Comic Fodder

There Be Pirates Forcing Change In Comic Land

I read this article this morning over breakfast about the illegal downloading of comics and the potential damage it could do to the industry. There was the usual variety of opinions and thoughts on the subject but it was the last paragraph of the article that got me thinking. Gary Dills, the manager of a comic shop in Phoenix said the following about a certain percentage of his customers who are likely to download a book to try it before they buy it:

“…it could actually be a positive,” Dillas said. Dillas suspects the industry giants Marvel and DC Comics will eventually distribute issues legally online for a nominal fee, much like iTunes with digital music downloads. “Eventually there will be both the print and online version of the product,” Dills said. “That worries me.”

Dills actually brings up a very good point, something I’ve thought about before but never in the context of downloading comic being compared to iTunes. What happens when Marvel decides to offer ALL their books online, in various sizes (for viewing on PSP, laptop, iPod) for a much smaller charge than you would pay to buy the book in print? Keep in mind, iTunes is NOT the record company it is an outside source, the equivalent of an online music store. Marvel selling their books online, directly to the consumer is a much bigger problem to retailers than iTunes is to record stores.

Imagine what would happen to comic shop sales if Marvel could make enough money to run business by only making their books available online. Marvel would save on printing and shipping costs, improve the quality of the art (because let’s face it, nothing looks as good in print as it goes on a 27” inch flat screen monitor) and be able to make money directly from the consumer instead of watching Diamond Distribution take their cut.

The flip side to this argument, of course, comes from the older fans. I’m talking about the older dudes, guys that had long blonde hair in middle school, guys (or girls) who consider themselves traditionalists and long for the days of yore ( I don’t know what that means but I like the way it sounds). These older fans want their comics on paper. They want to flip through the book, hold it in their hands and to smell the fresh ink on paper smell comics give off when you first get them. These guys enjoy…nay…look forward to making their weekly trip to the comic shop and walking up and down the isles pulling the newest comics off the shelves.

Here's the problem…what happens when these old die-hard fans become the minority? Marvel and DC Comics could, by that point, both be in the downloadable comic game full time. If they’re moving their product online, saving money and still bringing new readers in everyday with extra online features (imagine if you could pay for a years subscription and have your comics sent to your RSS feed reader weekly) what would keep them printing the books as well? Would it make things easier or harder for indie publishers to compete with the “big two” if everything was digital? Would you read as many comics if they were digital?

Personally, I don't mind reading comics digitally. I think before Marvel or DC tries to do this exclusively a better comic reader needs to be developed to improve on navigating around the comic page and turning pages, which have been my biggest complaints with digital comics so far. As a creator and publisher I DO see a HUGE value in directing the medium to digitalization. The amount of money, time and manpower saved on uploading a book straight to the web as opposed to printing and distribution is astronomical (comparatively speaking, of course). Let’s not forget that for the indie publisher publishing books in full color is expensive and next to impossible, unless we’re talking about digitally releasing a book, then there’s no extra cost for color, saving the fans money and broadening the creators options when not working with one of the “big two”.

The truth is comic books are a part of the entertainment industry, the latter being the key part of that terminology. An industry has to grow and change with the times. Much like the movie or music industry has seen various format changes over the years (record to cassette tape to CD or film to video to DVD to digital video) this is not the first time the comic book industry has had to change either. It’s only been within the last 10 years that digital lettering and coloring have taken precedents over a more traditional method. These digital formats are still being debated amongst some of the more hard-core fans but it’s generally agreed that using the computer for lettering and colors is way more cost and time efficient than any other way.

I’m interested in your comments on this. Keep in mind I’m speculating and well aware that it will be a long while before comics are exclusively available for download. It just seems to me that the comic book companies could make more money if they went direct to the public…it’s hard to do this if you have to print and distribute yourself, hence the current setup but just imagine the possibilities the future could hold. If I can get a decent discussion going in the comments below perhaps this won’t be the end of this topic, clearly there is much more to be said. Looking forward to hearing from you.

If you would like to read the article for yourself it can be found here.

EDIT: Corrected spelling. Thanks Alison. --SD

The comics publishers need to learn from the mistakes of the recording industry. The demand for digital comics is unquestionably there. Everyday that DC and Marvel don't offer a paid alternative to illegal downloading they are missing out on boatloads of money. I love physical copies of my comics (btw, I still have long hair) but I also love physical copies of my cd's...until I got my Ipod. Just like I'm sure people loved their 8tracks and records. The comics industry has to change along with society, or be left behind by it. The days of 12 cent pamphlets are over. How expensive do comics have to get before we embrace change? Or does the industry need to end?
Comics aren't the paper they are printed on anymore then a movie is simply film projected on a screen. Comics are the stories, the creative energy, the characters, the blood sweat and tears that an artist leaves out there. If I'm reading that on my Ipod instead of 22 pages of folded newsprint...so be it.

-- Posted by: Dave at June 29, 2006 2:27 PM

You bring up a good point when you talk about your iPod. That's a perfect example of having the proper tool to listen to digital music. If they made something like that for portable comics...imagine if instead of hundreds of long white boxes all your comics could be archived on your iPod like device.
I think ,just like digital music, digital comics won't truly excel their 'in-print' cousins until there's the proper equipment made for viewing them.

-- Posted by: Shawn at June 29, 2006 3:11 PM

Hey guys:

Very interesting subject. I too, am one of the old timers. Had to cut my hair the other day though. Job interview coming up.

The computer and the Internet are here to stay. BUT, part of the comic book fascination is the physical product. I do believe partial electronic downloads can very definitely be used for online promotion, as I am an Internet marketer and these concepts interest me. But I sure hope the younger generation doesn't lose the desire to own and hold a real live physical comic book.

Granted, the prices are getting outrageous, but a comic isn't a comic without the physical attributes. And electronic downloads will knock the hell out the the comic book collectors' passions.

One thing about the future though. It always changes. Maybe there is room for a combination of electronic data as well as physical product. We will have to see.

-- Posted by: Dave G at July 2, 2006 5:17 PM

Hi,

I am opening a hobby store with comic books here in Panama city, Panama. Me as a seller I see this as something that scares me, since in Panama specialty comic book stores or hobby shops are not common. You get a few comics at limited pharmacies or magazine related stores, but these are non comic places to chat or meet other readers.

Since it has always been difficult to introduce people to comics in Panama, the downloading will make it more underground. People consider comics here as something stupid for inmature kids (since kids no longer read comics) and received not much repect.

I blame part of the difficult times for comics in my country to the bad economy even we use the US$ and also I blame the mafia of Diamond Comics for the requirements of $500 a month of purchases. Its too much for my country.

Many of us love comics here, but I think people will start downloading for free to be able to read titles like: X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, X-Man, New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, New X-Factor and so, so, so...

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