Updates, and notes on making comics during the Great Recession

Updates, and notes on making comics during the Great Recession
In: News, thoughts, advice, torchbearer

Greetings everyone,

As you’ve noticed, we’ve recently had to scale back on the frequency of updates regarding the latest happenings here at Odd Truth. To be honest, the main reason has been because of my day job. We’re about to deploy an app I’ve been redesigning for the past few months, so for the past few weeks it’s been nothing but working on this. Thankfully, the deadline is coming up soon and things will return to normal after that.

Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean work has stopped to a halt: just updates about our work. 😉 We’re right now halfway through coloring issue 6, and I’m right now deciding on covers for the second trade, which will go on sale first at Asbury Park Comic Con. The script for issue 7 is settled on, though I’m diverting attention from it to finish the script for my first graphic novel, tentatively titled “Alex and Veronica”. I’ve been talking about it openly since BaltimoreCon and recently I’ve decided to finally finish it, with the hopes that it’ll be ready for NYCC 2014.

Aside from that, if you follow me on the Comics Experience forums, you’ll notice that I’ve recently started a topic on making comics during harsh economic times (like the Great Recession we’re living through). It all stemmed from this article that pointed out how the business world is reacting to the dwindling of the middle class. I was (and still am) under the impression that, in the US, reading comics is mostly done by children and members of the middle class. At the time I started the forum post, I didn’t have data to back this up: only childhood impressions and a gut feeling. Getting readership data is tricky in the comics industry, as most companies are adverse to share their market analysis data. Comixology has done a good job at publishing some of their data. Even so, I’ve managed to get more data pointing to the fact that lower income children are more likely to watch TV than read, as well as that, at least for DC comics New 52 readers, they tend to earn 60K or less a year. Conclusive data? Not even remotely, but it does point to the fact that reading comics is common among the middle class. Which would mean that, taking the NYTimes article at face value, the comic book reading market is slowly dwindling as the middle class shrinks.

Not good news, I thought.

I understand that, as indy creators, we tend to favor passionate, personal projects over those that are inherently commercial ventures, but we must never forget that, at the end of the day, we are still an industry and cannot be blind to the market realities. Though we can’t control them, we can control how we react to them. That fact was pointed out in the NY Times article and we should take heed of it as well.

Which begs the ultimate question: what can we do, both individually and as an industry?

I think the first course of action is to try to use the market available to us right now: whether it’s the local comic book stores, comic cons and what have you, and build up our connections. This is pretty standard advice and in any business it needs to be done. Aside from that, perhaps it would be advantageous to start expanding outside of the US. If we take Comixology’s audience infographic at face value, then it’s advantageous to target markets outside of the US. Admittedly, this is sound advice regardless of the current economic environment. After all, increasing one’s market is always good, right?

We may also consider targeting the affluent by creating more high-value items, like leather bound copies of our books, or by creating high-value experiences based off of our intellectual property. The “experience” angle comes due to my realization that, as comic cons become more pop-cultural events and less about comic books, the audience at the comic con will look more for experiences they can enjoy at the moment. As such, we should meet those needs and find a way people can enjoy the experience of our books immediately, thus enticing them to know more and (hopefully) procure a copy.

Two points were brought up at the Comics Experience forum: the first is perhaps the need to factor crowdsourcing. Personally, I’m more adverse to crowdsourcing as a crowdsourcing campaign can be just as time-consuming as freelance contracting for me. However, it’s undeniable that many have had success through crowdsourcing. More importantly, it provides you with access to an audience known to be dedicated to the projects they sponsor, which is the best audience one can find. As Gannon Beck of Space Corps pointed out, we’re really at the infancy of online crowdsourcing, and other models like Patreon (where one acts as a patron of a creator) or Pave (where one can directly fund someone’s project or pay off their student debt) can provide alternatives to Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Another point is to pursue another business model, akin to Netflix. While it sounds appealing from a customer’s perspective, to be frank it would suck as a creator. Paraphrasing the link from a netflix-like service, Comics Fix, you make money based off of how many pages of your content is seen in a quarter compared to all pages available, after the company takes off all operations costs out of its gross sales. I would be surprised if other competing services don’t follow a similar model. Naturally, if your comic is popular, you have nothing to worry about. If it’s not, it’s potentially a pretty raw deal. :-/

The truth is, no one knows what the answers are, or how we must react. Even the big 2 learn every day how to react to the market. What we must appreciate is that the facts are there and we must plan ahead in whatever fashion we realize is best to our long-term growth.

And with that, I leave you to hide back in my cave for another week or so as I finish this project.

Until next time,

-Nick D.

PS. Did I mention that all copies of Torchbearer are 99 cents now on Comixology for the next month? You should grab a copy now (and rate them please!) before they come back up in price!

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