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One thing I’d like to say, that most of you probably can safely ignore

Generally speaking when there’s a business model that is about one party introducing another to a third, say… Matchmaking, or Headhunting or things like that, that facilitation nets hundreds if not thousands of dollars per client.

The starting price in the digital model offered at the moment seems to be something like 15 cents.

I can’t see how any retailer, in any industry, under any model could possibly accept any deal where they didn’t keep proprietary control of data/customer/whatever. It sure as heck didn’t work when Borders handed all of their business off over to Amazon for fulfillment. How long does it take the customer to think “but, wait, why do I need Borders in this transaction in the first place?” Sure, there is going to be some teeny tiny percentage of people who will reward you for a prior loyal relationship, but that’s not a realistically tenable business model for the future, right?

It’s weird, there’s this large part of me which would love to embrace digital comics with both arms — I think it would be a perfect fit for this website, in particular, under certain conditions, but those do not appear to be the circumstances we’re actually being asked to live with.

Working retail is as much about curation, and knowledge about, and core enthusiasm FOR the product as it is about having the selection of product in the first place. And I think there’s value in that, true value. I would, of course!

 

-B

 

20 Responses to “ One thing I’d like to say, that most of you probably can safely ignore ”

  1. It’s true that comics need better advertising and advocacy. Unfortunately the problem of customer acquisition is really small next to their distribution problem.

    The comics industry has a really crappy distribution model. The ability for a comic producer to put their product in the hands of a customer in exchange for money sucks.

    I live in a good sized city with almost a dozen comic shops that I know of. Almost none of which are anywhere central or convenient. The rent in high traffic areas has driven hem all out tot he suburbs and off the beaten path. In the past few years I have lived in places without any comic retailer at all.

    I lost my regular comic buying habit long ago. Even when they are available it’s simply not worth spending an hour driving back and forth every week. SO I stock up on trades a couple times a year. And the vast majority of those are from Amazon because of convenience and selection.

    Right now there are three methods of new customer acquisition in the comics industry. First in word of mouth from a friend. Second is tie-in from movies/television/internet communities. Third is people who randomly wander into a comics shop and are persuaded to part with money before they leave.

    I can’t help but think that interested potential customers from methods one and two who currently have no access to buying comics vastly outnumber those from method three.

    A digital distribution model will be devastating to the large number of comic retailers who are marginal businesses as-is. It will also increase the potential customer base by an order of magnitude.

  2. Just so we’re clear: I’m FOR digital, for many of the reasons you mentioned.

    What I’m not for is any attempt to steal the business I’ve spent 22 years cultivating, and servicing, for less than no compensation, and a rights contract that gives the digital provider LITERALLY all of the rights, and leaves me with LITERALLY none whatsoever.

    It’s an evil evil contract, in my humble opinion.

    But there is one thing in which you just said, Ryan, that I largely doubt:

    “It will also increase the potential customer base by an order of magnitude.”

    One thing that capitalism does pretty darn well is exploit niches that are there to be exploited. See, I have to think that IF there’s TRULY this vast teaming market that would be buying comics hand-over-fist, if only publishers “let” them, then I have to think entrepreneurs would have been all over that for quite some time.

    As near as I can tell, almost every experiment to bring comics back to “the newstand” (be it literally the newstand at a 7-11, or the bookstore racks at a B&N has been a failure (largely because the staff doesn’t have the knowledge to help guide the customers, if you ask me) — so I just don’t see how we should think that all of a sudden, magically, people will suddenly start buying serialized comics in droves… especially when they’re not even OWNING them.

    Retailing, and I mean retailing RIGHT, that’s a hard hard gig, and it isn’t something, I don’t think, that an “app store” is going to make a whole helluva lot of headway into.

    We’ll see, of course.

    -B

  3. “What I’m not for is any attempt to steal the business I’ve spent 22 years cultivating, and servicing, for less than no compensation, and a rights contract that gives the digital provider LITERALLY all of the rights, and leaves me with LITERALLY none whatsoever.”

    I hope I’m not alone in not understanding your concern. You sell actual comics. They sell digital comics. What are these “rights” of which you speak? Cutting into your business I grok, but not this “rights” reference.

    “As near as I can tell, almost every experiment to bring comics back to “the newstand” (be it literally the newstand at a 7-11, or the bookstore racks at a B&N has been a failure”

    That’s true, but those efforts labored under trying to sustain a comic format with a horrible price point and featuring work either reprinted from the, let’s face it, somewhat odd tastes of the Direct Market or original work done by people who clearly haven’t examined what comic storytelling used to be like when the books sold to a general, casual audience.

    Mike

  4. As a retailer for over fifteen years, the point of us being involved in the distribution of digital comics seems moot. One, the customer does not “need” the retailer of a brick & mortar store to acquire digital comics. Quite frequently, there are better, often higher resolution copies available for “free” on the net, as opposed to the “official” ones. This will not change. Basically, we are relying on the customers desire to have physical copies for their personal use for whatever reason they prefer them.

    Secondly, any business that feels the utter pittance given by Comixology as a percentage of sales are selling something that brings miniscule compensation as exchange for what’s given can expect to go out of business eventually. There is no business (online or otherwise) that can prosper with the margins
    offered through these options. At $2.99 per unit for the majority of units sold, I can say with confidence that selling anything cheaper will NOT support a brick & mortar operation.

    My customers want physical copies of comics to read, share, collect, and speculate from. They are here, week after week, buying them regardless of the opportunity to read them on the web (this has been an option for them for MANY years now). The ones that get online comics exclusively aren’t generally our customers anyway, and they do not need brick & mortar stores for that. They weren’t our major customers then when it started, and will not be in the future.

    As long as comics remain vital in the physical experience for our readers, brick & mortar retailers (at least the smart, customer service oriented ones), will be, for the immediate future, purveyors of this niche, unique, popular culture. A lot of this depends on the comics publishers to deliver good material that keeps them coming back, of course.

    I will be here for those that prefer the “old fashioned” way of experiencing comics, as long as it is feasible. If that ends, I’ll move to some other way to make a living. The ones that will suffer the most more likely, are those that create comics. Comic shops are the biggest customers to publishers (not fans, sorry), and if they go, the publishers certainly won’t be far behind. Nuff said…

  5. In case anyone’s curious what Hibbs’ is talking about…

    http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/08/19/comixology-release-terms-of-use-for-comic-store-websites/

    From what I understand, when DC announced the big digital push, they created a system with Comixology where retailers would have online storefronts for digital sales… DC clearly was attempting to lessen the concern / backlash from DC’s digital push. As DC has said themselves, their direct hardcopy sales vs. digital sales is like comparing the area of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper to a strand of dental floss… so it’s important to keep local retailers invested while still pursuing the digital market. This reality is behind some of the other seemingly paradoxical and quixotic decisions in the NuDC switchover.

    And Hibbs is right — this contract is a crap sandwich. I always thought a “contract” was supposed to imply an exchange between legal equals. I’m sick and tired of being forced to sign lengthy contracts with ridiculous clauses.

    How is it LEGAL to sign away your rights to class action lawsuits and judge & jury trial? Not to mention the problems of one-sided NDAs and being trapped for x number of months / years to an agreement that THEY can change at any time, but YOU can’t? This stuff is infuriating to me when I’m getting a new cell phone… It’s twice as maddening when you’re trying to obtain a service vital to your business from the ONLY supplier authorized to handle it. It’s extortion and in any truly fair, equal legal system, these practices would be FUCKING OUTLAWED.

  6. @SteveD: Thank you for that link! That’s some truly shitty stuff.

  7. This is just a phenomenally bad deal.

    As far as comic stores go, what Mr. Hibbs says is correct…doing it *right* is hard work. Which is why so many stores are *awful*. I thought I’d be a sport and go to a store in Brooklyn during a recent visit to buy the new League of Extraordinary Gentleman. I couldn’t find it anywhere among the new release section. The person manning the store was confused at first, asking if I wanted Justice League. Finally, he got up and took me over to the trade section and was like – is this it? No, the new one, the one that came out on Wed, Century Vol 2? That took us back over to the new release section, another 15 minutes wasted there, then a call to the owner, and finally he found it. This was in Brooklyn, NY, a place I would assume would necessitate a store being run well. It might be my mistake for not going to Bergen St, but that staff is as pretentious and sanctimonious as they get.

    My point is…*good* comic stores are out there, but if you’re just a guy trying a random store for a book off the beaten path, good luck. The bad stores are numerous….

    But even then, that doesn’t solve the problem. Digital isn’t going to serve some huge audience dying to buy comics. The audience that is currently buying them…well, that’s about all the interest there is out there.

    I think Marvel and DC would do well to just accept the audience is the size it is and would better serve themselves better to work with the comic stores to be, well….better for everyone. Because this screwing over the comic stores business to make a few extra pennies on digital comic sales…dumb idea.

  8. “Evil”??

    really?

    you sound like Michelle Bachman, fer crissakes.

    you don’t like the deal, don’t like the deal. but elevating your disagreement to that level of hyperbole is childish and unprofessional.

    oops. comic book retailing. never mind.

  9. Steve D:
    “DC clearly was attempting to lessen the concern / backlash from DC’s digital push”

    And Comixology clearly said ‘Fuck that’ to one of their (if not the) biggest clients requests, as well as ‘Fuck You’ to one of their biggest clients main revenue streams.
    Which is pretty ballsy – they must be making more money than I’d have expected to be carrying on like they are in a position of power.

    Personally, I’m not that interested in Comixology – it seems a terrible model.
    The prices are insane – and do you even get to download the comic? Or is it a streaming thing from their servers?
    I’ve heard the latter, but I can’t find the answer on their website, on wikipedia (the entry was clearly written by them), or googling (there was a newsarama article, but I think it was also written by Comixology with it’s ‘the sky’s the limit for this young company’ POV).
    DRM is annoying enough on itunes, but at least the files are on my computer – I was told you need web access to read purchased Comixology comics.

    “How is it LEGAL to sign away your rights to class action lawsuits and judge & jury trial?”

    I’m pretty certain it’s not.
    Beyond that, isn’t the only reason you’d have a class action lawsuit because they’d breached the terms of the contract?
    So even if signing away your right to sue was binding, if the contracts already been breached by the other party, it wouldn’t be binding.

  10. Ben,

    I’m like 90% sure the Comixology comic downloads to your device (phone, laptop, tablet, etc) but they still “own” it and can delete it any time they like.

  11. @Ben: Sadly, the Supreme Court ruled that it is completely legal for companies to include and enforce clauses prohibiting class action lawsuits and insisting on arbitration in lieu of a judge-and-jury trial.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AT%26T_v._Concepcion

    Arbitration overwhelmingly results in decisions that favor the company over the consumer/plaintiff.

    All persons are equal under the law, but corporate persons — especially BIG corporate persons — are a little equal-er.

    Also, this obviously *ain’t* just Comixology’s fault… DC could and should be able to pressure their digital distribution partner into cooking up more favorable terms for retailers. Clearly, DC just doesn’t give a rat’s ass. They were only interested in making this deal look retailer-friendly back when it was first announced. Now that the deed is done and the NuDC is on the hot rails to launch, it’s perfectly find to screw ’em on the fine print.

  12. @Mbunge: You haven’t followed the whole way DC rolled out this digital day-and-date rollout plan. They came up with a retailer gateway/partnership plan to minimize DM retailer’s concerns about how this would affect their business model. Then, weeks before the actual launch, the fine print reveals that the “everybody wins” digital gateway plan is actually a shitty, cynical bait-and-switch.

    And @SvenJ, yeah, that is kind of evil.

  13. Well, the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘everybody wins’ solution should have been a big red flag.

    How was this ever going to work long term? Comixology was expected give a significant chunk of their gross income away for all eternity?

    Frankly the idea is deeply insulting to Comixology. Would DC ever consider approaching a new shop owner and telling them they were expected to kick back a sales percentage to more established stores in the city to make up for any customers that might switch? Would other retailers expect them to?

    My guess is that any early pronouncements from DC were done well in advance of the Comixology people signing off on anything. And after Comixology laughed off the first offer DC worked out a face saving compromise so the deal could go ahead anyways.

  14. @RyanH: “Comixology was expected give a significant chunk of their gross income away for all eternity?”

    Yes, because Comixology clearly has the unquestioned moral right to be the sole digital distributor of day-and-date DC Comics. And obviously, they richly deserve 100% of their monopolized profits over whatever the hell the “wholesale” cost of a digital comic is anyway.

  15. When everything is going through their store I do think they deserve 100% of their profits, the same as any other retailer.

  16. Yeah, well, it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a little reminiscent of the Macmillan’s vs. Amazon ebook flap last year….

    “From the point of view of the public, to whom they sell, Amazon is a bookstore… From the point of view of the publishers, from whom they buy, Amazon is a wholesaler.” [A key point, but I recommend the whole thing… it sheds light on this situation.]

    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/amazon-macmillan-an-outsiders.html

    ComiXology is NOT strictly a rival retailer and never has been… they’ve ALWAYS paid lip service to the idea of being a partner with the DM, hawking retailer tools for online sites, pull-list creation services, etc.

    And remember, DC apparently *NEGOTIATED* a deal with Comixology that asked them to act more like a distributor/partner than a competing retailer. Who knows, that might have been a condition of their *exclusive digital contract* with DC. But the fine print of the contract makes it clear that comiXology’s position is entirely predatory.

    What’s basically going on here, from the retailer perspective, is like Diamond announcing that they are only going to deliver your Wednesday shipment if you gave them the name and phone number of every single one of your customers who has a pull list. Not sayin’ we’re gonna cut choo out, yunnerstan’. Just in case anything ever “happened” to our partnership, y’see?

    At a crucial moment in announcing the launch, DC got to serve up the promise of Cake to the DM — helping to quell possible retailer backlash against day-and-date, preventing consequences like an organized boycott, cold-feet under-ordering, etc. But, as usual, the cake is a lie.

  17. “But, as usual, the cake is a lie.”

    Why did anyone think it wouldn’t be? Warner and DC aren’t exactly known for their sterling integrity….

  18. Chris: How do they get to delete the files if I’ve got them?
    That’s not how itunes works – are Comixology really trying to launch a business with worse terms/DRM than the biggest game in town?
    Is there a rule in comics that you have to have failed business school to work in publishing/distribution?

    Do you need to be online at all to read Comixology comics? Or once downloaded are they yours to read whenever?
    (Sorry to make you their spokesman, but their site wants me to give them my name and details before telling me how it works).

    Steve D
    “Sadly, the Supreme Court ruled that it is completely legal for companies to include and enforce clauses prohibiting class action lawsuits and insisting on arbitration in lieu of a judge-and-jury trial. ”

    It blows my mind that the U.S’s grass roots ‘give people the power’ movement actually supports the side that pushes for measures such as these.

    “DC could and should be able to pressure their digital distribution partner into cooking up more favorable terms for retailers. Clearly, DC just doesn’t give a rat’s ass.”

    I doubt DC knew much about the terms before they were publicly released – they are separate businesses after all. DC could now put pressure on them for more, but I doubt they would – they are all probably right up against it every day at the moment, without time to push for something they aren’t getting super pressured to do.

  19. @Ben:

    I’m no fan of Comixology. But my understanding is they use a similar system to Amazon’s Kindle. You download a copy to your local device, but there’s also software that logs on-line to check your local file and, if Comixology wants to, delete the local file. You don’t *have* to be on-line to read your local file, but if you want more comics, or are just ever on-line, that’s when they hook into you.

  20. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, CourseSmart and a bunch of other companies offer ebook rentals where your copy of the book just goes away when your rental period is up, unless you pay for more time or buy the book at an adjusted rate.

    So, Comixology is really a rental service? People aren’t going to like that.

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