I've changed the title of this thread from "Comic Book Sales Trends in 2016" because I keep coming back to it.

My friendly neighborhood comics shop, Fantom Comics of Washington, DC, breaks down what sold at the store in 2016. This information, of course, applies only to the one store, but it's still interesting reading: "2016 In Review – A Comic Book Shop Talks Comic Book Sales Trends"

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It seems like maybe the Big 2 could probably learn something from a comic like Walking Dead. It's consistently a top seller. The sales numbers don't fluctuate much from month to month. It never restarts numbering. Never crosses over with other titles. Doesn't have any tie-ins or spin offs. The creative team is very consistent.  Characters die and stay dead.  Readers stay loyal. Continuity is clear and consistent.  And it's not even in color!  It's pretty much the exact opposite of everything Marvel and DC are doing. 

When I returned to comics in 1989 I avoided the X-Men titles because they had become impenetrable to new and returning readers.

I think that if Marvel is going to try "clever" things that change their long-term characters they should do one a year not so many at once.

I think consistency in the writer/artist team, which for many years was the norm, does help to retain readers. Now that the companies are less bound to having 12 issues a year coming out on the exact week every month it should be easier to keep teams on books even if somebody is injured or sick.

Of course, it helps if the team originates a character or team of characters instead of just being "assigned to a property" that they have fleeting or no interest in*. When I was reading TPBs of the Starman epic it disappointed me when halfway through the interior artist changed. Neil Gaiman's Sandman had constantly rotating artists but the writing was the main draw and the artists were all excellent even though they had different styles.

*Often assigning big name writers and artists seems to just be a cynical move to attract readers to a new title when they know that one or both of them will quickly leave. And the readers leave with them.

I totally agree, Tec. Of course, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard own The Walking Dead (along with original artist Tony Moore). DC and Marvel can't incentivize creators to stay on Superman or Spider-Man the same way, and even on in-universe new creations, like Ms Marvel, an attempt to do that would be tricky.  (DC tried that a little bit with Monolith and Bloodhound in the mid-2000s. We did, eventually, see Bloodhound at another publisher, but the contractual strings seem to have hampered both titles to one degree or another.)

There are other ways to incentivize long runs, of course... but first, DC & Marvel need to recognize the value of them. DC seems to, lately -- a lot of the double-shipping titles have long runs by the writers, at least -- but more can be done. I think the long runs are what move backlist even more than periodical comics. In fact, they may be at odds. New teams goose the periodical sales, but they untether the trade paperbacks of the older issues, making them seem less essential. 

  As far as the X-men go when I first started reading them just when the Dark Pheonix saga started I really did feel that the mutants in the mu were the minority, now I feel they are almost a majority.  You could fill at least ten titles with just mutants and have them to spare.

Richard Willis said:

When I returned to comics in 1989 I avoided the X-Men titles because they had become impenetrable to new and returning readers.

I think that if Marvel is going to try "clever" things that change their long-term characters they should do one a year not so many at once.

There's one more problem that goes unmentioned that I think contributes to a lack of interest, leading to a slump in sales: the seemingly never-ending year(s) long epic.

I've often said I believe the optimal length for a multi-part story is four issues, six at the most. It's partly because I cut my eyeteeth on Silver Age comics, which typically had two or even three stories per issue -- short and sweet, with plenty of action, albeit sometimes with clunky expositional dialogue to get right to the good stuff. 

But one thing that turned me off to the long stories was "The Fear Machine," a planned 12-part story in Hellblazer that bored me to tears. The longer it went on, the more it moved from dull to interminable to intolerable. By the time I got to Part 10, I resolved to drop the title. Happily, when I cracked it open, there was a editor's note saying they were wrapping the story that issue! I know that move kept me as a reader, and who knows how many others? 

On the other hand, one of my favorite Bronze Age stories is "Who Took the 'Super' Out of Superman?", in Superman #296-#299. One day, Superman discovers he has no superpowers when he's dressed as Clark Kent. He can't figure out why, and concludes his body is suffering from constantly switching identities. So he resolves to spend a full week as Clark Kent, and then a full week as Superman, and decide which identity to give up. By the end, he discerns the true reason for his predicament. A wonderful story by Cary Bates and Eliot S. Maggin, drawn by Curt Swan and Bob Oksner, that hit all the bases -- in four issues. (Read it here at the "Superman Through the Ages" site.)

Compare that to the planned 12-part story commencing in Superman #701, in which Superman resolves to walk across America. We chew on it over here ("Travels with Kal-El, in search of America (spoiler thread)". This story was so dull, some of us lost interest in it before its end. Even the original writer didn't finish it!

To bring this around to Marvel, there's "Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man." Granted, that was an interesting idea: Doc Ock possesses Spider-Man's body but resolves to be a hero. Is it so interesting that I want to spend two years seeing it play out? Not me; somebody else maybe, but not me. 

So if I'm a Spider-Man fan who wants to read actual Spider-Man stories about, y'know, Spider-Man, what am I supposed to do for two years? Especially since, in these continuity-laden times, the Doctor Octopus Spider-man isn't in just one Spider-Man title, but all of them! Gone are the days when you would do this kind of thing in one title and leave the rest alone.

For somebody who doesn't want this, Marvel has told them "Go away, and come back when it's over." But if you send somebody away for two years, it's easy for them to stay away.

You might have thought Marvel would have learned that lesson with "The Clone Saga", which dragged on twice as long as was planned, and drove readers away. But obviously not.

Kind of what's happening with Secret Empire right now. The idea in itself is sound, but I think many readers were fatigued with the story before the event even started. It's the sort of thing they would have resolved in six issues 30 years ago, and that's likely as long as it should go.

I can only think of a handful of examples where a 12 part story was consistently engaging throughout--Watchmen, Elektra: Assassin, Squadron Supreme, All-Star Superman--and even then those read better all in one chunk than on an issue by issue basis. Additionally, none of those required the interruption of the readers' normal titles.

Yeah, Secret Empire is a great example. For many, within the Marvel Universe and with readers alike, Captain America is not a hero, he's THE hero. So a story idea turning that on its head is potentially interesting: What if Captain America, the most incorruptible hero, is corrupt? But do we want to spend a whole year or more seeing it play out?

And if you're a comics fan who wants to read actual Captain America stories about Captain America the hero being a hero, what are you supposed to do? You already waded through another months-long story about Captain America not being Captain America because he got turned into an old man! 

Maybe Jim Shooter was ham-fisted about that edict that all stories must be wrapped in one issue, but things have definitely gone too far in the other direction.

I'm (possibly) being too cynical here, but I can't help but wonder if making the story so long is a way of selling several trade paperbacks and then an omnibus. When the fans stop falling for this they'll stop doing it.

Maybe they think this is the only way to survive; endless events and stories that generate anger on the internet.

Richard Willis said:

I'm (possibly) being too cynical here, but I can't help but wonder if making the story so long is a way of selling several trade paperbacks and then an omnibus. When the fans stop falling for this they'll stop doing it.

Some commentary from a fan lamenting the cancellation of Black Panther: World of Wakanda. But she makes an interesting point: It was a book tailor-made for the new audience comics companies say they want to attract, but those readers buy trades in bookstores, not single copies in comics shops. So the book isn't there to attract one set of customers because a different set of customers didn't keep it alive: " 'Black Panther: World of Wakanda' Cancelled: I'm The Reason Super...

This sounds like one of the titles they should have made internet-only followed by a trade. If it's not in the LCS they can try selling the online versions for less than $3-4 without blowback. Since the the distribution doesn't involve physical shipping and the printing costs go away, they could make more money on every issue. They need to try this experiment with some titles sooner or later. The LCS will make its money on the trades when they are available. It also might not hurt to follow Netflix's example and make the online contents all available on the same day.

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