Monday, May 17, 2004

CrossGen's unraveling

For the two people who read my blog who actually care about this sort of thing, there's a great bit in Lying in the Gutters this week about the fall of CrossGen. Basically, Rich sifts through 10 pages worth of comments on a Broken Frontier message board and pulls out the really juicy bits from Ron Marz, Andrea DiVito, Drew Geraci, Andy Smith, and Scot Eaton.

I agree with what the creators are saying. CrossGen had a lot of good ideas, but they had a lot of bad ones too. Their problem was that they were always too stubborn to admit when something wasn't working. They'd beat a bad idea into the ground with their marketing. Not only that, they tried to market every conceivable option before they'd firmly established the earlier ones. That's what killed most of the early Image books. Like them or not, "Spawn" and "Savage Dragon" are still going because McFarlane and Larsen didn't launch spin-off after spin-off in the early stages.

CrossGen marketed their outlandish concepts as innovative and said their competitors were dinosaurs slugging along with old ideas. But it was arrogant for them to assume that they were the only company to have thought of such things before. Marvel and DC have been around a while, and they're still around because they've been using a formula that works. CrossGen didn't just try a different approach, they also insisted that the old approach was no longer relevant.

It reminds me of when other people stepped in to take over Haven. They thought they could suddenly "fix" everthing with radical new ideas. The thing was, Haven was never broken. We'd been steadily building a customer base each month since we'd opened. The reason we needed help was not because we were floundering, but because Josh and I both worked full-time jobs. New management, however, assumed they had the answer to our "problems." Surely we'd never considered their brilliant ideas. They stepped in and implemented changes that we told them had already proven failures, and it was no surprise to us when the same ideas failed again.

When we first opened the store, Josh and I agreed that we shouldn't get into games and toys and trading cards and posters and whatnot. We didn't want to spread ourselves thin. We stuck with comics, because we did comics well. Our marketing strategy was always to offer our shop as an alternative to what was already available. We had sofas and recliners where we encouraged customers to sit and read. We focused heavily on trade paperbacks (which we could readily restock) instead of pushing expensive back issues (which we'd have to hunt down at conventions or other stores to replace). The thing we never did was claim to be better than the other stores in town. We were simply something different.

CrossGen actually had the audacity to claim that they'd beat DC and Marvel. And not just privately in their offices — I heard Mark Alessi make such claims boldy at convention panels. When they should have been concentrating on besting Dark Horse and Image, they instead set goals they could never reach. And they sounded stupid saying that they would.

Now CrossGen has almost completely fallen apart, yet they're still clinging to the notion that they're going to stage a come-back. The thing is, they were never there in the first place. They could have been if they'd paced themselves better. At this point, though, CrossGen's PR has become insulting in its implausibility.

I'd love to see the last couple "Meridian" trades come out, but I'm not counting on it.

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