Comic Fodder

Market Share: How Big is Big Enough?

The latest data is in from Diamond Comic Distributors, and Marvel still commands the lion's share of the market at 46%. DC is in ever-lasting second place at 33%. Marvel isn't big enough to be a monopoly, so I'm not worried about them being "too big." What intrigues me is how small you can be and still be a big name in the industry.

The next three companies that have a noticeable slice of the market are Dark Horse at 5%, and Image and IDW at 3% each. The massive combination of every other small publisher in the comic universe adds up to a collective 10%. What is surprising is how small a percentage these three "independent" players have in proportion to the name recognition. Image has proven to be a staying player, and has carved out a niche for itself for creator-owned titles. The sales could be better, but people long ago decided that owning the creation was the bigger principle, and if you can retain your rights, you accept the smaller sales that tend to come from a publishing arrangement under the Image banner. With Dark Horse and IDW, they have a handful of titles that stand out on their own, but the vast majority of success has come from licenses for universes like Star Wars, Conan, Star Trek, and tons of TV and movie franchises that are dipping into the comic universe.

Most people tend to think that if the smaller publishers could make some better in-roads to improved sales, biting into the Marvel and DC share of the market would bring a little more balance, and is generally thought to be something worth achieving. That will only happen from great characters and great stories that break out to become hits. The last major character to achieve that (with a lesser degree of longevity for his popularity) was Spawn. More recent arrivals/renewals have come in the form of Transformers, G.I. Joe, Buffy, and Stephen King's The Stand. The independents will need more than this to carve out a bigger piece of the pie.

What is cool about a small industry like comics, though, is that you can have such a small market share and still have a seat at the table as a major player. No one can deny that Dark Horse, Image and IDW have each cemented a respective corner place in the industry, doing different things to fill demand in the market, to the benefit of everyone. To varying degrees, and with a little overlap, each has tried to fill in gaps in the comic marketplace that Marvel and DC were not meeting, and the fact that everyone knows who they are is one of the proofs of their success. Trying to tackle the capes head-on has been tried and failed by tons of companies that no longer exist; licensing and creation-owned vehicles were good choices for areas of concentration.

This means it's time for someone enterprising to put on a thinking cap and strike gold. Every industry has those moments, when someone realizes there is a need not being met, puts out a product, and afterward every competitor in the industry slaps his forehead and asks why he didn't think of it. The success of the three biggest independents has proven that you can carve out a sustaining existence beside the two comic behemoths, and in such a small industry, have disproportionate market awareness for your product. As long as the floppies aren't being permanently displaced by digital comics, this market is ripe for new ideas to shake up the entire place. Also, with the economy being what it is at this snapshot, combined with recent price increases from $2.99 to $3.99, this is a good time to be putting out a cheaper product that can capture some of those protest dollars from readers who are dropping some newly-expensive Marvel and DC titles from their pull-lists.
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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.