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A question about the power of creator owned comics in the direct market

I get a lot of email from readers of this site and from people who follow the Tuesday Twitterstorm that is #comicmarket. Here is a quick question from Stephen Damm. Take it away, Stephen!

Mr Nastos
I was going one direction – the relationship of creator owned titles to sales numbers and how CO properties actually sustain the market more than the Big 2 would like us to think and I still would like to hear thoughts in relationship to how such a small part of the over all sales keeps shops afloat by not putting all their eggs in a Marvel DC basket.

-Stephen Damm


Thanks for the note!

In terms of your question on creator-owned work sustaining the market…I hate to be the one to say this, but I don’t think that’s true at all. We all know the majority of comic sales are from Marvel and DC. There’s no way to dispute that fact — you can see the numbers every month from Diamond, along with at places like BookScan. When you look at sales from the rest of the top 5 or 8 publishers, you’ll see most of the big sales outside of Marvel/DC are licensed books. Companies like Dark Horse, Boom, IDW and Dynamite make their livings on licensed comics.

Image is really the only place where creator-owned books make any sort of a dent in the direct market — sure IDW has a couple which do OK (mainly from being adapted into other mediums), and there are some other spikes here and there over the years, but really, Image is the main spot for creator owned work. If you take out the three Robert Kirkman books from the equation, there really isn’t much sales power in creator-owned material even at Image (Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, for example, sells well under 5000 copies per issue; as does the well-regarded Skullkickers).

Yes, this is coming from a guy who has done creator-owned work in the past and has a few new projects coming out in the next year. However, it’s just the way things are. There are 10 times as many creator owned books on the market right now than Marvel/DC books (more if you count what is being sold through places like Ka-Blam and Comixpress; waaaay more if you count digital-only titles) and they account for a small fraction of the direct market. Most shops “put all their eggs in a Marve/DC basket” because no one really wants the other eggs. So why carry them?

Would I love for this to change? Very much so. But that is going to take a significant change in the readership of comic books themselves and in creators upping their game in terms of advertising and marketing their work properly. Most creator owned books are just let loose in the direct market without any support or any thought about who the real market for those books is.

This is one of the main reason I took the bulk of my sales/marketing efforts for my books like Elfsong, Cadre and Fionn outside of the direct market to where there were readers interested in the kinds of stories I was telling. The key to a creator owned series achieving financial success is for it to reach an outside audience and bring those new readers into the current comic market. Until that happens, I don’t see any shops being “kept afloat” exclusively through creator owned sales. We are all living in a Marvel/DC world for the most part…now we just have to see if we can change that!

But, that’s just my own opinion and experiences.

Thanks again for the great question, Stephen!

-Mat Nastos, Super Genius

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Mat Nastos
TV, Film, comic book, fantasy & steampunk writer/director, known best for bad horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs & dinosaurs in the sewers. You can find his work on Smashwords or at his Amazon Author Page.

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