The comic book industry and the recording industry have a lot in common. They’re both industries “victimized” by pirating. The technologies and manufacturing processes have changed immensely over the years. Indie retailers are struggling to keep product filling the shelves and leaving the store. Neither seems like an industry worth pursuing for anything other than artistic gratification. Thankfully, things aren’t really all they seem.
The Big 3 (the 3 record labels that run the music industry – SONY BMG, WMG and Universal/EMI) had a solid grasp on the marketplace until the appearance of the internet, or rather, since the appearance of the social web and the “Web 2.0″ movement. This gave creators a new toolset for releasing their content, and inspired creativity to flow like freshwater through a spring into a new digital market. Terms like crowdfunding and crowdsourcing became increasingly popular among musicians, and innovative marketing strategies were developed and executed by indie musicians… often, strategies that rivaled and sometime exceeded the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns launched by The Big 3.
This insurgence has resulted in musicians releasing creator-owned, creator funded (sometime fan funded) content that results in – get this – the creator making enough money to be able to treat their passion as a viable career option. Without the use of a big corporation. This is where the comic book industry is headed.
We’re going to start to see more creators making enough money to get by instead of a a select few making a surplus of cash, resulting in a healthier, more accessible marketplace.
Unlike the major record labels, I actually like Marvel and DC and enjoy the work they’re putting out. Even in a world where users are able to upload their own comics, develop inexpensive marketing strategies, and keep a corporate hand out of their wallet, Marvel and DC (and Image, BOOM, Dynamite, Dark Horse etc.) will still be releasing books and keeping us entertained.
There are a few things the big comic book companies, as well as independent creators, can learn from the major record labels and the current state of the recording industry.
1) Piracy: It’s not going away. That’s no reason to sue your fans.
The Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America have sued over 20,000 file sharers over the last few years. In one case, Jammie Thomas downloaded 24 songs on Kazaa and was sued for over $2 million dollars for her “crimes” against recording artists. There are more cases like that as well. How the fuck do you sue a single mother for $2 million dollars over TWENTY FOUR SONGS…? Christ.
I’m not saying that I agree with piracy, but you need to start designing business models that take piracy into account. It’s not going away.
Smart musicians understand Andrew Dubber’s “Hear, Like, Buy” methodology. Potential fans should first hear your music, and if they like it enough, they will buy it. It applies to comic books too, believe it or not. “Read, Like, Buy”.
2) Start implementing more QR Codes
Musicians have been using QRs to link to mobile-friendly music players, free downloads, iTunes pages, mobile optimized sites and more. People think QR codes are a fad, and maybe the’re right. But the fact is that QR codes are scanned every day by thousands of consumers. One report states that scans were at about 8 per second during Black Friday.
The comic book industry isn’t going digital in an ‘absolute’ sense, but with the inception of the iPad into the digital marketplace, it couldn’t be easier to read 12 issues of a book without actually carrying them around. Now that Marvel is releasing all of their comics in the Marvel app the same day the issues hit retailers( the Ultimate line comes with a FREE digital download) I’m surprised they haven’t made it easier to connect with their readers using QR codes.
After all, QR codes are the perfect marriage between print and digital.
Roughly 4 billion people have cell phones. Around 1.5 billion of those people are smartphone users. It’s hard to say that Marvel or DC would be singling anyone out by adding QR codes to their books. They inevitably would be, but I’m not talking about adding QRs to every single issue.
Egmont, the Danish publisher of Disney’s Donald Duck comics, added QR codes in an issue two years ago. The codes, when scanned, linked to complementary sounds and animations that went along with the story. I would love to interact with a comic book in this way. New jobs could be created within the industry due to the added technology, and storytelling could be enhanced in a refreshing new way.
3) Offer more than just a good read
Indie musicians know that they can no longer simply sell only their music. Most of the dough made by musicians is from merchandise and touring. Some indies have taken this a step further and offered incredible value that supersedes the music itself.
Indie musician Amanda Palmer made $19,000 on Twitter in 10 hours. Using a sharpie along with a whole bunch of old t-shirts, she created fan specific shirts and sold each and every one of them via a web auction. Neil Gaiman was even following along via Twitter.
The next day, Palmer had another web auction, selling crap she had laying around her apartment. You could have asked for just about anything in her apartment, and she would have given you a reasonable price as long as you walked away with an unforgettable memory of this once-in-a-lifetime interaction. I’m pretty sure garbage from off her floor was auctioned off.
Pretty amazing stuff from these musicians, eh? It gets better.
Or Zubalsky released an album that doubles as a video game.
Another band had 100 USB sticks created, each containing the bands’ entire discography. The purchaser of one of these sticks also received access to ALL of the bands’ future performances free of charge, as well as free downloads of all future songs the band releases. What the fuck. That’s absolutely insane. The cost of the stick? $100.00. The band made $10,000 in one day, generated publicity and made 100 fans that they’ll probably have for life.
These are the types of innovation that comic book creators, as well as publishers, need to pay strong attention to. Find ways to translate ideas like this over to the print medium. It’s the artists and creators embracing these methods who are going to impact the future of their respective industries.
Will it be you?
Why the hell not?