The good folks at Newsarama had an interesting article a while ago about trade-waiting and single comic issue sales, and how DC is trying to encourage more single issue sales. For folks not in the know, trade-waiting is holding off on purchasing a comic title or story arc until they are collected (trade paperback or hardcover) rather than buying the single issues as they’re released.
An example – Many moons ago, I was an avid Hellboy fan, and bought everything Hellboy- and BPRD-related. But the irregular publishing schedule made reading and enjoying a story arc difficult, so I lapsed into picking up the collections as they became available. What I didn’t expect was the inclusion of material, frequently sketches or scripts, that were not available when serialized. The collection was the same price as the single issues in total, but I was literally getting more for my money with the collection. Unless I just couldn’t wait for the next issue, or the back-issue market was really hot for Hellboy, it wasn’t worth buying the single issues any more. But the collections came out on an irregular basis so I lost track of what was coming out when, and soon I didn’t know which I had bought or not. I didn’t buy the collected works or the single issues – they had lost me as a consumer.
There are lots of arguments for and against trade-waiting, but if DC really wants to curb trade-waiting, let me offer my unsolicited suggestions.
- Criminal Approach / Take a page from Brubaker and Phillip’s Criminal series, and add a brief topical essay in the back of the issues. Maybe something about the creative process, or story inspiration exclusive to the single issue. Criminal is the only example I can think of where I moved from trade collections to single issues because I wanted to read the essays.
- Bring Back the Letters / I think a good letters column could have the same impact as the essay. Paul Chadwick’s Concrete series always had particularly thoughtful and interesting letter exchanges between the reader and the creator. Cerebus was notorious for its letter column.
- I Need Backup / Not that it needs it, but Detective Comics is extra cool because of the back-up Question stories. The First Wave books have back-up pieces, and they’re acting as a bonus feature for the single issues. If I didn’t buy the single issue, I’d miss out. The key to this being successful is obvious – the back-up needs to be as good if not better than the lead-in. If you give something mismatched (Jonah Hex and G’Nort) that doesn’t work either.
- Cut the Price / Simple economics apply here. If the single issue price was collectively less expensive than the trade paperback, I think there would be an increased focus on the single issue. You can continue to produce your higher-priced variant covers for the collectors, but the readers will be satisfied with the regular covers.
- Give Reprints / To help make up for the relatively more expensive trades, include old reprints related to the story or character. Marvel is doing this with Gorilla Man, sort of – they’re including the reprint in the issue instead of the TPB. I think it’d be a great way to reuse some old stock and expose those buyers to some history.
- Stop Publishing Trades / The most obvious solution is to stop publishing or slow the speed at which collections are produced. For a while, you had to wait at least a year to get a title collected. Sometimes a more expensive hardback version would come out first, and then the more affordable TPB. But it seems that the TPBs are being solicited just as the last issue is being released. Want to change my buying habits? Don’t give me options.
- Pulp It / Or give me options that differ widely not in content (see #1, #2, #3 and #5), but in quality. Make the periodic comics on low-grade cheap paper, and price it accordingly. If readers really want a keepsake or something with higher production quality, they can buy the collections.
- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb / We’ve been hearing about the impending demise of comics for decades now. It probably doesn’t matter a lick whether people buy comics as single issues or in collections. We buy what we like, when we want to, in the format that works best for us.