The Big Two are Incentivized to Fail

comics industryLast Tuesday this Outhouse Article (By Jude Terror) began making the rounds across social media. It’s a good article and I think you ought to go read it before continuing if you haven’t already.

In a nutshell, it’s nothing that we sad sacks in the Indy Comix scene haven’t been saying for decades now. Marvel and DC (who make up about 66% of the industry’s marketshare) engage in business practices that shrink the total possible comics readership, thus hurting the industry as a whole. It looks like their businesses is a snake eating its tail. Consistently doubling down on a broken monopolistic distributor and a shrinking/dying audience. Which causes the readership to sink. Which lowers the money coming in. Which means more books get canceled. Which shrinks the readership again. You get the idea.

Creators working in the system, top creators no less, place the onus on the readers themselves. If readers don’t make their desires known, if readers don’t make their consumer demand SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS, then the new/intersting titles, and the creators making them, will fail. The breakdown here is that readers must make this demand known in the most ass way possible. A way that serves only the system and not the creators or the readers. It seems foolish or insane that such a system continues unabated. Foolish and insane that the creators, who are punished by the system, would push to prop up the same system at all costs.

Except it’s not foolish.

It’s the only move to make.

The system is broken, but it is INFINITELY more possible to cow and chastise the readers into changing their habits than it is to change the entire system. (Fun fact: This is the same reason the U.S. Govt. is such a dumpster fire right now.)

When we talk about Marvel and DC, we are not actually talking about Marvel or DC. We are talking about the IDEA of Marvel and DC. The reality is that we are talking about Disney and Warner Bros.  Disney and Warner Bros. make movies, and they make a lot of money off of these movies. And they make even more when they make a movie off of a long trusted and well known brand.

Marvel and DC have the ability to change the way they do business, and possibly bring in tons of new readers, but there would be an element of risk. But what is the reward? There could be tons more readers which would bring in tons more money, but not the kind of money that Disney or Warner Bros. would notice. The risk however is that Marvel and DC might change the brand or worse hurt the brand. That is something that Disney and Warner Bros. WOULD notice. The brand of Marvel and DC is the valuable bit that Disney and Warner Bros. bought when they purchased the companies in the first place.

Marvel and DC are absolutely engaged in business practices that shrink the market and hurt the art form, however they are incentivized to stay the course. There’s little money in enriching an art form. There is tons of money in maintaining a brand.

Those companies make up two thirds of the ship, and they are incentivized to keep the ship on its exact course making it impossible for the other third to change it. Thus the only possible course of action is to change the habits of readers.

A simple solution for creators is to go completely independent. (Self publishers, web comics, small art house publishers, etc.) They each can work but success is scattered and limited for all but a precious few, and without the goliath backing of a functioning industry, readers are scattered and difficult to inform. To make the success less scattered and to remove the limits for more small publishers, the industry needs a large colossal movement that makes itself more available to consumers. But two thirds of the industry will not budge. They won’t budge because they are strictly incentivized to NEVER budge.

Jude Terror believes that the only true solution (or the inevitable one) is for the industry to collapse upon itself like a dying star. I believe that is the second worst possible outcome for the industry. The worst possible outcome is what is happening now. The industry will not collapse like a dying star. It will instead limp forward on the backs of very long held licenses. The readership will continue to shrink and the business practices will remain unchanged. Disney and Warner Bros. will spend money to prop up their licenses and maintain their brands, but Disney and Warner Bros. will never spend the money to change the fundamental problems, because it will never be worth it. The day that it makes more fiscal sense to fix the system, will be the day it’ll make even more sense for Disney/Warner bros. to just dump Marvel/DC.

If the art form is ever to be enriched, if the pie of comics readers is ever to get bigger, the rest of comics publishing will have to change on it’s own, or continue to have two giant albatrosses tied around its neck until there is no pie left.

-Gabe D.