Thursday, December 15, 2011

Just A Thought On Digital Comics

I know we have been talking about digital comics a lot lately on the podcast as are most people in the comic book industry: customers, retailers and publishers, and everyone seems to be concerned about a lot of different things. Will digital replace physical comics? Is my Local Comic Book Shop (LCBS) going to be put out of business because of digital comics? Why should I as a retailer support a push to digital? So many concerns, so many people out raged at the thought of losing physical comics, and I couldn't help, but realize that all of this discussion is just internet cannon fodder for dramatic effect and manipulation.

The overall question of digital vs. physical; neither can beat the other right now. They both need each other. As of this blog post physical books have been around for a very long time and digital books on an e-reader device has only been around since 1998 and the big push to digital books only started about five years ago when Amazon released its Kindle (2007). It has been over ten years since the digital books became a reality, and for the first time Amazon has said that it has sold more digital books than hardcover books in the past year. Just know that this statement doesn't include trade paper or pocket sized versions. So to say that things are shifting towards a digital only world is more than a little premature.
Especially since the storage capacity and file size of certain digital media is still a concern for most of the 99% who will not be able to afford solid state drives for at least a decade (if the economy stays like it is maybe two) and aslo, because storing my media in "The Cloud" is a novel idea, but in reality who's to stop anyone from getting their hands on my digital files? This is just one hurdle for digital media to overcome.

Let's get back to digital comics. I think we have a very long way to go to see digital versions of comics over take the print market. Comics are a cross between a textual and visual media which works very well in print form, and this experience is lost when you read a digital comic. You can't feel a digital comic, smell it or even hear the sound effects in your head and the page turn as you read on. Sure a e-reader could have sound effects, but much like Higgins distaste of laugh tracks on comedy shows I think one might get tired of the effects track added to a digital comic. And I fear an attempt at making a digital comic smell.
What is also lost is the social experience of going to your local comic book shop to get your fix. When you buy digital you lose out on this experience. I know hearing the die-hard Marvel fan boy every week spout out reason after insane reason as to why Marvel rules to the casual reader who just came to the shop to try something new with a rejiggered DC title, or the group of collectors that sit around and talk about how comics used to be, and my personal favorite the guy who rambles on and on about the one factoid he corrected someone in the industry about and how he influence the market because of this. How can you pass up the chance at free entertainment like this? Besides, what is buying your comics online going to give you? How about an ad for a title you have no interest in or something else that has no relevance to you.

So, I really don't know where this fear of closure is coming from when it comes to the LCBS. I think people are to quick to assume that their LCBS is going to go the route of Borders when it comes to competing against digital comics. A big thing that people fail to realize is that Borders didn't die from digital books, it died from poor business choices and a direct physical competitor called Barnes & Noble. LCBS don't really have that direct physical competitor. Most shops tend to get along with each other. For example, we have a lot of Comic Book Stores in the Bay Area and we all are competing against one another for business, but we also help each other out, and most of us know that each shop serves its own niche group of customers. Most comic book customers often go to other shops to find things they can't get at their LCBS, but return to their LCBS for a majority of their business.

When it comes to digital comics closing down your LCBS or taking over the print market I think we have a long way to go. I think that the affiliate program that Comixology has with retailers is a good start to keeping the retailers in the loop when it comes to where the market is heading and I know that the digital terrain is littered with corruption and greed, and policies that are written to only benefit the company not the creator and completely shun the brick-and-mortar stores from staying alive in these tough economic times. The digital media market needs to support a lot and that means a cut should go to stores that people digitally want to support. From what Higgins has told me about our digital sales we are doing well, and I know that is in a big part due to our loyal listener base (Thank you!); and the fact that DC is working with Comixology and retailers to make an affiliate program that works across the board. Marvel and a few other publishers are still holding out, but they will have to just realize that including a free digital copy in a copy that is $3.99 with only 20 pages of story doesn't help the print copy or the digital copy one bit. If you didn't get that jab it was aimed at Marvel.

I have now rambled on for a long time and I need to wrap this up because I have already lost your attention and so you have moved on to looking at porn or surfing the internet for the first six minutes of The Dark Knight Rising. Digital Comics are an option, print comics are a standard, and my opinion of the current state of the industry is that it is in transition and we will just have to wait and see where things end up.

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