Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh, Man, Is This Gonna Be a Rant...

Hi folks. How ya doing? Good? Good. That's good. I'm glad to hear it. Me, too, actually. Me, too. I've been good. A little Christmas-ed out, but hey. 'Tis the season, right? Speaking of, I've been in the malls a lot lately, and I've been searching for that Perfect Gift online, and I think I'm now at the end of my Christmas rope.

Uh, I mean tinsel.

But I saw something today that worried me. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, but I needed some kind of opening, and I figured I'd go with what I went with. Right. So, the Something that worried me today was/is related directly to (in my opinion, at least) the shrinking of the "comics bubble" in which we all so happily live at the moment.

As the real estate bubble that couldn't possibly burst, or the can't-miss marketing brainstorm that was New Coke proved in spades, there's one thing that I've learned in my time on this Earth:

Everyone is usually wrong about everything.

New Coke toastAnd that's a fact, actually. And I was a professional fact-checker for a while there (True story--not a funny one, mind you, but true. Really. Ask Nathaniel.), so I know from reality.

So today I'd like to do some bubble bursting, some whistle blowing, some good old fashioned Exfanding Ranting, if I may. For those still here, I'm getting to my point. Promise.

I took a break from the *shudder* department stores, and made my way into Barnes & Noble, where I had some (decaf) coffee and browsed the shelves. Now, I haven't been buying too many new graphic novels or trade paperback collections lately, but I decided to head over to the graphic novel section and check out what was new.

And I found nothing.

And, I don't mean, as in, nothing new.

I mean, as in, Nothing.

There were no graphic novels. The section was...gone. Poof. Then, finally, like pain receptors in a triceratops trying to reach the brain, it hit me.

I had to pee. Must have been the (decaf) coffee.

After that, I walked back out to the section where there were now no graphic novels whatsoever, and I realized something else.

The comics weren't gone, gone. They'd just been moved.

Just like they've been doing in all of the U.S. Borders stores (better than the Borders UK stores, which have, um, closed), Barnes & Noble has decided to shift things around. Move product to different places in the stores.

And. Um. Bury the comics behind everything else. Near the service elevator. Or by the window upstairs, next to the "International" music section. (Which only has soundtracks, for some reason...)

When I found the comics section--once a mighty, aisle-long row of comics and graphic novels that included the very latest mainstream releases alongside the very best indie gems--I was disheartened, to say the least.

Gone was the mighty aisle-long comics extravaganza that had been there before. In its place was a two-shelf collection, directly in front of the service elevator, facing the back of the store. Next to the comics was the Manga Wall, which was huge and imposing and utterly out of the way of "normal" customers.

You'd really have to go out of your way to find them, sitting on their shelves in the back end of the Science Fiction section in a part of the store that many would mistake as being employee only.

Still, I scanned the shelves, hoping to find a few new and interesting books. Only, there were no new books. I was specifically looking for Alex Robinson's A Kidnapped Santa Claus (adapted from the L. Frank Baum story), and Matt Kindt's 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man.

And I found neither.

Actually, all I did find were books that had been there since the last time I checked out their selection, over two months ago. There was nothing even remotely new in stock.

So, why are comics once again taking a back seat?

Well, that's easy. Comics take up space. Too much space. Comics are becoming Manga, though with many more books being released much faster, and all with large, difficult-to-shelve trim sizes.

The comics industry (Hi, Marvel and DC!) releases hardcover collections first, followed by less expensive trade paperbacks, then compendium or bumper editions, then deluxe, oversized hardcovers, then omnibus editions.

All of the same material.

And maybe the book stores didn't really understand the nature of the comics industry, or us fans, and they didn't realize the sheer volume of product that would be assaulting their coveted shelf space.

And comics, of course...well. We always beat dead horses. It's what we do best, actually. Remember the 90s? Variant covers and polybagged issues and Superman dying? The comics industry tends to come across a good idea--even a great, game changing idea--and run it directly into the ground.

"Wow! These trade collections are really selling!"

"And, wow! Did you know there are some people who wait for the trade, and don't buy issue to issue?"

So we flood the market. Over saturate comics shops with "new" product featuring things we've already read, and bought, and bought again. The difference is, unlike the comics shops, the big chain bookstores can simply say, "no thanks."

And they can choose to just stop buying new product.

Now, maybe this is just an experience related to the stores in my area--but I haunt at least a dozen chain book shops, and they are all doing the same kinds of rearranging. There's a much larger focus on tweens and teens (Twilight, anyone?), and a much smaller focus on comics than in the past couple of years.

Listen, we all know the book shop may one day soon be a thing of the past, a relic from the good old days of 1999. And, Borders, it seems, is losing their battle, barely able to get their hands up to fend off the assault. And it's a battle that Borders will eventually succumb to. Sad to say, but true.

In the case of Barnes & Noble, it looks like they are at least punching back, and the release of the nook, their last-moment haymaker, seems to have really taken off.

So much so that if you want one, you can't buy one. Because they're sold out. It says so on the official page--"The hottest holiday gift is sold out. Order nook today to be first in line for the new year."

And, while that sentence makes my head want to explode, that's for another post. And so is the fact that B & N is essentially throwing said haymaker at itself, taking aim at store market.


Anyway, the point is, they're trying everything, and apparently, pushing comics to the back of the store is part of their new approach. I certainly don't like where this might be headed.

Maybe it's time for DC and Marvel to scale back on the trades--especially in this economy. Maybe they should go straight to the paperback, and offer the hardcovers as special orders, after the paperback has shipped.

It won't happen, I know. And I know we'll keep having edition after edition hit the shelves, and eventually there won't be any more room for them all. Heck, there's not enough room for them now!

What's gonna happen? No idea. Comics are moving increasingly towards online distribution, and away from print. I say, release full on, in continuity, original graphic novels that you can't buy in floppy form. Target those to the book stores and the comics shops, and make them available for download on readers like Kindle and nook.

But for the love of M.O.D.O.K., do we really need every single series ever published to be reprinted in trade? I say no.

How about you?


Flashman85 said...

See, I only buy trades, and I only buy hardcover if there's absolutely no paperback copies available.

In fact, hardcover and oversized copies of comics bother me because it's a lot harder for me to enjoy the art and read the story; unlike a standard text-only book, I do a lot more repositioning when reading comics, holding the trade closer or farther away from me at different times to really get the full effect of the page. That's not as easy to do when the book is bulky or has to be held open on a table.

Still, if a series isn't reprinted in trade, I won't ever read it. I might acquiesce to a one-shot at some point, but that's where I draw the line.

Scott said...

How many people will really go to a large bookstore instead of a comic store to buy their comics, though? I often feel like those books are just a small investment they make for the few people that come in, rather than an attempt to actually move comics.

Kind of like photobooks or travel guides; not a lot of people come in specifically for those, but they're good to have around for random people who might not buy anything else otherwise.

The Borders in Hagerstown had the comics all scrunched up on a few shelves next to the science fiction; only the spines were visible. There was a lot of random stuff in there, and I never really thought much of it was worth buying. I suppose that's what happens when you have a standardized inventory and nobody on staff who's really interested in stocking comics well.

Manga was about the same, though.

It sucks, yeah...