Research, Research, Research: The Direct Market: The True Indie Comic Book Industry

A column article by: Ace Masters

At the end of my previous column, I closed with:

Next time: The True Indie Comic Book Industry. Odds are, this sub-section of the Market is where you will begin, but that isn’t so bad. Breaking out of this should be your long term goal.

Now let's get started.

The term "True Indie Comic Book Industry (or Publishers)" is a term I have heard mostly used at conventions and by fans who don’t consider any of the major Independent Publishers, such as Dark Horse, Image, Boom, IDW, etc, as "real indie companies."

There are a myriad of reasons for such a belief and most of them stem from companies having outgrown the "indie label," that having licensed properties are not indie and the fact that some of the smaller companies are funded by big bucks.

However, true indie companies are usually considered ones who do original material and are not backed by big bucks. (Unless, of course, the person who formed the company has the big bucks.)

These are often smaller companies doing "original" material that often fly underneath the radar of the Direct Market and Diamond Comics.

More accurately, "The True Indie Comic Book Industry" is also called the by the term "Small Press."

Unfortunately, this section of the market is often stigmatized by the term "self-publishing." Self-publishing has an extremely bad, and often incorrect, reputation. Many people put "self-publishing" and "Vanity Press" in the same category, but that doesn't make it right.

Note that a Vanity Press is where an author pays the publisher to publish their book, or the author covers some of the publishing cost. Legit publishers never charge the author for any cost; they pay the author for the right to publish their book. Whereas self-publishing means just that: a person, or persons, is publishing their own material without an established publisher involved.

Small Press comics are not true self-publishing, even if the creator of the property is the publisher. For example, I published Masterpiece Comics. The titles that were released from my company were my creations. I was the writer, publisher and wore many other hats within the company.

But I didn’t just publish my own works, and certainly didn't do everything all by myself.

Six different artists, three inkers, two colorists, three editors and a handful of other people were involved. Which shows you how far this goes beyond the scope of self-publishing. All of these people were paid for their work as well.

Once you publish someone else’s work, you have ventured out of the realm of self-publishing and are a legitimate publisher, though still a small press.

Like everything else The True Indie Comic Book Industry/Small Press has its pluses and minuses. While there are small press companies (such as Kenzer, who publishes Knight of the Dinner Table - a comic book and gaming book) that are part of the Direct Market and get distributed through Diamond, as mentioned above there are many small presses that fly under the radar.

The good news is that this part of the comic book industry is the easiest to break into, with a lot of small press companies simply selling through conventions and on-line "stores/distributors" like Indie Planet. This may be a good start and a way to build interest, but if you want to break out and really do something, the convention route and on-line sales will only take you so far.

The better news is that Diamond is open to all titles, no matter what anyone tells you. Outside of writing a number of titles on the small press scene, I had no publishing record. It took me three titles, but Diamond took the bait on Rushmore. Rushmore, Fireblast, Wild Boys and any future titles Masterpiece will publish will be distributed through Diamond.

The bad news: there is very little data available on True Indie Comic Book Industry/Small Press sales that aren’t carried through Diamond. And even the titles that are carried through Diamond have very little public data; Diamond only releases data on the Top 300 selling titles each month.

It may be harder, but research can still be done. Research the Diamond sales numbers and look for any title that belongs to a company that doesn’t have a viable market share - that is a small press title.

Try to find a copy of that title. Ready it. Study it. See if you can glean something from the title that the creator(s)/publisher(s) did.

Another good idea is to get Diamond’s Previews Catalogue. Read the entire comic book section. Look for any titles that are from independent, small press companies. If they are in there, you can be, too.

Then, get on the websites of these smaller publishers, whether they are carried by Diamond or not. Read the "About Us" section at all of these websites. Many of these people are more than happy to spill pages and pages of info on their website about who they are and what they do.

The best way to research the True Indie Comic Book Industry/Small Press: conventions. Go to as many conventions as you're able (especially the major ones: San Diego, Big Apple, DragonCon) and cruise the indie table area. Talk to as many of the smaller guys as possible. Publishers who are in Diamond, not in Diamond and who want to be in Diamond.

Ask questions.

Chew their ears off, then drop a few bucks and pick up a couple of books for further study. Many of these people are happy just to have someone interested in them and will answer anything asked. If some don’t want to talk, move on and forget them.

This section of the industry may be your best shot to begin with. Put together a single issue story and get it out to conventions and try to get some interest in what you are doing. Then, get it to Diamond and move up.

Or, just do the book you want and send it into Diamond. If they take it, great. If not, then go the convention/on-line route and try Diamond again.

Next Time: Distribution. Just how do you get your titles to the different markets available? First I will break down what distribution is – and what it isn’t.



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