IDW: Neither a Great Power nor a Small One
By Hervé St-Louis
May 20, 2020 - 22:02
IDW Publishing is an important comic book publisher because of its diversified intellectual property portfolio and its business entertainment approach to comics. IDW is a business first involved in creative works, as opposed to a creative studio who does business. The publishers did start as a creative studio founded by comic creators but quickly tried to capitalize and generate revenues from its early projects such as 30 Days of Night. IDW attempted to leverage its intellectual property quickly to produce film and television media from them.
At the same time, IDW spread its risk by pursuing a multi-approach portfolio based on original intellectual properties, licensed properties, and reprint archives of older comics. While the strategy feels sound, it has not stopped IDW from losing revenue based on its resource-consuming television projects. These endeavours threaten the entire company and even viable divisions. It would appear that the concentration of investments in television has broken the diversified balance at the core of IDW.
While licensed properties can generate cash flow revenue and visibility in the comics industry, it does not create long-standing value for a publisher as the next licensee can pick up where the former one left off. IDW has benefited from this when it picked up the Transformers’ and G.I. Joe licences from Dreamwave Comics and Devil’s Due Comics. Also, IDW’s expertise with translating licensed properties to comics is not a unique value proposition with publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom Studios, and Dynamite Entertainment, as equally capable.
IDW’s expertise in classic comics and comic strip reprints lies with the talent of key individuals which can easily be hired by other publishers, should IDW fold. Now, these reprints are great and IDW’s quality and craft have garnered critical reviews from the comics’ industry. Yet, as much as I enjoy these key books, they are a niche market in the comic book industry, much like licensed properties which compete for attention with the superhero material published by DC and Marvel Comics.
It would appear that IDW understood this clearly when it set out to develop its intellectual property for other media. IDW has purchased many small studios and publishers to bolster its offering. This is a strategy that resembles the technology sector in the publisher’s native California. In fact, IDW’s San Diego’s location poised it to be an integral part of the entertainment sector of that Westcoast state. The appropriate network is there but IDW’s challenge has been to connect with it to get more of its intellectual property portfolio to be picked up by partnering investors, instead of relying on self-production.
If its original intellectual property portfolio was streamlined like Valiant Entertainment’s shared universe and more top of mind, IDW might have been swallowed by a larger entity as it was in its early years. Yet, the comic book activity of IDW is so minimal compared with its other ventures, that no mid-size comic publisher could afford to absorb it, and no large media conglomerate will find the firm attractive with such a limited portfolio. Just like Italy on the eve of World War I, IDW is too small to be a great power but too big to be a small one. I’m rooting for IDW but it will not be an easy fight.
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