Saturday, 31 March 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 4

An aside; because anyone who has followed this knows I like asides (I'm also a big fan of some b-sides too).

At some point during the serialisation of My Monthly Curse, one of my friends asked me a similar question to the one that prompted me to e-publish and blog serialise the book what I wrote. He asked me if I would go back into comics if could; which considering how vehement I've been about there not being a future in comics seemed a little like asking me if I'd like to invest in manufacturing black and white analogue TV sets. My reply was my stock answer - pay me enough money, guarantee that income for a minimum of five years and don't fuck with me; which as we all know is as likely to happen as a boom in black and white analogue TV sets.

However, this got me thinking and some time later, while watching another friend fiddle with her iPhone, I thought apps. Yes, I met some kids recently who have just got into comics, but come on, after everything you've read can you see how and why that won't save the industry? But what if comics could be made available to be read on a phone or a tablet? They probably can; I'm so out of the loop on modern technology, it's probably been done for years (so don't tell me unless it hasn't, okay?). But my understanding of an app is you either get it for free or pay a nominal charge - what if you gave away a viewing app and then charged a small fee to download each monthly instalment of your favourite comic? Hell, if you could buy a comic for $0.49 to read on your phone or tablet, you'd probably be tempted to try something you wouldn't normally.

The way technology has developed since I dropped out of comics is phenomenal: I have the piss taken out of me regularly because of my archaic and decrepit Samsung phone, but I didn't actually own a mobile phone until 2002, so I really am more of a novice than the average 4 year old. You see for as much as I claim to still not collect, there's this 1500+ CDs behind me that include things I've either downloaded or bought that I have never played; I have them because they were there and either I might like them or I have it because I have something else that I quite liked and one day I might listen to this and like that too... I still collect and suddenly, while perusing my big boss's iPad the other day thought, 'Hmm, you know, you could read a comic on one of these things and it would be hi res and I could, theoretically, read it on the toilet (maybe not the bath, unless I had shitloads of money) and with all those gigabytes of storage space, I could have just about any comicbook series I've ever enjoyed and they would take up NO ROOM! I wouldn't be concerned about how much they're worth or whether I could get a copy of something and that, if I had any inclination to read anything again would be, what they call, a sure bet.

Obviously, the yoof of today can get more kicks from playing a Marvel or DC Universe superhero video game (do they still call them video games?) and with the amount of scope available in these sprawling great mammoths now, you could be anything from Batman to the Joker to a clingon on Batman's cape - the scope is becoming endless. But as a comic and one that could be charged at such an affordable rate that piracy would be almost pointless; think of the money these companies could make from everything they possess?

Heck, you could interactive versions; versions for dyslexics, even the blind. You could package the legit versions with extras to make people want to buy it from the publisher rather than pick up a torrent copy. How about a top writer or artist conducting an exclusive interview split across any title he or she works on as incentive to buy other comics by that creator? Yes, it's the gimmick cover malarkey again, but if you charged $0.49... Plus think of the devastating effect it would eventually have the monopolising distribution company, um, companies? If over the next 20 years tablets become very affordable and the change over to comics on screen is a success then out goes expensive printing, haulage and excessive editorial costs - the companies can pay the creators the same or similar money, but save millions over a year in physical production costs. If a comic sells 10,000 copies at $3.95, the actual profit is going to be something like $1.00, before editorial costs. So out of possibly $10,000 gross profit on a single issue, the company might make $4,000 net profit. If, however, they could sell 10,000 copies at $0.50 each, that's $5,000 profit before editorial costs; okay, you've got to pay some people to convert the finished pages into something that can be scanned and read on a tablet, so you can knock 10% off that gross profit - but that leaves $500 more than a physical copy would make and there is far more scope for increasing sales on marginal titles because of the less than prohibitive price. A fair to middling book with a wee bit of money thrown at it to publicise it throughout the net and the comics community could double the readership and suddenly that minimal extra profit becomes no longer marginal - nearly $10,000 on a single issue instead. To my obviously misguided and addled brain that sounds like a far better area to investigate and develop than attempting to flog the dying horse that is the paper comics medium.

I am convinced that the only real thing preventing some kind of comicbook renaissance is the price you pay. In a world where economics is God and potential customers are inclined to buy food and pay the mortgage before they indulge in a spot of Spandex, innovation has to be the thing these dinosaurs need to invest in - they're dying anyhow, so what's to lose?

Also, talking to my good friend Rodrigo in Brazil last week, I asked him to give me a breakdown of Brazilian comics: home produced comics; kids' books, funnies etc., cost the equivalent of about $1 in Brazilian money; if you want the Marvel or DC superhero titles you'll pay about 200% more, because these are popular amongst the kids - yet home grown books still sell upwards of a million copies a month, while the reprints translated into Portuguese sell about 100,000 copies - but more than enough to make them lucrative. However, because of the cost of superhero reprints, there's been a growing small press market with Brazilians producing Brazilian superheroes (not all of them child friendly either) and these, because they sell massive amounts compared to UK and US small press, are making creators some money, despite the ridiculously cheap cover prices - in line with the funny books. More importantly, it gets them exposure and the chance to work for one of the major USA companies and earn, by their standards, big bucks - it's why Mike Deodato jr went into comics, it was either that or go into design work, because for all the comics Brazil sells, creators don't earn the same as they do in the USA - proving that the USA made a fatal error when it started beatifying their hot artists.

Brazil just replaced the UK as the 6th largest country by GDP. It can't even be described as a Third World country any more. Yes, I'm aware there's a multitude of practical reasons why US and UK comics cost so much and there's the strange peculiarity of comics fans distrusting comics that are ridiculously cheap - Marvel tried a 99c range back in the early 90s and it flopped like a gay man on a lesbian porno set. The fact the line was utter shit is immaterial, no one was tempted and largely because of the price. Fucking comics fans, just love to be as contrary as a contrary thing.

The point is, if this hasn't already been done - why not? If comics - the paper versions - are still needed, then the publishers invest in developing their own small direct supply networks, with local print companies producing small runs of books and shipping them out and setting up deals with book publishers to supply artwork for trade paperbacks and albums.

The future of comics companies might be to dispense with the need for distributors entirely.

Next up: I'm hoping to remember the thing I've forgotten I was going to write about.

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