The differences between self published/small press/independent comics and mainstream comic has always been obvious. The themes, art style and characters are usually very different. But because of digital distribution, work from smaller publishers has access to more readers than ever before.
Publish to a Kindle, to an iPad, to a phone. Distribute your book around the world with a click. The small press vs. mainstream publisher divide is now an issue across all publishing genres, not just comics.
I’ve been discussing independent digital publishing on a comic book forum I belong to and its made me think about what a reader expects from a small publisher vs. a mainstream publisher.
Every publisher wants as many readers as they can get. A large publisher is like a TV network. It has to define success on a much larger scale. A hit on Network TV needs, say, 8 million viewers. Where as a successful cable show often has half that – or less. A large publisher is trying to sell to a broad audience. They will choose and edit manuscripts with this in mind. There are degrees to this of course. Some writers are considered more academic, some trendy. But in general a large publisher wants to appeal to as many people as they can.
A small publisher also wants to appeal to as many people as they can. But they can sell far fewer books and still make a profit and without the extensive editing process they are more likely to have work that is less refined. Or it may mix genres in such a way that a mainstream publisher wouldn’t know how to market the book.
Of course, that’s what I often love about independent comics and graphic novels. They are eccentric and fly as high as a creators imagination can take it and as low as their weaknesses let them fall. It’s the good and the bad of doing it all yourself.
I have different expectations about what I get from an ‘Indy press’ title vs. a major publisher comic. Just like the differences between a studio film and an independent film. They can both be great entertainment experiences. Each development method has unique weaknesses and strengths. A few projects from an Indy might be exceptionally polished and refined and excellent. And every once in awhile a studio film will be highly original and dynamic.
In publishing there is room for both. And digital distribution will allow for more people to see work from smaller publishers. And some of these new readers will discover and enjoy the unique energy and creativity found in many independent titles. The fact that the material is often so different from what a large publisher releases will attract an audience that had no easy access to this material before. The small press won’t look quite so small anymore.