Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Make way! Make way!

Another digital brouhaha in the comic world. Dark Horse announced same day and date release of their comics, following the examples of DC and Marvel and several other smaller companies. But they implied they were going to sell their digital versions cheaper.

After a day of outrage from the retailers, Mike Richardson released a statement that comics wouldn't decrease in price for the first month. (But retailers still pointed out that they are selling most of their print comics for 3.50; and because Amazon wants prices to end at -99, they will be selling most comics for 2.99.)

Anyway, the general thrust is pretty clear. The handwriting is on the wall.

I still think that the comic companies are making a huge mistake actually facilitating this change, instead of delaying it, but it doesn't matter what I think.

Each of the companies are going about it in a slightly different way; Marvel is enclosing digital codes in it's comics; DC has contracted with a specific company to set up an account with; Dark Horse and IDW and others are more open, to Amazon among others.

I think that if this weren't being pushed, that reader erosion would be minimal for the first few years. Even with the pushing, I still don't believe it will be a landslide. But, yeah. If you offer it, they will come.

My response is to recognize reality and move on. Make way for another way of doing business. That doesn't mean I've given up, or anything.

It reminds me of the sports card debacle. When the card companies started offering product cheaper through the mass market (this was pre-internet, but it was the same dynamic or worse), I encouraged my fellow retailers NOT to buy this product from them. To cut their orders to only what they could sell. To not engage in cut throat, suicidally competitive practices. As far as I know, I'm the only card dealer I know of that made the necessary steps early on. Most just went off the cliff.

Ironically, my response has been to double down on the other product in the store; games, toys, cards, anime and manga, and especially new and used books. It's ironic, because most of these product lines are already in the marginal zone that I expect comics to be in five years or so.

My response is to make maximum use of the fact that I'm in a downtown tourist zone, by carrying a wide and deep variety of material -- even in product lines that have been thoroughly exploited by the internet and the mass market. I need to have the possibility of a sale to anyone who walks in the door, and make sure those someones actually walk through door and see something they want.

It's not an ideal solution, but I have a lot of confidence in my ability to pick the kind of stuff that people will buy -- even though the internet and the mass market might already have it. I have to be smart in my buying and my selling. The hill just gets a little steeper every year, but you know what? It's always been that way.


Andy Z said...

I guess I don't see how the "day and date" thing will make any significant difference. Most titles find their way to the digital store in short enough order that the majority of buyers probably won't notice, right? What percentage of your sales actually happen on release day?

Also, I challenge you to blog for a month without mentioning sports cards.

Duncan McGeary said...

But I learned everything there is to learn through sports cards!

Duncan McGeary said...

I don't think it will have an immediate impact.

I'm going to be selling to people who want paper books and comics for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, it's prudent to at least recognize that digital comics could take off.

I don't think so, but even small erosion in comics could be major since it's such a tiny industry in the first place.

Duncan McGeary said...

Seriously, I spent about half of my career being dominated by sports card, and I made very mistake in the book.

Plus, it's like the poster child for all the things that can go wrong, and I can't help but notice when other things I sell are following similar paths.

But....point noted.

Andy Z said...

I honestly don't know what's going to happen. The comics industry has all the major problems of book publishers and magazine publishers. Plus they are and always will be a niche. No amount of movie tie-ins will change that.

That being said, according to AAP, publishing revenues continue to grow. http://www.publishers.org/press/44/

I personally think the experience of reading an ink-on-paper comic or graphic novel can't be replicated with existing technology. The iPad is about as close as it gets, and relatively few people have those. Any device that requires you to scroll or zoom is doing it wrong. Paying for access to a locked-down digital file will never be as true an experience as owning the objet d'ar that is a press run of a comic book or graphic novel. I think those who are willing to part with hard currency will understand that.

Duncan McGeary said...

I agree.

But I worry about small decreases over time adding up to a crippling decline.

I'll probably be retired by then....