NYCC 2019: The Ins & Outs Of The Industry In Vulture Presents – The Business Of Comics Panel

by James Ferguson

Moderator Abraham Riesman from New York Magazine’s Vulture kicked the panel off with a rousing introduction. Ruth Anne Thompson (Senior Retailer Relations Manger at AfterShock Comics), Hunter Gorinson (VP, Brand & Content Strategy at Hivemind), Adam Freeman (Comic Hub), Chris Powell (Diamond Comic Distributors), and Dinesh Shamdasani (Co-Founder / Partner at Hivemind) made up the panel. They shared their entries and background into comics which includes everything from retailer experience, publishing, marketing, and more.

Riesman asked the panelists to provide a misconception about the industry that most people get wrong. Thompson said that a fan misconception is that Marvel and DC are the only ones that create comics or super hero comics. Gorinson pointed out that no matter what the current climate might be, there are always people saying the industry is dying. He’s never felt that way at any point in his comics career. Freeman seconded that, seeing things from the retailer perspective. While there are all sorts of comic shops, they’re pretty stable.
Powell said that if we saw a news story every time a restaurant closed, we might have a different feeling about them. We see so much coverage of the negative aspects of the retail space. Many people think retailers are like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, but the fact of the matter is there are very few like that.
Gorinson added that a common misconception is that Diamond is core to the problems of the industry and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Freeman compared the Diamond’s warehouse to the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. When a shop orders a single copy of a comic, there’s a person that has to go find that on some shelf and box it up with the rest of the order.
Riesman pointed out that comics are the one industry that is still heavily in print and there are no national retailers involved. When speaking about the rise of digital comics, Thompson referenced an alleged Stan Lee quote comparing comics to boobs. They’re nice to look at but a lot better to hold. Since there wasn’t a big box revolution in the comic retailer space, like we saw in music and movies, digital didn’t kill print the same way.
Shamdsasani brought up a great point about community. Many comics are based in a shared universe and he’s seen tons of people speaking about comics together at book stores. It correlates with the mostly mom-and-pop comic shops out there that foster a community around the store.
The panel was asked what they would like to change in the industry. Freeman spoke about Comic Hub and how the system is trying to change the communication, distribution, and sales of comics. It allows retailers to focus on what matters instead of sifting through a 3,000+ item list to order from. Powell wants more comic shops and a big part of his job is figuring out how to do that.

Riesman pointed out that there’s a change in the industry with a young, hungry, majority female audience coming up. They want to read comics, but don’t want to get bogged down by decades of continuity. Freeman said he sees the actual sell through numbers of comics, not just the ones that are sold to stores and the top graphic novels of each month don’t contain many of the big two publishers.
The panel was asked what role digital plays in how we consume comics today. Thompson called it a gateway drug. There’s a great way to use that to test the waters and get new readers in the door. Powell added that there are still big parts of the country that don’t have a local comic shop so it’s better than doing mail order. He thinks more will shift to digital as the current generation ages up since they’re more accustomed to reading books that way.
Riesman asked the panelists what role crowdfunding like Kickstarter plays in comics. Thompson said it brings in new, fresh talent that we haven’t seen before. She believes that every super hero was created at a very specific time when they were needed and new characters would come from these voices coming up from crowdfunding platforms.
A big question that’s been kicked around a bit is what can the comic book industry do to capitalize on the success of movie and TV adaptations. Gorinson believes it already has. He said the industry was hoping this would happen within a week of Iron Man’s release in 2008, but it took a lot longer. Ten years later, it’s happening. The rise of Marvel Studios, Walking Dead, and DC’s New 52 all contributed to this.
A fan asked about the competition from traditional book publishers making comics. Gorinson added to his previous statement, saying that it’s incremental. Raina Telgemeier is exposing an entire generation of kids to comics and that is only helping everybody.
Another fan asked about Amazon’s effect on the comic book industry. Powell, who sells many things to Amazon, said it’s helped, but there’s a lot of pressure about price. The good thing is that they don’t sell periodicals and Diamond advises them against that as they feel it would be best suited in the direct market.
The panel was asked if film or TV studios are doing enough to let people know the comic book origins of the adaptations. Thompson said she didn’t even realize that Blade was based on a comic book when it came out. Shamdasani has a unique perspective of this with the Bloodshot movie coming out soon. There was some debate about whether or not to mention that it was based on a comic. They tested two different versions of the trailer, one mentioning this and one not. There was a 20% uptick in interest with the comic mention.
A fan asked about jobs in the industry outside of creators. Powell said they’re looking for new Chief Marketing Officers for all of their companies. Finding new ways to reach new audiences is going to be key to growing their business. Riesman added that good people who do media relations are very valuable. I can back this up 100%. Good ones can elevate a brand to new heights and bad ones can destroy a relationship forever.
Thompson is hiring 30-50 brand ambassadors across the country so people in specific communities can speak to retailers and help connect the right books to the right people.

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