New Opportunities

The American comic book industry has a tremendous amount of untapped potential. There is room in the market for many more styles of comics. The industry needs to advertise its products better and reach out to people who are not already buying comic books. For example, one key demographic group who has been chronically under-served is the female audience.

Very few American comic book publishers have made a serious effort at reaching out to girls or women. Traditionally, comic books have been considered a male hobby. Men collect comic books; women don’t. That has been the prevailing attitude in the male dominated industry for decades. The stories and artwork are not designed to appeal to your average female. The industry as a whole has basically shunned half the population.

The only way to attract more female readers into comics is to offer a wider variety of subject matter, including dramas and comedies. The average comic book store also needs to be more attractive to women. Most shops today are dirty, disorganized, and have horrible customer service. Reaching out to new audiences will require some major re-thinking and re-structuring of the current distribution channels.

For years, many American comic book professionals have complained about the dwindling specialty market they have religiously served. While these guys continued to fight over the same fanboy audience, the Japanese just pitched their tent down the road and invited in the general public, including females. The phenomenal rise of manga in the bookstore market has proven the industry naysayers very wrong. There are all kinds of markets out there for smart businessmen who are willing to go grab them. The new audiences that Viz and TokyoPop are reaching are, for the most part, not customers that have the remotest interest in superhero comics like X-Men.

The challenge for publishers today will be to develop and aggressively promote new properties and formats that appeal to consumers outside of the traditional target demographic. "Business as usual" just won’t cut it anymore. If someone doesn’t start figuring out ways to market the comic book medium as a whole to a broader mainstream audience, the industry may soon begin a slow decline to the point of obscurity. The industry can limp along like this until it goes the way of vinyl records and drive-in movie theaters, or it can innovate and reinvent itself and offer new experiences.

Some publishers believe the future of comic books is the graphic novel format. We, as a society, are just too impatient today to have to wait one month for the next installment to our favorite storyline. A graphic novel allows you to read the entire story in one shot. Instant gratification. From a business standpoint, graphic novels have a much longer shelf life, and can be sold at conventional bookstores as well as comic specialty shops. Some critically acclaimed books, such as Watchmen or The Walking Dead, can be "evergreen," selling strongly for many years after its initial release.

International markets are another potential source of significant future income. In the next decade, China and India will become one of the largest consumers of books and entertainment products. In the past ten years, China's book industry has quadrupled in size. Given that the market for books has not yet matured, it is fair to say that the industry's rapid growth is likely to continue. As China transitions into a free market economy, book sales may in time be second only to those in the United States.

Another growth area is digital comic books. Twenty years from now, people will be reading on a portable wireless HD device instead of a book. Thus far, American book publishers have been slow to embrace Internet distribution, fearing that until secure technologies and pricing models are in place, their copyright works will be freely disseminated, as online music has been. Once issues of piracy have been resolved, this e-book format will grow like crazy. Like music and movies, comic books will eventually have to adapt to the online media revolution.

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