David PalmerAs sales continued to decline throughout the decades and the mass distribution and sales at newsstands continued to diminish, a new player emerged in the industry — the comic book store.

“The distribution theory is very different,” Palmer says. “In the past, comic book publishers distributed to newsstands and what wasn’t sold was returned to the publisher. Today, the comic book stores buy the comic books through the distributors and they own them.”

Another change has been the stigma that comic books are only for children. “There are a lot of comic books produced for adults and older readers,” he says.

Palmer’s interest in researching comic books began when he became a regular commentator in the Comic Buyer’s Guide, a monthly magazine dedicated to the industry. His specialty was writing about smaller publishers.

“That intrigued me from the business point of view,” he says. “People were essentially publishing comic books out of their garage and either going on to become big companies or just publishing one comic book.”

In addition to publishing an academic paper on “The Importance of Superheroes to the American Comic Book Industry” in the Journal of Business & Leadership, Palmer has brought his love for the genre into the classroom through a capstone course at UNK based on his research.

“Entertainment and popular culture are certainly not going to disappear, so understanding that there are also business, economic and market forces underneath that is important,” he says.

Palmer says superheroes are a prime example. Although the comic book industry has declined in popularity, superhero movies have earned billions of dollars in global revenue. “The impact of comic books is well beyond its industry,” he says.

Palmer also explores the innovation of creating a shared universe between characters from different comic books to increase comic book sales.

“Iron Man interacts with Captain America, who interacts with the Hulk who interacts with the Fantastic Four, who interacts with Spider-Man,” he says. “It becomes one huge story across multiple comic books each month, which is a big investment of readers’ time and money. From a business standpoint, stores are selling 10 or 15 books instead of one. There aren’t too many parallels like that today.”

In his course, Palmer shares lessons from the comic book industry and shows how they apply to other industries.

“Some of the students know a lot about comics, and others have never read one,” he says. “But all of them learn something and have a good time with it.”

Story and photos courtesy of University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) News and Communications

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