Massive increases in graphic novel sales despite supply chain disruptions, the growing popularity of mobile webcomics, and recent changes in comic shop distribution were among the trends examined at ICv2’s Insider Talks, held on the opening day of New York Comic Con 2022 at the Javits Center. Last held at the 2019 NYCC, ICV2’s Insider Talks is a comics and graphic novel-focused business conference, organized in conjunction with New York Comic Con.
Opening the conference with his annual White Paper on the market, ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp outlined an industry enjoying “massive growth” after comics and graphic novel sales rose more than 60% in 2021, driven principally by the book format. Graphic novels, or book format comics, now comprise more than 70% of the comics market, Griepp said, with periodical comics now somewhere around the remaining 30%. Griepp attributed most of the growth to the explosive sales of manga in 2021 during the pandemic, up 134%, “a crazy number,” he said, “only supply chain problems were able to slow down sales.”
Griepp attributed most of the overall growth in the comics market in 2021 to kids/YA and manga sales, all driven by the “dominance” of the book channel. “The money flowing through the book channel is dominating publisher decisions,” Griepp said. Indeed, the book industry is now impacting the distribution of periodical comics in the comic shop market, aka the direct market. The entry of Penguin Random House Publisher Services, a traditional book distributor, into the periodical comics shop market (PRH distributes Marvel, IDW, and beginning next year, Dark Horse periodicals) has given the direct market multiple distribution vendors, offering a challenge to the category’s long-dominant vendor, Diamond Comics Distribution.
Supply chain problems continue to challenge publishers, he said, and are “unlikely to improve anytime soon.” Nevertheless, Griepp said manga sales continue to rise. Comic shop retailers, he said, are optimistic and say their customers are continuing to buy their favorite comics and pop culture merchandise despite wariness over inflation. “Inflation is tough but retailers are bullish on 2022. Comics tend to survive economic downturns,” Griepp said.
The Insider Talks also examined the impact of mobile webcomics apps, or webtoons, vertical-scroll comics designed to be read on mobile phones. Interviewed onstage by pop culture writer Rob Salkowitz, Webtoon v-p of content David S. Lee outlined the history of Webtoon, which was founded in Korea, and discussed how webtoon-style mobile comics are “blowing up, bringing the industry new business alliances, new creators, and new readers.” Webtoon online comics are heavily influenced by manga, and the platform attracts nearly 90 million global active users each month. Lee said the company had sales of more than $900 million in paid access in 2021.
Mobile webcomics apps like Webtoon (or its competitor Tapas Media) are driven by user generated content—“readers become creators,” Lee said. The apps attract an audience of teenagers and females (about 60% of its users are girls and women). And Webtoon, Lee said, is focused on adapting its most popular online comics into print graphic novels. The company recently launched Webtoon Unscrolled, an imprint designed to bring more Webtoon online series into the print market.
Webtoon is looking to turn its online comics into print, Lee said, and legacy print comics publishers, among them DC, are partnering with Webtoon to adapt traditional American comics into webcomics. DC’s Batman: Wayne Family Adventures, a manga-influenced Batman series on Webtoon has had “a strong response,” from webtoon readers, Lee said, with more than 50 million views. “We’re here to help grow the comics industry and attract creators from all over the world,” Lee said.
The Insider Talks conference also offered an onstage discussion with Oriana Leckert, director of publishing & comics outreach at Kickstarter, who responded to questions on Kickstarter's controversial plan to shift its functionality to the blockchain, (she said the feasibility is only being studied). She also noted the continuing success of funding comics/graphic novel projects on Kickstarter; comics projects have a success rate of 79%, the highest rate on Kickstarter.
And the Insider Talks closed with an onstage discussion on the topic of direct market distribution with Christina Merkler, co-founder of Lunar Distribution, and with Chris Powell, Diamond Comic Distributors chief sales and service officer. Both distribution executives were “bullish” on comics stores as the country moves past the pandemic; but they also cited the big issues facing comics shops, including inflation, rising costs, competing against other entertainment media, and the challenges stores face “evolving along with the comics market.”