Shadowline Slimline Offer Less for More

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With the publication of Fell, Warren Ellis started a mini-trend with what Image has now branded as their Slimline format: 24 pages @ $1.99. Fell has been very good, and a solid success story from a sales perspective, while Casanova has been a critical darling with respectable sales for an Image Central title without a well-known creator attached.

Shadowline, Image co-founder Jim Valentino’s personal imprint, has recently latched on to the format with their mini-series Sam Noir: Samurai Detective, but has taken a rather odd approach with it by…well, let Shadowline editor Kris Simon explain it:

Sam Noir is done in that format, as well as an upcoming March title called After the Cape. However, the $1.99 price tag won’t be implemented. Why, you ask? Because our creators won’t bring in numbers like Fell does, and we like them to actually make some money off their book! Plus, if a fan really wants to read a book, I don’t think a dollar will prevent them from doing so. We price them at $2.99, whereas the rest of our books are $3.50.

I’m not sure which part of this is more wrongheaded, the less for more approach, or the wishful thinking of “if a fan really wants to read a book…”

In an industry littered with failed attempts from the Big Two and self-publishers alike, the “if a fan…” approach is absolutely mind-boggling coming from someone not working off of venture capital, a trust fund or a long-term business plan. It’s not like Shadowline has a track record for launching successful titles, or standing by struggling ones, with several flaming out well before their time — ie: Blacklight, The Intimidators, Emissary — and by Brown’s own admission, they’re not expecting their creators to move enough copies to make a $1.99 cover price viable.

Further down the thread, she adds this little tidbit: “…all of our black and white titles are/will be 24 pages, for $2.99. Color books that are 32 pages are $3.50.”

Why taint the fledgling Slimline format like this? Assuming “fans” even know about any of Shadowline’s upcoming titles, how many are going to be willing to pay full price for 2/3rds the content and no color, when they generally don’t even buy their full-length, more expensive color titles?

Shadowhawk, the nominal flagship of Valentino’s imprint, shipped 2,365 copies of its 15th issue, a pathetic number by almost any measure, and well within the range of other titles they’ve canceled much, much sooner. Are these the fans who are going to support full-price black-and-white titles with fewer pages than everything else on the shelves?

Why put the burden upon “fans” to support an ill-conceived business model, one which more often than not has resulted in failure? Why not put the burden on the publisher, to either stand behind the work they see fit to publish (like they’ve done with Shadowhawk), or simply not publish work they can’t afford to sustain?

Is there any other industry where one of its top companies is run so ridiculously? Where most of its companies, period, are run so ridiculously?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, books, games, running.

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5 thoughts on “Shadowline Slimline Offer Less for More

  1. Greg

    You know, I love a lot of Image books, but they are just not filling me with confidence about the way they do business. Why even “create” a format that supposes a cover price of $1.99 and then not sell books at that price? How stupid is Image? Why is the comic book industry in general so very, very, very idiotic?

    Reply
  2. Manny Trembley

    I saw your article through the comics worth reading site. I will copy and paste part of my reply
    .
    “Our book, Sam Noir sold out (from Diamond) within a week of being put on shelves. All 3 issues. The choice to go B/W was our choice, Eric and I, and had nothing to do with hiding poor sales. (Just to be clear, we did not expect to sell out!)
    I also think the $2.99 price did help the sales. On top of that we had fewer ads. I don’t in any way believe Sam will ever compete with Fell. We are definetly no Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith. I’m a big fan of Ellis’ work. We had a much better reception to our little book than we ever imagined and we look forward to seeing where Sam Noir goes. Ultimately, I’d appreciate it if people wouldn’t make blanket statements about an entire line of books.”

    Regarding the price point…
    “Fell and Casanova are 16 pages of story/art and 24 total pages. Full color. Sam Noir/After the Cape are B/W (by design) 22 pages of story/art and a total of 24 pages. So, you get 6 more pages for a buck. Fell gives you 8 pages per dollar and Sam Noir gives 7.33 pages per dollar.”

    I mainly am commenting because I think it wrong to make blanket assumptions about books. Now, the issue of whether or not you like our book is purely your opinion.
    I enjoy Sam Noir and hope to keep making it for some time. Fans and consumers will determine whether or not I will be allowed to.

    Thank you.

    Manny

    Reply
  3. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

    Ultimately, I’d appreciate it if people wouldn’t make blanket statements about an entire line of books.

    Just to be clear, Manny, my criticism lies not with Sam Noir, which I haven’t read yet, but with Shadowline’s characterizing it as a Slimline format title when, even by your own description, it’s clearly not. Any “blanket statements” I mat have made were in reference to the imprint and its business model, based on statements made by Valentino and Simon, and not a judgement of the quality of any particular title.

    Simon’s claiming your series is in the Slimline format does it a disservice as it focuses attention on a quantitative comparison that does you no favors. Better to have pointed out that the format and cover price were artistic and/or economic decisions and leave it at that.

    As for selling out, we both know (I hope) that doesn’t really mean anything in the direct market where most print runs are based on their pre-orders with a modest overprint, and making a reference to it here makes you seem disingenous or naive. According to ICv2 and CBG, your second issue shipped approx. 3,100 copies in October, and I’d be surprised to hear Shadowline printed more than 5-6,000 copies in total, if that.

    By comparison, Emissary #5 was right in the same ballpark and is now cancelled (or on hiatus, if you prefer) as of its 6th issue thanks to even lower pre-orders for issues 7 and 8.

    All that said, thanks again for commenting, and I sincerely wish you the best of luck with Sam Noir.

    Reply
  4. Manny Trembley

    I completely understand. :)
    It felt initially that you were using Sam Noir as an example to back up…
    “Assuming “fans” even know about any of Shadowline’s upcoming titles, how many are going to be willing to pay full price for 2/3rds the content and no color,” or
    “It’s not like Shadowline has a track record for launching successful titles, or standing by struggling ones”.

    I brought up the “sold out” status only to point out that, unlike most no-name first-timer comic creators our sales did not go down after issue 1 and because of moderate sales, we have a collected book of issues 1-3 out in Jan. and a second series starting in Feb. and 2 more slated there after. I understand completely that all “sold out” means is that retailers had no faith in the book and pre-ordered “safely”, and Image didn’t over print the book high enough to meet demand.
    But all that said, that does say something about a book. People bought the copies that were available. And as a first time published creator, that was pretty geeky cool. I can at least cuddle up with the fact that there aren’t 100′s of copies in quarter bins, aching for adoption. :)

    I do apprecaite you taking the time to explain yourself. Not that I feel you owed me any explanation. It’s your writing and column and you have every right to say what you want.

    It is a shame about Emissary, as I liked that book quite a bit. I hope our book doesn’t go down hill as of the next series and if it does then that’s the way of it.

    Thanks for the closing kind comments. If you ever do get around to reading Sam, I’d love to know what you think. Good, bad, whatever?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Killing a Good Thing » Comics Worth Reading

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