Image’s Eric Stephenson on the importance of the Direct Market:
If all the opportunities [comics] have in mass markets right now give us the potential to rise to previously unimaginable heights, the Direct Market is still the foundation for our business. The Direct Market matters, perhaps more than ever, because it allows everyone with a passion for comics – creators, retailers, readers – to explore that passion in new and vital ways. Compared to other entertainment industries, the barriers to entry in comics are extremely low. Whether you’re a publisher or a creator or a retailer, you can reach readers with fairly modest resources. Publishers and creators can easily develop new ideas. Retailers can easily test those new ideas and voice their support for material that may be a sleeper one day, but a blockbuster the next. The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Hellboy, Bone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman, Superman – none of them started out as sure things or even safe bets. The Direct Market has made the chances of success for new ideas more likely, though, and as a result, it’s now more possible than ever before for talent and publishers alike to invest in new creativity.
I’m constantly torn on the Direct Market for reasons that aren’t necessarily the fault of the Direct Market. It feels, at times, too small and too niche in terms of what truly succeeds – the sales for independent publishers is just horrific compared with Marvel and DC, in a way that really doesn’t seem healthy for anyone (but isn’t that market forces? I always wonder) – but, at the same time, it’s because of the DM that we have the Image Comics, IDWs, Dark Horses, Oni Presses etc. of the industry, or the industry at all, for that matter; I think I constantly mistake “This needs to improve” with “This needs to be razed to the ground and started over,” in terms of attitude. The Direct Market is a mess, it’s true, but it’s supported all manner of things that I adore when no other market would have, and maybe I should be more grateful to it for that.