In the wake of a month were no print comic cracked the 100K mark and where graphic novel sales have fallen 6.2% over the previous year, Chris Sims poses a question on Comics Alliance: with sales falling across the board at Marvel and DC, why aren’t they making webcomics?
While the super-heroes of the printed page are suffering, there are millions of people in the world reading, loving and supporting comics on the web every day, while the #1 monthly superhero comic barely cracks 100,000 — if it’s lucky. So with that in mind, why aren’t DC and Marvel producing webcomics? And the more I think about it, the more it seems like it could be a pretty easy experiment to test out, with almost no risk and the potential for a huge payoff.
As for why it hasn’t happened before, I’m not sure, but I’ve got a pretty good guess. I think a lot of it has to do with people making comic books still regarding the Internet as a market that’s completely secondary to — and completely separate from — printed comics. That may very well have been true at one time, and even fairly recently [Editor's note: yup] but it certainly isn’t anymore. Just look at the numbers.
According to ICV2′s sales charts, the top-selling comic for May (Fear Itself #1) sold just under 130,000 copies, which, for today’s monthly singles market, is an unqualified success. Meanwhile, Penny Arcade is getting two million hits per day.
Obviously, those are two hugely different comics. They’re in different formats and they appeal to different audiences, with Penny Arcade aimed at the video game market rather than the super-hero market (such as it is). But the most crucial difference is that Penny Arcade is free. You can click that link above and go peruse the entire thing from beginning to end and it won’t cost you a cent. But while it costs you nothing to read that comic, it’s turned out to be a pretty profitable enterprise for its creators, to the point where it’s allowed them to not only make it their full-time job, but create a sprawling media empire involving the creation of charities and huge conventions.
Of course, Penny Arcade is a complete and utter anomaly that’s a thousand times better than any best-case scenario for the premise of “two guys make jokes about how long load times are for PC games.” But for our purposes today, none of that really matters.
What matters is the number: two million people — almost 20 times the number of people who bought the highest-selling super-hero comic on the stands — and while it might just be a three-panel gag strip, they’re already reading comics. This is Point One.
In fact, if there’s any indication to be found in the number of times a Penny Arcade strip (or a Shortpacked strip, or a Dinosaur Comics strip) about mainstream super-heroes (okay, let’s be honest, about Batman) gets spread around, posted on forums or emailed to your friendly neighborhood Batmanologist, I think it’s also pretty safe to say that a large number of these readers are already aware of and like reading stories about mainstream super-heroes.
You can even take it a step further: There are entire comics out there, like our pals at Let’s Be Friends Again, that are doing quite well that are based on awareness and affection for those characters. Again, there’s an obvious difference between these strips and the “official” comics in that the web versions are parodies that often involve a quick punchline, but the fact remains that they only exist and succeed because there are people — most of whom are not reading mainstream super-hero books — that are reading comics with these characters. This is Point Two.
So why hasn’t there been an attempt to bring these two points together and lead that massive audience to super-hero comics?
… most importantly, so what if it doesn’t make any money? After all, the idea here isnt to make something new that’s going to be profitable, but to make the existing books more profitable by increasing readership, drawing them in with the webcomic to foster a love of and direct them to the main line titles. In essence, it’s all marketing for the other titles, with the potential of reaching millions of new readers. And if even ten thousand — a fraction of what comics like Dr. McNinja, Shortpacked and others get — follow from the web to the existing comics, that’s a pretty significant change.