Friday, April 17, 2009

Digital Comics / Ready or Not Here it Comes

I have written before about digital comics and recently Vaneta Rogers on Newsarama did a great piece talking about e-comics. The more I think about the more I believe that digital comics will have the same impact that digital books is having, but not the same impact that digital music had, still I thought about and have broken it down from the three different perspectives that I can bring to it, as a fan, as a financial person (I’m an ex-CPA) and as an ex-retailer.

From a fan’s perspective would I ever consider moving to digital comics?

I’m almost a total print person, but I realized that I review a fair amount of books and the publisher does not mail out a black and white pre-production book, but they send out a PDF or give a link for a download of their book, so I’m already reading digital comics. Now reading them on my computer is not the most pleasant way of reading a comic. Still the digital format allows me to expand the size or decrease the size of the page as I see fit. Almost every PDF I have received is stripped of any advertising, so the flow of the story works very well. What is missing is the portability of the comic as lugging my computer onto my favorite chair or taking it into the men’s library is impossible. Of course this only covers my type of typical desktop computer and we have laptops, computers hooked to large screen TVs and more, so portability is a problem that can be overcome.

I also miss the tactile idea of reading a comic and holding it in my hands. I find the digital version does not always work with certain types of page designs, but that is because it was design to be read as a comic or a trade paperback. So if pages are designed to be read as both a digital and a printed version then that problem can be overcome.

I have thought that maybe I would miss the ownership of the comic, but I have gotten over that a long time ago as on a weekly basis I send all of my comics out to people and I even pay the postage while giving my books away. When I find a series I really love I may get a hard cover or trade of the book, but ownership is not something I care about anymore. Let’s face it I may want to read the next issue of Booster Gold, Dark Reign Hawkeye, The Cleaners, Challenger Deep or any other book, but do I care if I have the entire five issue mini-series of Dark Reign Hawkeye forever buried in a long white box in my basement –answer no. Once you get to that point and you realize that you are paying $20 for an entertaining but usually forgettable experience like Dark Reign Hawkeye it is easy to take the next step. If you could get the same story and pages of artwork to look at and page through and only pay $5 or even $10 for the mini-series and the digital copy can be stored on your computer and some other back up source, the idea as a fan of moving to digital comics becomes a lot easier.

The digital comic starts to win on a convenience and money factor. Not everyone is friends with the owner of where they shop or an ex-retailer, so the loyalty factor is not as strong as it runs with me. So let me role play a little and pretend to be more of the average fan who let say spends $45 every week on average. Less then a year ago with the bulk of comics costing $3 and a modest discount from the store he could get 15/16 books a week. Now with the $4 comic quickly becoming the norm the amount of books is dropped to 11/12 a week. As that fan I probably have had to cut some titles that I still wanted to read, but my wife/girl-friend and I need to eat, pay the utilities and the rest. Heck with the reduction in hours from my job I have had to actually reduce my outlay to only $36 per week and at $4 on average I’m now getting only 9 books a week. That is 6 to 7 books less then what I used to get and I still love comics. For Christmas my wife buys the new ITablet that has come out from apple. It is 71/2” x 10” slightly smaller then a standard piece of paper and guess what BOOM and IDW have pre-loaded copies of a small catalogue of their comics that have been digitalized and given to you for free. In addition a service is available to buy the rest of their book and any new offering from them for $1 each. The word is out that DC, Dark Horse, Radical and Image will be putting out their product also for a $1 with Marvel asking $1.25 for their books. You can download the books direct to your table via the Itunes store. So now the your $36 can get you at least 25 books and since you are not driving to the store you are saving gas and since the states have not caught up with everything yet you are not paying taxes on your purchases. The only thing you are missing is physically having the books. Than you realize they are sitting in long boxes that you hardly ever re-read as you don’t have the time. You checked what they are selling for on e-bay and you realize modern comics will never have the value that the first issues of Batman or Spider-Man have as they are not as rare. Sadly you cancel your pull list and sit at home, on an airplane, on a beach, waiting at a doctor’s office, at a soccer practice reading more comics then you have in years and wondering why in the heck you ever thought digital comics were not going to be for you. Your Itablet allows you to carry virtually over 1,000 comics with you where ever you go.

The companies are start to send out five page previews to you to try and entice you to buy their comics, so instead of waiting to see what is coming out from previews or some other method the publishers are knocking directly on your door. You pick and choose as you look at the previews, you never worry about the store being out of an issue, heck you never miss a “hot” issue again. The series you really love and never want to be without is the one you buy in a trade or a hard cover so you can still enjoy the what has fast become the old way of enjoying comics, but for you there is no going back.

To try and sum up my fan viewpoint of this, as the technology continues to get better and the price point for a comic goes down significantly the resistance to the idea of reading digital comics will disappear. As a fan with the right digital tool and the right price point, I could just as easily just download a book whenever I want it, in my pajamas or naked and drunk at 4AM as opposed to having to go out into the cold and rain and drive to my store when they are open and then find out that issue has sold out. It will be impossible to stop the revolution. The Tyrannosaurs Rexes like me will continue to buy print copies, but then one day when I’m going on vacation and my wife surprises me with the Itablet that has now been out for five years and I can adjust the fonts to any size (which makes it easy for my old eyes to read it), than I will be hooked on digital too.

Remember I’m talking digital comics. Motion comics and their ilk I believe are a different type of entertainment as you are a passive party in that type of entertainment as the book is being performed for you. Movies, music, cartoons, motion picture comics are all forms of providing entertainment where you are just a receiver. Reading and reading a comic means you are involved, at the very least you are adding the character voices in your head, so digital comics or e-comics, if you will, are coming – are you ready for them?

Hopefully I will get around to my views on the financial side of the coin from the publisher side of the equation. Then I hope to do a post on and what this might mean to the retailer in the near and longer term future, but I do not want this column to be any longer then it already has become.

One last point about e-comics, this could be a true golden age for comic books. As the movies have highlighted so many of the characters the ease and accessibility of getting a e-comic and trying it for a $1 could garner a huge fan base that has never bothered with comics. The birth of the direct market saved comics from dying, but also marginalized the audience as the best place to buy comics was a specialty shop that maybe a welcome place for a comic fan, but can be off-putting to much of the buying public.


  1. Consider me unconvinced. How do publishers pay writers, artists, etc, and make a profit off this? Yes, production costs are significantly reduced. Yes, they're not as dumb as newspapers, who give away their content for free. Still, is $1 or $1.25 per "issue" enough to support the medium? And, for me, a guy who doesn't re-buy the same material over and over again, if I buy it once on line, I don't have it to keep. With a paper product I can keep the ones I like and sell or give away the ones I don't. I don't need to profit thousands for a single issue, as I'm not buying it as an investment. But selling it at all recoups some of the initial cost.

    For an even better advocacy for the staying power of the paper product, I'd recommend you have a conversation with Marc Nathan of Cards, Comics and Collectibles in Reisterstown, MD. In addition to owning the store, he organizes the Baltimore ComiCon every year and has a lot of insight into the market.

  2. Bet you think newspapers would last forever also.

    Some people will stay with paper and some will do a combination and some maybe all "e-comics" and e-books.

    As for the econmics of it - a $4 comic cost the retailer $2 (or less), between printing and distribution it cost the company probably 50/75 cents, so maybe the cost should be $1.25 - but if you sell more "copies" and you have a fixed cost on what you pay the creators it can work for a $1.

    I sure local retailers have a good view of the marketplace as it exists today, but if a decent e-comic reader is produced that insight may no longer be valid.

  3. I had a conversation with Marc, Thomm. He had just come from the Memphis convention and seen the new Diamond Distribution warehouse.

    I posted about this on my website posing his theory. Not verbatium, but his take on what was happening with things.

  4. I didn't think newspapers would be so dumb as to give away all their work for free. But then again, corporate America has shown itself to be less than brilliant on numerous occasions.