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Comics and the Publishing Industry

January 11th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Comics and the Publishing Industry
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Artwork by Cheridan Smith

 

It’s a good question; and one that inverts the typical view of the artist dependant entirely on the promotion of the publisher. The panel on the night were well-equipped for this discussion.

From the right, John McShane was the host for the evening from Graphic Scotland, an organisation promoting comics locally. He was joined by Martin Conaghan, writer of the comic Burke and Hare, Gordon Roberts of Geekchocolate.co.uk and Arsecancer.co.uk fame; Gary Erskine, creator of the Roller Grrrls series; and Ernesto Priego, who is involved both in academic study in the field and is a cofounder of Comicsgrid.com. A late but welcome addition to the panel was the appearance of Gill Hatcher, who was pulled from the audience and offered a great insight into the discussion with her self-published Team Girl Comic.

There were quite a few themes present in the discussion. The role of distribution and how methods of reaching an audience have dramatically changed in the past few years – to the advantage of the comic writer and the disadvantage of the publisher. The financial realities of going it alone. The difficulties in having a sustainable career in an area where the expectation is of a free product.  The pride and passion that every project big or small is published with.

The key has always been getting the right product to the right customer; something that the current system struggles to achieve. Bigger publishers appeal to broad markets, and therefore by selling in large bookshops and having promotions on a national scale they can get results. But this is impossible for comics targeted at smaller or even niche markets. For example, one based on a particular city would benefit from being sold mainly in that city, but not in every bookshop in the country.  Reaching the customer has taken on a completely different meaning with the advent of the internet. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter allow companies to complete projects that would never have seen the light of day. Communities online allow people with similar interests to come together no matter what their geographical location. Social media allows small and self-publishers to market themselves and reach new customers. This targeted selling means that money previously wasted on generic advertising is instead used to reach those directly interested in the comic.

The difficulty lies in pricing products created and sold online. Consumers have a natural expectation of low prices for digital work because they don’t have a physical product to hold. Publishers have an opposing expectation for higher prices given the longevity of electronic products. But these can be debated. In the closing stages of the discussion, Gary Erksine brought up the loss of his artwork from his computer.  It wasn’t due to a file being misplaced, the computer being hacked or even the artwork being stolen: the technology and files from only seven years ago were obsolete. The digital revolution is gaining momentum by the day, and is dictated by trends and fashions as companies selling technology survive by continually moving to a new product.  But as this happens we move on from previous electronic forms and in many cases lose access to the files that came before them. A consumer-driven society means that, where an old book can be found years later on a shelf, digital technology and software is rapidly replaced. The illusion of digital products lasting eternally hides the reality that data can be lost in a simple click of a button.  The future of publishing depends on finding a balance between printed and electronic materials.

The overall answer to the question of do comics need publishers is yes – even coming from a panel largely working as independent or self-publishers on individual projects. The big publishers are needed by the industry for large scale ventures, for developing a brand and even giving  individuals enough notoriety through their work that personal projects can be pursued. But the smaller and self-publishers are also essential as a force for the life blood of the industry, driven by passion and enthusiasm. Comics are a medium which cannot be produced without this drive.  With the role of the publisher changing and communities with no boundaries, there are increasing gaps that can be filled by those who have a message to say and a desire to say it.

 

– Claire Jeffery