The End is Near Unless We Embrace Change

I wish I was wrong. I wish I was ignorant or ill-informed or obtuse. But I’m not. Small press publishers are in dire straits… and it’s going to get worse.

Please read this shocking news from Diamond and come back to read the rest of this post.

Welcome Back

As I stated in my August, 2008 interview at CBR, I decided to go the self-publishing route “to ensure our books reach the largest audience by using several [distribution] mediums.” I went on to say that I planned to “release free single-issue comics digitally through Wowio, the online comics service” and that “print issues will be made available on the… website” and “trade paperbacks [collections] will be solicited to retailers through Diamond.” The reason for this three-prong distribution model is that I recognized a move by Diamond and the “big publishers” to strangle the life blood out of creators. It would appear that Diamond has decided to go after the small press publishers as well.

In a Newsarama interview posted the same month, I went on to explain my move to self-publishing in greater depth. I stated that my purpose was “to put the power of choice in the reader’s hands while offering creators several ways to benefit from their hard work. By offering digital downloads, POD (Print on Demand) hard copies and Diamond solicited trades, readers have several options when it comes to getting their books.”

I then went on to explain why POD was the best option for creator-owned books: “To be honest, many, many small press books are not even breaking even. As a result, books are being canceled and some creators are even getting stuck with bills from their publishers. On the flip-side, readers are feeling the pain and frustration of the cancellations, too.” With this new rise in revenue thresholds, don’t you think we’ll see more books that were floundering financially–books you enjoy–getting the ax or moving to alternate modes of distribution in light of this new increase?

Judo Chop!

Here’s the real kicker. Shortly after my CBR interview was posted, I was openly ridiculed on CBR’s Lying in the Gutters column:

“Could you move your comics from front-of-previews Image Comics, to back-of-Previews Wowio-funded Chimaera Studios and spin it as a good thing?

No, I couldn’t either.”

Mr. Johnston failed to see this day coming: the day when Diamond made yet another wily move to ensure the demise of small press publishers. And before you say it wasn’t underhanded, did you notice the article stated that “The distributor began informing publishers of the change last week by phone?” If this new move was above-level, why notify publishers by phone instead of simply sending out a Press Release?

Listen… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that standard distribution through Diamond is going to become less and less feasible for small press publishers. After Diamond’s newest threshold increase, I don’t see many small press publishers still publishing comics in five years unless they wake up and realize that distributing their products through Diamond alone is simply not going to be a viable option for them in the future.

And mark my words: this is not the last increase we will see from Diamond!

Not Gonna Do It

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but I think it is imperative that creators become pro-active and explore alternate means of distribution for their properties. When are creators–and gossip columnists–going to realize that simply having a solicit in Previews does not make them or their properties more “legitimate” than a creator who chooses other avenues of distribution for his or her property?

Perhaps that realization will come sooner rather than later as small press publishers begin to disappear one by one.

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18 thoughts on “The End is Near Unless We Embrace Change

  1. Well said, Dwight. I gave you props in the Newsarama comments section, too, man, because I think you deserve ’em (doubly due to RJs ridicule). As a new creator trying to break in, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be hopeful about right now.

    Small Press comics are already feeling the pinch from the last time Diamond raised their thresholds, this is yet another nail in the proverbial coffin. When small press, indy comic publishers get squeezed like this, it makes them much less open to finding and promoting new writers and new properties. Instead, we see small presses trying to survive by snapping up licensed properties with built-in name recognition.

    It then becomes incumbent upon creators to MAKE a name for themselves by whatever means are at their disposal. I guess if there is any hope, it lies in the DIY ethic. Luckily we have the internet to use as we can. And with fewer publishers publishing through traditional outlets, the threshold of what is and isn’t legit work is being blurred. Are we at a point where good work won’t get published? You betcha. And I’m not just saying that because I haven’t placed me work with a publisher…

  2. LITG has been following this story for years. Image books are in a much better place to weather the storm than many of their competitors. In such a world, front-of-previews is the best place to be.

  3. If you were basing this assessment on firsthand knowledge, Rich, I may concede. You, however, have never been published by Image. I have. So before you post assumptions as fact and look down your nose at others, perhaps it would be wise to do a bit of investigating so you don’t look like such an ass. But hey, you’re going to do what you want to do. More power to you.

    Furthermore, I have seen more profits from my books published by Arcana Studio ( a “back of Previews publisher”) and IndyPlanet than I made at Image. That blows your assertion out of the water. Had you come to me before posting your derisive comment, I don’t think you would have taken such a demeaning tone. That’s all I’m saying.

    -D

  4. I have been published by Image.

    But moreover I have worked with and talked with hundreds of people who have been since Image began.

    The opportunities at Image are considerable if you can seize them. If not, obviously, that fee-per-book will hit. But if you can work the system, then can you think of a batter place to be?

    But what I was talking was about weathering the storm, not profiting now.

    And I’d rather a demeaning tone than an abusive one.

  5. Aaaaw, is the mean comic creator being mean to you? Give me a break, dude… you’ve got to expect it when you don’t even have the balls to contact someone before posting something like that about them. You open yourself to abuse by being such a popinjay. I mean really, had you not been so arrogant, you would have contacted me. You thought it would be humorous to demean me and win some brownie points with Image, so you wrote it. I’ve talked to you before, so why not contact before posting something demeaning about me? I’ve never wronged you.

    And as far as my tone, all you had to do was come here and say “You know what? I should have contacted you first.” But you couldn’t do that–could you? Your ego will never allow you to admit that you made a mistake.

    I’m done talking to you, Rich. It is obviously pointless.

    -D

  6. This is definitely not a good sign.

    I can partially blame the fans, who’ve shown that they have little to no interest in reaching out to anything that’s non-Marvel or DC. Instead of trying new characters, they’d rather just continue reading the same old characters that they grew up with, even if those characters have been changed so drastically that they might as well be new characters anyway.

    But mostly I have to blame Marvel & DC for continually catering JUST to those old fans, instead of trying to find new ones. I just read the solicit for Flash: Rebirth, celebrating the return of Barry Allen as the hero who ushered in the Silver Age. Why would anyone under 30 give a damn about that? Why don’t they take a cue from themselves, instead of bringing him back, create a brand new Flash (not that there’s anything wrong with Wally West, I’m just saying), to usher in a new age, like they did with Barry in the first place, to replace Jay Garrick? Honestly, I’d rather see Ethan Van Sciver bringing back CYBERFROG, than working on any big DC “events.”

    But they’ve created this environment where the only people who bother reading comics anymore are the die-hard adult fans. So the market is so much smaller, and the options for the indy guys aren’t good, because if it isn’t from the Big Two, nobody even looks.

    Bah, I’m rambling. Anyway, I’ve bought some comics from Indy Planet (may even have a story in one, this year), and found them just as enjoyable as any “professional” book.

  7. Is this terrible news, or is this excellent news? Mediocrity in comic selection has persisted for so long under Diamond’s rule, that perhaps the official elimination of Diamond as a viable distribution option will finally spur independents to make a serious effort in opening new markets. And I don’t mean alternate ways of accessing the withered Direct Market, I mean *new* markets.

    As an independent creator working to build something outside of Diamond and it’s system, most people in the world of comics have likely never heard of me or my series. But over the last couple of years, my title ‘Dreamkeepers’ has sold hundreds upon hundreds of copies, in TPB format at over $20 per issue. Sales are not lagging – rather, they are accelerating.

    Based on the statistics I’ve been seeing in blogs today, it would seem I’ve already surpassed what I could have hoped for by submitting and struggling to work with Diamond’s rates. And rather than have my books marketed to a limited and stagnant pool, they’re just beginning to see the brim of a potential customer base – the customer base that doesn’t care about comic shops.

    I’m not trying to brag about my ‘success’ – I mean, I’m working a night shift to make ends meet. But I do want to emphasize that there is a whole world outside of Diamond, full of people who want to buy good work. I would encourage all creators and small publishers to start discovering it!

    This constriction of Diamond’s capacity should embolden and empower creators to start making the changes that need to happen in comics.

  8. It was a comment on a piece, not reportage. Why was contact necessary?

    Either way, it might be worth pointing out that since Image is a brokered company with Diamond, it will not be subject to threshold or benchmark figures.

    Win some brownie points with Image? No. Point out realities in the market? Yes.

    And I didn’t wrong you then. I commented on a piece that had publicly been broadcast. So.. should an editorial commentator contact Barack Obama before commenting on his inaugural speech?

    After all, you said “Mr. Johnston failed to see this day coming: the day when Diamond made yet another wily move to ensure the demise of small press publishers” when I had done three years ago. Indeed my comment you reference was referencing the idea of leaving Image, a front-of-Previews publisher, for the small press. But you didn’t seem to feel the need to contact me about it before publishing it. And nor should you.

  9. David: Congratulations on your success, my friend! You are living proof that success can be attained through “non-traditional” means. Thank you for sharing!

    -D

  10. Popinjay? Love that word!

    1. a person given to vain, pretentious displays and empty chatter; coxcomb; fop.
    2. British Dialect. a woodpecker, esp. the green woodpecker.
    3. Archaic. the figure of a parrot usually fixed on a pole and used as a target in archery and gun shooting.

    Works well no matter the definition 😉

  11. HA! Indeed it does, Mike. 😀

    Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend.

    -D

  12. I’ve been looking for the correct time to actually get a new webcomic off the ground, and I’ve been working with a new company, and he’s been getting successful sales from his single issue books though direct sales to retailers, and will be starting a web-to-print model of creating content.

    All in all, I do think this is a call to smaller and self published works to look into alternative means of distribution. I do think that now is a very good time to create WORTH READING, rather than work that sells.

    (I know that those two terms can mean the same thing, but more and more in comics, you see them mutually exclusive of one another.)

    (And I’d like to say that I don’t like Rich Johnston’s public persona. Just sayin’.)

  13. It probably is the end of adult comics being available in comic shops. We have been anticipating some kind of event like this for a couple of years, one of the reasons we reduced our output and concentrated on online sales and the Demi the Demoness Movie that came out last year.

    Carnal Comics will continue to publish and sell our comics via mail and online to fans of our books all over the world.

    We have no illusions about what this will do to our sales to Diamond. For us adult publishers its a double hit. Not only is their adult catalog going to be very hard for consumers to get to, but the higher benchmarks make it very unlikely for almost all the adult publishers to get Diamond to carry our new products. We have always been a niche in the larger market. That niche has for all intents and purposes been wiped out as far as Diamond is concerned.

    I have much more to say about all this, but I’l stop for now. SSC

  14. “And rather than have my books marketed to a limited and stagnant pool…”

    Davidm this is a pretty ignorant comment considering that it is not Diamond’s (nor any Retailer’s) job to market your work, IT’S YOUR JOB.

    Unfortunately most publishers consider marketing to consist of a press release and a Diamond solicitation and then wonder why their books only sell in the hundreds blaming the Distributor and the DM.

    It’s time for publishers (and creators) to get off their asses and and start marketing their work. Time to build a customer base for your work, to create buzz prior to publication so that retail HAS TO order your book and you’re selling in at thousands upon thousands.

    It’s not rocket science and there’s tons of examples for those who actually do their homework.

  15. There’s no question that marketing yourself and your products is paramount to success. Even when you get that “big” Image contract, you’re still going to have to hit the net with everything you’ve got. And that STILL doesn’t guarantee success.

    Crazy times.

    -D

  16. Well Dwight, we are of course right there in the gutter with you through all of this mess. Currently, our new project has actually taken Diamond off the table and WILL be trying alternate means of distribution. We (along with our Publisher) will be doing any and everything to try and get these books out. It will be an uphill battle, as I am sure you will be fighting too, but at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, at the end of the day the duty to sale your own work will rely on you doing it! Maybe we can keep sharing info and what we are learning, good and bad, as I am sure there will be much of both, and hopefully make it through these trying times. In any case, you know we will be there for you if you need us, be it to just rant or share info! Good luck, we are all going to need it!

  17. Pingback: Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » New threshold ‘probably means the end of independent serialized comics’

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