EMBRACING THE NEW FRONTIER! DIGITAL COMICS

Personally, I dislike digital comics. I guess I’m old school that way. Call me a Luddite, but I like to hold a physical product in my hand; its weight and vibrancy. I like going to my local comic book shop and talking with the other customers. I don’t like the way they wash out the color and artistic detail. It’s like going to a virtual museum to look at paintings; you lose the dynamism, context and texture of the art. I don’t like the portioned flow of the onscreen presentation. I also don’t like the way they can easily be reproduced and re-distributed.

With that said, ****I embrace the digital comic*****. As a publisher, I have to consider it to be a significant part of any future business model. The presentation applications are improving and with the introduction of products like the iPad, they are increasingly portable. And as a community of readers, we are getting more and more comfortable in an online world; and more and more demanding (and spoiled) in terms of the immediate gratification of the instant download.

Not too long ago, the music industry struggled with the acceptance of a digital file replacing a physical product. Widespread piracy led to lawsuits, dwindling sales and finally the rise and acceptance of the iTunes/Rhapsody/MOG model of acquiring music. The result is it killed the brick and mortar music store. The publishing industry is currently dealing with the rise in popularity of eBooks in similar fashion. The Internet, as a cultural technology is still in its ugly early adolescent phase. Eventually, producers of copyrighted content will learn how to properly and consistently control the sale and distribution of their products. We’re on the road, but we’re not there yet.

Not a week goes by where I don’t see one of my titles on some bit torrent site for free download; even the ones I have not released digitally. Piracy will always be an issue, but moving towards a digital model cannot be impeded by this concern. However, as a small, independent producer, I do not have the financial wherewithal to invest in certain security and presentation technologies like Marvel or DC. Currently I contract with a variety of outlets to distribute my work digitally in a variety of forms. Yes I have not only embraced the model, now in 2016, the overwhelming majority of sales come via digitial: Amazon Kindle, NOOK, iTunes, Kobo, ComiXology, drivethroughcomics, smashwords, etc…all carry Storm titles.

From a marketing perspective, digital comics are a win. I can distribute books faster and at a lower price point (thanks to the savings realized from the elimination of printing costs). With cost a reduced factor, the immediacy of downloading might make it more attractive for consumers to take a flyer on a title they might otherwise pass over in a comic book shop. I might even be enticed to spend more because the $40 per month I spent at the shop for 10 books might translate into 20-25 titles for the same price online. Eventually, I can create cross promotional incentives—buy this title and get a free exclusive preview of this upcoming title; or buy a subscription to title X and get all available back issues of that title for your own personalized virtual online library.

But what about print? Should it be on the endangered species list? Not quite yet. However, if the print book is to survive long term, publishers dedicated to the medium, must start thinking outside the box. Maybe offering the first two issues of a series online for a truly low cost, but make the remainder of the series available only at the comic book shop. Or maybe the answer is a reliance on the trades. The individual issues are available online, but eventually packaged as graphic novels readily available in print.

Pandora’s box is open. The digital revolution is upon us and ignore it at your own peril.

With readership down and net-savvy and online preferences rising year after year, publishers, distributors, and retailers must find equitable ways to keep the existing base of readers and customers while finding channels to entice new ones. We can’t give away the store (figuratively and literally speaking), but we must realize it’s not 1995 anymore. I’m open to suggestions.

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