Captain Marvel, the movie, sold nearly one-half billion dollars’ worth of tickets in its first few days worldwide – maybe a week in a few countries – so I’d like to take this opportunity to shout “Screw you, incels!” but that’s not my point this week.
My point is that with billions of dollars being spent making comic book based movies each year and with more comic book based teevee shows than you can count on all available appendages, if you want to enjoy the comic book experience you no longer need to buy a single comic book. Even if you’re selective about the movies and shows you see, even if you have a job, a relationship, kids, take time out to eat and go to the bathroom you do not have time to experience everything you’d like. As you might be aware, comic book publishing is a capitalist enterprise and without enough profitability the money people will start thinking “buggywhips.”
But you might say, without comic books there would be no fodder for comic book-based movies and teevee. If you do, I would say “Yeah? Prove it!” Very, very few such media shows were borne of recent comic book debut, and the rights to most of the established comic book properties – except GrimJack (hi, Ken!) – are well-secured. Disney and AT&T spent about a zillion dollars buying Marvel and DC Comics outright, and they didn’t do a reverse mortgage deal based upon publishing projections. There hasn’t been a real relationship between comic book sales and their media spin-offs for over a half-century.
So why pulp trees and waste oil to print, distribute and digitize comic books? Where’s the money?
Relax. I’m not suggesting the feds are going to start a door-to-door invasion to confiscate your comic book collection. I am not, and have never been, a spokes-shooter for the NRA. Besides, that would be a job for your local fire department.
The audience for the least-seen comics-based media adaptation appears to be well-ahead of the average comic book circulation, and is usually greater than the top-selling titles. The only reason I say “appears” is that we don’t have solid numbers on the streaming services, although, like movies, once they’re up there for the public to see they remain until global warming drowns us all. But I’ll note that the Netflix cancellation of their Marvel series has little-to-nothing to do with declining viewership and a lot more to do with Marvel’s own new streaming service, Disney+. You know, the one that’s secured the services of some of their MCU movie stars to reprise their characters in new ongoing shows.
Also – consider this an important digression – one of the measures of success of a streaming show is its ability to continuously attract new subscribers. This is a young medium, but right now it seems unlikely for a show that’s been streaming on-demand for three or four years to bring in a sizable number of new eyeballs. It’s a brave new world, and one that by-passes commercials and goes directly into our wallets.
But you might say, there’s no experience quite like reading a book or a magazine or a newspaper. I agree, but look at all the newspapers that died in the past 10 years. All the magazines that died. 695 million books were sold last year (source: Publisher’s Weekly), a very tiny increase from 2017 but fiction sales dropped noticeably. Text books, self-help books, religious books and other vehicles of learning remain traditionally sourced. E-Book sales passed print and audio book sales in 2017 (source: Statista); good or bad or whatever, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Maybe we are in the middle of a lengthy switch from print to electronic, but overall book sales on a year-to-year basis have not kept pace with population growth.
Okay. Fine. We love reading. But there’s a lot to read, and given the nature of commercial economics, I must ask where’s the beef? If comic books per se are eclipsed by movies and television and brain chip implants and the economic imperative for producing such media goes away, surely we always can resurrect the reading material, right?
Yeah, you bet. And good luck dumping your buggywhip stock.
One thing more. Back at the top of this piece I wrote “Screw you, incels!” is not my point this week. I lied. “Screw you, incels!” is my point every week.