The Perils of Tradewaiting

My preferred reading method is waiting for the trade, or as some call it, ruining the industry.  These people are short sighted and fail to see that the main body of the money spent in comics now is and will continue to move away from the old economic model.  That model was all about single issues, or “floppys”.  But since the rise (and fall) and rise of the direct market, that all but killed off newsstand distribution, and the emergence of large book retailers and the digital marketplace, comics are not what they once were.  Not even close. 

Back in the halcyon newsstand days, the lowest price I recall for comics was 25 cents.  Amazingly, there was still profit for the retailer even at that price.  The returnable nature of the books made then just like regular magazines and were very low risk for the newsstand operators.  When the price began to rise and the profit started to fall off, retailers went with more standard magazines, where the profit was still maintained.  The direct market came in as a result of Phil Seuling.  He saw a system that would save the industry and more directly target the audience.  So that created a proliferation of comic shops.  There had been some prior to that of course, but when they could get more comics and not have to compete with a guy that sold gas too, they exploded in number.

The direct market was never intended to be the long term solution, just a stop gap measure.  Unfortunately, the industry was shortsighted enough to think that this was it, the big thing they had been waiting for.  It was not.  The direct market did create, or at least make viable, many things that have helped the industry survive and prosper beyond the comic shop though.  Most significantly, the Trade collection.  Collections of reprints and original material had been around for a long time, but really took off in the late 70’s to the early 80’s.  I started buying trade in earnest as an adult after dabbling for years.  I got rid of 90% of my floppys as they became available in trade and never looked back.  The Cerebus “phone books” as they were called then sealed the deal.  25 or more issues at a shot, for around half what the cover price of the issues was.  Never mind the fact that the early issues of Cerebus were FAR from cover price.

The problem with the format is that I tend not to bother with floppys at all.  I wait for a collection of interest and get it.  most of the time, I am making an informed enough choice to not get a dud, b but occasionally you don’t know that a particular arc is going to be weak until you get in to it.  Even the best creators have weak stories.  Quality creative teams are the main criteria for my choice of a trade.  Generally, I have had great fortune with the ones that I have chosen.  The fantastic run of Secret Six is an example of a series that was both outstanding and that reads better collected.  Another run that I was very excited about was the Matt Wagner Madame Xanadu books from DC.  This last volume, Extra Sensory however, was a disappointment.  I am a huge Wagner fan and have enjoyed this group of trades a great deal, so when the cancellation of the series was announced, I was bummed.  One of the great strengths of Wagner’s books is character.  He is a master of developing people you want to read about.  This last book is a series of one shot issues, each detailing another person and their brush with the supernatural and with the title character, Madame Xanadu, wonderfully envisioned in this series.  The problem with the one shot is that you never really get to know the people.  They exist only as plot devices, and while that is very often the case in fiction, you never get the chance to make any kind of personal connection or find something to identify with in this disparate group, a hallmark of the series to date.  In previous issues of the series, even the Phantom Stranger becomes interesting, a hard trick to pull off.  Another issue may be the cancellation.  These last few issues feels shoehorned in.  The final couple of issues of Secret Six, while still very good, felt like a bit of a sudden turn to wrap things up before the last issue and the New 52 replaced that title with Suicide Squad.  That may be the issue with this trade, maybe not.  It is very possible the failure is mine.  I can’t like everything I read, and this may just be one of those books.

One of the advantages of the emerging digital comics market is that I will now be able to sample the first issue of many books at less than the regular cover price.  DC drops its price when the issue is no longer current, Dark Horse has an even better set up for many books.  Digital is less, on the day of release.  So by the time I am looking at the solicit for the trade, I can see the first issue cheaper than I otherwise would have, the publisher gets a little more of my money, no tree is killed for my issue and I get a little more informed in my choice.

Lately, there have only been a couple of disappointments, always a risk.  But things have improved some, thanks to the new marketplace and changing economic model.

 

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