“Change is good.” That’s a slogan I very vividly remember from a McDonald’s commercial around the turn of the century. A classroom full of kindergartners is shocked to find out that the Golden Arches are now serving white meat chicken nuggets, and are silent as one of their members takes the first tentative bite. Once she speaks those three words they break out into cheers, ecstatic that their beloved nuggets are just as delicious as before. Change is good. Or, more accurately, it can be.
This past Tuesday I was going through my handful of comic book news sites only to find that Comic Book Resources [also known as CBR], the fourth and last on the list, was borderline unrecognizable. Instead of seeing-
-like I was used to, I was greeted with-
While I was taken aback by the seemingly sudden redesign, the truth is that if I’d been more observant I would have seen this coming from a long way off.
First They Came For the Columns…
I first had an inkling when Axel-in-Charge [link likely broken while they work things out], a weekly Q&A with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, missed several consecutive Fridays. A few users asked about its absence in the official thread from which questions were taken to no response.
Unbeknownst to me, Pipeline, a commentary and review column that had existed on CBR for almost two full decades, had jumped ship way back in July. Luckily for writer Augie Blieck the feature found a home at ComicBook.com, which he quips:
“will save your fingers from typing an extra nine characters every week to find me. You’re welcome.”
At the beginning of this month a link to the latest Tilting at Windmills was shared in the /r/comicbooks subreddit. Upon clicking on it I was surprised to see that the link directed me not to Comic Book Resources but The Beat. Brian Hibbs’ comments on the column’s move to greener pastures is much more thorough than Blieck’s, and his introductory paragraph was my first solid indicator that change might be looming on the horizon:
“Welcome to Tilting at Windmills #252. Some of you will be scratching your heads and saying ‘Wait, doesn’t this appear on Comic Book Resources?’ Yeah, it did, but CBR got sold, and the new ownership decided that ‘columns’ were not a thing that they wanted to do any longer – which, fair enough, it’s their website. Ultimately I think The Beat is going to be a better home anyway – the kind of think pieces I write are much more in sync to the commentary-focus that the Beat has.”
Joseph P. Illidge’s column The Mission, which predominantly addressed comic books and race, has updated once at the beginning of August. While sporadic, these articles are typically posted at least twice a month. The last installment of In Your Face Jam, written by CBR Assistant Editor Brett White and focusing on his personal love affair with the medium, was in June. As Hibbs stated so matter-of-factly, “‘columns’ were not a thing they wanted to do any longer.”
The one holdout appears to have been Hannibal Tabu’s The Buy Pile, which rates the week’s book releases and which has not yet missed a Thursday.
Comic Book Resources, much like fellow comic book news site Newsarama, primarily acts as a mouthpiece for the Big 2 publishers , slinging exclusive previews and interviews that smaller outfits don’t receive. That being said, the reason CBR was the last site on my rotation was because I looked forward to their content the most, that being a mix of straight news with the more opinionated columns.
As the heading of this article implies, the reason that so many of these changes were able to take place was that it happened slowly instead of all at once. One of the biggest problems, in addition to the actual redesign, which we will get to, is how editorial has chosen to respond to criticism.
That Is, If It’s Even Fair to Use Describe It As “Responding”
One of the primary reasons that CBR has felt like more of a community compared to so many other sites is its forums. In the same way that they serve as the perfect place to discuss the latest line-wide crossover event they’re also the the ideal location to discuss the Comic Book Resources makeover. User Digifiend created a discussion thread on the day the changes went live, and Managing Editor Albert Ching actually made an appearance early on.
Seeing that he was happy to address any of our concerns, I leapt at the opportunity to ask him about what had happened to my favourite part of CBR-
The question was subsequently ignored. Ching later responded to another comment-
-which prompted me to point out that if the content was the same, what had happened to Tilting at Windmills, et al.? Another user referenced my comment, and Ching chose to address him instead of yours truly, saying:
In his penultimate comment before exiting the discussion, Ching chooses to take a break from giving nonanswers to laud his own editorship to date.
On Thursday night, two days after the unannounced redesign, Ching published an article titled “Welcome to the New CBR“. In it he states that they have-
“moved to a new site design, incorporating many of the features that readers have asked for — a mobile-friendly format, responsive design and what will be an all-around more efficient and more comfortable reading experience.”
-and ending on an encouraging note:
“The site may look different, but the editorial crew driving content remains the same, as does the focus: providing the absolute best in comic book and pop culture news, analysis and commentary. I’ve never been more confident in our ability to do so.”
Just how accurate are those statements, though?
It Can’t Be Just Me, Right?
It definitely isn’t. As The Outhousers noted three days prior to Ching’s announcement, and with no shortage of sarcasm, the general consensus has not been good. Simply reading through the forum post discussing the “reboot” brings up such comments as:
The Comic Book Resources Facebook page, which also sports the new look, has a section specifically for “Visitor Posts”. Those range from the aghast-
-to the conflicted-
-to the extremely direct:
I could spend the rest of the day compiling complaints, but the fact of the matter is that the new changes have not been well-received. Whereas before articles could be commented on via automatically generated forum posts it looks like that system has been done away for one that requires a Facebook log-in. Another issue is visibility when viewed on a computer, as the pared down design requires significantly more scrolling to see what’s going on. With the disgruntled masses only growing more vocal, it’s time to finally answer the question-
Okay, So What Actually Happened to Comic Book Resources?
As Hibbs said, “CBR got sold”. To put it more specifically, they were sold by founder and former owner Jonah Weiland to Valnet Inc., the self-proclaimed “world’s leader in content creation & distribution.”
Visiting the CBR section on the website reveals their overview, which reads:
“Comic Book Resources is the premier online authority for comic book related content – and the go-to source for fans of superhero movies, TV, and books. Renowned for quality industry insights, diverse content, and an active community of readers, CBR draws the most loyal audience of any readership in its vertical.”
It’s truly ironic that the “quality industry insights” are at the lowest they’ve been for the past several years, the apparent mandate to do away with the columns acting in direct contradiction of this feature. The “active community of readers” appears to be wavering, if not plummeting, given the number of comments I’ve seen saying that they’ll be taking their internet minutes elsewhere. As far as “diverse content”, well, that appears to be making a shift in the very near future.
Bleeding Cool reported earlier today that Valnet is, to quote their Careers page, “seeking an experienced full-time Editor for its website CBR.com.”
When opening up the full job description two of the five tasks listed are:
- Responsible for planning and coordination of all list-post content.
- Forming reports based on analytics and performance of list content.
Given how many criticisms have been likening the new CBR to Buzzfeed, this is damning evidence. Newsarama Editor Chris Arrant was the first person to tweet about the job listing, with his site having no shortage of such articles. With that in mind he’s the perfect person to comment on what’s happening. He discusses the phenomenon in a few tweets with Augie Blieck, aforementioned Pipeline writer:
In his own longform article, ominously titled “The End of Big Comic Book Journalism“, Blieck thoroughly analyzes the changes made at Comic Book Resources. Definitely worth a read-through if you have the time, I wanted to spotlight just one observation he made [emphasis added]:
“This new design is clearly aimed at [mobile users]. I’m sure anyone with access to the site’s statistics will tell you that most of the traffic to CBR these days comes from mobile browsers and not laptops/desktops”
The reason I call attention to that is because when perusing the CBR Valnet page I came across a list of statistics about the comic book news site. The image on the right was one of them, and clearly read that their visitors are “50/50 Mobile Vs Desktop”. Blieck is completely accurate when he states that the redesign heavily favours those browsing on their tablets or phones, but according to Valnet themselves this accounts for only half of their current audience.
At this point in time Comic Book Resources continues to be in my rotation, though it being in last place now speaks to it being the one I’m least looking forward to, instead of first. I’ve been considering visiting it just once at the end of the day to see if I’ve missed anything, instead of intermittently throughout like the others.
While Valnet, as well as the CBR editorial staff, are clearly doing what they think is best to make the site a continued success the majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly negative. To make a comparison to the medium it reports on, their rebranding bears a number of similarities to DC’s New 52! in 2011. There’s a lack of transparency over what has and hasn’t taken place, as well as poor planning across the board. Unlike what DC did, however, this is unlikely to bring in a flood of new readers. As comic book fans know, every jumping on point is a jumping off point for someone else.
Comic Book Resources had lived up to its name for over two decades, but under new management it remains to be seen if they might be better dubbed Comic Buzz Feedsources. I know that’s a terrible joke and I don’t even feel bad about ending my article this way.