There’s a new comics reader in town, and she’s a girl and a more casual customer, drawn to specific stories, rather than long-running superhero franchises. That was the overwhelming theme of the ICv2 Conference: “Understanding The New Comics Customer” held the Wednesday prior to New York Comic Con. The conference offered data on the new comics customer, the explosive growth of comics festivals, retailer responses and a discussion of what this new customer is reading.
ICv2 founder Milton Griepp kicked things off with his annual white paper on industry sales, recapping 2013 numbers which showed that comics are a $870 million industry including sales in comics shops, bookstores and digital. So far in 2014 graphic novel sales are up in “double digits,” periodical comics are up 3% and digital is “flat.”
Griepp’s annual survey of graphic novels by genre showed that the number of books being published is down in most genres except fiction/reality (essentially non superhero comics) which was up 26%, possibly the result of new customers who are interested in non-genre storytelling.
The manga market rebounded in 2013 with an 8% rise after years of steep decline, thanks to the hit Attack on Titan. Griepp noted that anime is now available via streaming and this helped some properties.
With increasing interest in the children’s graphic novel market, Griepp made a study of sales over the summer 2014 period and estimated the kids GN market at about $60-70 million a year. “That’s a significant and growing part of the business,” Griepp said. “It’s not only a segment that wasn’t there 10 years ago but, also younger readers turn into older, lifelong readers.”
Three other sessions covered comics conventions, retailing and publishing, and all of them stressed that there are new customers coming into the industry, drawn by strong material such as Saga and The Walking Dead. Although many are drawn in by media properties and movies, they stay for the variety of stories in different formats.
The growing presence of female customers was also noted in all channels and events. A survey conducted by online ticketing service Eventbrite, customer data gathered by convention organizer Wizard World at its summer shows, and New York Comic Con organizer ReedPOP’s own internal numbers all showed somewhere between 40-47% of attendees are female. According to Eventbrite’s figures, which were presented by consultant Rob Salkowitz, among convention goers under thirty, it’s a 50-50 split.
Given recent controversy over whether cosplayers and other experience oriented attendees are buying at shows—there has been much online discussion about the popularity of cosplayers and whether they interfere with buying at shows—Salkowitz reported that female attendees tended to go to shows to shop as much as males, but more women than men reported spending higher amounts.
On the retailing panel, a variety of store owners reported they are seeing more “casual consumers” who are not wedded to continuity and connected superhero universes. All retail panelists—which included Comixology CEO David Steinberger—praised digital distribution for “growing the market,” according to Jim Cocker of Modern Myths. Steinberger said Comixology’s newest consumers are likely to be women, 18 years old and up.
“Tucker Stone of Bergen Street comics noted that “When we started selling YA and children’s comics they were about 5-10% of sales, and now they are a third. About 1/3 of our customers are female but among graphic novel buyers, it’s 50/50.” Stone was equally bullish on libraries and urged retailers to “stop whatever you’re doing and work with librarians,” emphasizing that it will pay off in increased sales.
Terence Irvins, the graphic novel buyer at Kinokuniya Books new comics section, recalled that comics writer Warren Ellis had once predicted there would be “a casual customer who has no interest in back issues, but will browse the shelves. And that’s what we’re seeing now.” Indeed Steinberger emphasized that digital comics “are for reading, not for collecting,” and noted that Comixology’s list of bestselling titles looked very much like that of conventional print bookstore.
On the publishing panel IDW’s Ted Adams relayed the success they’ve had with their Micro Comic Fun Packs, a low-priced grab bag sold at mass market that introduces readers to comics via included mini comics. “A casual kid goes wandering around WalMart and sees Skylander fun packs. This is as casual as it gets.” Panelists Joseph Illidge of Verge Entertainment and Cassandra Pelham of Scholastic/Graphix addressed issues of diversity, as did Archie CEO Jon Goldwater, who outlined editorial process that led to the launch of Kevin Keller, Archie’s first gay character.
Panelists emphasized the importance of diversity—ethnic, gender, sexual preference and more—pointing out titles such as Ms. Marvel and its Pakistani-American heroine, which present nontraditional heroes for a modern audience, reflecting the world of today. A continuing theme throughout the day was the rise of a new contemporary “golden age” of comics content, driven by such bestselling comics works as Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant and Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters, which are drawing huge numbers of readers to the comics category.
As Archie publisher Jon Goldwater stressed, “The foundation for us is always telling great stories.”