The indispensable Newsarama recently ran a piece called "2011's Hot Button Topics Part 1: REACHING NEW READERS." It's quite comprehensive, covering everything that's standing between comics and the untapped millions who don't yet read them—things like pricing, accessibility, jumping-on points, and more.
BABYMOUSE and other kids' Graphic Novels popped up in this section:
While some readers of periodical comics look around comic shops and surmise that grown men are the only ones reading comics, the fact is that other audiences go elsewhere for their comics. Namely, to bookstores. And libraries. And schools.
"Wake up! I mean, kids are reading comics by the millions," said Jeff Smith, who speaks from experience because he has sold millions of copies of his book-sized versions of Bone through children's book publisher Scholastic. "Look at Bone. If you think kids aren't reading comics, you've got your head in the sand."
But can the comic industry as a whole tap into this market?
While the hugely successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid novels are only "part" comics, other popular titles like Babymouse and the books from Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly's Toon Books have opened the door for kids to read comics by just visiting their local book store.
Marvel has also seen some success with its Marvel Illustrated Classics stories that retell well-known novels like Pride and Prejudice and The Last of the Mohicans. Boom! Studios landed a Disney deal that has them publishing comics for licenses like Cars and The Muppet Show.
Last year also saw huge sales for the comic adaptation of Twilight, something that points toward female audiences being a possible target for comics at bookstores in the future.
The article also confronts the issue of formats:
Geoff Johns rattled off a sentence last month that may surprise some comic book fans, although his inside knowledge of the industry points toward its truth. When asked if DC would try to steer viewers of this year's Green Lantern movie toward comics, Johns said: "I suspect most new readers will be looking for trades rather than single copies of comics."
I think it all goes to illustrate the problem facing traditional comic book publishers: a myopia (or an inertia that makes it too difficult for them to change) about the reality that's facing them. Namely, that single-issue floppies are a dying format, and that direct-market comic book shops are, sadly, one of the last places most readers look for their comics nowadays.
For the former issue, I think the publishers just need to nod their heads and move on. Formats die out all the time. Only a small core of nerds still reads digests of short science fiction stories (Asimov's, Analog), even though that was once THE way to read Sci Fi. Nowadays, it's novels, period. Likewise the serial or subscription novel. No one will sit still for a Dickens-esque chapter-a-week story these days. (Heck, we can barely sit still for that sort of thing on Television anymore—many people choose to wait for the episodes to be collected on DVD, so they can watch them all at once.)
While they fret over the death of this short, overpriced format that only a devoted few still want to buy, traditional comic book publishers are meanwhile sitting on an enormous reservoir of intellectual property and hard-working talent. They should be spending their energies worrying about leveraging THAT in the best way possible, rather than worrying about how to keep the floppy format viable.
The problem is not that people don't want to read comics. They just don't want to read single-issue comics. Change your model. Become book publishers! If you must have a lower-cost test bed to float new stories, go digital. (They are, of course; I just think it's going to have to become THE format for this sort of thing.) The web (and iPad, etc.) is the new disposable format. You can see this in the way comics success stories have changed. In the 1990s, Eastman & Laird took TMNT from a DIY black-and-white comic to mainstream success. Jeff Smith did the same with Bone. In the 21st century, there are no more DIY print success stories like that. Instead, there are DIY webcomic success stories, like Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series or Raina Telgemeier's Smile. Comic book publishers should use the Web as their proving ground, and Graphic Novels as their money maker.
The other problem the industry faces is the viability of comic book stores, and the continuing reluctance of comic book publishers to embrace the book publisher model, rather than the Direct Market model of business. The sad fact is that many, many more people get their comics from places that are NOT comic book stores than from the stores themselves. The publishers need to come to grips with that, and work on making themselves more friendly to booksellers and schools and libraries. (I have heard countless stories from librarians who are in disbelief over how little comic book publishers appear to understand—or even have any interest in trying to understand—how the library market works. And this is one of the strongest market segments for comics today! Why would you NOT throw everything you could into it?) To survive the transition that's underway, I think that comic book publishers will need to become more like book publishers, and comic book stores will need to become more like book stores. The best ones I have been to are already doing that; I fear the ones that don't will soon vanish, or else fall into the "used and rare books" niche, a place only frequented by collectors.