Personally I think digital comics are the way of the future. I can get books, music, movies, TV shows and pretty much any other type of media without leaving my couch so why not comics too? Don’t get me wrong I love going down to my favorite comics shop (Midtown Comics Times Square) and looking through all of the books, checking out the new toys and listening to (and occasionally joining in) the nerd talk going on.
Digital comics are coming. Well they are already here, but they haven’t quite reached the stage where they can really be a true threat. The ones that exist are presented beautifully in their respective apps and do have a lot going for therm, but still leave a lot to be desired.
Where they Succeed
Availability: Digital comics will never sell out. You will never go to the shop and look for the one missing issue you need to finish reading your story and have it be missing from the bins. There is no more fighting the crowds on a busy Wednesday trying to find your pull list. Digital comics are just there and accessible from anyplace you have an internet connection.
But fans will buy their comics no matter what the format. As any comic fan knows, the only way to perpetuate the medium is to grow, not only from its current audience buying more books, but by bringing in new readers. There are very few, if any, spinner racks in grocery stores anymore. Most of the comic sections in books stores I have been to are messes of disorganized, sometimes months old books. Digital allows new readers to download a free app and casually browse for comics featuring the character they just saw on the big screen, or in their favorite cartoon. The books have synopses and even samples so you know where you are in the story. The price point can be unbelievable if you are lucky enough to catch a good sale. Just like digital has brought music exploration and discovery to the next level I think it can and will do the same for comics.
And have you ever read a book and wanted to go back and read the back story, or first appearance of the main character. Now you don’t have to go out and worry about tracking down the back issue, trade or reprint in order to enjoy it. Just open up your comics app and download it and enjoy! This bring a whole new level to how fans both new and old are able to enjoy and dive into the rich history and mythology comics companies have created.
Portability/Storage: No more lugging around trades or worrying about individual issues being shredded beyond recognition in your bag. No more figuring out where the hell you are going to put that last batch of trades because you haven’t had time to make an Ikea run to buy another bookshelf. No more bargaining with your significant other for another couple of square feet to put another stack of long boxes in.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t miss CD jewel cases one bit. Sure the artwork was awesome and it was great to step back and look at your massive collection, but if you’re like me you had to juggle your CDs with your movies, books, video games, etc. In terms of modern comics I am also not going to miss stacks of long boxes, bags, backboards, and the associated expenses.
But even more than that, I can now read carry an entire storyline in my bag, even if iI want to read every New 52 book out there in one big shot. I don’t have to worry about carrying 52 comics with me, or remembering to put new ones in each night to get me through my commute. And when I finish those I can buy new ones or even re-download some old favorites. For someone like me who’s mood can change in an instant in terms of what i am in the mood to read this is a great thing.
Independents: Independent comic publishers now have an inexpensive way to find an audience. Bandwidth and storage becomes your only expense. With the cost of hosting a website and cloud storage so cheap, it opens up all new doors for those working hard to get into the medium. And much like the music industry, it makes success possible to achieve success even without one of the major companies backing you.
Where they Fall Short
Price: Digital comics have a long way to go until they become truly accessible from a cost standpoint. Many are not willing to shell out the same price for a digital file that they could for paper. Digital books have made us used to reaping the befits of publishers saving on production costs. iTunes has made us expect the 99 cent price point for a small piece of entertainment. But if you open an app like Comixology right now you will not see that production savings reflected.
Are the publishers trying to not bite the hand that feeds them and save comic retailers? Are publishers just being competitive with one another? Or are they just confident that fans already pay $4 for a book no matter what the format is and why not reap the extra profit?
No matter the reason digital will not prosper until fans see the savings passed along to them. DC has headed in the right direction by decreasing their price a month after the initial release of the book. Marvel has held fast to their prices and will only lower them many months after release. Other publishers have followed one of those paths or a mix.
If it is to protect comic shops, we didn’t protect record stores or book stores. I love the local comic shop but the bottom line is you can’t hold up progress. The retailers got into business with the same possibility of failure as any other. They will have to adapt to survive and change their business model or get out of the game.
$1.99 is a fair price for back issues and I also think it is fair to have a book be cover price on release date with the promise of a decrease after 30 days. Many forms of media have a premium price on the day of release with a decrease after time and i think comics can follow this format as well to much success.
Selection: More! We must have more! Day-and-date digital needs to happen across the board. Right now DC is the only one of the “Big Two” to do this. Marvel needs to release all of their books digitally. Back issue libraries need to be bulked up. Selection is key. People can only buy books that are there and right now the selection isn’t all it could be.
Start with day-and-date, and move in to filling in those back issue libraries at a reasonable price and i am willing to bet there is a sharp increase in sales from fans old and new.
There are many other reasons that digital can succeed or fail, but I think right now these are the most pressing. Either way I think that digital is the way of the future. Devices are becoming cheaper and more accessible. It may take time, but I think it is the key to saving the medium.