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Darby Pops Off: Jeff Kline on Retailers & Self-Publishing

Written by Kristine Chester | 3 Comments | Published on June 12, 2015
The content that follows was originally published on the Darby Pop Publishing website at http://www.darbypop.com/darby-pops-offs/darby-pops-off-1/

Hey guys! Renae Geerlings here introducing our new weekly series, Darby Pops Off, a space where comic creators and retailers can discuss different aspects of the industry or anything else fun that comes to mind. In the coming weeks, you can expect to read opinions from members of the Darby Pop staff and we hope to expand out our guests to include other members of the industry. This week’s topic comes from Darby Pop Publishing founder and INDESTRUCTIBLE creator Jeff Kline as he discusses retailers and asks the question of why more aren’t entering the publishing game?

If you have a thought on the topic of the week, please join in the discussion on social media at Facebook (facebook.com/DarbyPopPublishing), Twitter (@DarbyPopComics), or in the comments below.

Until Next Time,

-Renae


Hey All –

Every so often, I find myself pondering something about the comic book industry – its history, standard operating procedures, whatever. But, rather than pepper the usual suspects this time around, I thought I’d throw my query out to all of you.

As some of you might know, and many of you don’t care, the television business has changed dramatically in the past 25+ years. To over-simplify: for years, the broadcast networks were allowed to own only a small percentage of the programming they aired. Hence, an entire industry of “independent” content producers was born and thrived. Today, however, ABC (via its parent company Disney and their many “sister” studios and pods) owns the bulk of the series they program. The same, of course, is true of CBS (Viacom/Paramount), NBC (Comcast/Universal), CW (CBS/Warner Bros.), and FBC (20th).

Given the speed with which vertical integration has become the norm across many industries, and the apparent “success” of the concept for media conglomerates (including Amazon), I’m wondering why more of the largest comic book retailers haven’t formed their own publishing arms.

I remember when my local comic book store, Fantaco in Albany, NY, self-published a few titles in the ‘80s. And I’m sure there are many other examples of same. But, why haven’t the 5 biggest stores… or the 50 biggest… published and pushed substantially more of their own product individually or collectively in the recent past? In other words, if a retailer in a major market knows that he/she has a substantial customer base, and controls the shelf space, why not invest in (and own) more of the books sold vs. (or in addition to) selling product wholly owned by others?

Aren’t comic book retailers — of all shapes and sizes — often the “tastemakers via ordering patterns, staff recommendations, etc. etc.? And aren’t stores often owned and/or staffed by individuals who are crazy-passionate about the form?

I’ll stop there. Curious to hear from retailers… creators… fans… anyone and everyone.

Thanks for pondering – even if temporarily — along with me…

Jeff Kline
Founder – Darby Pop Publishing

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3 Comments

Dan Hosek says:

I can definitely believe that the top 50 retailers account for that much of total sales. When you think of places like Mile High and Lonestar Comics (mycomicshop.com), their subscription services and the volume they must move, not to mention larger stores in big markets like NYC or L.A. its easy to see how that’s the case. I know of a small press indie publisher (without Diamond distribution, similar to me) who convinced Midtown Comics in NYC to carry his book, and they purchased 200 copies! I couldn’t imagine what Midtown’s numbers are on top selling Marvel or DC books.

I think there’s also another factor at work in television that’s not really a factor for smaller press or self-publishing, and that’s advertising. If ABC produces their own content, they know they’ll likely be able to sell that advertising space and make money directly from what’s created. In self-publishing, you’re relying on almost razor thin profit margins made on selling the book. Larger publishers definitely can make money with ads because they sell it across their whole line, so they’re selling the potential to reach hundreds of thousands or millions of readers. I don’t know if a retailer with a publishing arm would be able to sell any ad space to cushion the expense.

And you’re also right about getting everybody on board if it was a multi-retailer venture. I know from my time a Marvel that it could be tricky to get a couple writers and everyone in editorial on the same page with a crossover event… and that was with everybody working in the same genre! If you get 10 retailers together all with different ideas about something as basic as what genre to work in–it could get messy.

Jeff Kline says:

Hey Dan –
Everything you wrote makes perfect sense (and thanks for joining the conversation!). Retailers have (and continue to) successfully band together with initiatives like Phantom Variant (http://phantomvariant.com/phantomretailers.htm); I wonder how many stores would need to partner to make a shared publishing venture viable. I’ve always heard that the Top 50 Diamond Retailers account for 80% of all domestic sales; of course, I have no idea if that figure is remotely accurate. And herding that many disparate POVs and personalities — i.e. store owners — might well be impossible. One of the nice things about working in the comics, after all, is the relatively small number of “chefs” necessary to bring an idea to fruition. Though, getting the fruits of one’s labor into the hands of readers/buyers is a whole other challenge…

Dan Hosek says:

Hi Jeff–

This is an interesting idea to thing about. I can\’t really speak to the retailer side of the things, but I can give you my impressions as a small press, independent publisher. I think on a small scale, it\’s possible, and is being done in some places. Big Planet Comics in the Washington D.C./Virginia area is one place that comes to mind that co-publishes a line of indie comics with Retrofit Comics (http://www.bigplanetcomics.com/comics-we-publish). The main reason why more haven\’t done it, I think, is probably because of the skill set (or multiple skill sets) involved in creating a comic. The co-publishing route seems to be the best idea, partnering with someone who already has that skill set and you as the retailer handle the printing and/or distribution of the product. Still, I would think you\’d need a huge customer base to make it worthwhile. We\’ve gotten some great support for our comic, File 13, at a friend\’s comic shop (Android\’s Amazing Comics) on Long Island. He pushes it hard for us, and we\’ve sold about 60 copies of our first two issues, which I think is pretty impressive for an indie comic by \”unknown\” creators. That being said, to keep the unit price of each issue down, you generally need to have a print run of at least 1,000 copies. So, even if these shops have a customer base 10 times that of Android\’s, they might sell 300 copies of a single issue? I think it really comes down to a numbers game–it might make more economic sense for a retailer to publish trade paperbacks or something. A retailer-publisher probably could partner with other shops and have their books carried in those shops (which seems to be what Big Planet/Retrofit does), but than that gets into the whole distribution side of things, which is a whole other beast… Anyway, not sure if any of this answers anything, but just my two cents. If you want to discuss further, you can drop me an email at dan@whatisfile13.com–I may not be an expert, but I have opinions!

–Dan

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