Monday, May 5, 2008

Messenger, Shot Dead

Well, ouch.

I used to think it didn't matter if people bought a series in monthly issues or in trade, just so long as they were buying it. But now I feel like it's imperative that we get more fans buying the monthly issues right from the get-go, just to get them talking about it, blogging about it, posting about it on message boards, bugging their retailers to order more than one shelf copy, everything. It's just so easy for a new Vertigo series to get written off before it's even really out of the gate. You get these so called "analysts" looking at the sales numbers for the first issue and already saying, well here's another failed Vertigo launch, already dead in the water. You get people already assuming the book won't make it past issue 12. And suddenly it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As writer Jason Aaron explains, it's all been my fault, all the time.

If a Vertigo book debuts with outrageously poor numbers, you see, then it's not the shifting market that's to blame, or the quality of the art or the writing, or the marketability of the work or its given genre, or the publisher's marketing efforts, or the attractiveness of the trade dress, or the prominence of the creators, or the strength of the publishing brand, or the value-for-money perception, or the retail community's willingness to order the product or the readers' decision whether or not to buy the bloody comic.

Nope, none of those silly things matter. The single most relevant factor which has caused average Vertigo periodical sales to decline by an estimated thirty-two point fucking four percent over the last five years is, without a shadow of doubt, something else entirely: It is I, so-called analyst.

With my crooked column, you see, I have wrought nefarious numbers and wretched writings into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Indeed, by my contemptible calculations, I thus reckon that I will have single-handedly wiped Vertigo comic books off the face of the earth altogether by the year 2019.

Erm, really?

13 comments:

matches said...

Come on, Marc - that's a pretty distorted version of what he's saying. People DO pay attention to and talk about your column, and many of them misunderstand it, despite the many disclaimers you put in it.

Aaron's just talking about the need to build buzz for the monthly issues, lest the book be written off before a collection is issued. He didn't say that your column is the only factor determining whether a book has positive or negative online buzz, but people do pay attention to it and put stock in it. If your analysis of issue #3 of whatever series is "boy this didn't launch well", it would be nice from the creators' or the publishers' perspective to have something positive out there as a counterbalance.

Marc-Oliver said...

"that's a pretty distorted version of what he's saying."

I don't think so - I'd say it's the point of his message.

Which worries me, really. If that's the common wisdom in the industry - that the dissemination and discussion of available sales information is to blame for those books' meager survival chances - the people in charge of the wheel seem to be even more clueless about what's going on than I am.

"People DO pay attention to and talk about your column, and many of them misunderstand it, despite the many disclaimers you put in it."

If that was Aaron's point, I'd still disagree with him, but I don't think it is.

"If your analysis of issue #3 of whatever series is "boy this didn't launch well", it would be nice from the creators' or the publishers' perspective to have something positive out there as a counterbalance."

Well, try promotion. It's their job, and it can be done without making preposterous claims and picking random scapegoats for their failure to sell books.

My approach to the matter is critical and analytical, and I don't see the harm in that.

Anonymous said...

So Marc-Oliver,

When we did the interview a few weeks ago I didn't realize what a powerful man you are in the industry :-D

For the next interview I have the following questions prepared:

- Why do you hate Vertigo Comics so much?
- How does it feel to be responsible for the cancellations of: Exterminators, Scalped and eventually DMZ? Do you get a kick out of it?
- Officially Y the last man wasn't cancelled. But come on, you probably had something to do with it? Admit it!
- Could you please spare Fables and Jack of Fables? I really love those series.


*lol*

Lamond

matches said...

"If that's the common wisdom in the industry - that the dissemination and discussion of available sales information is to blame for those books' meager survival chances - the people in charge of the wheel seem to be even more clueless about what's going on than I am."

I think it's relatively non-controversial to opine that discussing something can affect that which is being discussed. I'm sure you're aware of the discussions on various boards that are sparked each month by your and Paul's columns. If a book is widely speculated as being in trouble, it's probably not a stretch to think people might avoid reading it, thus helping contribute to its demise.

That seems to be what Aaron wants to combat, and what he's suggesting is exactly what you say - more promotion, earlier promotion - pushing the book.

None of that's to say that discussion is necessarily a bad thing - just that it's part of the landscape. Your and Paul's columns are far more high-profile than similar efforts in the past, and they've permeated the comicnet in a pretty significant way. They're now part of the dialogue, and the widespread availability of that information does require some reaction from publishers and creators.

Alicia said...

I can't help but notice that Paul O'Brian doesn't have to put up with these wackos claiming that discussion of sales destroys sales. Marvel fans and creators seem to have no problems accepting that, generally speaking, if something sells or it doesn't it mostly has to do with qualities inherent to the work itself.

The tone from the DC side, where sales are sagging and sliding no matter what anyone does, suggests an utterly mismanaged company looking for scapegoats to lash out at in hopes of not having to confront their own tremendous failures.

Marc-Oliver said...

"If a book is widely speculated as being in trouble, it's probably not a stretch to think people might avoid reading it, thus helping contribute to its demise."

There's a good case to be made that public sales figures can, to an extent, accelerate developments which are occurring anyway, certainly.

But even presuming that it does, we've got no solid data on the extent, and there's no reason to presume that the negative effects outweigh the positive effects, either.

If you believe that the discussion of sales figures can kill a healthy book, though, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you. People - and retailers in particular - may misunderstand little things here and there, but they're not stupid.

The notion of a "self-fulfilling prophecy" is a big, steamy pile of horse manure that doesn't withstand a moment's worth of thought.

Marc-Oliver said...

"They're now part of the dialogue, and the widespread availability of that information does require some reaction from publishers and creators."

Which, in some cases at least, ends up being finger-pointing and disinformation.

Not a very effective strategy, if you ask me.

kenny said...

The notion that an analyst is responsible for killing any book is analogous to saying a person observing the Titanic sink caused the boat to sink.

I can't even begin to comprehend how ludicrous Jason Aaron's thinking is. If he's saying Vertigo books can't hold up to a basic examination of their sales figures, then what is he implying about the quality of the story telling? I'm truly at a loss....

Tucker Stone said...

Most comic writers seem to be of the mind that the only thing that should be written about comic books is that they are good, and the writer is good, and the artist is good.

There's never any real analysis, or disclosure, of the read world mechanics of promotion, pay, sales--it's all just a constant stream of meaningless noise about "how awesome this is going to be" and "tell your friends to read ____".

If anything, I'd take being called a "so-called analyst" as the huge validation of what you're doing with sales figures that it really is. Keep up the great work. Maybe someday, though I doubt it, there will be some actual open and honest discussion of the actual publishing that goes on at DC & Marvel, beyond the PR wanking and the creator bitching.

Marc-Oliver said...

Rhetorics aside, perhaps I should point out I'm not taking this stuff personally, as I don't flatter myself by presuming that it really matters to Aaron and crew WHO reports on their sales.

Nor do I think I'm committing any grave acts of journalism by commenting on available sales figures, for that matter. But surely North American mainstream comics is a confident enough business to withstand a little honest critical analysis.

Joe Willy said...

Isn't the real culprit the market forces that are taking comics from a periodical business to a more bookstore-oriented model where books will have longer shelf lives? I hate that good creators are stuck in this, I think many fans sympathize since they sort of feel pulled in both directions as well, but to blame it on analysts that are read by maybe 1,000 people is sort of silly. A bigger person to blame might be the head honchos at the Big 2 who still can't seem to figure out who to aim their books at- the DM every Wednesday crowd or the bookstore GN audience. They shoot for both and divide the money so that neither end is quite as successful as perhaps it could be. But it's easier to blame you than the person who signs the checks, I suppose. It IS frustrating, because I think Vertigo has launched some great books with mediocre numbers.

Paul O'Brien said...

"I can't help but notice that Paul O'Brien doesn't have to put up with these wackos claiming that discussion of sales destroys sales."

Well, yes, but I'm writing about Marvel. And with Marvel, low-selling books generally fall into two categories: (a) those which are so clearly analogous to higher-selling superhero comics that they're indisputably doing badly compared to their peers, and (b) those which are so clearly not targetted at the direct market in the first place that their DM sales aren't very meaningful.

I don't have to deal with Vertigo, which poses more of an interpretive challenge. It's plain, I think, that Vertigo's single issues are not selling as well as they used to a few years back. The question is whether that reflects a movement to other formats, or a decline in the fortunes of the brand, or a bit of both. This is a lot harder to answer definitively by reference to hard data - but given the number of Vertigo titles which have met an early demise over the last couple of years, it seems a reasonable inference that things could be going a lot better.

Jim Kingman said...

While I run the risk of fueling the fire that's boiling the pot, that's not my intention. All I want to do is calm matters down.

I respect Jason Aaron as a writer and I think his Vertigo book, Scalped, is outstanding. I believe he's genuinely frustrated in the low sales of the book, as am I. However, I think his comment about "so called 'analysts'" is wrong.

On the other hand, Marc-Oliver, I think you've taken his frustration way too personally. Sure, you've listed the correct problems in regard to Vertigo's sales problems (I can think of only two you left out), but then you go on to vent your own frustration, basically bending down to Jason's level, and it doesn't really do anyone any good. We're all in the same boat, I think we're all frustrated, and I think it's better we pursue solutions than escalate hurt feelings.

Personally, I'm a little p.o.'d at Dirk Deppey for noting at Journalista that "We assume we're all grown-ups here" and then he goes on to headline your frustrations which links to Jason's frustrations and the downward spiral just carries on.

But maybe the tension needs to be thrown out there so we can take stock and then deal with it more constructively.

A couple of months I noticed in the Billboard album charts that Ringo Starr's new CD debuted with about the same sales as a monthly issue of Scalped. I know that's comparing apples to oranges, but I did find it a tad comforting, in a warped kind of way, that an issue of Scalped could sell as well as a former Beatle's new CD.

Everyone I've mentioned above (including Ringo) please keep up the great work.