The health of the (niche) magazine market

Hoo-boy, things move quickly on the Internet, in ways you don’t imagine until you see it for yourself. Apparently, due to declining circulation at The Comics Journal (due largely to their decision to stop selling it through bookstore chains—a voluntary move made because it wasn’t selling that well there), rising postage rates, and our decision to offer digital editions of our upcoming mags, the whole world thinks comics magazines (at least the print editions) are doomed to extinction.

While I can’t speak for Fantagraphics, our magazine sales have been steady for the last two years (following a slight drop during the Recession, which, in many cases, are readers we mostly didn’t get back when the economy recovered). All our recent activity and ideas are my way of trying to reach new readers.

Part of the hubbub was because the Comic Foundry magazine was submitted to Diamond for consideration to be carried in their Previews catalog, and Diamond rejected it, apparently largely because it was in black-&-white instead of full-color. Editor Tim Leong is quite peeved that Diamond carries all our (mostly) B&W stuff, but rejected his. I dunno; maybe if we were trying to launch a Jack Kirby Collector or Back Issue mag today, it might have the same problems. But we do have the advantage of a long, successful track record with Diamond on our mags (13 years and counting), plus some healthy sales on our books as well. Plus, our stuff is geared largely toward non-recent comics; if we were to ever attempt something to compete for Wizard‘s market share, it’d simply have to be in color to have a shot at success, whereas B&W does great when we’re presenting images of original ink and pencil pages which so dominate our mags.
While our mags are mostly black-and-white, with color sections on occasion, DRAW! always has a sizeable color section. However, other than working through some small regional distributors, we’ve not attempted large-scale bookstore/newsstand distribution since the days when we were publishing Comic Book Artist magazine. Our mags are niche; we know it, and we’re doing just fine in the direct market. We also have a healthy subscription base.

So our B&W format is working great. But yes, these new postal rates are likely to kill a lot of our direct orders from overseas readers. (And we’re working on ways overseas readers can get our print editions cheaper than ordering straight from us; hopefully a little creative thinking and networking will work out a solution to this postage problem.)
My goal is to increase sales in both the Direct Market, and through subscriptions. The sizeable amount of money we put into our recent mass mailing to 1500 comics shops was part of our attempt to reach out to the Direct Market. And our upcoming digital editions are an attempt to reach people that can’t find our mags in comics shops.

It all works together. Frankly, I wish Diamond didn’t force us to stick our magazines in the “Magazine” section of Previews, and then our Books in the “Comics” section. It’s hard enough to find us in Previews; now people have to look in both places. But that’s their policy, so we’re stuck with it. Until an alternative to Diamond comes along, there’s sadly not much any of us can do about it.