~Before continuing, I just want to say that I greatly respect Peter David. I only ever got into comics because of my younger brother, and his gateway/favorite comic of all time to this day is Peter David’s 262 issue long X-Factor run. By extension, it is the only reason I am writing this article today. Along with Fallen Angel, Peter David has written some of my favorite comics to date. The following concerns discussed, while centered around his comments, pertain primarily to the industry and are not meant to reprimand Peter David as an individual.~
This past October there was controversy regarding the cancellation of the recently renumbered All-New X-Factor comic by popular writer Peter David. On the 1st, David made a post on his blog pinning blame for his comics cancellation on trade sales,
“All I did was write a book that got tons of positive write-ups. Which I guess is enough to encourage people to buy it when it comes out in trades, oblivious to the fact that books get cancelled when you do that. Whatever.”
This was part of a response to an article published by Bleeding Cool stating All-New X-Factor would be ending one issue earlier than it would. Peter David clarified the error in his post, and brought up an unsettling reality in the current comics industry. Trade sales are traditionally not beneficial to ongoing comics as far as major publishers like Marvel and DC are concerned. While the terms “Trade” and “Graphic Novel” have become pretty interchangeable, traditionally “Trades” are reprinted story-arcs from an ongoing title. Graphic novels contain an entire story from start to finish. Trades are competitively priced to match up to the original price of the single issues. Sometimes a little less, and sometimes a little more.
What Peter David is commenting on, is the lack of single-issue sales compared to the sale of trade collections for the same ongoing title. For an ongoing comic at Marvel and DC to last longer than six to twelve issues, it needs to maintain consistently high sales. A typical Marvel and DC comic enters the danger zone when their latest sale count approaches 26,000. When this occurs the comic risks cancellation. Trades, on the other hand, offer a continuous revenue for creators and publishers during an ongoing run and long after a series ends.
Peter David’s previously long running X-Factor comic run ended on issue 262 at roughly 20,000 sales in 2013. Once it was renumbered and relaunched as All-New X-Factor in 2014, it’s initial issues sold much higher at 30,000. Alas, these numbers soon declined to around 25,000. It became apparent that X-Factor wasn’t going to surpass its predecessor and ended at around the same numbers as the previous series, 20,000.
Based on Peter David’s comments, we can infer that All-New X-Factor trades have sold pretty consistently at comic shops and book stores. X-Factor, and its All-New counterpart have no doubt made a substantial additional profit from these. If trades weren’t profitable, no company would produce them in the first place. David claims that those who waited for them to come out unknowing contributed to its cancellation. Peter David’s concerns regarding trade sales can also be found in the IDW collection reprint of his DC Fallen Angel series:
“I knew we were going to have a problem when the first issue was published and the most frequent comment was, ‘The first issue was really good. Now that I know I like it, I’m going to be sure to buy it when its collected in trade paperback.’ Of course, if enough people adopt that attitude, sales won’t warrant the series being continued, much less collected.”
When someone waits for the trade of a series, they give a storyline enough time to finish and be compiled and re-released as an easy to find trade collection. Trades offer a couple of added benefits such as the ability to buy a complete story arc in one convenient package instead of having to hunt down individual issues. Trades are not normally considered collectors items and can be reprinted to infinity. This allows publishers to promote and renew interest in upcoming film ventures like Avengers and Daredevil. It also helps that most comic books write story arcs on a trade by trade basis, and not issue to issue. Lastly, trades are a significantly safer buy for small comic shops that cannot afford to buy every new issue released by publishers every week.
There are benefits to buying the single issues as they are released for the reader. Monthly and bi-monthly releases allow you to read the next portion of a story as soon as it’s released. Additionally, only buying trades can result in months of waiting before having an opportunity to read the next chapter to an action packed story, as trades are only released at the end of each story arch. On the other hand, trades offer an entire story arc at a potentially more affordable price than new issues, and access to older storylines that are harder to obtain in issue form. Trades offer a way to revisit older storylines and show publishers that there is interest in more than they are releasing ongoings for. Unfortunately, buying the single issues is also, apparently, the only way to actually support a comic you like at the big two.
Peter David has a right to be mad about his well-received comic getting canceled. However I feel he is looking at the result of a system and not the cause. The real issue is that publishers are not offering a wide enough window for profit to be considered for an ongoing title. This is inadvertently sabotaging good ideas by confusing the customers with competing products. It’s making the already challenging comic book market even more unforgiving. Now, I’ve never worked with Marvel or DC. They might have a perfectly justifiable reason to do what they are doing. Overall, I think they have a pretty good system going that allows for tons of new ideas and jumping off points for new readers. But from my outsider perspective, I think they could improve. By not considering the long term sales of trades, their current system puts us the readers in a difficult place. Comics are hard to make and are notorious for being an intimidating hobby to start. Added confusion like this does the industry no favors.
The blame cannot be tacked onto the buyer for supporting something in a way thats is more convenient, especially when it’s something available from the very same publishers as single-issues. Peter David’s heart is in the right place. The sale of trade collections not supporting an ongoing comics health is very troubling. However the fault does not lie with the readers, but how publishers are monetizing their content.
Publishers would only benefit from updating their business model. They could have longer running series with deeper storylines, rife for adaptations and reprints, but also benefit readers like us in allowing us to have more freedom in how we support our favorite comics.
Trades are fantastic for catching up on an ongoing comic you are interested in, as well as getting friends into a new comic. Nonetheless, for the time being, unless things improve we will have to play along with the current system if we want our favorite ongoing comics to succeed. While digital sales from websites like Comixology are shaking things up across the industry, single-issue and trade sales aren’t going anywhere. We can do our best to support a comic the way Marvel wants us to, but no one should blame you for how you support your favorite series. Something has to give, practices need to change.