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Market Research Report Claims One in Four Comic Book Readers is 65 or Older

Simba Information recently completed a report entitled, “Overview of the US Comic Book and Graphic Novel Market 2009-2010.” A press release accompanying the statement highlighted one of the more surprising details of the report: Their claim that one fourth of the comic reading public is over the age of 65. Since the report is completely “available” only to those retailers and publishers willing to pay $1,295 for the rest of the information, further details are sketchy, but the first free fact is intriguing.A quick read of the press release shows that the report is intended mostly for mainstream retailers like book stores or news stands, particularly since it attempts to correct popular misconceptions about comics that no one who regularly deals in comics would have:

The burgeoning market for comics has been driven recently by a series of successful film adaptations, most notably Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight, which stands as one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Yet, as Overview of the U.S. Comic Book and Graphic Novel Market 2009-2010 clearly shows, the industry remains misunderstood at best.

“Despite notable efforts from many in the industry, comics and graphic novels continue to be repeatedly mislabeled as just another children’s book category,” said Warren Pawlowski, online publishing manager for Simba Information and an analyst within the company’s Trade Books Group.

The report also baits bookstores with the talk of the money earned by movies like “The Dark Knight,” and the idea that Hollywood-level cash flows in through graphic novels is another illusion that I don’t think regular comic book retailers have.

If the report gives out information that leads to bookstores re-positioning comic books, and emphasizing titles that will attract adults (not those that retailers think might attract kids), it could be a boon to mainstream retailers. The press release uses the fact that one in four readers is over the age of sixty-five just as a way to underline the “comics are for grown-ups” idea, but looking at the history of graphic novels, it might mean more than that.

People who are older than 65 make up less than 15 percent of the population, and retirees are good customers to have. They have money, time, and don’t need their parents’ permission to buy a book. They were, however, the ones that started out by needing their parents’ permission. People over sixty-five are from the generation that bought tons of comics in the forties, fifties and sixties, many during the Golden Age era when top comic books had circulation in the millions, versus a circulation of 100,000 for a top comic now. Kids today are part of the generation that buys the least amount of comics, which doesn’t make for dump trucks full of money fueled by a burgeoning market.

The table of contents of the report admits as much, with a section heading that reads “Why Comic Books’ Best Days Might be Behind Them.” Unencouraging as the title is, the smaller section headings are breakdowns of bestselling comics by series, issue, and market. The impression given is that of someone climbing the mast of a sinking ship.

The last section of the report is titled “Setting up a New Life.” Sadly, this section is both the smallest and the least optimistic, providing a rundown of both the challenges of the current comic book industry, and the fact that the current movie boom isn’t as sound a foundation as its most successful examples make it appear to be. There is, though, a part that outlines the opportunities of comic book versions of popular novels, like “The Dark Tower,” and a section on comics going digital.

The pessimism of the report stands in contrast to the general sunniness of the press release, and throws a spotlight onto the insular nature of mainstream comics, and the problems involved in marketing them towards the existing, rapidly aging audience rather than truly investing in accessibility for new audiences.

Do you think comic book publishing are doing enough to reach out to new readers? Let us know in the reader poll.

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