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What Market Do You Want to Operate In?

EricTapper Community • Aug 31, 2022

It's been a while since we last published education content on the business side of comics, so we wanted to get back to releasing blog posts about business-related topics on a regular cadence, to complement the Creator Tips & Tricks series that is more focused on the process of creating comics.

Today we're going to touch on one of the foundations of success as a comics creator: deciding on the kind of market that's the best fit for you and your books.

Who's going to buy my book?

While you might be an artist, writer, inker - or any of the other critical contributors to a story - you’re likely reading this because you have interest in making money specifically on the sale of comics. If you don’t like the term ‘businessperson’, let’s think of ourselves as ‘students of business’, since we’re always learning anyway.

Every successful business knows its target market - the large group of people your product is intended for. And if you’re going to know your target market, it’s important for you to understand what established markets you can operate in. That way, you can apply a strategy that will appeal to that target and increase the chances that someone will buy what you're selling.

For context, an audience is a subset of a market, to whom you want to directly speak with and mold your message to. We often hear about ‘growing an audience’, which is by far one of the most critical first phases, and in this post we’ll explore what decisions building an audience can lead to.

Think of this not as advice, but as one of many frameworks to think through solving business problems in new ways.

By the end of this article, I want you to be able to confidently answer:

  1. “What markets are available to me in Comics?”
  2. “What are some of the advantages and challenges of each?”
  3. “What markets are most interesting to me to explore?”


Ok, so what markets are available to me in Comics?

We could conceivably break down the markets of comics like this:

  • Digital, direct to consumer (D2C)
  • Direct Market
  • Mass Market
  • Conventions
  • Crowdfunding

While each of these markets will contain audiences or individuals that overlap, each one also contains a very specific set of stakeholders, contexts, and expectations when you’re operating within them. Likewise, they all come with their own built-in costs and benefits, advantages, and disadvantages.

As a student of business, it’s your responsibility to grow your understanding of these markets enough to make an educated decision about where your work will perform best and/or where you’re willing to dedicate your effort.

What are some of the advantages and challenges of each?

I’ve started a table here to help compare them, as a tool to spark your own research. This list is not exhaustive, and when you dig into more complex relationships like distribution to stores, you should expect that any knowledge you pick up could supersede any examples here.

Where do I fit?

It is critical for you to be honest with yourself to most accurately assess the paths before you. Depending on the type of comics you make, your path might be clearer.

Here are two examples that feel relevant:

Example A

Chelsea is making a middle-grade graphic novel and wants to aim for the mass market, because that’s where more lucrative purchases of middle-grade graphic novels are made.

They need to be serious about what that actually takes so that they can avoid wasting time chasing the wrong thing. A strategic line of thinking could be:

  1. Chelsea wants to build a direct market brand so that they can make the most money on their books, grow their reach, and offload selling and marketing work to the worlds of Simon and Schuster and Barnes and Noble so they can focus on their work.
  2. That requires:
    1. an audience as proof that they can succeed, and
    2. a professional network to find people who can connect them, which they don’t have yet.
    3. Also, they are also working a full time job so that they have less time, but some extra income to fund their work for now.
  3. So for the next few years, Chelsea is going to build that audience and network by focusing on:
  • Direct to consumer digital: low-cost digital distribution with GlobalComix and marketing to grow their audience for a set time each week. This also gives them an easily accessible and referenceable online portfolio with viewer metrics for their professional network.
  • Conventions: strategic conventions within a day’s drive, sell small batch print, and set meetings with as many industry professionals as possible ahead of time to meet outside of floor hours.

Example B

Trevor is making an offbeat manga-style comic that has themes and language appropriate for an adult audience. A strategic line of thinking could be:

Compared to Chelsea’s work, this book might have a harder time eventually selling in the ‘mass market setting’ because of the age level and off-center storyline. Trevor might not even want to go for that market. Instead:

  1. He likes sharing his comics digitally because it gives him the freedom to do whatever he wants with his comics.
  2. He can publish on GlobalComix regularly to grow his audience. He’ll offer PDF sales and early access to all of his new chapters for his superfans, so he can grow this into a self-sustaining project and that will be enough for him to continue telling my story until he feels it’s done.

That same person could earn themselves a small but dedicated audience and evolve their goals. As time passes, they want to bring the project into the crowdfunding market to see their book in print and make a profit and/or fund their next project.

So, how do I decide?

Use this article as a springboard to continue to figure out your own path and possibilities. Try and insert yourself into these examples and change everything that doesn’t fit, and add anything that’s missing. See where you land, and then go find people who have done it before and ask them their experience.

Share questions or comments below!

Credits for images used above: upkluak on Freepik