Industry reacts to Marvel’s day and date experiment

201006071204 Industry reacts to Marvels day and date experiment
The internet and the floor at HeroesCon were both abuzz with the announcement of Marvel’s first simultaneous print and digital release with INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1. People on the floor generally reacted with a shrug at the inevitability of the move. Online, Brigid Alverson has an excellent roundup of the pros and cons of digital as the print alternative:

That sort of segmentation is important because people will be watching Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 closely to see whether it brings new readers into the comics fold or merely cannibalizes the existing audience. In a way, it’s a good choice for Marvel, as the Iron Man movies have already introduced the general public to the character and the franchise. If it becomes a featured app in the iTunes store, it will be seen by many more people than if it is placed in the window of a comics store. And it will benefit from the instant gratification aspect of the iPad—does this look interesting? Here it is! Your credit card is already in the system, so you can have it in seconds. No driving to an out-of-the-way part of town, no pre-ordering, just one painless click and it’s yours.


Rich Johnston surveyed retailers and despite what you think, many of them vowed to stay in business, like Randy Myers of Collectors Corner:

Luckily I’ve been preparing when they would do this branching out and setting us up for the long haul, but honestly instead of being professional and going on and on about the unique qualities of comic books on paper and the fundamental connection they have to the paper form and function in that format as entertainment and collectible or tangible items, that gives them an edge over disposable media and entertainment like video games, and music, I would rather just say that they honestly should study the past and what worked and thinks of the future of the industry at large, when cannibalization and or marginalization of the marketplace could be a very real thing if this isn’t handled properly.


Jim Shelley, who often covers digital matters, spoke to several people at HeroesCon about both Marvel’s move and IDW’s recently announced four week window, and a general picture emerged:

And what will happen then? Will all comic shops dry up and disappear? The dealers I spoke to had an interesting take on this. Apparently in the industry, there are three types of dealers:

Boutique Shops – small shops with a coffee shop atmosphere
Mega Stores – bigger stores that are destination venues for wide areas
Hole In The Walls – those smaller shops that are orphaned in dying strip malls

According to the dealers, the first two will be okay, but the HitW shops are going to disappear. One dealer I spoke to said that he has already seen several bite the dust as Direct Comic Book Service has snapped up more and more customers. The belief this retailer had was that without something special to drive customers to their shops every week, the availability of digital versions and the higher $3.99 cost of comics is going to crush those shops.


Based on what we’ve been hearing, it’s the $3.99 comic more than the Digital Threat that is winnowing the ranks of the Wednesday Crowd. Digital as a window to a wider audience might not just be a luxury but a necessity.

Comments

  1. Kevin Hynes says:

    Just wonder if the price increase to $3.99 is part of an overall plan to phase out or limit print quanities in hopes that the digital model will take over. Would it be cheaper for the publishers?

  2. If digital download prices drop to 99 cents, it’s less money per unit. At $1.99, it’s roughly the same, depending on who’s selling it and what terms.

    At least for a larger publisher like Marvel.

  3. Mikael says:

    Interesting. I’m pretty sure “Direct Comic Book Service” is misquoted. Or the retailer got it wrong. In any event, I still have to smirk at any local comic shop that goes against online retailers. You know, as if it was a new thing (Mile High, Westfield, ring any bells?). Most online stores have brick and mortar stores. So I don’t buy the argument that lcs’ can’t compete. It’s not that they CAN’T compete. It’s that they are too lazy and WON’T compete. Get in the game, sink or swim.

    And – preordering from online stores is just that: a Pre-Order. A tick on the ordering sheet. If an online store has 50 customers that want X-Men 1, then that’s how many they will order AND sell. Not just 35 with 15 on the shelf to hopefully be sold later at a quarter or seventy-five cent mark up. It’s better accounting for a retailer and more accuracte sales for Diamond/publishers.

  4. Synsidar says:

    One thing about the price increase to $3.99. As I recall, there have been one or more comments indicating that the increase was based on what the market would bear, rather than pressure from any outside source (e.g., increases in production costs). Arbitrary pricing makes it harder to estimate what “fair” or desirable pricing of digital comics would be. Arbitrariness would also make rolling back prices difficult. If either Marvel or DC went back to $2.99 due to a loss of sales: “You bastards! You were making a profit at $2.99 a copy but just decided you could charge us more?! &$#& you!” Customers lost due to price increases are likelier to stay lost.

    I doubt that IIM ANNUAL #1 will be all new material. Some digital buyers might get the new material and skip the reprints.

    SRS

  5. Comicbook stores will have to adapt:
    * diversify merchandise
    * make your store inviting and uncluttered
    * calculate how much square footage each merchandise category occupies, and maximize your sales per square foot.
    * offer outstanding customer service
    * upgrade to an electronic POS system to better track sales and inventory
    * program weekly and monthly events to bring customers to your store. Create a community.
    * engage your local community. Help local schools and libraries with selection of graphic novels. Partner with movie theaters. Perhaps even create a “comic book mobile” and sell comics at little league games.
    * join ComicsPro

  6. Al™ says:

    * offer outstanding customer service

    This one is the key for me. I realize that a lot of shops are run on a “hobby/labour of love” basis, but blase or indifferent service gets old real fast.

  7. Joe S. Walker says:

    “Rich Johnston surveyed retailers and despite what you think, many of them vowed to stay in business…”

    Short of jumping up and down with pom-poms and shouting “RAH, RAH, RAH!” The Beat couldn’t do much more cheerleading on this subject.

  8. Kevin says:

    “Based on what we’ve been hearing, it’s the $3.99 comic more than the Digital Threat that is winnowing the ranks of the Wednesday Crowd.”

    I can say that for me, that’s exactly it. I enjoy reading comics on Wednesday, but that price was more than my market could bear, especially once I heard that quote where the dude from Marvel basically said they didn’t have to make them that price, but figured the market could bear it so why not.

  9. Dennis V. says:

    “I doubt that IIM ANNUAL #1 will be all new material. Some digital buyers might get the new material and skip the reprints.”

    Sure wish I could skip the reprint crap Marvel is serving as backup features in some of their bloated $3.99 and $4.99 print titles.

  10. AwesomeDude says:

    I just can’t justify spending $3.99 for 22 pages of story. Regardless of characters, creators, or marketing.

    This digital move needs to happen. Sorry HitW- diversify! FAST!

  11. I have never believed that digital comics were the answer, the fact is Marvel will be just as quick to gouge people who buy their product regardless of where they get it.

  12. TonyJazz says:

    AwesomeDude, I do agree that $3.99 is a barrier that I won’t cross either.

    However, a full-digital move is also deadly. My LCS would be gone, and I believe the transition to full digital will reduce the comics market to almost nothing. The cheapness of internet users (and high rate of theft) have caused such people to avoid paying for anything.

    The comics companies will probably die out as how many people would buy a Detective Comics online (probably not enough to pay the creators)?

    Serial, paper comics have a loyal following, and much of that following is unlikely to pay for something that they won’t own, won’t pass on, won’t age with that special intrinsic value.

    Who would find having a digital copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 to be preferable to having an original copy (even ignoring market worth)?

  13. Y’know, sometimes, you just want to read the comic. Not to drive into town to get it. Not to have something to keep and bag up and never read again. Just to read the damn comic.

    So I guess I’m that guy who’d find a digital copy preferable for some stuff, maybe even a lot of stuff.

  14. @Awesome Dude & Matt M –

    As I pointed out in a previous post on a different subject- not all $3.99 comics contain 22 pages. (i.e; Red Hulk page count vs Incredible Hulk page count) Some actually have seven to eight extra pages added to the story.

    Why that is, I don’t know.

    ~

    Coat

  15. In six months they’re going to be like, “For some reason, casual buyers didn’t want to pay the same price online the something they weren’t interested in paying for in the real world. Obviously this was Bit Torrent’s fault, so we’re going to go back to gouging our shrinking market of obsessives…”

  16. Tony… just using your comments, no ill will meant:

    “AwesomeDude, I do agree that $3.99 is a barrier that I won’t cross either.”

    Taken out of context just a little… many people balked when Amazon went to an agency model (30/70) instead of continuing to sell $9.99 ebooks at a loss. But has that hurt publishers and online retailers? Steve Jobs says no. (His presentation yesterday says that publishers tell him that the new Apple ibooks store account for about 22% of all ebook sales. iBook was the reason Amazon moved to the agency pricing… Apple made the first move.)

    “However, a full-digital move is also deadly. My LCS would be gone, and I believe the transition to full digital will reduce the comics market to almost nothing. The cheapness of internet users (and high rate of theft) have caused such people to avoid paying for anything.”

    Well, there are still a lot of music stores around (and music publishers). Some are small independent stores selling new and used CDs (and vinyl!). Some are national retailers who sell music as part of a more diverse product mix. Some people buy CDs because it’s easier to use than downloading a file to a computer. Others find that MP3 encoding strips out a lot of nuance, especially in classical recordings. (Some even look down on CDs, preferring vinyl or Blu-Ray discs.)

    There are comic book shops using the independent book store model.
    There are comic book shops using the hobbyist/aficionado model.
    Stores that are competitive will find a way to stay in business, just as music and book stores have found a way to stay in business.

    If I want a cheap bottle of wine, I go to the grocery store. If I want to impress someone, then I go to Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit, which has a friendly, knowledgeable staff and a good selection. The same applies to comics shops. If I want excellent selection and customer service, I go to Forbidden Planet or Jim Hanley’s Universe. If I just want something to pass the time, I’ll grab something from a newsstand.

    E-book readers have been around since 1998. The Kindle launched in 2007. With the new agency model, publishers are now willing to release cheaper digital ebook editions at the same time as the regular trade editions. Some are bundling digital files with the paper edition. (Which I see Marvel and others doing at some point. Imagine a preprinted code inside the book which lets you download a free digital copy.)

    Yes, people love “free”. Yes, people will steal. There are ways to work around that, and to even exploit it. (Just look at Free Comic Book Day!) Now imagine a digital coupon added to the digital file, which a user can take to the local comics shop and use to save money on a trade collection. Or using the metadata of the user to push email promotions linked to local stores. (BN.com does that… except their promotional emails are nationwide.) Or using the metadata to recommend other titles by author or character. Or adding a hyperlink which directs the reader to a dedicated chat room, which creates community, and seduces the innocent reader into becoming a fan. Or (and this is the one I most want to see), hyperlinks in the actual story so you can get background information on characters, strange vocabulary, and links to previous issues! (Remember those editor captions from 80s Marvel comics? It sells more comics!)

    “The comics companies will probably die out as how many people would buy a Detective Comics online (probably not enough to pay the creators)?”

    I’m not a music maven, so I don’t know exactly, but there are still a lot of musicians touring the country. Justin Bieber was discovered via YouTube. Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” let people pay what they wanted for a digital download. They also sold the album in a variety of physical formats, including vinyl!

    As for selling enough copies to pay the creators, what about the many webcomic cartoonists who make a living GIVING away the digital comics? (Sure, they sell books and other merchandise, but how is that any different than what Marvel or DC would do?)

    “Serial, paper comics have a loyal following, and much of that following is unlikely to pay for something that they won’t own, won’t pass on, won’t age with that special intrinsic value.”

    True. Collectors will always be an important segment of comic book publishing. A book or magazine is an easy and elegant way to present information.

    However, it’s not an either/or situation. I love reading XKCD online. I love being able to read the book. The periodical comic book magazine–7×10 inches, 32 pages, two staples–might become a non-standard format. It has its uses (Free Comic Book Day!) but if the economics do not work, then publishers will find other ways to publish stories and make money. It might be via digital copies. It might be a big, thick, Shonen Jump-style anthology on newsstands. It might be an original graphic novel.

    And, hey, if periodical comicbooks become scarce, that increases their rarity and value! }]

    “Who would find having a digital copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 to be preferable to having an original copy (even ignoring market worth)?”

    My digital copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 (available on the “40 Years Of The Amazing Spider-Man” CD-ROM collection) is better. The reproduction is flawless, I can zoom in to almost microscopic detail. Everything in the comic is on the CD. (That software even has a reading feature, but Marvel did not activate it.)

    I own a lot of MAD Magazines, started collecting in 1979. I love flipping through them at random. I also own the “Absolute MAD” DVD-ROM which contains over fifty years of magazines. Every page, every insert, every premium is on those discs. I can search by keyword (very important when looking for satire!). I can fold-in the fold-ins electronically, keeping my magazines in near-mint condition! The Table of Contents for each issue is hyperlinked to the actual pages. I also paid $125 that huge “Complete Don Martin” collection of a few years ago, even though it’s all on the DVD. Why? Because it’s a beautiful object, and it’s fun to randomly flip pages and discover something I may have forgotten.

    Personally, I think mainstream digital comics will be a very good thing. Look at the plethora of webcomics being produced. Look at the mini-comics from the 80s and 90s. Each influx of new talent and creativity was encouraged by an easy way of publishing comics at low cost. Now, imagine that plethora of comics being supplemented by a large number of webcomics being published by DC and Marvel. Maybe new or forgotten characters will become mainstream. Maybe older creators will not be forgotten. Maybe more cartoonists will be able to make a living creating comics.

  17. Charles knight says:

    The idea that people being able to buy comics with the touch of one button on their ipads is going to somehow encourage them to drive 60 miles to find their nearest comic-shop seems to be nonsense to me. It might work with some random freak individual but across a body of people? nah…

  18. To paraphrase Mr. Knight:
    (again, just pointing out a possible fallacy, no ill will intended)

    “The idea that people being able to buy comics at a NEWSSTAND is going to somehow encourage them to drive 60 miles to find their nearest comic-shop seems to be nonsense to me.”

    As a collector, I bought my first comics in the small town of Lake View, Iowa, at a grocery store newsstand. Fortunately, I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and a shopping center with three newsstands was only a thirty-minute walk away.

    A year later, I was hiking an hour uphill both ways, in the snow, to visit my local comics shop, The Dragon’s Lair.

    But then, I guess I am “some random freak individual”! But if we don’t replenish fandom with new fans, then comic book stores will languish, digital or no digital comics.

    I know of science fiction fans who travel TWO HOURS just so they can spend the day at Barnes and Noble getting their geek on. I myself once drove an hour to attend a Neil Gaiman signing.

    Also… is one out of a hundred random enough? If so, then there are some 50 Million iPhones and 35 Million iPad Touches and 1 Million iPads already sold. That’s a possible 860,000 random freaks ready to make that pilgrimage.

    Even if the person reading the digital comic isn’t likely to visit a store instantly, they might later. Or they’ll sample a digital comic, and develop a favorable opinion about the medium. Or they’ll read a great comic, and realize it’s not all “Pow Biff Bam”. Or they’ll tell their friends and coworkers. Or the publisher sends them an email about Free Comic Book Day with a link to the Comic Shop Locator Service.

    *sigh* Yes, the seduction of a random innocent person into a fan is random. But whatever the probability is, the random number increases when the sample population increases. So the more people reading comics, the more potential fans. The more ways those comics can be read, the more chances those readers will become fans.

  19. Glenn Simpson says:

    One quick message to all of the comic shop owners who want to make their shops more friendly. Put the sexy busts and posters in the back. You’re alienating mothers and wives.

    You’re not going to grow your audience if you come off as selling porn. And a lot of people consider women displayed in bathing suits to be porn.

    Not saying I’m one of those people, but the reward would seem to outweigh the risk in this one move.

  20. Synsidar says:

    Torsten, you’re certainly an enthusiastic evangelist, but you’re making assumptions about reading and buying habits. A person can read material on an iPhone, but how many people would find that pleasurable?

    Simply making comics available digitally isn’t nearly the same as marketing them and creating a demand for them. The average consumer sees many ads daily for things competing for his dollars and leisure time. Ads for comics aren’t among them. Movies do practically nothing, apparently, to promote sales of the comics that the movies (IRON MAN) are based on.

    Decades ago, superhero comics were easier to get into as a hobby than they are now. Marvel and DC are focusing too much on getting more/as much money as they can from their existing customers. If the move into digital comics caused comics shops to fail in any great number, what would the consequences for the industry be? I’d guess that the publishers of literary comics wouldn’t be hurt significantly. Their customers would buy their comics, with or without comics shops.

    Marvel’s and DC’s success in selling comics probably shouldn’t be used as indicators for the health of the industry as a whole. A business model that relies on addiction to make someone a customer puts a low ceiling on readership for any series. Given the absence of significant advertising and marketing, perhaps it’s surprising that Marvel and DC have as many customers as they do.

    SRS

  21. Charles Knight says:

    “But then, I guess I am “some random freak individual”! But if we don’t replenish fandom with new fans, then comic book stores will languish, digital or no digital comics.”

    Well that’s going to happen anyway, the direct market is a dead-end. My point was that any repeat business is going to be digital.

  22. TonyJazz says:

    Torsten, nice reply. No negatives or name-calling, just talking points. I’m more inclined to be brief, and I do have a few dissagreements.

    I would prefer that the industry remain vital and strong in a digital era.

    But, for example, you mentioned CD stores. You do realize that the industry has been wiped out, and that local CD stores are now rare. My guess is that there has been over an 80% loss there, and even Best Buy is on the verge of discontinuing the product.

    Even worse, you mentioned the music industry. As someone who is a parttime musician, I can tell you that the loss of money in that industry has wiped out the possibility of a music career by many times over. The only remaining way to make any money at all is in touring, and most tours lose money.

    It is clear to me that we’re at the end of the line of LCS’s, even though a few will survive. (After all, there is one CD store left in my area—out of dozens.)

    Your comments about digital representations make sense. I just hope that there will remain an interest in purchasing them.

    On the other hand, like Big Little Books (or was it Little Big Books or something), maybe comics have seen their day….

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