Friday, August 18, 2006

It Had to Be Said #4b

God dammit, Dr. Obvious, stop making good points.

He said, and I quote:

if the lion's share of the revenue is going to be coming from licensing, going for fewer, high quality issues could well support that better than more, lower quality issues.
I agree with that one hundred percent.

I really think that the future of comics publishing is a move away from periodical, serialized magazines and towards more original graphic novels. Not that the floppies will ever go away entirely, but there probably will be a lot less of them, particularly from the bigger companies.

And since original graphic novels will be a lot more self contained, telling complete stories in one volume with less reference to other works, missing the on-sale date because of production delays won't matter as much. Publishers will have more incentive to try to produce the best content possible rather than hit their own artificial deadlines.

Deadlines will still matter, from a marketing point of view, just like they do in print publishing. A book that will sell a ton before Christmas can't be delayed to January 1st, for example. But unlike today, the delay of one book will only hurt the sales of that book, so a publisher could afford to let one or two books release late for the sake of quality.

Today, however, superhero comics from the Big Two don't work like that. Instead, the work a lot more like network television shows: Ongoing, episodic fiction. Like TV shows, comics are meant to be enjoyed now. Entertain you this month (or this week) and there will be a new one to take its place next week. In this analogy, the publishers are the show producers, the retailers like the networks (I'm simplifying for the sake of analogy, don't slow me down with the facts).

Now, if Lost was delayed suddenly, because J.J. Abrams got writer's block, or a hurricane hit Hawaii and destroyed the set, or Evangeline Lilly got sick, ABC would be in trouble. To be deprived of the revenue from the advertising on their BIGGEST show AND to lose the platform to promote and launch other shows would really hurt the network, and they would have every right to demand Bad Robot a) get a new writer, b)build a new set as quickly as possible and c)write around Kate for a few episodes. And that's just equivalent to Superman/Batman being late.

Civil War is much worse. Civil War is a Law and Order sweeps three-parter spanning the main show and the two spin-offs in which Jack McCoy is shot, Det. Munch moves back to Baltimore, and Det. Goran is promoted to Captain. If that three parter was delayed by two months, NBC would be in a world of shit. That's THREE major shows indefinitely postponed, at something like the last minute. So that's three hours they have to fill on three different nights. There is no way, NO WAY, NBC would allow Dick Wolf to get away with a problem like that.

Television shows are, however, already set up to hit their deadlines. They have multiple writers, huge teams of ten or sometimes twenty, who work together to pump out scripts, and multiple directors who take turns guiding episodes from script to stage to screen. There's large enough cast of characters that some weeks you can focus on B because character A (or actor A) needs to be off screen for a bit. And multiple ongoing plots and sub-plots so that you can resolve some one week and leave others open to keep viewers interested. There maybe one executive producer/head writer to keep everything together and a consistent tone, but basically they get a lot of people working together so that they can guarantee their retailer, the network, that there will be 22 products a year, rain or shine.*

And as long a comics are going to be produced and sold in episodic installments like they are, that is, as long as they are going to mimic the television plan rather than the book publishing plan, then they are going to need to be able to make a similar guarantee. Maybe in the future they can have a little more freedom, but for now, deadlines mean everything.

hmmm... team of writers, rotating directors, large cast with interweaving plotlines. Why does that sound familiar...?

*This is, by the way, how almost EVERY show on television operates from The Sopranos on down, so don't tell me this hurts the quality of a television show.


Harvey Jerkwater said...

I agree with you on all of this, but I have to throw in a correction: Several seasons of The Sopranos have been delayed in the past due to holdups with either David Chase or James Gandolfini. The last season has been delayed two months due to Gandolfini being injured.

However, once the season is running, they don't screw up the schedules. Like Kevin Smith on Green Arrow, HBO makes sure it has most, if not all, of the season's episodes in the can before they show the first one.

I'm curious how much the Civil War hiccup will hurt Marvel. Will any borderline comic shops go under due to the loss of revenue? Will the goodwill lost by the delays end up costing long-term sales? Or is this all standard-issue fanboy bleating that won't matter at all?


Steven said...

There you go, slowing me up with the facts...

Seriously, good point. I actually debated mentioning the Sopranos at all, because HBO has a different business model than the networks that allows more creative freedom.

As a subscription service, HBO doesn't rely on advertising, a "fall season" launch, shorter seasons, and a MUCH smaller line-up (they really only program one night a week). Untethered to much, The Sopranos can absorb delays in ways shows on pretty much any other channel but Showtime could never do. (making The Sopranos closer to All Star Superman, which has hit a one month delay.) But HBO still wouldn't announce the show was going on the air until they were damn sure it would hit its dates.

I don't think any store will go under (or at least I hope so), though there maybe some people let go because of a bad fall, and I don't think Marvel will lose readers.

The cost will be more in the unknowables, how many NEW readers will be disuaded because of the wait, how many OTHER titles those readers would have picked up once they were in the store.

My biggest fear is that the Civil War hiccup won't hurt Marvel enough, and they think they can "get away" with this kind of screw up again in the future. Because it's a repeat of this that WILL put stores out of business, but Marvel might not know that until it happens.

I'm just not sure what retailer can do to let Marvel know that they cannot put up with this other than complain. They can't boycott Marvel, it's 40% of their product! (roughly).

Any ideas?