A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Direct market or newsstand distribution for Philippine Comics?

The direct market of mainstream comics distribution in the U.S. may not be selling as much due to high cover prices, severe reduction in number of comics specialty shops and the distribution business monopolized by only one comics distributor: Diamond Distributors, but it is a relief to know that there are some mainstream comics titles that are NOT sold in the direct market and, are doing better. We find them, of all places, in the newsstand market.

We are talking about the “Archie” mainstream comics line. From the “Comics worth reading” blog by Johanna Draper Carlson and friends (at
http://comicsworthreading.com/2008/01/20/archie-sales-figures/) we find that Archie Comics is the only major mainstream comics publisher that still publishes its Statements of Ownership, Management, and Circulation, a U.S. post office requirement for the use of certain mail classes. This public disclosure is the primary source of circulation information for Archie.

The Archie comics line publishes two types of comics formats for the newsstand market: 32 page single issues (i.e., Archie, Archie and Friends, Betty, Betty and Veronica, Betty and Veronica Spectacular, Jughead, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sonic the Hedgedog) and the thick 96 to 192 page digest format issues (i.e., Archie Digest, Archie Double Digest, Archie’s Pals and Gals Double Digest, Betty and Veronica Digest, Jughead and Friends Digest, Jughead’s Double Digest, and Tales from Riverdale Digest).

As of February, 2008, the circulation of Archie single issues nearest filing date are: Sonic the Hedgedog (34,696 copies), Archie (28,885 copies), Betty and Veronica (18,083 copies), Betty (13, 295 copies), Archie and Friends (13,143 copies), Jughead (12,319 copies), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (12,029) and Betty and Veronica Spectacular (11,457 copies).

The circulation numbers for the Archie single issues approximate the best-selling DC and Marvel comics titles distributed by Diamond in the direct market. However, when we look at the circulation figures nearest filing date for the Archie Double Digests, we see them doing better than the single issues: Betty and Veronica Double Digest (108,354 copies), Archie’s Double Digest (104,056 copies), Archie’s Pals and Gals Double Digest (98,753 copies), Archie Digest (96,788 copies), Jughead’s Double Digest (91,261 copies), Betty and Veronica Digest (61,628 copies), Tales From Riverdale Digest (59,486), and Jughead and Friends Digest (48,842 copies).

Draper Carlson and friends make the following observation and explanation of why this is so:

As expected, the digests do better than the comic-format titles, and the bigger books are more popular than the smaller. Digests are 96 pages for $2.59; double digests are 192 for $3.69, making them the best deal out there in newsstand comics, especially now that DC and Marvel are pushing the $3.99 barrier (for 32 pages, usually with “upgraded” cover). The top-selling digest sells roughly three times the top-selling comic, and in issues, Sonic sells 6-7,000 more than the top Archie book.” (Emphasis Ours)

One will also note that unlike the highly specialized and expensive mainstream comics of the direct market, the ARCHIE comics line are still printed in “cheap” newsprint paper, contain really amusing storylines for their type of audience, do not have fancy computer colored covers or interiors, contain reprints, are ubiquitous and are reasonably low-priced. Add to this the fact that ARCHIE’s comics line are distributed mostly in newsstands, drugstores, supermarkets, toy stores, gas stations, transport terminals and other high traffic commercial establishments in the U.S. that are not closed clubhouse hangouts for comic geeks, and you have a successful comics publishing business unaffected by the now shrunk direct market, or the rise of alternative electronic and interactive entertainment media.

Is it not any wonder then that the Archie comics digests are America’s possible answer to the best-selling, reasonably priced or “cheap”, book formatted, and widely distributed Japanese Shonen and Shojo manga?

There is hope beyond the self-enclosed direct market. To survive, mainstream comics publishers have aggressively entered the U.S. bookstore market by reprinting their single issue comics formats into expensive trade paperback compilations being passed off as respectable “graphic novels”. And as shown in the previous entry, their foray into this new distribution channel has resulted in a $375 million graphic novel market, outpacing the slow moving Japanese manga. The circulation of these trade paperbacks is still unknown, but with their high prices it can be reasonably, if not safely, assumed where the $375 million increase came from.

But seeing as how mainstream comics publishers, particularly Marvel and DC, have been known to ultimately destroy their distribution systems, i.e., the newsstands in the 1970s and the direct market in the 1990s, is it not too farfetched to consider the same fate happening again in this new bookstore distribution system? Many seem to think so.

These publishers also face the predicament that the newsstand market still adheres to the dreaded Comics Code Authority requiring comics publications to be “wholesome” and “family friendly” like Archie’s comics line.

By going into the direct market in the 1980s and ignoring the Comics Code Authority, mainstream comics publishers have ventured into writing more intelligent and challenging material for their niche’ audience of older, hardcore comics enthusiasts. The material however, would be considered inappropriate and sometimes offensive when brought into the conservative newsstand market that still adheres to the Comics Code Authority.

Yet, there have been attempts to re-enter the newsstands as shown by the “wholesome” newsprint single issues of DC and Marvel’s cartoon shows and child versions of their superhero characters, i.e., Marvel Adventures, X-Men, Superman Adventures, Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, The Batman, Superfriends, Supergirl, Justice League Unlimited, Spider-Man, Krypto the Super Dog, Looney Tunes and Legion of Super Heroes. The re-entry has been slow, cautious, and the word is still out on the results of this maneuver.

Meanwhile, in the backwaters of the Philippine comics scene, so-called “indie” or "globalized" male dominated comics creators still emulate the American direct market distribution model. Expensive, mostly in English, using high priced book or glossy paper, low circulation, essentially following stereotype superhero, action or fantasy concepts and storylines of U.S. and Japanese mainstream cartoons and comics, focusing mostly in the illustrative aspects of the medium, Pinoy globalized "indies" sell their wares in the few handful of imported comics specialty shops in Manila, an annual “Komikon” held in an ivory tower University, 200 or so branches of National Bookstore, a few high end book and magazine shops, and college/ university stores. Many doubt whether sales of these “indie” globalized Filipino comics publications actually provide some livelihood to the establishments selling them. But the “indie” elitist creators do not care. They’re not businessmen. They’re “artists”. They just “love” what they do and that’s all that matters. To hell with reciprocity.

At a time when we do not have a local comics code authority like the Roces managed KPPKP Code regulating the creation of comics works, when our local newsstands are boringly dominated by newspapers and songhits magazines, the opportunity to create new, indigenous, exciting pieces of comics literature affordable to a great many people is set aside by “indies” and narrow-minded publishers for reasons of artistic ego and a perceived quick buck in the high-end niche’ market.

Has an industry risen in the last 15 years since the westernized “indie” comics came to the fore? Some seem to think so but many doubt the claim when we compare their paltry achievements with what was accomplished by a local comics industry of yesteryear.

Why their aversion to the newsstand market? Why their reluctance to print their black and white works of art in newsprint? Why their seeming inability to write in Tagalog and be original for a change? Why their seeming ignorance of the fact that with the great sum expended by them in the printing of an issue of their expensive black and white book paper comics, they could get two issues of that in newsprint, and in color from some newspaper printers open to sub-contracting work? Why their reluctance to actually “work” and be serious in putting out their product on schedule without compromising its quality? Why this seeming lackadaisical, laid-back bohemian attitude?

The problem, it seems, is not the prevalence of television, the internet, radio, cellphones or a depressed economy. It is a question of priorities, orientation, competence and the will to actively create a local comics industry which is sadly not part of the agenda of the players in this present vacuum of creative activity they inhabit.


Blogger kc cordero said...

"an annual “Komikon” held in an ivory tower University..."

you're not a product of UP i guess. me too. can you understand if i will comment in tagalog?

11:34 PM

Blogger TheCoolCanadian said...

ARCHIE comics have always been in grocery stores, drugstores and even neighborhood stores. And this book sells like hotcakes to kids. Mothers who are grocery shopping with their kids, would surely pick-up a copy every time a new issue of the book comes out. But even this little pleasant book for kids have no dedicated space in the stores. They're just placed on racks together with Hollywood gossip tabloids and those celebrity magazines, and other specialty magazines that seem to grow more and more each day.

While its true that comic shops have lessen, the size of the ones left are all so huge, because they also sell now those action figure characters from the comics. Also, status of comic book characters have now their own space in these comic shops. And these "toys" are definitely not for kids, though, because the prices range from at least $300 - $3,000. I must admit that these statues are gorgeous, especially the ones produced by a company called Randy Bowen. The problem with these "toys" is they're quite addicting. Every time a new figure comes out, I find them so irrisistible and I end up buying. Then, one morning, I woke up, and said to myself, "I'm an addict!"
Yes, addicted to comic book character statues. He-he.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as Comic Book Character Statues ANONYMOUS!

So, I'm toast!

But, what puzzle me is this: why would the comic publishers in RP not put their books in grocery stores as well? Red tape, perhaps? City by-law? I really wonder. I haven't been to RP for almost 30 years now and I actually have no clue. But, grocery store is definitely better than Bangketa.

Don't you think?

6:06 AM

Blogger aklas isip said...

To KC:

Please do.

7:43 AM

Blogger aklas isip said...


How you doin? :)

Business sense would dictate that its much better to put your comics not in one, but in SEVERAL establishments that provide high visibility, thus increasing your chances of an actual sale. If you can do that without limiting your options by exclusively putting all your eggs in grocery stores, then you're on your way.

Sari-sari stores, mini-stop stores, 7-11s, gas station stores, newstands and yes, groceries, are places where low and reasonably priced comics SHOULD be sold NOT in some faraway, ritzy, highfalutin' comics specialty shop frequented only by the dedicated few (and rich) imported comics geeks.

You know, who needs a "dedicated space" in these grocery stores when Archie always sell WHEREVER you put them? Archie doesn't need no comics specialty store with "dedicated space", fancy glossy paper, enchanced covers or long-winded comics "events" like "civil wars", "never-ending crisis" or action figures to help boost its sales. Archie's got a dedicated and sizable "readership" developed through the years, thank you very much, something the U.S. mainstream comics sold in comics specialty shops, drool over.

And guess what? Just because their comics in the comics specialty shops aren't selling consistently and in large numbers they go off bawling that its the internet's fault, or the online games' fault, movies, t.v. etc. Pathetic. Archie's been through the same thing when t.v. came, when video games came, when the internet came, when friendster came, AND ITS STILL THERE!

You yourself observed that most of the space in most of these comics specialty shops are now devoted to action figures. And you still pine that "dedicated space" should be given to these comics in the specialty shops? Mama Mia!

Here, in the Philippines, its also the same banana (republic). Monkey see, monkey do. Before, it was trading cards. Now its action figures. A sizable number of people don't go anymore to the few comics specialty shops here just to buy and read imported U.S. comics. Food and transportation fare is too precious. Many just come in for free and either flip through the comics and put them back to their respective "dedicated spaces" OR take a look at those expensive and impressive looking action figures and statues WITHOUT EVEN BUYING THEM.

Caramba. Comics specialty shops here should charge an entrance fee FOR PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO LOOK AT THEIR EXPENSIVE AND UNSOLD ACTION FIGURES. They're practically a 'museum' right now. (Oops. There's that dreaded word again.)

Why would comics publishers in RP not put their books in groceries? Well, they do so...INFREQUENTLY and SPORADICALLY.

They don't last long either. Thank god.

Goes to show you that when presented to the general public, they know how to spot a turkey when they see one.

Sorry CC but can't understand what you're trying to say here: "Unfortunately, there is no such thing as Comic Book Character Statues ANONYMOUS!" (scratch-scratch)

10:57 PM

Blogger TheCoolCanadian said...

Bien, mi amigo, usted ha dicho que todos y yo no pueden discutirlos.
You've given me a good rundown of the whole scenario and you made sense, and since you know exactly what's going on in RP komiks publishing, the point you raised about making the books cheaper for everyone to afford it has some brilliance to it.

I am just curious about the younger Filipinos' reading habits. Many are saying at the PKMB that young people are not into reading anymore, because they would rather play computer games and other new technological inventions.

Well, here in north America, people are still voracious readers. You see them in parks, in fastfoods, in bus stops, in moviehouses (before the film begins). The bookstores here are always full of readers and buyers. Most of them have coffee shops inside the store as well. This way, you don't have to go anywhere to have coffee or snack. Many offer free coffe. You just keep reading until you find what interests you. They even issue membership cards so that when you buy, you get discounted cover price.

But, the most unbelievable thing that I have seen once, was when I was driving along Interstate 5. It a was that long stretch of winding roads where Mt Shasta looms right in front of you (this mountain gives me the creeps everytime I pass this highway). It was late at night, and I noticed the car beside me had its interior lights on. The driver was a young man in his twenties, and on top of his steering wheel was a comic book, and... he was READING it!

Well, it is an extreme example of how interested north Americans when it comes to reading. But reading is one of the favorite pastimes of people here. That's why when Filipinos say in chat sites that soon all books will be computerized, it sounds too alien and unbelievable to me.

Since you have elaborated on all the facts about the status quo of RP komiks, I can only add one more thing: CONTENT. The Sterling komiks I have ordered from Manila (all of them), were less than stellar when it comes to content. Some illustrations were even done using CHICKEN FEET instead of pen or brush. Special mention to Thor Infante for making my blood boil seeing totoy bato in horrendous pen work. I opened Fred Carrillo's illustrations of KANDELERONG PILAK and put them side by side with Thor's Tototy Bato and it made me really sad.

I don't mind reading komiks that are black and white and on newsprint, but I need to read some sensible stories and give me some illustrations that I could marvel at and exalt my spirits.

¿Pero qué me tienen heredan del libro STERLING? Nada. Nada pero historias recicladas y gráficos atroces.

And BTW, the joke: "Comic Book Character Statues ANONYMOUS!" is a common good-natured banter amongst action figure collectors here. Instead of ALCOHOLIC ANONYMOUS, these collectors have a different kind of addiction :) and we know what it is.

11:21 AM


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