It's a wild-eyed, faintly obnoxious and ultimately baseless speculation on what the North American comics market will look like in 2014, and since we're about halfway there now, I thought it'd be fun to check back what the Future looked like to me November 19, 2004.
I recall wanting to put it up, you know, November 19, 2009, but then went and forgot about it, which may not have been the worst place to leave things at. But judge for yourself, and don't say I didn't warn you.
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PROPHECY NUMBER ONE
Pamphlets will not go away.
The fact of the matter is that, in the foreseeable future, there are always going to be people who want their monthly pamphlets. Which, coupled with the observation that a price point that's Too High for existing pamphlet customers has yet to be discovered, should secure their existence for years to come.
The market for this particular format will keep shrinking, of course. The top titles in the direct market, ten years from now, will sell in the neighborhood of 30,000 copies. And there are going to be other changes for pamphlets as well. Prices will go up dramatically; the titles will almost exclusively be "reprints" (bear with me, we'll come back to that in a minute); the books will grow bigger and contain more advertisements; ongoing series will mostly be re-packaged as strings of mostly self-contained limited series; et cetera.
But the bottom line is this: There are going to be pamphlets. They will be insanely expensive pamphlets and they will be pamphlets catering to an audience aged thirty and up, but they will exist.
Deal with it.
PROPHECY NUMBER TWO
Superheroes will not go away, either.
So you might as well get over it now.
Trying to cut down on superhero comics in the American market is like trying to cut down on pasta in Italian cuisine.
The status of the superhero genre comes down to American culture. It's anchored there and it's the United States' nationally favored flavor of comics. As long as there is flag-waving and patriotism and apple pie in America, there are going to be superheroes.
Superheroes are there because people want them. If you believe taking the genre away or reducing it would teach people to like other genres, you are wrong. Readers of superhero comics, for the most part, are not comic readers, but superhero readers. Take away superhero comics, and those people will just move on to other media.
More importantly, superheroes are an entry drug. Many of the Vertigo and Oni and Top Shelf and Fantagraphics readers of 2014 are recruited from the ranks of the superhero readers of 2004. Superheroes are a gateway.
What do we learn from that?
If you don't like eating pasta, that's fine. Find something else to eat and explain why you like it. But don't bloody tell me that eating pasta is wrong and I shouldn't be eating pasta.
And, while we're at it, North America isn't the world, you know.
If you don't like superheroes and don't find enough non-superhero material to satisfy your appetite in North America, how about actually trying some material from Europe, Asia, Asia, Africa, South America or Australia...?
Really, do get over it.
Now, with these two basic points limited to American comics out of the way, let us move on to the important stuff, shall we.
PROPHECY NUMBER THREE
Paperback and hardcover books will not be the standard format for comics.
They won't be the standard format for prose texts anymore, either, mind you. Ten years from now, everyone living in a halfway modernized and democratic region will (a) carry a handheld computer that's leaps and bounds above the ones we know today and (b) have radically improved access to a dramatically grown and more effective Internet—from everywhere and at any time.
Paper books won't go away, of course. But they'll have been replaced as the default format. They will be available in libraries and serve as hardcopies of important texts, but only people who are traditionalists and rich enough to enjoy the very expensive and old-fashioned luxury of a printed book will want to afford more than ten books a year.
The rest of the world will have switched to electronic copies, which are more convenient, much cheaper to produce and much easier to distribute. Most of the printed books that will be left, whether it's pamphlets, magazines or novels, will in fact contain "reprints" of works first published in electronic form.
We will carry all of our books in our pockets, and the world's libraries will be available to us at the tip of our fingers.
There is no reason why comics should be an exception.
PROPHECY NUMBER FOUR
The medium will be more popular and diverse than it ever was, among children as well as adults.
Along with the greatly diminished importance of the direct and bookstore markets, the playing field among various publishers and genres will be more level than ever before. The big publishers' advantages will largely have disappeared, and they won't be able to rest on their creative laurels anymore.
The rise of electronic books will enable people from around the world to read whichever comics they want, in whichever language they understand, whenever they want to.
There will be no anachronistic pre-ordering procedures, no token predominance of two or three companies, no significant hurdles for creators to get their work out there even without a big publisher—or any publisher at all—to back them up.
As access to comics will be infinitely easier than it is now, the audience for the medium will grow across the entire age spectrum. The regional preponderance of specific genres or styles will not be a concern any longer. Exposure to, and acceptance of, comics as a medium of art and literature will hit an all-time high.
As a matter of fact, comics will start to overtake prose as an intuitive and effective way of communicating information or narratives to an audience.
There will be more bad comics, naturally, but there will be more good comics as well.
A new, global audience unhindered by artificial limitations like publishers, distributor monopolies, regional trends or the saturation with specialty stores will be deciding what's going to survive.
TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT
Let's stop worrying about silly things like the merits of superhero comics or how to get comics in the hands of children again or how to diversify the direct market or what does or doesn't constitute the "mainstream," fer chrissakes.
Ten years from now, that's all going to be moot, anyway.
Instead, let's start sorting through some real problems we're inevitably going to face on the way up: Comic specialty stores will have to adapt and may be in for some rough times until the dust settles; a reasonable digital standard format for comics will have to be found; steps to prevent piracy will have to be taken early in the game of electronic distribution—let's not be the record industry; not all present storytelling approaches will work in the new formats (but there will be new ones, of course); stuff we don't even know will pose a problem yet.
Overall, however, things are clearly looking up, folks. We're heading for a new Golden Age here, and it's happening faster than we realize.
So lighten up, will ya?
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There you have it. Obviously, some of my humbly labeled "prophecies" (handheld computers) are more on target than others (advertising), but overall, it seems we did come a long way since 2004. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure what point I was trying to make with the superheroes-as-a-gateway nonsense, and I will passionately deny having authored a word of the above if pressured.)