Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, May 13, 2021

The publishing world is slightly atwitter at the recent congregation of best-selling novelist to comic book projects.

And the authors are certainly taking the right approach:

[Suspense writer Greg Rucka] believes the medium shouldn’t matter, as long as the story is good.

“There has just been so much snobbery that has existed with comic books,” he said. “We’ve got to prove that these things are equal.”

And yet, the stuff that Rucka — and Stephen King and Jonathan Lethem and others — are producing in the graphic novel format don’t do anything to dispel that snobbery. If anything, it’s reinforcing it.

All of these authors are working on the same standard superhero or science fiction/fantasy storylines that have dominated comic books for their entire history. And, as I’ve argued, that’s severely limiting:

Unfortunately, the built-in societal preconceptions about the comic book format gives the impression that such work is nothing more than a dumbing-down effort of more complex subjects (or, as usual, a medium for children or those with lesser comprehension skills). That dismisses comics as a medium with its own merits, independent of comparisons with books, movies or any other media. As usual, a reminder is required about comics being a medium of expression, and not a genre.

A big reason for this genre/medium mischaracterization is because American comic books have been dominated, in fact, for decades by a single genre: Superheroes.

That’s been both a blessing and a curse, for both the genre and the medium. The blessing has been the development of a thriving intellectual property industry and pop cultural repository. The curse? A medium that’s largely restricted itself to a narrow audience: Males from adolescence to young adult, mostly fixated on superheroes and the related science fiction/fantasy fields.

This left few options for potential readers who are interested in other genres and story material. If you didn’t like the costumed characters, you pretty much had no reason to pick up a comic book.

While the participation of celebrity authors should signal a shift in genre/medium transposition, it’s pretty clear that it hasn’t. If anything, the efforts of King and Michael Chabon feel more like slumming exercises. They’re doing comic books about comic-book material because, well, it doesn’t make sense to do anything else in the sequential-panel layout.

For instance, take Jonathan Lethem’s foray into comics. He’s doing it to fulfill a nostalgic fix for the old (and all but forgotten) Marvel title “Omega the Unknown”, an offbeat superhero take from the 1970s. Great platform for some innovative storytelling — but still, about superheroes. Why doesn’t Lethem bring something comparable to his most recent novel, “You Don’t Love Me Yet?”, to the comics pages? A story that doesn’t rely upon fantastical elements at all, but is about everyday (if quirky) real-world life — in other words, like most works of fiction?

The answer is that comics/graphic novels still haven’t reached a point where they’re considered a neutral medium — i.e. appropriate for a wide range of storytelling. I’ll trot out the same comparison I’ve made before: Suggesting that all paperbacks must be mystery novels, or that all movies must be documentaries, would get you laughed out of the building. But accepting that all comic books must be about some form of fantasy/science fiction is a given.

Years ago, Alan Moore said that he was looking forward to a time when the publishing landscape would afford him the opportunity to write a graphic novel about a bricklayer and his wife, who lived ordinary lives and perhaps went through experiences that would make for a poignant narrative. No superpowers, no outer-space scenarios — just slice of life. In comics form. If you can believe that.

Obviously, that time hasn’t arrived. I would tack on a “yet” to that previous sentence. But with the crush of historical precedent and persistent perceptions, I’m not sure it belongs there.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/13/2007 10:22:18 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Publishing
| Permalink | Trackback | Feedback (7)

Every passenger who logs a lot of airmiles covets the frequent-flyer points they amass. But is this glut of potential free flights a threat to an ailing industry?

Airlines have awarded more than 19 trillion frequent flyer miles over the past 25 years — roughly equivalent to circling the globe 760 million times — and more than 14 trillion of those miles are unredeemed. The rate of awards is increasing annually, according to frequent flyer site WebFlyer.

While many of those miles may never be swapped for trips or merchandise and they expire more quickly than before, that overhang of unredeemed miles represents a risk for airlines…

With planes fuller than ever, granting free trips could displace paying passengers, while unsettled U.S. consumers may be ready to cash in those miles to save money as the economy shows signs of slowing.

“The airlines just can’t handle that level of reward redemption,” said Rick Ferguson, editorial director at loyalty-program consulting firm Colloquy. “The liability’s a big problem.”

Makes sense. Except that it’s a crock.

Frequent flyer programs are loyalty programs. Their purpose is to encourage customers to book their trips with an airline. And not just any customers: The customers who fly a lot, who are more likely to upgrade from coach, and are more likely to spend more than the schmo who takes a flight only two or three times a year. The promise of being able to convert all those tickets into a free trip down the line is what keeps those customers from jumping to another carrier for a random flight, even when that competing carrier is touting a much lower fare. The added convenience for the traveler is that s/he doesn’t have to spend extra time comparing fares — as long as the cost is fairly comparable, they’ll stay where their points are.

This is what loyalty programs are for. By offering a fairly small incentive, it practically guarantees continued business. Since customer acquisition — i.e., the efforts it takes to make a sale — is such a huge cost for any business, loyalty programs like frequent flyer, giftcards, discount cards and the like save businesses on those costs. What’s being “given away” to the customer in return is minimal in comparison.

In essence, frequent flyer programs have already paid for themselves a thousand times over. They sold tickets that might otherwise have gone to the competition. In fact, given how little real variance there’s been in airline fares over the last 20 years, it’s a sure bet that the points programs have delivered a high volume of sales to their carriers. Most importantly, they do so on a fundamental level:

Even with the average consumer belonging to multiple award programs, they still have a marked effect on buying behaviour.

[Frequent traveler Bennett] Porter says she has been swayed by frequent-flyer schemes.

“It does make a difference in the way that I fly,” said Porter, who used a chunk of miles to plan her December 2005 wedding in Belize. “I definitely think twice about booking a flight that’s not on American.”

You simply can’t achieve that kind of selling effectiveness without a loyalty program.

Have the airlines been too generous in terms of the rewards? I really don’t see it. You still have to amass tons of flight miles to build up enough points for a single free round-trip ticket. Plenty of business travelers bank those million-point accounts, but then they redeem them on relatively paltry annual personal flight packages. I don’t see those instances, even multiplied by a couple thousand, as seriously affecting an airline’s bottom line. And the advantages of honoring those points flights — positive word of mouth that likely attracts even more paying customers — more than offset the temporary displacements.

On top of that, the offers of redeemable flexibility for points on non-flight merchandise like iPods and other trinkets does the job of gently nudging customers to siphon off extra points. It’d be advantageous for airlines to put time limits on points redemption, but that option was abandoned in this cutthroat industry long ago.

Overall, I see concern over a perceived glut of frequent-flyer points as a phantom menace. The advantages offset the potential perils by a long shot.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/13/2007 08:12:24 PM
Category: Business
| Permalink | Trackback | Feedback

coked outAfter riding the self-imposed shock-publicity wave for as long as it could, the makers of hyper-caffeinated energy drink Cocaine are retiring the brand.

But they’re making the most out of the move:

An energy drink that was barred by the US government from going on the market with the name “Cocaine” will re-emerge under the tongue-in-cheek moniker “Censored,” its maker said Friday.

“We love the ‘Censored’ name because it has the same rebellious and fun spirit that our original name did,” said Redux Beverages LLC founder Jamey Kirby.

As much as I find the whole “legal alternative” pitch ultimately gimmicky, I actually applaud Redux for rather deftly orchestrating this entire marketing arc. They knew the “Cocaine” name would bring instant notoriety, and thus more exposure than an advertising campaign around any other name ever would have. The prospects of sales-compromising measures — Federal bans, boycotts, etc. — could be anticipated far in advance, and so the “under pressure” switch to Censored feels rather planned.

But “Censored” works as an illicit-sounding brandname, whether you know the background to it or not. I don’t know if it’ll be as effective for grabbing marketshare as the original druggy name, but I’d say Redux has set itself on an almost-perfect marketing-driven path toward growth.

Meanwhile, no word on if Eric Clapton will be writing a new song to accompany.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/13/2007 02:02:48 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, Pop Culture
| Permalink | Trackback | Feedback (2)

A few weeks back, when I was purchasing Avril Lavigne’s hot-hot track “Girlfriend” off iTunes Store (yes, I admit it), I noticed an awful lot of foreign-language versions of the single for sale:

English, French (no distinction if this is Euro-French or — owing to Lavigne’s Canadianness — Quebecois), Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin.

All of the above available, of course, in Clean or Cussin’ versions. It’s amusing to think that Lavigne, in addition to learning enough of those languages to vocalize the song, also bothered to make the offending “mother-fucking princess” lyric optional.

So my first thought when seeing these multi-tongued versions was: Could she be any more of a poseur? But then I pondered, maybe she’s just being super-responsive to her worldwide fanbase.

Then, I came across “Avril Lavigne: Corporate Whore or International Slut?”, with its sampling roll-through of all eight versions, with imagery of Lavigne’s image set against the appropriate national flags.

And then I thought: Yep, poseur, all the way.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/13/2007 01:17:34 PM
Category: Celebrity, Pop Culture
| Permalink | Trackback | Feedback (3)