So why is maddenification a bad thing?
During World War II, millions of soldiers stationed over seas found themselves reading these things called "comic books" in-between digging out trenches and shooting people. They came back from war and comic book sales exploded. Both adults and children were enjoying themselves until politicians rode a wave of public fear over misbehaving children to glorious rewards. This resulted in the Comics Code, which you might have heard about.
It goes almost without saying that there was no crisis involving kids and comic books, it was simply fear of the unknown and smart politicians cashing in on the latest buzzword. Sound familiar? This short tale of freedom of speech is cited without fail every time I hear a group of colleagues start chatting about videogames and their latest scuffles with censors.
Oddly, no one seems have noticed what happened to comic books after they were stripped of their constitutional rights: in the mid 80s sales of comic books were booming. Thanks to strong films like Superman and Batman, the future seemed limitless. At the height of the resurgence films like Akira even showed a glimpse into a world of international comic books.
But this bright future never happened. In fact, the early 90s saw the whole comic book industry come very close to death. A "quiet" crash if you will. Companies like Marvel Comics were saved only by corporate buyouts, and the industry itself survived only on an influx of fresh blood from independent publishers. What happened to all that momentum of the 80s?
The maddenification of comic books is what happened to the industry. Why run one big Superman story every other year or so when you can run one every quarter? Why keep stories separate when you can force readers to buy three different books for one story? Publishers drowned their audience in a sea of titles.
Readers were initially enthralled by the quantity and quality, but like your mother says "too much of a good thing is a bad thing." As more titles crammed the shelf sales dropped and publishers introduced expensive "special edition" books with fancy covers and crammed ads into every open spot.
The market was merely adjusting to an influx of new readers brought in from the Superman and Batman films. Every industry has its “greedy” periods where skyrocketing demand pushes prices higher and higher, but eventually the industry and its customers find a balancing point right?
The problem with comic books, and this is shared to with videogames to a lesser extent, is the episodic nature of the products. As a reader, you have to invest money every month in order to reap the rewards of the story. So as costs rose casual readers simply stopped reading, and new readers that might have been simply went elsewhere.
What about the core audience; you know the people who really loved comic books? Well, they made the whole thing worse by continuing to buy comic books at high prices and crossover titles with threadbare stories. There wasn't really a crash, but rather a slow spiraling death that only became apparent when it was too late.