, while others claim that once a company reaches a certain sales window (print run) they cease to be independent. This is a similar argument to the "mini-major" argument in the film industry.

While I disagree with these arguments on some points, I have broken down the Indie scene into two different layers: Indie Comic Books and True Indie Comic Books. The reason for showing these as two separate layers is to more accurately portray the role in the market place of Indie Comics considering the discrepancies of sales and percentage of market between the larger indie publishers and the smaller, but important, indie publishers.

Small Press Comics cover the smallest layer of the market. This is everything not consider a nationally-sold comic, comics that may be sold solely at conventions, or are strictly 'local comics.'

Distribution, despite what some think, is part of the direct market, even if it can also be considered part of marketing. Without some sort of distribution comic books would not reach the vendors, much less the readers. Understanding distribution, and how it works, is key to understanding the market.

Sales are part of the market, even though it's part of marketing (as market research). Sales are perhaps the most important part of the market for any publisher. It is the gauge that tells them how they are doing, what percentage of the market they have, and if there even is a market.

As with before, these are brief breakdowns and explanations. Entire books can be written on each subject mentioned above (and many have). This is just a guide to get you started.

Starting with the next column I will break down and discuss each aspect of the comic book market, and its many layers, in a little more detail.

Next time I will discuss the Newsstand Market in greater detail, including why this is a market you should try to break into, and why it is a market that in some ways you should avoid at all costs.

Until next time,

Ace Masters


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