Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hibbs Brings The Statistics Hammer to the Fight

There are those on the Internet who, despite never having worked in a direct market shop and quite possibly having dropped off even shopping in them for quite some time, feel qualified to make assessments about the health of the direct market, how much better the bookstore and Internet bookseller market is and how the direct market is a dinosaur on its way out.

Brian Hibbs, a longtime retailer in San Francisco, brings out the Bookscan charts to put the lie to this particular fallacy. This is pretty intense number-crunching reading, but if you want to see just how well graphic novels do in bookstores versus the direct market, check out this article.

Here's a hint: The Direct Market sells more than the bookstores in just about every category. And the art comics that some like to claim are what more folks want to read don't sell any better in bookstores than they do in the Direct Market. And superhero continuity books seem to do pretty damn well in the bookstore market and the direct market.

And... well, just read the article. Suffice to say, some Internet pundits (I won't name any names or drop any initials) don't really know what the hell they're talking about.

6 comments:

Alan David Doane said...

Randy,

Presumably you're aware of the fatal flaws in Brian's numbers? Or do Dirk Deppey and Tom Spurgeon not "really know what the hell they're talking about," as you accuse me?

Here's Dirk Deppey:

"A word before we begin: The figures Hibbs quotes are almost certainly composed of at least 25-35% bullshit. Indeed, Hibbs basically states at the outset that they’re bullshit, and then spends the rest of his essay acting as though they weren’t..."

And Tom Spurgeon:

"I don't put much if any stock in Brian's manipulation of numbers, for reasons I've stated over and over and over again. In this case, I've grown to believe that drawing any conclusion using information from different measures that is off unit to unit anywhere from 35 percent to 75 percent may indeed do more harm than good."

You're also wrong that I have never worked in a direct market shop.

Randy said...

Never accused you of anything, Alan. Guilty conscience? ;)

OK, that's me being disingenuous. Obviously I was talking about you, as well as others.

But yes, I believe you don't know what the hell you're talking about when it comes to the direct market. You seem to be coming at it from a conclusion, then evidence point of view. If Hibbs' numbers are flawed, and he admits they are, that doesn't make them completely irrelevant. They're still data gathered and analyzed, which is better than deciding that the comics you like are the comics that most people like, and the comics you don't like are the comics of dinosaurs and fanboys.

And as long as you're correcting me, *when* did you work in a direct market store? I worked in a store in college during the '90s, and it's an almost completely different experience and a different market now.

But hey, thanks for reading!

Alan David Doane said...

Randy,

I worked at a comic shop in the early 1980s, even longer ago than you, and I freely admit a lot has changed since then. For one thing, Frank Miller no longer draws Daredevil. :-(

But that was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with comics retailing, and I'll also freely admit that it's a constant learning experience. I've been lucky enough to have folks like Jim Crocker, JC Glindmyer and others let me pick their brains. In fact, I have a new interview with Jim up on my blog right now, and posted another one with Robert Scott a few days ago. Maybe if I do enough of these, I'll actually have a clue what retailing involves...until then, I'll have to settle for being an expert on what it's like to buy comics.

As for reading your blog, I always have, and subscribe to it through Bloglines. Keep up the great work, and GO OBAMA. (Seriously!)

Randy said...

Alan,

How the hell are we going to have a decent flamewar if you insist on being genial? ;)

More seriously, I've come to expect a sort of "Direct market is a dying beast" rhetoric from you (and others, it's not uncommon on the Internet) and I'm kind of surprised to hear that you're interviewing retailers and sorting all this out. Honestly, I thought you were sort of railing on an agenda, rather than a lifelong fascination with the market. Maybe I've just been reading the wrong links, or have gotten the wrong impression.

Maybe if I do enough of these, I'll actually have a clue what retailing involves...until then, I'll have to settle for being an expert on what it's like to buy comics.

Heh. That's fair enough. I've been working retail for a half-dozen years or so straight, and before that had a few jobs where buying comics was one of the perks, so it's been close to a decade since I've been a casual comics consumer. I mean, I bought comics in the direct market for probably 15 years prior to that, but if I'm going to call you out for outdated retailer knowledge, it's probably fair to admit that my consumer knowledge of the last half-decade or more is from the other side of the counter.

The biggest problem with any of these discussions is that nobody, no matter how smart, has the whole picture. Creators see one thing, publishers see another, retailers see another. Most of us wear more than one hat, but it's impossible to get a full sense of the market. We're all groping blindly using what statistics we can find and our pre-existing biases.

As for reading your blog, I always have, and subscribe to it through Bloglines.

I'm always surprised folks are reading this blog. It's sort of my "personal space" where I rant a little more loosely, and while I'm always mindful that folks are listening, I probably ramble more (and admittedly consider a little less) when writing here than when I have written reviews and essays on the industry.

Keep up the great work, and GO OBAMA. (Seriously!)

Well there's a point we can definitely find 100% agreement on. You and I have always been closer in our opinions on politics than our opinions on comics. :)

Alan David Doane said...

Randy,

Check out the interviews if you get a chance, and let me know if you have the time to maybe answer some questions yourself. As a critic/retailer, you surely have a unique point of view on a lot of what we've been talking about.

As for politics, if you'd told me seven or eight years ago I would be hoping this hard for Hillary to fail, I would never have believed you. But once she signed off on the war there was no way I could ever support her, and I'm gratified to see a far better candidate actually beating her at the polls.

Randy said...

Check out the interviews if you get a chance, and let me know if you have the time to maybe answer some questions yourself.

I will check them out, and certainly I'm open to answering questions on retailing. My perspective is unusual, as you note, but then there are other critic/retailers with more experience at both, like Brian Hibbs. And certainly I still feel very much like a newbie in the realm of running a retail shop, since I've been a manager for some five years but owner for only one.

As for politics, if you'd told me seven or eight years ago I would be hoping this hard for Hillary to fail, I would never have believed you. But once she signed off on the war there was no way I could ever support her, and I'm gratified to see a far better candidate actually beating her at the polls.

Yeah, pretty much the same here. I was never one of those Hilary haters, I thought she got a seriously unfair drubbing when she was First Lady and when she ran for the New York senate.

But yeah, some of her positions, on the war, on lobbyists, etc. really disappointed me, and by the time she was running for the Presidency, she wasn't even on my list of people I wanted to get the job.

I liked some of the other candidates, including Kucinich (not that he ever had a chance), Biden (at times) and Edwards (although I think he might have had the Kerry too-mild factor), but I was never as excited about the possibility of voting for them as I am by Obama.