Brian Hibbs's Tilting at Windmills column today on Comic Book Resources examines difficulties in stocking and selling trades at comic book stores, and in negotiating the comics publishers' ever-growing backlists. I don't have to tell you Brian Hibbs is an industry expert and knows of what he speaks, and I take on faith all the difficulties he describes are entirely accurate.
Respectfully, however, I think Hibbs misrepresents the consumer interest in trades here (or, at least, my personal consumer interest in trades). Yes, as Hibbs writes, trade paperbacks used to just encompass major events, but the ubiquity of trades now doesn't necessarily mean periodicals are a means to the trade paperback end; I see them as separate entities.
As a alternative to the expanding list of collections that publishers offer, many of which sell slowly, Hibbs suggests publishers state outright they'll only collect stories that sell well in periodicals (let's not mistake, Hibbs by no means calls for the abolition of trades). But as a trade reader, I want to decide firsthand what I buy or don't buy based on interest, not availability. In Hibbs's suggestion, DC would only release a Weird Worlds trade, for instance, if the single issues sold well; periodical readers thereby "pre-select" what a trade reader gets to read.
I suggest the opposite: Publishers ought commit to releasing everything they publish in trade, no matter how large or small, with faith it's going to sell because it's quality work that they stand behind and support. Hibbs states that readers wait for a trade and then don't buy it because they no longer have an interest, but the solution is not to base the potential for a trade on periodical sales. A company shouldn't publish a series at all unless they feel it bears enough consequence that they're willing to chase after the reader both to sell the periodical and to sell the trade. Publishers shouldn't deny a reader the manner in which they want to read a publisher's material; instead the solution is to make this material better so a reader feels compelled to read it in whatever form they see fit.
If not already, be sure to read Hibbs's column over at Comic Book Resources.