Posted by: seanmalstrom | June 7, 2009

Email: Disruption in the Comic Book Industry?


We all know about the amount of e-mail you receive, so I’ll try to make this quick. Also, this might have been already pointed out to you.

I’ve been reading your articles for some time now, and I find them very interesting and refreshing. I was also introduced to the concept of disruption through your blog. After many years observing the comic industry of my own country (Portugal) and others, I have this question: is the western comic books being disrupted by the japanese comic books?

When I hear you talk about the videogames industry, sometimes I can’t avoid to make a parallel with the current comics in the West (comics in the wider sense of the word, as in graphic novels), with the west comics being the “hardcore” and the japanese comics being the “casual”:most recent volume of the french “Asterix” (which might be the most popular property of french comics), where the story is about the invasion of the small and yellow aliens “Nagma”, which in the end of the volume are beaten by Asterix with the help of superman-alikes.

– Comics in the west were becoming a niche market, failing to capture new audiences. The main audience were male young adults which valued the very intricate and detailed drawings of their comics.

– Japanese comics, when introduced in the west, captured people which wasn’t interested in western comics, most notably young people and females.

– When western comic fans talk about japanese comics they usually complain about how bad the drawings are (they also complain that japanese comics “read to fast”).

– I’ve seen (many times) the fans of west comics refering to japanese comics as the destroyer of the comics industry. There is the very telling example of the 

There are other points which might be more relevant for the disruption question:

– West comics authors are frequently seen as trying to “elevate” the art of comics. Japanese comics are frequently made as an enterteinment product (and criticized by western authors for that). 

– In a recent article you said that “Disruption doesn’t make things better, it makes things simpler”. Japanese comics are indeed easier to read than most western comics – they usually have a lot less text, and simpler, more cartoony drawings (and again, criticized by western authors for that). 

– When readers are asked what japanese comics have they prefer over western comics, there are many answers like “the characters feel more real” and “stories are interesting”, which are references to the “content”.

Do you think this can be considered as disruption? If not, what would make it truly disruptive?

I am not familiar with the comic book industry, and I am not going to pretend that I am.

Let me say that almost all the disruption literature has been written about industries unrelated to entertainment. It is easy to spot the disruption in the steel industry or even computer industry. It is easy to spot technological disruptions. But very little has been written on entertainment (the most that has been written actually comes from Nintendo of America President, Reggie Fils-Aime in that column in Brandweek where he lays out one entertainment disruption after another). It is commonly said that newspapers have been disrupted by the Internet. This is true only in part. It is the poor content on the newspapers that is truly hurting them. When the Internet became popularized, we all realized that these newspaper writers were just taking stories from the Reuters newswire and just ‘re-writing’ them (whereas we imagined them in a hat and coat going out there to research and report). There was also the Jayson Blair scandal where writers were just making up stories.

With the Wii, for example, it is not just the Wii-mote that caused the disruption. Much of it is due to Wii Sports and other software.

One good way to identify a disruption is if it ‘is a crappy product for crappy customers’. Hence, the Wii is a ‘crappy product’ (non-HD two gamecubes ductape together, etc.)  for ‘crappy customers’ (grandma, housewives, old people, families, etc).

I think you have a good feel for your examination.

Oh yeah, remember this: disruption is not about disrupting one’s customers. It is about disrupting one’s competitors. For example, the Wii isn’t about disrupting hardcore gamers. The Wii is about disrupting Sony and Microsoft. Many people confuse disruption to mean ‘revolution’ or ‘market change’ where it is really a way how a company destroys another company. And the company being disrupted is doing all the right things according to business schools.

The entire ‘study’ of disruption is a damnation of the teaching of business schools. In other words, if you follow the traditional teaching of business schools, your business will inevitably end up disrupted. This is why disruption sounds so funny because it is going for ‘non-customers’ and making ‘crappy products’.

You know, you could write an article on the subject and see what the comic people think. =) Good luck.



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