What Happened to Comic Book Resources?

“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-

oldcbr2014

-like I was used to, I was greeted with-

newcbr2016

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.

pipelineUnbeknownst 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.”

tiltingAt 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.

albert1

“Hi all! We’re currently working on issues with the redesign, adding more features and smoothing things out. Thank for your patience and feedback and I’ll try to answer any questions that you may have.”

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-

me1

“Hi Albert. Is it true that CBR will be doing away with all columns?”

The question was subsequently ignored. Ching later responded to another comment-

albert2

“The content of the new site is the exact same as the content of the old one.”

-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:

albert3

“A shift to a new design does not mean a shift in focus. The new site literally is all of the articles from the old site moved to a new design.”

In his penultimate comment before exiting the discussion, Ching chooses to take a break from giving nonanswers to laud his own editorship to date.

albert4

“Sure, every outlet evolves over time — CBR has since its beginning. But we cover comic books and comic book culture and there’s been no mandate to shift away from that. If anything we’re covering less of the non-comic-based movies and TV shows than we used to. I remember a few years ago CBR, via Spinoff, was running articles on things like The League and Childrens Hospital. I liked both of the shows, but there was no connection to comics. No plans to drop the forums! “

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:

soldy

“A new design looks like crap and it definitely was made in favor of tablets and phones. Disappointed.”

The Comic Book Resources Facebook page, which also sports the new look, has a section specifically for “Visitor Posts”. Those range from the aghast-

aghast

-to the conflicted-conflicted

-to the extremely direct:

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.”

valnetbrands

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.”

listeditor

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”

5050The 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.

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10 responses to “What Happened to Comic Book Resources?

  1. Didn’t mean to exit any discussions, just had my attention diverted elsewhere. I’ll go back and answer your questions this weekend, and also my offer stands that I will respond to anyone who emails me at albertc at cbr dot com with constructive criticism or feedback. Thanks!

  2. What are the other news sites in your reading list? Would be interesting and useful for those of us moving on from CBR.

    • ComicsAlliance can help scratch that itch as far as weekly features go, though it is a little bit lighter on the previews and exclusives. The interviews that they do manage to get are always really high quality, though.

      Newsarama got a redesign not too long after CBR did, but actually looks better now than it did before. The layout is a lot less cluttered. While they have less to offer as far as columns they’re essentially on par with everything else. They sure do like their lists, though.

      Bleeding Cool is the tabloid of comic book journalism, more than willing to use headlines to grab clicks and to chronicle the social media interactions of comic book creators you might not otherwise see. While kind of sensationalist the latter is a fresh take you won’t find elsewhere.

      As mentioned CBR was my favourite in my rotation, and as it stands I haven’t yet found a suitable replacement. If you read a lot of comic book sites you’re probably already familiar with these, and if not I hope this helps!

  3. Hey Evan,
    Really cool post. Looks like you got Mr. Ching’s attention. It’s all good. The way I see it, CBR is a business just like any other with its own protocols, methodologies, etc. Those who work for CBR follow CBR procedure. So, taking a look at the new CBR, I see some crunchy goodness if you hunt around for it. Sure, CBR and Newsarama have a special relationship with the Big Two publishers. They have a preferred house style for reporting and reviews. That’s just the way it is. They focus on what they need to focus on. And, even in that venue, you will see the occasional piece that runs counter to that main focus. Variety is the spice of life. A piece on alt-comics does not seem like something that will attract a lot of readers but people interested in comics in general will read it and will miss it when it’s not there. The bottom line is that the main focus for CBR and Newsarama is big demographic big ticket items.

    The further away you get from that particular framework, you find yourself at places like Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat. Further along, maybe it’s Comics Waiting Room. Then you get to one or two (most likely one) person operations like Johanna Draper Carlson’s Comics Worth Reading or Rob Clough’s High-Low or my own, Comics Grinder. If I did something at CBR, or The Comics Journal, or Comics Alliance, I follow their guidelines. Even with my own Comics Grinder, I follow my own self-imposed guidelines, exercise discretion and professionalism. My readers appreciate what I do. We’re all happy.

  4. CBR is the only Forum or Website I’ve the honour of being blocked form using. I apparently asked to many questions about the changes and was overly critical. I have only been back once since August to see if there have been any improvements. It’s a wasteland.

  5. PS makes me a bit sad as a reader of CBR since 2003.

  6. I never got back to you on this. Apologies for that — was a very busy time. If you have any more comments or concerns, or anything you want to be addressed, feel free to send them my way!

    • I’d be very interested in a thorough rundown of what happened to the various columns the site once featured, with Axel-in-Charge being one I’m particularly curious about.

  7. Pingback: “Marvel Doesn’t Care About LGBT People” | Culture War Reporters

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