Brian Wood on digital vs brick and mortar: "Everyone is bleeding."

Responding to last week’s Dark Horse vs the retailers controversy over the price of Dark Horse’s simultaneous digital release, writer Brian Wood has summed up the very hard rock and very rocky hard place that we all find ourselves in. While acknowledging that no one wants to see their local comics shop go under, he says for creators, it is a rough time with big question marks everywhere:

I’ve had series cancelled recently.  I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons.  I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have).  My income from royalties have dropped.  Most comic shops don’t carry my books.  I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may be drastically reduced in the near future. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too.  I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times.  But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.

So I’ll have to bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less.  The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I’ll just keel over and die from it.

No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt.  We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends.  We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income.  To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems!  It benefits no one at all.  It will not save us.


There’s more in the entire post, including how Wood hoped to make his print comics more premium for retailers. However, the key word that Wood uses is “additive” — the same word DC has been pushing since they started their digital advance. As we remarked yesterday — so far the digital audience does seem to be additive — the day and date New 52 was the hottest selling project of the last five years.

The pushback from retailers was strong and immediate when it looked like DH would be releasing digital comics at a LOWER price point than the print editions. One of them put it this way: “We have been Dark Horses loving boyfriend all these years and digital is the dude in the Camaro they are now putting out for.  Soon enough they will find out he can afford the cool car because he lives in his moms basement, oh, and he has genital warts and a tiny ****.”

Problem is…we do all love our retailer friends but they haven’t been able to grow the market for comics. That’s a fact. I love each and everyone of them but if things had been going well DC and Marvel wouldn’t have broken the glass on their last ditch emergency axes. Is a tiny, warty **** really the only thing we have to look forward to?
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The truth is that 14% of shoppers for this record Black Friday had a tablet on their wish list. The other items included a high def TV, a smart phone or a laptop.

Do you sense a trend there?

Each one of these devices is a potential platform for reading and paying for comics.

We have a feeling that when that **** gets unveiled on December 26th it may be a little bigger than expected.

Comments

  1. Synsidar says:

    That’s why market research and advertising are important. Tablet owners, at least for now, earn more and have more education than non-tablet owners. They’re willing to spend for stuff, but companies will be competing for their dollars.

    SRS

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    Both Amazon and B&N are touting the high sales of the newest tablets (without actually giving numbers). With the Kindle Fire exploding overhead like an artillery flare, the general public now knows that there are tablets, and what they do. (“It’s like your cellphone, except the screen’s bigger.”)

    So, come unBoxing Day (that strange day which begins the evening of Christmas Eve and continues into Christmas Day), we’ll see how popular tablets are, if websites experience record traffic, and how many individuals download books, apps, and other media.

    Oh, and maybe we’ll finally hear about how many comics Diamond Digital and Comixology are selling comics through comics shops and websites.

    As for additive… when will Marvel link their movie marketing to their comics website? For example, Mountain Dew partnered with the recently-opened iTunes store in 2004, giving out a 1-in-6 free download in each bottle cap. People visit, download the software, test the site, and return again and again. Why not do the same with comics?

  3. Torsten,

    You bring up a great point about cross-promotion and marketing. Imagine getting a free comic download or an exclusive sneak peek at a video by inputting a code from the underside of a bottle cap? Or just making sure that comics are available for sale in the lobby of the movie theater? Or a discount card on several Avengers digital comics after seeing the movie?

    On a local level, maybe some comic shops can do an ad swap with the local theater chain? Theater gets to put postcards at all the local shops for when the movie comes out (which will go into bags at the stores) and the LCS gets to put postcards at the theater so people can know where to pick up their Marvel comics… simple things like that. That’s how these businesses are going to survive and leverage the digital readers.

  4. “As for additive… when will Marvel link their movie marketing to their comics website? For example, Mountain Dew partnered with the recently-opened iTunes store in 2004, giving out a 1-in-6 free download in each bottle cap. People visit, download the software, test the site, and return again and again. Why not do the same with comics?”

    Marvel did this for both Iron Man 2 and Thor, giving out free 1-month trials to the Marvel DCU service on Dr. Pepper bottlecaps. I know because an Iron Man 2 bottlecap was what got me to try out the service.

  5. Snikt Snakt says:

    Stick a fork in the Brick & Mortar stores, they’re DONE.

  6. I walk into my local comic book shop and they act like they are doing me the biggest favor by even existing. And I have moved to three different cities in the last ten years, so these are not the same shops.

    I remember the first time I discovered you could pull comics every month at a discount, no one told me. I just happened to overhear another customer doing it. What is the average comic book shop doing to get new customers in the store? What kind of marketing strategies are they involved in? Is their only marketing strategy whatever Marvel or DC happen to be pushing that summer? Is their only promotion whatever posters they get sent from the big two? Because if so they will fail. Do they ever advertise? How are they pulling in new shoppers. Is their only source of new buyers the children of old buyers? Because that is not sustainable.

    There are a lot of great comic shops out there. There are some I would drive a couple hours to go visit. But more often a shop is run by a guy who just happens to have a lot of comics and knows how to work Quickbooks. It is a difficult time for print and everyone is thinking too small. Comic book shops don’t need to just increase their sales, THEY NEED TO JUSTIFY THEIR EXISTENCE TO A NEW GENERATION. Many of these people are just as happy reading a comic on an ipad and then never looking at it again. What do those kids need with a Comic Book Shop?

  7. “we do all love our retailer friends but they haven’t been able to grow the market for comics. That’s a fact.”

    Is it now?

    http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/alltime.html

    I’m fairly certain that that last chart (combined comics and books) is showing an upwards direction, no? In fact, four of the five charts are positive…

    The current today state of the DM is clearly a result of the material the publishers have chosen to publish… there’s only so much you can milk your customers before they begin to rebel.

    Is there a definition of “grow” that I’m unaware of that would discount total market size of 15-ish mil in ’98 to 25-ish mil today?

    -B

  8. Brian Wood says:

    I would never say that comic book retailers haven’t grown the market. Hibbs is right about it. Its just not grown enough.

    But I don’t fit into the “milk your customers” group Hibbs cites, though, and I’m assuming he doesn’t think so either.

    b

  9. I’d agree with Brian Wood on that last bit, and wasn’t trying to imply otherwise.

    -B

  10. Thomas Baumbidell says:

    Yeah, the “That’s a fact” statement that is anything but… that stuck out to me as well.

    Comic Retailers are in the trenches building new customers every day- digital comics are a small surfboard on a crest, and the Direct Market created the wave.

  11. Greg Smallwood says:

    I don’t see day and date digital releases being a threat to retailers at all. But I can certainly understand their trepidation if they’re available at a lower cost. If you offer two identical products (assuming we’re just talking about content) but charge a dollar less for one because it’s available in Store A instead of Store B, your customers are all going to be buying your product at Store A. There will be some who continue to buy from Store B out of loyalty, comfortability, etc. But probably not enough for Store B to survive.

    For me, the questions start there…

    Is it that much more affordable for major publishers to release a comic book digitally instead of print? Can they really afford to charge a dollar less? Does print and Diamond really cost that much? And what about $.99? Is that just a pipe dream or is it entirely possible? What would happen to publishers if there entire current customer base moved to digital at a $1.99 price point? What about a $.99 price point? Would their profit margins remain the same, increase, or fall? How many more new customers would they have to attract to make an entirely digital market (at a lower price point) profitable? Would they need any at all?

    I’d love to know the answers to these questions. It’s always nice when we get someone from within to industry (like Wood, Gillen, Millar, etc) to fill in some of the blanks but there are still a lot of figures we don’t have access to.

    And to reiterate what Mr. Wood said in response to Mr. Hibbs, I would not put blame on the retailers in regards to market growth. It’s just not that simple.

    Personally, I’m just not ready to say goodbye to the Direct Market until I know that a Digital Market can support the publishers and creators I love. Until then, I’d like to see both co-exist.

  12. As one of the few retailers that’s actually had some success with digital sales, I just want DH and Marvel to allow me to sell digital comics through our comiXology digital storefront the way I can with Image, DC, and other companies.

  13. The Beat says:

    Okay okay! I did make an overstatement in my Korean legislature style outburst and have emended my comment to reflect a more balanced reality.

    I do think the growth in the charts Brian points to is led by the explosion of COLLECTIONS not periodicals. In fact the book chart a little below shows huge growth while periodicals are much more level.

    However it is also a fact that the regular, periodical buying customer is the sales driver and life blood of the comics shop.

    The reason I got so excited is that I see this giant snail coming right at us. We are all going to have to live with the new reality of a tablet in every household within a few years.

    The way you, me, Dupreee, the two Brians and everyone else in the entertainment business is going to be different in two years. It’s already different from two years ago.

    We ALL need to ponder that. Maybe we should all go gaze at that Dan CLowes New Yorker cover from last week for a while more.

  14. Brian Hibbs:

    “The current today state of the DM is clearly a result of the material the publishers have chosen to publish…”

    This is a key point that needs to sink in at various levels in the industry, but I wouldn’t give creators, retailers or readers a pass. If you’re publishing two Avengers books a week, you’re certainly part of the problem. If you’re writing, stocking or buying two Avengers books a week, though, you’re not helping much, either.

  15. I am ready to jump ship from brick & mortar to digital. Even if the price point remains the same, I have the advantages of convenience (not having to make the trip to the store every week) and space considerations (stacks of comics piling up or winding up in the recycling bin because I have no more room to store them). Also, after a certain “tipping point” has been reached where sales volume justifies it, I fully expect day-and-date digital comics to drop in price to something lower than the print copy.

    My local comic book retailer has done absolutely nothing to make shopping at his store something that has a competitive advantage over digital. As another poster above put it, he expects the customer to thank HIM for existing.

  16. There is an entire generation of people with disposable income who consume almost all of their media and pop culture in digital form. The idea of a printed book pre-ordered from a catalog and bought at a shop is nothing more than a retro novelty for a lot of them. Thats pop culture today.

    The direct market was a great idea in 1972 or whenever it was invented, but we should be open to the possibility that its reached its plateau. Every other form of media and pop culture have moved on to solid digital strategies, with competitive and affordable pricing EXCEPT for comics.

    We need more accessible price points if you want to be competitive with other forms of media and grow the industry with new, younger fans. Or we can just stay the course and fade away.

    Like it or not, progress is a runaway train.

  17. “the day and date New 52 was the hottest selling project of the last five years.”

    Why the heck are you branding the entire New 52 project with the adjective “day and date”? the digital component only had a very small impact on overall sales. All of the actual sales figures cited were huge, and those figures are from the direct market alone. Branding the entire project as “the day and date New 52″ makes no sense.

    People need to wake up from their digital utopia. Digital is a great option but it’s hardly the savior of Western civilization. Digital isn’t “the future”. It’s already here, and it’s increasingly clear that is not some sort of magical cure-all.

    A lot of people are buying tablets? Wow! Good! Most of those people still don’t care about comics!

    And if someone didn’t mind paying $2.99 for a paper comic they like, then they should have no qualms about paying $2.99 for a digital version. Yet people complain about this. These are the same people who think digital is superior to print. If it’s superior then why do you want to pay less for it? (I understand that there is no printing cost involved in digital, but there are format conversion costs, plus Apple and/or Comixology need to take their cut.)

    I own a tablet. I buy digital comics. I’m not anti-digital. But the digital utopians are getting more and more delusional. 99 cents??? You guys think so little of your comics that you insist that you pay 1990-era prices for them? Even though the value of the dollar has gone down? What do you expect the creators to earn if you insist on paying so little for art that you claim to enjoy so much?

    The whole thing is getting very schizophrenic. I know of internet comics pundits who have purchased several different tablets by now, each one of them as soon as they were released. And yet they refused to buy digital comics until they’re less than $2.00 per issue. These are people who have already spent several THOUSANDS of dollars on tablets, most of which they don’t even use anymore. These are people who claim to love the medium of comics more than life itself. And they are currently buying many comics for $3 and $4 a piece. But they refuse to buy digital comics at the price at which the industry (and its creators) could remain afloat.

  18. At this point I think DM retailers are going to have see the same day digital product not affect their sales – to the point where when they do cut orders expecting a reduction of demand, they end up kicking themselves for it by quick sell outs and being caught short.

    And they’ll probably have to see that consistently with many titles over several months before it sinks in.

    I hope for your sake Conan sells out quickly in comic shops, quick reorders are available and it costs you very little in overall sales.

    One worry I do have is the retailers getting caught short will cause casual customers not willing to wait to go digital – and stay that way, making “digital will convert print customers” theory a self fulfilling prophecy.

    I also doubt that digital will convert readers to print, of if they do, they’ll buy the Graphic Novel from Amazon and not a LCS.

  19. What if there is a finite window of opportunity here that we’re missing because we’re trying not to piss off our retail partners?

    If the interest in tablets are at a critical time right now, and we have a digital product to sell on that platform, our pricing strategies should be based on getting as much of that product out to as many people as possible. Like the app makers are doing.

    Instead the current price strategy is “don’t piss off retailers.” So nobody is. And nobody is buying digital comics because they’re too expensive. Nobody wants to pay 4.99 for a 72dpi version of a comic they’re going to spend 15 minutes reading.

    Imagine where digital comic could be right now, if DC, Marvel, Image, etc had the opportunity to sell monthly subscriptions to multiple titles, or offer new books at 99 cents.

    It’s frustrating to me because I get people saying “no. We’re backing retailers. digital is bad.” and I can get people saying “Digital is the future, we can’t worry about retailers.” But right now everyone is PRETENDING to do both at the same time.

    And what if while hedging bets, we miss our opportunity?

  20. Chris Hero says:

    @ Brian Hibbs:

    I respect you and you seem to be one of the few *good* retailers, but I disagree with this statement:

    “I’m fairly certain that that last chart (combined comics and books) is showing an upwards direction, no? In fact, four of the five charts are positive…”

    The charts you linked to don’t show growth in unit sales…they show growth in dollars. (That’s pretty easy to do, just charge more and there are more dollars.) They also reflect sales from Diamond to comic stores, not from comic stores to customers, so they don’t prove or disprove a growing market.

    Anyway, it seems to me the biggest problem is the *vast* majority of Marvel and DC books…well, they suck. I bought a bunch of the “new 52″ through Comixology and enjoyed very, very few of them. I’m not sure how most of these books are going to attract anyone but the people who are already buying them.

    Another large problem is how awful most comic stores are. There are good ones, true, but a lot are not very good. @the 19XX got it right…most act like they’re doing the customer a favor by existing. And most only serve the Marvel/DC audience.

    Bad product + bad stores = bad outcome for print.

  21. Chris Hero says:

    Wow, Scott Kurtz just nailed it. Not too much of a surprise….

  22. Travis M. says:

    Just asking: Is there a difference between growing the market and and reclaiming a bit of the massive shrinkage?

  23. AfterHours Al™ says:

    Digital might be coming or already here. My local shop might or might not care if I drop in this week.

    But I will continue to buy only what I like and ignore the rest. And I will not pay $4 to read a digital comic file.

  24. Ralf Haring says:

    “99 cents??? You guys think so little of your comics that you insist that you pay 1990-era prices for them? Even though the value of the dollar has gone down? What do you expect the creators to earn if you insist on paying so little for art that you claim to enjoy so much?”

    Yes, I expect to pay 99 cents. I expect the giant savings reaped by not having to actually print and ship the books to be passed on to me. I expect that the giant downside of only leasing the thing for which I am paying to radically shift the price downwards. I expect the publishers and creators to market their products in new ways and build new audiences with prices that encourage impulse buying instead of causing jaws to drop. Bluntly, if the only way a publisher can think of to remain afloat is to attempt to recreate the existing physical model online exactly, their lack of vision and imagination deserves to be punished with failure.

  25. Brian Wood says:

    “99 cents??? You guys think so little of your comics that you insist that you pay 1990-era prices for them?”

    I had a long talk with an industry friend today, one who is very close to this issue. And she kept telling me that charging less than print price for a digital version was “devaluing the product”. She kept saying that like its a fact, and its not. It’s an opinion, and one I don’t hold. I find the experiences of buying a book and reading a file to be unique enough that I consider some difference in price to be acceptable.

    It’s like anything, really. People put their own value on objects, and either think the stated price is fair, or they don’t. We shouldn’t let others make that decision for us, though.

    b

  26. Chris Hero says:

    One more comment on the “99 cents??? You guys think so little of your comics that you insist that you pay 1990-era prices for them?”

    It seems to me publishers have said they’ve raised prices in order to accommodate nicer paper…better coloring…and the cost of delivering the comics to stores. So, no, publishers don’t get to have it both ways. They don’t get to claim the price went up due to the quality of the medium then argue the price stays up to support the quality of the product.

  27. Scott Kurtz’s comment is spot on. The industry currently has a chance to grow, and worrying about retailers isn’t the way to do it. And the retailers complaining about a digital offering being cheaper and same date is worth as much consideration as a complaint that Amazon undercut them for every single TPB that they sell – sorry guys, that’s business.

    Over the last few years, I dropped down to buying only a pair of ongoing comics in single issues – Morrison’s Batman and Hellblazer. I used to order TPBs from my comics shop too (not a LCS, despite living in London I’ve not made a visit to a comics store on a regular basis since 1999. I’ve always used mailorder; the travel and time costs were much higher than postage costs!) but moved over to Amazon when I realised how much I was paying over the odds to my comics shop.

    Then digital came along. I tried it out on my iPhone first, buying a few 99cent issues when ComiXology had their sales. I soon started buying *more* every week than I had in a long time. Then I bought an iPad and haven’t looked back.

    Now, one funny thing – I’m still hardly buying any day-and-date issues. I realised that having built up a backlog of hundreds of digital issues to read via the regular 99cent sales and /because/ there’s no requirement to pick something up immediately because there’s no such thing as running out of stock on digital comics, I could hold off. I have a long long list of digital comics I want and I’ll get them if they ever go on sale, or as soon as I’ve cleared my backlog.

    But I’ve bought so many OLD comics, especially DC ones in these sales. This is where there’s also good money to be made in digital, and DC are at least putting out a decent selection of back issues – although I think there, they really want to look at going straight to a price of $0.99 for all of them, rather than the mix of $0.99 and $1.99 they currently have. $0.99 is an impulse purchase, $1.99+ and I think about it….even if in the end I spend more money at the $0.99 price point! I don’t know what $ value of a backissue digital comic DC need to sell to cover the costs of scanning and formatting it for ComiXology, but I suspect they hit that figure quicker at $0.99 rather than $1.99.

    The comics companies need to think as a business: to experiment with digital pricing; to ignore the pointless mutterings from retailers who can’t get over that things are changing; to recognise that digital is a different format just like a TPB is a different format, or an Absolute edition is a different format *and* that none of them devalue their product any more than any of the others, no matter what price point they’re at. Price things to make money, price things to make *more* money if possible and recognise that doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.

  28. Digital is the reading experience, print is the keepsake. So yes, there should be two different price points.

    In analog terms, digital today is no different than the cheap weekly manga printed on rough, colored paper, and the print version is the later collection printed on quality white paper. Again, two different price points because one is a “read” and another is a “keepsake.”

    And yes, experimentation needs to happen – with format, frequency and financing. I hope digital kicks comics creators in the seat and bands them together in groups so they could release their own weekly anthologies — and later print collections.
    Digital direct to the consumer via devices and print via comic shops and bookstores.

    Quit living in the past and start dealing with today. It’s not the same world when freaking Harlan Ellison has a cafepress store where he sells his books online, and Ray Bradbury has Farenheit 451 out on Kindle.

  29. Mike L says:

    Digital is something that’s going to revolutionize the industry for some publishers and creators who are savvy enough to take advantage of it.

    To me, digital comics are comics in their purest form, with a host of advantages: an unlimited product supply, with no physical inventory to stock and store, and no consumer will have to skip out on a purchase because something was underordered and sold out. The potential for impulse buying is huge, if the price point is right, and I’m not at all seeing why these products shouldn’t be offered at a lower price if nothing else than simple marketing: get them hooked, give them the first hit for free or as close to it as you can get, and then you’ve got yourself a customer, perhaps for the long-term. Comics are entertainment, and they’ve got to compete against everything else out there, value-wise. I have to say that I flat out hate ‘pamphlet’ comics anymore: the last thing I need is another longbox to try to Tetris into my living space, and trades aren’t the only kinds of books I line my shelves with.

    Unrealistic or not, if a record label can price a song for 99 cents and that involves a much larger investment to produce then there’s no reason a comic book can’t be at that price point either. You can look at lower prices as devaluing the product, or you can look at it as a sale you might not have made at all because a struggling retailer can’t afford to put a copy of your work on the shelf where it can be seen. It’s the up-and-comers who are clearly going to benefit with digital, which has the benefit of drawing new creative blood into the industry.

    The biggest piece of the puzzle is going to be what sells digitally, because clearly this is not the same audience as print. Just glancing quickly at Comixology’s top comics for November, I doubt there are many brick-and-mortar shops who can boast that comics like Bomb Queen and Mouse Guard would rank higher in consumer interest than X-Men.

    Digital could be the start of a solution for a lot of the industry’s ills, especially appealing to a younger generation of more tech-savvy reader who isn’t going to wax nostalgic about back issues and bags and backing boards. Provided, of course, the material is there to interest them, and not the sixty-plus year old characters that their grandparents also read in their youth. (Well, not quite the same, because Gramps didn’t have to spend his dimes on tie-ins and event series, or buy four or five comics about the same character a month just to have a chance in understanding what was going on.)

    While it’s unfortunate that some retailers who are running a solid operation may be damaged by this, I take a look around at the three local comics shops near me: zero customer service, the fact that when I need to ask for assitance I have to interrupt a conversation between the employees and their pals who are just hanging out, and we won’t even go into how incredibly inappropriate some of the said conversations are for a public retail space. I can get my comics from an online retailer at a decent discount, and I’m going to drive a half-hour to an hour one way to pay full price AND get crappy service?

    My favorite: I stopped into a retailer a short while back that is literally within walking distance from where I work. I wanted to get a copy of Swamp Thing #1, since I’d heard so many good things about it and hadn’t put it on the pull list from the online retailer that I use. Had never been in the shop before, but the owners seemed nice. They were, of course, sold out of the issue but they offered to order me a second printing, and I gave them my contact info.

    Never heard from them again. And the irony is when I mentioned where I work, the owner smiled and said to her husband, “Oh, well, he’ll be back.”

    No, not really. Ended up getting the second printing from my online retailer, and haven’t bothered to stop back in. I got the comic I wanted plus I got it at a discount. Apparently they weren’t too jazzed about the concept of a new regular customer, especially when I dropped $25 just browsing the one time I was in the shop, and I made it clear in the conversation that I wasn’t just a casual sort of reader, that I was reading twenty or so titles a month.

    So, yeah, I’m not going to feel too bad about some of the more poorly-run shops with no clue about how to run a retail operation go under because of digital.

  30. Digital comics offer something print comics have long since abandoned: The idea of disposable entertainment. As long as the prices don’t reflect that, there’s not much of a point in offering them in the first place.

    I guess the frustrating part here, especially for creators and publishers, is that everybody knows cheap digital comics are inevitable, in the long run. It’s just a matter of holding on to your guts until it happens.

    On the plus side, it’s well underway, thanks to DC. Don’t quote me on it, but I seriously doubt we’ll still be having this discussion this time next year. By then, someone will surely have started offering cheap digital comics — and once that happens, there’s no way in hell DC and Marvel (and Dark Horse) aren’t going to follow.

  31. barry buchanan says:

    Bill Cunningham “…Ray Bradbury has Farenheit 451 out on Kindle.”

    And now people can read it on the Kindle Fire.

    Yeah, I went there…

  32. Marshall Khadaffi says:

    Digital comics + AMOLED = THE FUTURE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4AhTiQkWwk

  33. I buy nearly all of the comics I read on paper at a DM shop.

    I do not expect to ever sell any of the comics I create that way.

    Once upon a time I thought that would be possible, and once upon a time it probably was. But with fewer customers coming in and a narrower range of products on the shelves (and even in the catalog), I simply can’t see a place for my work there. It breaks my heart, but for me it isn’t a question of print vs. digital; there’s only one channel that has any chance of working for me.

  34. Torsten Adair says:

    Soon, comics retailers will have this conversation:

    (Customer walks into store.)
    “Hi. I’m looking for the latest issue of [title mentioned on the radio].”

    “I’m sorry… we’re sold out. But I can sell you a digital copy.”

    “No thanks, I’ll get it online.”
    (Customer walks out of store.)

    This happened at least once a day at the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center, even when we offered the website price, offered to do the order right there in the store, do all of the work for the customer, even ship the item to the store for pickup if they didn’t want it shipped to their apartment, and still they demurred. “Online” was a code word for “Amazon”.

    That New Yorker cover by Dan Clowes? That’s the future of comics shops as well. Fewer comics, more toys, t-shirts, games, perhaps an e-reader. Is there an empty store front next to your store? Put in a cafe.

    As for pricing, it’s easier to drop a price than to raise it. Soon you’ll see “buck readers”, fans who will wait for a new digital comic to drop to $0.99 before buying.

    $0.99 for a digital comic released simultaneously with a paper comic DOES devalue the item. This was already fought over and proven by Amazon and the Big Six book publishers. Why buy a hardcover for $30 when Amazon sells the e-book for $9.99? “Wow, those greedy publishers are gouging us consumers!”

    Hey… remember all of the Internet piracy over music? Napster, etc.? Nobody knew how to market their catalogs, and along comes iTunes…

    So, what’s keeping someone from taking that paradigm and replacing “music” with “comics”? Remember how “music stores” are now “record shops”, selling vinyl and other media? Will we see the same happen to comics shops? Not much difference between a record bin and a back-issue bin…

  35. “$0.99 for a digital comic released simultaneously with a paper comic DOES devalue the item.”

    A digital comic is “devalued” by default, compared to a print edition, because there’s nothing there except jolts on a screen that align in a certain fashion. If it doesn’t sink in at publishers and retailers that this is the rather fundamental difference between digital and print, then they’re fucked. Because the customers already know it, and they have options.

    That said, I’m confident it will sink in, in a matter of months.

  36. I wish when retailers talked about “publishers” they would more clearly define who they are talking about by saying “Marvel and DC”.

    So often I will see a retailer like Brian Hibbs talk about problems with publishers when they are really talkiing about the big two.

    It paints and frames the discussion with much too wide a brush.

  37. I don’t believe it has to be a zero sum game. Perhaps, just perhaps the proliferation of tablets introduces consumers to comics as never before. My wife Judie for example, takes my iPad whenever she goes to the hair salon or dentist, etc. She started downloading free comics, then buying digital comics, then buying physical graphic novels, etc. This morning she was going on about Mouse Guard, and was bringing the book to work to share with others at the ad agency where she works.

    My point is, the iPad got her hooked on comics as a major form of entertainment. She never been drawn into our local comic shop with the faded posters of Marvel and DC characters in the window. The place she really spent freely was at our first visit to Brooklyn’s Bergen Street Comics, just last week. She’d never seen such an inviting comic shop.
    Because of that experience, someone is getting a Kate Beaton book for Xmas, and someone is getting a Henry and Glenn book, someone’s getting a Pete Bagge book, etc. She spent well north of $100 that afternoon, and it all happened because of the iPad.

  38. In the large suburban sprawled shopping center near my home, there is a very large national chain Supermarket that I shop at. They have EVERYTHING at good prices…club cards and all that. In the same center within only a few doors down is an independent butcher, bakery, and florist, which i often patronize as well. Even though the supermarket has all those things, these independent stores have found a way to thrive. They got creative, they found their niche. And most importantly, they didn’t blame the changing world around them.

    Smart business owners figure out ways to adapt even when progress is pushing against them. The problem in comics, is that too many retailers are complacent, offer no customer service and have very little stock on their shelves. Just being open sometimes, and being the only shop within 10 miles isn’t enough.

  39. Problem is…we do all love our retailer friends but they haven’t been able to grow the market for comics. That’s a fact.

    Yep. In fact, they are shrinking it. I have over 7000 comics and home and I basically don’t buy comics weekly anymore. I buy a trade here and there, I buy some online, sporadically, and I buy indie comics at shows.

    Wednesday is no longer a uniquely meaningful day of the way that that’s because comics are way, way too damn expensive. In real, inflation adjusted, terms, they are something like twice or three times what they cost when I was a kid.

    I’m a grown fellow with a salary sufficient to support paying for a 3 bedroom house in Philadelphia, but I can’t drop $3 to pay for 28 pages of comics. Sorry. Forget it. I love Nightwing, but not that much.

    I crossed the breaking point.

    I’m betting I’m not alone. The Direct Market isn’t the answer to keep smart creators working in this medium.

  40. “The Direct Market isn’t the answer to keep smart creators working in this medium.”

    If by “direct market” we mean 20-page comics for four bucks, I agree. You won’t grow the market with those.

    They may still be an important lifeline right now because the 20-page pamphlet still comes with an inbuilt audience that guarantees a certain level of sales. But the audience for this format keeps shrinking, and the format itself is pure poison to the idea of winning over new readers. It’s not attractive, plain and simple, and it will only get less attractive as time goes on.

    “Direct market” and “expensive 20-page comic books” don’t have to be synonymous, though. I’ve seen a smart, friendly store or two where they aren’t already, and I’m sure there are more. This is something that retailers can shape. If you’re a retailer and you’re hoping to be able to run your business based on 20-page issues of Marvel and DC comics five years from now, though, I don’t think you’re being realistic.

  41. Since we’re about to scroll off the front page later today, I wrote… well half a rant, really, but, yeah…

    http://www.savagecritic.com/uncategorized/questions-i-have-about-digital/

  42. Synsidar says:

    One question, Brian, about your rant. You wrote:

    Most mainstream comics are ineffably shitty. And I totally get you have nostalgic love of a, b, or c, and that keeps you buying ineffably shitty comics, but the general public isn’t going to do that.

    The majority of what is sold in comic stores is not going to sell to a wider audience, even if you literally tied people to chairs and MADE them read it.

    By “mainstream comics,” do you mean superhero comics? If you do, and the content you prefer is in the forms of GNs and strip collections, then the comics industry would have the same problems that book publishers do, except that the losses on poorly-selling GNs might be greater.

    SRS

  43. Chris Hero says:

    @ Torsten Adair

    “$0.99 for a digital comic released simultaneously with a paper comic DOES devalue the item. This was already fought over and proven by Amazon and the Big Six book publishers. Why buy a hardcover for $30 when Amazon sells the e-book for $9.99? “Wow, those greedy publishers are gouging us consumers!””

    Huh? How did the Kindle pricing of $9.99 devalue anything? New hardcovers were *way* overpriced at $30. Everyone kinda knew that was a fantasy set by publishers and brick & mortar stores (i.e. B&N and Borders) to justify higher profits. Amazon changed the game by offering the same content with no physical store, no physical medium, and therefore greatly reduced prices.

    There is no possible justification for a new ebook to be $30. Hell, the only justification for a new hardcover to be $30 is from a publisher/retailer perspective.

  44. R. Maheras says:

    News flash, boys and girls: When comics stores first blossomed and grew exponentially around the country in the 1970s, exact ZERO comics stores sold new comics.

    Which is why, when I go into a comics store in this day and age and see NO back issues for sale (or a crappy selection of back issues), I shake my head in anger and disgust, because I know the owner is one economic hiccup from going out of business.

    All that digital comics might do is bring things full circle: New comics will mostly be sold online, and comics stores will again become purveyors of collectible ephemera.

    And before someone jumps in and says, “eBay, eBay,” keep three things in mind:

    1.) There were eBay equivalents back in the 1970s where one could get comics through the mail: Howard Rogofsky, Robert Bell, RBCC, The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom, etc. And let’s not forget that comics stores popped up all over the country at a time when conventions were popping up all over the country — conventions that were in direct competition with comics stores.

    2.) Buying stuff trough the mail for any collector is a crap shoot, and while it may be useful in some cases, there’s nothing like seeing a book up close in your hot little hands before you shell out your hard-earned dough.

    3.) eBay used to be a good deal until mailing prices went through the roof. Now it’s not uncommon to pay double (or more) in postage than one pays for a book itself.

    My advice to store owners? Adapt or die.

  45. @ Chris Hero

    The reason new hard covers are 30 bucks is because you’re paying to read the book that much sooner. If you don’t want to pay that much to read the book, wait 1 year to get the paperback. That’s what I do with Lee Child novels, I wait until it comes out in paperback to buy them. I don’t, however, have the patience to wait for the new GRRM book to come out, so I gladly pay the hard cover price in order to get the book a year earlier than I would for a more affordable paperback.

  46. bad wolf says:

    Is this the same Brian Wood that always complains about the DC Sales charts?

    July 2011: “Marc-Oliver cites two of my recent order numbers above. Chances are almost 100% certain they too will double that number in a month and continue to grow. Not as high as DMZ v1 of course, but every quarter my royalties roll in.”

    Sounds like everything’s great!

  47. My retailer had to move to a small space to stay in business. He went from having a shop of 10k of inventory in the shop to going strictly mail order and subscription customers.

    It’s art not 1950. It’s not the good old days when funny books cost a quarter. It’s funny that people will gladly pay $9 for a two hour movie pictures but not for a comic book.

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