Tuesday, March 06, 2007

News just in: Comics retailers scared shitless by possibility of digital distribution

Loving this thread over at Newsarama. Here's the guts of two posts I added there. So late, so tired.

Digital comics are (just) potentially a third revenue stream for publishers, after monthly comics and trade paperbacks - and just as digital music won't remove the desire for CDs, vinyl, etc, digitally distributed comics will in no way kill the paper comic. All this means is folks like me who don't live near a comic shop can have the thrill of reading a comic on the day it's first published as well as when it physically finally slaps down on my doorstep from a mail-order retailer. Plus, as the success of iTunes attests to, if you give someone the chance to do something easily and legally, they'd rather pay for it and stay legit than go bootleg and risk the penalties (and the hackers, and the viruses, and the spyware, and all the rest of the crap that comes with Peer-to-Peer).

That said, a comic retailer discussion about the digital distribution of comics was always going to be like a bunch of turkeys discussing Christmas. "I really don't approve of this Christmas thing at all" "Me

Well, let's remember as fans and readers that sometimes, what's good for the artform isn't neccessarily what's good for the retailers. Yeah, I'm sure most of them are good, honorable guys, genuine fans who went into the trade with the best of intentions. That said, digital distribution widens potential readership to anyone on the internet anywhere, anytime, as opposed to anyone who knows where their nearest comic shop is, knows their opening hours, and is committed
enough to travel to it regularly.

Never underestimate the power of the impulse sale. Where I am, it's half one in the morning and maybe I've a sudden hankering to read some ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER. Perhaps I've just browsed some dude's blog and he said something about it that's totally piqued my interest about a title I've avoided so far, and will probably pick up in TPB form in a year or two (depending on whether this arc ever gets finished). Now, do I go to bed, get up tomorrow and drive for an hour to my nearest comic-book shop, and hope they have
the back issue? Nope, 'cus when I wake up tomorrow, I'll have forgotten about it and moved on to the next thing. However, if I could pop open a window right now at a website as easy to use as iTunes and download that issue, I'd do it. Hell - this is how I make half my purchases on iTunes anyway - come back half cut from the pub, get a hankering to hear Stevie Wonder's version of
We Can Work It Out and go buy it from Apple.
Comic book distribution is already too narrow as it is. Digital
distribution could prove a renaissance for the form.
The only problem I foresee - do all the major comicbook companies have the sense to go in together on this, form a united front, rather than try it on competing formats, competing sites, etc?


RAB said...

Whether the medium is digital music, digital video, or digital comics, the debate has become a matter of religion: people on each side know what they know and no one is going to tell them otherwise. No amount of reasoned logical argument will penetrate those fortifications.

Now, I myself am firmly on one side of the issue, and it's sad to hear the same old disingenuous arguments used by the RIAA being repeated by comics retailers. The comics industry and its distribution model is what's strangling comic shops to death; retailers actually stand a much better chance of survival in a future with widespread downloading of digital comics -- but they'd have to accept that a new business model is called for. If you try to make that case to them, it'll just fall on deaf ears; worse, they'll brand you as the enemy rooting for their destruction. I just don't have the energy for that argument, you know? They won't be told and it's their own fault.

(I say this as an atheist who was once engaged to marry an evangelical Christian, so I know all about repeatedly banging my head against a brick wall in matters of religious faith...)

Mark said...

Another thing that was strange was the amount of people on the forum siding with the retailers. Think as consumers, people! If Marvel sold hundreds of thousands of comics on the web rather than just tens of thousands of comics through specialist stores, then fan favourite, marginal comics like SOLO, MANHUNTER and NEXTWAVE become economically a lot more viable. Page rates go up, encouraging talent on the verge of leaving the artform for greener pastures to follow their heart and stay in comics.

But then, it was the Newsarama forums, where the weirdest of the weird "Comic Book Guys" roam, after all.

Trevor said...

I've got mixed feelings about this...

(and I do agree with Rab--distribution and copyright and electronic formats have quickly become the "religion and politics" topics--which is great! I hate two party systems! And monotheism, too! And draconian copyright laws! yeah...)

one one side, the idea of downloading a PDF or some other format of my favorite titles is pretty exciting. Environmentally it is a good idea, and publishers might be able to drop prices if they figure out a sensible and inexpensive way to auto-distribute from their own sites and then don't have to worry about distributions costs.

On the other, I work at a small independent bookstore, and while we are getting by, we are usually working on a <3% profit. What has really hurt us as a business is not really the "big box" stores; what is killing us is Amazon. Online sales and distribution really puts the whammy on local places that have to rely on what they can sell to pay the rent. And while I love going to my local comic book store and chatting, I can just as easily see them losing a large portion of their revenue to those who would prefer to buy a comic online while their level 60 World of Warcraft gnome is flying from one place to another.

In any case, it is very late, and I have to be up very early, and I am not going to go back and double check this post. I hope it all makes sense when I see it tomorrow.

Mark said...

All fair points, and I don't want to be totally heartless, but it's really only my job to think as a punter. I'm sure, after an initial period of chaos, some form of equilibrium will be reached. That's always the way with revolution. And something this big could/should be revolutionary for the artform.

Anonymous said...

but who's going to read a comic in pdf form? anybody who downloads a book will likely print it off. and then revert to buying the printed versions as it probably costs more in ink to print off a comic and it does to buy it.

Mark said...

Well, there's plenty of people already doing it, getting their comics in bootlegged form from torrents. This would be about establishing a way of attracting that potential revenue back into the industry.