In a recent blog post, Image Publisher Eric Stephenson looks at the sales figures for the four Robert Kirkman books released each month (The Walking Dead, Thief of Thieves, Invincible, Super Dinosaur), and notices that The Walking Dead and Thief of Thieves are selling much better than Invincible and Super Dinosaur. He believes that this increase in sales is due to the two properties being attached to AMC shows. As you know, The Walking Dead has finished two seasons, and as you probably didn’t know, Thief of Thieves has been optioned by AMC. Now, I don’t dispute that connection to AMC and popularity of The Walking Dead show has boosted sales. What I’m disputing is the why this is bad.
Here’s a bit of what Eric Stephenson has to say:
There are way worse problems to have, obviously, and I’m not complaining, but it is a little disconcerting that the dividing line between The Walking Dead and Thief of Thieves and Invincible and Super Dinosaur is the attention the former two titles have received from Hollywood. Is that a good thing for those books? Absolutely. But it’s a bad thing for comics as a whole, when we sit back and let mainstream popularity guide how we as industry order and sell comics and how we as a community buy and collect comics. In essence, we wait for someone outside comics to tell us something is worthwhile before accepting it ourselves.
Now, I’m not an industry insider or anything, and maybe my cynicism is still asleep in bed, but is it possible, just maybe the sales bumps are not due to comic fans that now believe these books are okay to buy because there is now a show based on them, but instead from people exposed to these books for the first time because of the show. Image has succeeded where the Big 2 usually fails, and has actually gotten a bump in sales from a movie or show. But, maybe Stephenson has some polling statistics that back up his beliefs as to why more people are buying those books, but it is too simplistic of a view to take without any solid stats.
You’re assuming that it is only current comic readers that were aware of the comics, but not buying them, that have decided to purchase them because of the show. It also assumes that the only reason they are buying the comic is because it is a show. Not because they liked the show, and wanted to read the source material. That seems a bit cynical to me. You’re essentially saying that these new people that are buying your product are pretty shallow people. Connected to that, you’re making the assumption that someone who isn’t buying a comic book could not be persuaded to buy one. It’s impossible that someone could watch The Walking Dead on AMC, like it so much that they suddenly have to know more about it, and so they go to a bookstore and buy copies of it.
But isn’t that what everybody wants? Isn’t the question plaguing the companies “how do we get more readers?” But now you’re unhappy because you question why you think new people are buying the books. Where you see insecure comic book fans, I see people that simply don’t know you exist. Let’s face it, when the average person thinks of comic books, they think of the Big 2. They think of superheroes. Not really interested in superheroes, they stay away from comic books. So, when something comes along that surprises them, they’re willing to check it out. That’s the goal. You can’t be cynical when exposure actually works.
And I do think exposure has more to do with a sales increase than validation. Because let’s face it, Image is still a fairly small company. Yes, they produce a lot of fine creator-owned work, but they aren’t exactly on the top of everyone’s minds. So, when an Image book gains exposure, you just have to accept that it might convince some people to give it a try. And when they give it a try, you can’t be upset that they weren’t reading it when they didn’t know about it. That would be a very arrogant thing to believe. And while you may believe that people should automatically sample everything you publish, or that retailers should be pushing everyone to read your books, that’s not life.
It’s not a consumer’s responsibility to automatically pick up everything you publish. It’s just not financially possible for most people. Neither is it a retailer’s job to push your books. It’s the job of your marketing department. But you know what else does a great job of marketing? Television. When people see things on television that they like, they are inclined to buy it. So instead of being upset that Hollywood bringing more interest to your product, embrace it.
As usual, I ended up rambling, and I don’t mean to sound like I dislike Image or Eric Stephenson. I just think that it sounds demeaning to hear an industry professional to say something like this. And Mr. Stephenson, if you happen to read this, and I’ve completely missed the point of your post, please comment and correct me.