That The Walking Dead has been a consistent top-seller in both comics and collections and its absence will be felt in the comic book industry. But how much further will it go? Here's a little Bleeding Cool impact study of the degree that just one comic book may change things.
Firstly, the comic books remain on the shelves. Especially with the television series continuing to run with four strands now, there will be continuing demand for the comic book series in collected form. We can expect it to top all manner of charts for years to come. But there will be a natural petering off without new Walking Dead comics to fill new volumes.
Image Comics' marketshare will take a hit – The Walking Dead was consistently its top seller for a decade. Save for occasional Mark Millar and Saga blips, it ruled the roost, it broke into the bookstore market for other Image Comics titles, and it provided launch platforms for the likes of Chew. It is going to be harder for Image Comics to have the reach it did, going on.
For comic stores, there are some real Walking Dead zombies, people who would come in only when there was a new Walking Dead comic. They might buy other things while they were there, but The Walking Dead was the instigator. Unless there can be a replacement that gains similar fervour, those readers may be gone.
It is also worth pointing out that at one point in its history, The Walking Dead save the current direct market as we know it – for better or worse. Less than a decade ago, Diamond Comic Distributors was facing bankruptcy. Its sole owner, Steve Geppi, was millions of dollars in debt, and Diamond was only buoyed on the balance sheets by its own assets. Its profit margins had always been thin, but they had been getting a lot thinner as the market changed. There was a very real possibility that this could not be turned around.
As big name publishers like DC and Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW left Diamond Books, the bookstore-focused side of Diamond, offering books on a returnable basis for reduced discount to what comic stores enjoy, Image Comics stayed exclusive to the book trade through Diamond. And so every Walking Dead volume sold – not just in bookstores but on Amazon – came through Diamond. Indeed, two years after those bankruptcy threats one in every two books that Diamond Book Distributors was selling was The Walking Dead. The TV show had kicked off, was a hit, and the only way to buy the comics and collections was through Diamond. And that has remained the case since.
Along with other books that The Walking Dead paved the way for, such as Saga, Chew, Monstress, Jupiter's Legacy, The Wicked + The Divine, Die and the like, this poured millions into Diamond's coffers, buoyed up the company as a whole and put the distributor back on firm footing.
And while there have been many subsequent series that have performed well, only Saga of late has come close to matching The Walking Dead – and that is currently on sabbatical. Oh and The Wicked + The Divine is also coming to an end.
The Walking Dead did not owe the comics industry a living, and gave plenty. But in a world without new Walking Dead comic books… the direct market is going to be faced with a lot of challenges.