This week I was discussing the success of The Walking Dead TV series with friends and inevitably the conversation turned to the obligatory, "Boy, I hope this helps more people discover the comic book." Certainly as a lifelong comic book reader, and an advocate of the medium, I welcome such a position. But then I cringed when my friend followed that up with, "If just 1% of the Walking Dead audience starts buying the comic sales will go through the roof!"
I get the intent of his statement. Heck, I've made a similar overture a time or too myself. But it's a fallacy, and not a very constructive one at that. From a pure mathematical standpoint, what he's saying is accurate. If 1% of The Walking Dead's 8.1 million total viewers started purchasing the comic book monthly, sales would skyrocket.
- 1% of 8.1 million = 81,000
- Current sales of The Walking Dead monthly comic book (#77, shipped in September) = 27,448
So if 81,000 more people started buying the comic book, sales would theoretically exceed 108,000 copies. That would make The Walking Dead the top-selling comic book series in most months.
But here's where the fallacy falls into place, we have too much empirical evidence to suggest it's not going to happen. Again, I would LOVE to be proven wrong here and see sales skyrocket. And maybe Kirkman's series will defy the industry norms in this manner just as his works have done in so many other ways. But I doubt it, and most importantly, I don't see the value of we fans fretting over the "slice of the pie" argument.
When Iron Man hit big, a lot of fellow comics fans salivated over the idea it might lead to increased sales of Iron Man comics (or comics in general).
- 4.2 million copies of the Iron Man DVD were sold in stores the first week of its release. Did Iron Man comic sales skyrocket?
- 9.7 million copies of said DVD have been sold to date, are Iron Man comic sales up significantly from 2008 to 2010?
Sales of Iron Man (via ICV2 and The Beat)
- 08/05 Iron Man #4 – 48,403
- 08/06 Iron Man #11 – 37,279
- 08/07 Iron Man #21 – 49,548
- 08/08 Invincible Iron Man #4 – 58,154
- 08/09 Invincible Iron Man #16 – 53,782
- 08/10 Invincible Iron Man #29 – 49,012
See any discernible and sustained increase in sales?
- Did sales of Batman comics boom because of Chris Nolan's remarkable re-imagining of the films?
- How about Spider-man sales when Sam Raimi started the film juggernaut?
If you think about it, even comic book film adaptations deemed by some as commercially disappointing, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, illustrate the fallacy. Many pundits were disappointed in Scott Pilgrim's $31.5 million domestic gross. Yet that means millions of people paid money to see that movie. Yet the comic book series — cult hit that it may be — doesn't sell anywhere close to those numbers.
You can play the same math games with just about anything comic book related into other mediums.
- How many millions of kids have bought superhero action figures in the last decade? How many of them are clamoring to read comic books?
- How many hundreds of millions of dollars do superhero themed video games make each year?
- How many billions have comic book related film properties earned in the last decade?
Let's be realistic. There are secular shifts that take place in society. We are proponents/consumers/evangelists for an amazing industry that, whether we like it or not, has shifted into a niche market. The combination of — digitalization, a broader array of alternative forms of entertainment, the self-imposed restrictions of a direct retail system, and an aging reader base that wants to have our cake and eat it too — have led us to where we are. That said, for at least a handful of publishers (particularly Marvel & DC), publishing comic books is still a big enough business (we're talking about several hundred million dollars in sales each year), with very healthy profit margins, to keep the train rolling along. But it pales in comparison to what these characters are worth in other mediums. THAT'S NOT GOOD OR BAD, RIGHT OR WRONG…IT JUST IS. The sooner we stop beating ourselves and the industry up over it the better. If we can accept what the comic book publishing market actually IS, and the great things that come of it, rather than what we wish it could be, maybe we'll all have a little more time to enjoy reading the books that line our long boxes.
Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.