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New Tilting Up
Posted by: Brian Hibbs on July 16, 2010
Tags: Brian, Tilting
The latest Tilting at Windmills can be found at Comic Book Resources.
I read your article and found it informative but without psychic powers I guess you do actually need a comment to indicate interest. So, uh, here goes nothing?
Please bear in mind as I struggle to engage you usefully on this issue that retailing is as nuclear science to me.
At this stage it’s pretty predictable and sensible that they aren’t going to abandon the Bricks’n’mortar stores. Even monkeys know you don’t let go of the branch until you’ve got the next one secure in your grip. However, I am concerned by the vagueness of your discussions. Hopefully this is due to your discretion and the kernel is indeed solid.
Comic stores may be demonstrably important in the role of “taste maker” leading to strong sales and adoption of these products by chains but I can’t help think that this is due to the comic stores being the only test area available prior to this new digital age. Maybe chains will be inclined to shift their attention and base their stocking practices on digital activity. Providing digital activity proves to be at least as active as physical sales.
When you say “you need something to help you stand out…” I can’t agree more but I am a bit unclear on whether you mean the publishers or the retailers. For a publisher shouldn’t the onus for this fall somewhere within the organisation. Things like actually addressing the issues of accessibility and quality of the product, issues which can’t continue to be ignored if an audience beyond the die-hards is expected. For a retailer I guess having DC (etc) direct customers to you is a good step, but it sounds terribly fallible. Maybe the need for reliable retailer information will prove a boon to ComicsPro which could, maybe, step in and fulfil this function for publishers.
It’s still early days but I am encouraged by your optimistic outlook, as you say you are hardly a naïf in these matters and DC may indeed just be keeping retailers sweet but the extent to which they are involving you indicates a progressive and supportive approach that should be applauded.
Obviously, I have no idea what I am talking about so please forgive any crass idiocies in the above.
I dunno…the only thought I have is that their plan worked – they wined and dined you and said all the right things to make you feel like digital isn’t a gun pointed at the head of the direct market. Of course it’s too early to tell if day and date is a game-changer – not that many people have iPads or comparable devices yet and I don’t think anyone is really in a mad rush to read Justice League: Generations Lost or whatever title they’re piloting. But kudos to Diane Nelson and her team for making you guys feel like there’s nothing to be afraid of based on waaaaay-too-early numbers for a series no one cares about anyway. I think once iPad-like devices are more prevalent and the pricing on digital comics comes down a bit, we’ll see a better picture of whether people actually want to go to comic stores or not.
(I know I’m going to sound like a cook, but I think with the weak sales numbers we’ve been seeing and the delusion on display from Marvel and DC, we’re looking at a future without comics at all. As the current generation of comic readers dies off with no one to replace them, I don’t really see this as a sustainable hobby. I think the future of comics are going to be one off projects done here and there, but nothing that can sustain specialty stores. But then again, I don’t know how hobby stores specializing in model cars and trains stay in business…. But I still think comics are looking at a future more resembling sports cards than they are anything else.)
Also, I think John K(UK), the best commenter on comics, hit the nail on the head challenging your “taste maker” assumption here:
“Comic stores may be demonstrably important in the role of “taste maker” leading to strong sales and adoption of these products by chains but I can’t help think that this is due to the comic stores being the only test area available prior to this new digital age.”
All of my thoughts involved kicking you in the teeth and stealing food out of the mouths of your children, so I thought it was inappropriate to post. But since you ask…
In as much as there will still be Big Box Stores, digital will be the new tastemaker. Why bother going to a small specialty shop to confirm the taste you got on-line, when you are going to the BBS to buy a Rolex and some Radials anyway.
And that assumes that any Brick & Mortar store – other than Food and Clothes – survives. In the Future Digital Utopia (aka, “FU”), Pirates will be the new tastemakers. When a certain hackware become popular enough, the owning corporation will step in, enforce copyright, and and plow the fad into the ground. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But it is nice to know that DC is being polite in the interim. Good for them.
I think David Oakes just hit the nail on the head.
It’s my opinion that with an “infinite” number of choices in media, there’s a great deal of value in physical spaces that allow to browse, categorize, socialize those choices. I don’t think those things are easily replicable virtually.
There’s also a great deal of Civic Good in keeping your local dollars in circulation locally.
“there’s a great deal of value in physical spaces that allow to browse, categorize, socialize those choices. I don’t think those things are easily replicable virtually.”
No, but they don´t need the Direct Market. If digital will be successful why should they bother to print, distribute and sell monthly comics? They just need a better trade programm for the book stores for selling collections and a working digital distributor.
And frankly, they are doing anything to steer the customer in this direction. I used to buy a lot of US comics every month since the 80s, Marvel and DC. A big stack. 20 to 30 titles. I collected some writers, I collected some series.
Today I buy 3 or 4. For me your average monthly comic isn´t worth 4.99. (That I think the output of most of the current writers bland at best doesn´t help either.) Today if I am really, really interested in something I wait for the trade. Mostly I don´t bother buying it because at the time I lost interest, but I am a lot more willing to try one with new material than a few years ago. Old reading habits die hard. But as a regular customer DC and Marvel lost me for good.
I loathe reading on the PC. I have a normal cell-phone. But I know I will buy the next generation of the iPhone or iPad when ther prices are down – which will happen -, and if they offer monthly digital comics for half the price than the hardcopys are today, I will adapt. As I had to adapt with the CD and the VCR.
As Howard Chaykin wrote so aptly (and memorable) in his first American Flagg all those years ago: I got cancelled, the show goes on. In ten years the same will be true to your normal comic shop, I fear.
It is nice to see that the new DC is doing all this, and as a shop-owner I would also appreciate this.
I fully agree with you that buying local is a Good Thing. It’s just that unlike Organic Produce, you can’t karmically balance driving an SUV through buying comic books. (Well, outside of SF, at least…)
And while I also fully agree that the physical universe is a better place to taste physical objects, comics are the closest thing to screens. You want to look at one off like food or art for quality. You want to hold tools, wear clothes, or touch furniture to be sure they fit. But a comic book is already a two-dimensional pattern of color. There isn’t even a soundtrack to be reduced to your speakers. Short of the written word, comics are probably the least changed artifact translated to the digital world.
I will personally miss the tactile feel of paper in my hands. And while people will claim the same level of “community” on-line as face-to-face, it just isn’t true. But it is enough for most. Bookstores will survive by selling scones and stationary. I expect that comic shops will become art galleries where they can, and toy stores everywhere else. A process that has already been happening for the last ten years.
Andy D: “If digital will be successful why should they bother to print, distribute and sell monthly comics? They just need a better trade programm for the book stores for selling collections and a working digital distributor.”
I don’t know, because print continues to sell and underwrite the creation costs of that eventual TP collection?
There’s also that fairly huge “if” in your statement — the fact of the matter is that publishers generate LESS money from digital than they do from physical, so to stay IN EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE, they’d have to sell MORE units.
I mean, great if they can do it, but it’s such a towering open question that there’s no way I’d go Full In if *I* were Marvel or DC (or Dark Horse, or Image, for that matter)
David Oakes: I can pretty much guarantee I’m not going to become either an art gallery or a toy store, and I expect to still be here in a decade…
Gotta say, with two crappy local shops in town I’d be all over digital if they did it cheap and day and date. I’m all about “keeping my money local” but I don’t have much of a choice in this one. The current direct market forces me to either:
a) frequent one of two understocked, Marvel/DC only, bad attitude local shops.
b) drive 40 miles to the nearest decent shop.
c) subscribe to mail-order
I’ve chosen “none of the above” which means I “trade-wait” through Amazon. And I haven’t ordered anything yet. In fact, its surprisingly easy to give up a weekly habit after the first few weeks. I’ve really enjoyed catching up on several non-illustrated novels.
So, essentially the comic industry has lost me as a customer. I’d be back in if any company would offer a direct digital subscription with new releases for a reasonable fee. A monthly fee like Netflix would be spectacular. Digital comics aren’t as fun as the paper ones but they take up less space, are convenient to travel with AND I don’t have to do a, b or c to get them.
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