Why are comics stuck?
The comic book industry has been struggling to break out of its hobbyist niche for some time. There are many factors that have contributed to its inability to return to the mainstream. Many theories exist as to why. One possibility is that the industry as it is currently structured maintains its stagnancy to benefit a few.
The comic book industry is dominated by the “Big Two”, rival publishers DC Comics and Marvel Comics. This means the comic book industry is an oligopoly, a fancy business term that means an industry is dominated by a small number of sellers. The sellers, in this case, the two publishers, are aware of each others’ actions and plan accordingly. Due to shared talent pools, office proximity (both companies are headquartered in New York City), frequent electronic communications, and other factors, inter-company communication and interactivity is certainly the norm. The decisions of one publisher influences the other, as witnessed by modern fandom for years. “Coincidences” in formats, story models, events, characters, and other elements are plentiful. While some may well be genuince happenstance, this can’t always be the case. Both companies are constantly aware of the other’s successes and failures, and no doubt plan publishing strategies accordingly. (Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics are sometimes lumped into the major forces of the industry, as the “Big Four”, although their respective market shares are significantly lower.)
A high risk of collusion for their mutual benefits between DC Comics and Marvel Comics exists with the above factors. It may exist already. Such collusion can create uniform price points or price fixing, eliminating the possibility of price competition. Restrictions in production can also result from collusion.
This can also lead to market division. Superhero comics are by-and-large the territory of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The term “super heroes” was even jointly trademarked by the two publishers for several uses. In the past, all efforts by other publishers to compete in this genre have failed. Most other notable publishers now focus their efforts on other genres and/or styles.
Is there anything illegal going on? Are the two big publishers of comic books conspiring to stay on top? I don’t know. But there are several curious angles that need to be investigated.
(Much of these conclusions are based off business terms and information from Wikipedia, so needless to say, the above statements could very easily be flawed.)