Grotesque Anatomy
Monday, January 12, 2004
  Waiting for the "Waiting for the Trade" Argument To End
Laura Gjovaag links to Peter David continuing to write about the "Waiting for the Trade" debate over on his blog.  In his entry, PAD warns readers that he doesn't care why they don't care whether mid-list monthlies make it or not.  So I'm sure he doesn't care about the thoughts his writings inspired, but I thought I'd share them anyway.

PAD writes: "When fans express concerns about comics, I try to answer them. Fans complain about rising prices; I put my neck on the line to try and keep the price of 'Captain Marvel' [down] as long as I could."  Ah, yes.  The infamous "U-DECIDE!" stunt.  For what it's worth, I thought it was a nice move on PAD's part to try to keep the price down on this series.  But how well did that turn out?  The book relaunched with a new number one and was initially priced at $2.25.  But then with issue #8 the price jumped 33% to $2.99 right in the middle of a two-part storyline.  I'm not suggesting that any of this was PAD's fault, but readers of trades would have known up front what price they were going to pay for a complete storyline instead of having the price shoot up without warning.

PAD writes:  "[I]f fans want to help ensure the survival of new series, they should consider buying monthlies."  Except buying the monthlies is no guarantee for the survival of a series.  Even before trade paperbacks became more regular, quirky series were released and then quickly cancelled, despite devoted fanbases.  (One of my favorite short-lived series was Chase by D. Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III.)  I recall many fans being reluctant to try out "non-aligned" books out of fear that the comics would be cancelled out from under them.  If we're going to debate how fan psychology affects comic sales, one could make a strong case that this "learned defeatism" is more detrimental to the survival of mid-list series than the so-called "Waiting for the Trade" mentality.

PAD expresses his gratitude for "those fans whose support of monthly titles help provide the trade paperbacks."  Perhaps he doesn't mean anything by it, but this statement annoys me.  Is he implying that those who prefer to read trades are indebted to the monthly readers who made the collected edition possible?  Maybe I'm being pissy or obtuse, but I really don't think readers of trades owe any debt of gratitude to those who read the comic in monthly installments.  Conversely, when I buy singles, I really don't expect to be thanked for making a future collection possible.  When I rent a movie or buy a DVD, I don't get all teary-eyed thinking of the moviegoers who made my home-viewing experience possible.  When I buy a hardcover copy of a book, I don't get mad if others chose to wait for the softcover edition without even acknowledging how my purchase enabled their option.  If the publishers of various forms of entertainment decide they want to go after different audiences with different formats, that's their prerogative.  I think it's silly to pit one customer base against another by declaring that one group provided another's edition.

I still agree with PAD's assertion that the "Waiting for the Trade" phenomenon likely makes it harder for mid-list titles to survive in the current Direct Market system.  But I think that's the crucial qualification:  In the current Direct Market system.  Really, I think that mid-list series would continue to have problems even if trades were abolished altogether.  Look at the top 25 comics in the Direct Market: Ten X-Men comics.  Six Ultimate titles. Four Spider-Man series.  There's so much wrong with the current Direct Market system that it hardly seems fair to pin all its woes on "Waiting for the Trade."
 
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Iron Fist

by John Jakala

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