The Death of Comic Books

Comic Book StoreThe United States generated about $700 million in sales of comic books and graphic novels last year, according to numbers compiled by ICv2 from release lists provided by Diamond Comic Distributors.

Due to a recent string of popular Hollywood blockbusters that were based on comic books, the market for comics and graphic novels has maintained respectable sales numbers for certain well-known superhero titles. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks retail book sales, graphic novel sales in U.S. bookstores have grown in recent years. Eager to latch onto anything hot or new that will sell, mainstream bookstores have devoted more and more shelf space to graphic novels, bound collections, and manga. Marvel's trade paperback division has tripled sales over the past year, while DC Comics' trade paperback unit is the fastest growing in its publishing group.

Despite this recent growth spurt in graphic novels, the American comic book industry as a whole is still a fraction of Japan’s huge manga market, which is estimated at about $6 billion. Why the huge difference in unit sales? In short, the Japanese culture has embraced visual storytelling in print. Anime and manga includes stories from all walks of life, from school kids to romance to sports, while in America, the only enduring characters coming out of the big American publishers are traditional superheroes. In fact, 80% of the domestic direct market sales are still superhero books.

Couple that with the fact that many young people in America today don’t read as much as they did in previous generations. They are not familiar with the comic book format. The American comics industry does not use mass-market forms of advertising to promote its products like movie studios and video game companies do. You will never see a new comic book title advertised on TV, or on billboards along a city street. That is why comic books have remained an insular small niche market.

Another key factor limiting growth is the relative difficulty for the average would-be consumer in finding a convenient comic book retail store in the local community. With less than 1500 viable comic shops nationwide, it's hard for your average person to just stumble across a comic book these days while out shopping.

Comic books also have a lot of leisure activities to compete with now. Call it progress, or evolution, but with video games and the Internet assuming more of a role in today's entertainment market, books have taken a back seat on the entertainment bus.

Nowadays, comic books have evolved into a development springboard for other, more lucrative avenues of future income, primarily from licensing the movie rights. Creators and publishers who embrace this new reality can prosper. Those still locked in the era of nostalgia, where printed comic book sales alone could keep you in business, will wither away.

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