In what has become an annual measuring stick for the graphic novel market, ICv2’s third annual Graphic Novel Conference will kick-off on April 17—the day before New York Comic-con opens—at the Javits Convention Center in New York, with a day of facts, figures and schmooze about the state of the business. Once again Milton Griepp, CEO of ICv2.com, a pop culture trade news website, will deliver a white paper that breaks down the year’s title production and sales growth as a prelude to an afternoon of panels—all featuring top executives in comics and related businesses—that will dissect the latest trends in the business.
The year’s panels will focus on comics and rights; graphic novels and tweens and feature a panel of category buyers from major chain retailers. Among the industry figures involved are Del Rey editor-in-chief Betsy Mitchell, Tokyopop publisher Mike Kiley and Ginee Seo, v-p and editorial director of Simon & Schusters’s Ginee Seo Books. Retailers include B&N’s Jim Killen and Ron Hill from Jim Hanley’s Universe and the panel on rights will feature a trio of literary agents: Judith Hansen, Merrilee Heifetz and Bob Mecoy. [Publishers Weekly is a sponsor of the conference.]
PWCW: How does the advance registration look for this Year’s Graphic Novel Conference?
MG: After heavy registration over the weekend, it looks as though attendance will be about the same as last year—about 200 attendees. Remember, the graphic novel market is maturing, most of the traditional book publishers are in it now and there’s not a lot of new folks left to get involved.
PWCW: What can we look for in this year’s graphic novel conference?
MG: Once again we’ve got great panelists—including, for the first time, the graphic novel buyer from the Books-A-Million bookstore chain. There are several new issues to address. We’ve added a discussion of the rights area and have brought literary agents into the discussion.
PWCW: The annual white paper on the graphic novel market will have specific figures about the size and vitality of the market in 2007. But what can you tell us in general terms about the graphic novel market in 2007?
MG: The market is maturing and it’s become even more important for publishers to understand just what the market’s underlying trends are in order to be competitive. Growth in the graphic novel market has slowed down and the internal dynamics of the mix of products is changing. While the dollars are not growing, growth in the number of titles has not changed. Retail looks good, titles continue to grow so there’s more stuff for the retailers to sell.
PWCW: What are publishers and retailers doing to deal with the steady increase in titles?
MG: Retailers can’t carry every book being released and at the same time there’s a challenge to get even more books on the shelves. Publishers are segmenting the market and trying to find what will work within each segment. They’re trying to manage the market and this shows a new level of sophistication. Independent stores may go for comicslit [literary comics]; some stores are choosing between teens and adults; others will specialize in teens and put some stuff in their kids sections. There are too many titles out there now to do it any other way. You have to group titles by audiences and this has led to new retailing strategies for everyone.
PWCW: What about direct market stores [comics shops].
MG: The best direct market retailers are really the best sellers of graphic novels. The changes they’re making have been incremental. Direct market stores have done a good job identifying their audiences and the books they want and targeting them. It’s the continuation of an ongoing trend. And yes, the larger retailers are also rethinking their strategies for selling graphic novels.
PWCW: What are the issues likely to be discussed by the rights panel?
MG: Our rights panel will focus on the battle for new talent. The comics landscape has changed 180% from when I started in the [traditional comics] business. The comics industry then was primarily a work-for-hire business and creators had no rights to the characters or trademarks they created. In the 1980s, more creator-owned work started coming into the business and right now we’re in a period of change that’s much like that earlier period.
Comics creators are being represented by literary agents and trade book publishers are using the rights paradigm from traditional book publishing to sign up new comics projects. Comics publishers need to know how to deal with this. At the same time comics publishers are bringing well-known prose novelists into the comics business. What does that mean to the medium and what does it mean in terms of international rights, movies and other forms? Web comics are also attracting fans and the interest of publishers. Web comics are growing rapidly and offer low barriers to entry. Dark Horse has launched a line of books collecting Web comics. Everyone is trying to find the best business model. At times like this people need a place to meet and exchange ideas and that’s just what we offer.