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Questions I have about digital

Brian Hibbs

I really like the general level of commentary over at the Beat, and there’s some very interesting stuff being said in the latest thread about Brian Wood’s new missive (which is, in itself a valuable read), but if one thing absolutely slays me about the Beat it is how fast stories scroll off the front page, and the commentary scroll with them. There’s no notification system there, so we’re kind of stuck with a day, or maybe two, of conversation before it scrolls off away into the ether.

 

This page is a little more forgiving in that regard, so let me try to put some thoughts here, and see if it sparks any kind of substantive conversation.

Right, so, first off, a little “old business” first — first off, Heidi is clearly wrong that the DM has not grown. Here’s your chart to establish that. Chris Hero points out that that units on periodicals has shrunk, and that is true, but that’s pretty directly a result of dollars shifting from one format (periodicals) to another (books), but each and every person anywhere who says “print is dead” or “goodbye to physical objects” or any of that other stuff is clearly not arguing with actual real facts.

In fact, even in the music industry, an art form which I would argue EVERYone knows and loves and consumes, and which digital has had an immensely long penetration (relatively speaking, natch), PHYSICAL CDS STILL OUTSELL DIGITAL DOWNLOADS today! So, yeah, print isn’t going anywhere for some time to come.

So, here is question one: is “digital”, in your opinion, equally portable and interchangeable between various media? Do people consume those media in the same ways? There appears to be an advantage to the consumer to be able to store every song you own on a device the size of a deck of cards — does that same advantage naturally and inexorably extend to other media? I’m willing to be convinced either way, but I think that each individual media will have it’s own strengths and weaknesses in individual formats and devices, and I very much think that “well, that’s how it works for music” will NOT play out the same for other media.

One thing about music that few seem willing to discuss is that the music industry went from (in the modern era, at least) selling collections of songs, to selling singles, as a most visible driver of sales. What THIS means is that the music companies & music creators went from an “average ticket” of $15 (for the album) to an average ticket of (let’s say) $2 for the two 99 cent singles that are most popular. Totally pulling a random selection that I happened to listen on my way home on the bus today, Prince’s AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY (great album, BTW!), this album has just 9 songs on it. 7 of the 9 songs sell for $0.99, the other 2 for $1.29, it is on iTunes as a package for $9.51, but I’d be willing to guess that they mostly sell a lot of copies of “Raspberry Beret” for $1.29, and far fewer copies of the full album. Is that good for Prince? Is that good for Paisley Park (the producing studio) or Warner Brother’s (the record company) or, frankly, even for iTunes? Is that good for the consumer? I guess if you only like what you like, and you JUST want to hear “Raspberry Beret”, then awesome for you, you’ve just saved $8.22 if you’re pricing the digital thang, or maybe you’ve saved $13.66 compared to “list price” of the CD/Vinyl, but does your desire trump the need of the Talent to actually, y’know, make money off all the music they produce, not just the thing that’s most zeitgeisty?

Don’t get me wrong, that $15 versus $2 also created a lot of corruption and evil around it (“By the way, which one’s Pink?”), but most of the musicians I know today tell me that can not survive on the sales of music alone.

There’s also the Spinach argument. I mean RasBeret is probably the most hit-driven of the songs on ATWIAD, but I think I might argue that “Temptation” or “Tambourine” are actually ultimately better songs with something more to say? See, because I actually think that most of the music that I ended up liking the best, at the end of the day, wasn’t the poppest hits, but were the deeper tracks that probably no one really even hears any more.

COULD an artist produce THE WALL or TOMMY, or, fuck, even PET SOUNDS today? Or is everyone jonesing for that one three minute hit that they can sell 3 million copies of, individually? Is that good for culture?

It appears to be inescapable that the shift of the market to the TP has sparked some consumers to change their buying habits in the world of comics — we even have a phrase for it, “waiting for the trade” and we can see how it has not only changed HOW comics stories are made, but WHAT comics the audience is willing to buy and how they do so; why is anyone questioning that the move towards digital will also change buying habits to SOME degree? But, can’t we recognize that the truth of things is that most characters/creators/concepts can’t actually make a living doing what they do as things stand today, and that cutting off even a small percentage of potential customers through switching primary mechanisms-to-buy will make those works UNPROFITIBLE.

The concern of the comics retailer isn’t that there IS digital — fuck, I’m totally all for a mechanism to drive a potentially wide segment of customers to the medium of comics itself. How can that NOT help me? But, rather, that enough customers will “change channels” (of purchase), so as to make segments of work unprofitible to carry. I’ve been pretty straight with you — most periodicals are but marginally profitible; most books are largely unprofitible. That we have stellar, break out, oh-my-god-it’s-like-printing-money successes like WALKING DEAD or BONE or SANDMAN doesn’t mean that this is the way all books can follow. Quite the opposite in fact!

So what this means is that even losing a TINY portion of the readership through Channel Migration could potentially have dire effects. Seriously, if I lost just 10% of my customers, I’m done. And what we also know is that when physical stores close, most of that readership for comics UTTERLY VANISHES. The gist of this is that losing 10% of sales to migration could mean that the other 80% of that stores’ sales are COMPLETELY LOST.

To put this in a more specific way, in the last 90 days we’ve lost/are losing THREE comic stores in SF (out of what were at a dozen); I’ve spoken to at least half of the remaining stores, and while we’ve all picked up a couple of customers, there are logically 3-500 comic readers who have not seemed to showed up in any of the remaining nine stores. They disappeared, into the wind.

Why do you assume that current print readership WOULD switch to digital? Dude, I can assure you that 60% or more of the exciting print audience will NOT switch to digital if they stop making print comics tomorrow. Most of those cats have 10-40 years invested in their mechanism, and the mechanism of delivery is AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT to that audience as the content itself.

I remember, god, do I remember, the strident voices that used to scream “Yeah, motherfucker, let’s get comics into book stores, and the whole game changes!!!!”, and so I really cringe at the concept that the existence, the very fucking existence of a tablet computer changes shit. IT DIDN’T WHEN WE WENT INTO THE BOOKSTORES.

At the end of the day, the issue is, has been, and always will be content, dumbass. Do you seriously think that a readership that has rejected the print comics is going to magically swarm back to digital version, even if they are a third cheaper? Because I don’t think the problem is actually the price — I think it is the content. Most mainstream comics are ineffably shitty. And I totally get you have nostalgic love of a, b, or c, and that keeps you buying ineffably shitty comics, but the general public isn’t going to do that.

The majority of what is sold in comic stores is not going to sell to a wider audience, even if you literally tied people to chairs and MADE them read it. Seriously, charge $1.99 for most of the content we offer, charge 99 cents for it, you’re not going to move the needle as much as so many people seem to think it will — look, that same content is already available to everyone, everywhere via Amazon, and it’s not selling better proportionate to its current reach. You really think digital is going to be the “magic bullet” here? That trick never works!

Because we HAVE been through this before.. multiple times. I mentioned the book market, because these are the SAME things that were being said back then — “now we can truly expand and rise not tied down by the Direct Market!”, and, huh, pretty much not. And, instead, we’ve gutted our own periodical delivery system trying to chase the sure fire book market. Like…. when EIGHTBALL was coming out as a once-or-twice-a-year periodical, we’d sell 150+ copies in the first 90-120 days. Now Dan Clowes only puts out GNs, and his last original package, WILSON, was a huge hit for me (#5 best selling book in 2010). But… I sold less than 70 copies of WILSON in the 20 months since it has been released. BOOKS DON’T SELL AS MANY COPIES AS PERIODICALS. We chased the wrong thing, for maybe the right reasons, but maybe not, and it left us, in my opinion, considerably weaker for it.

Digital is, at best, a mechanism. I totally laugh at Heidi’s suggestion that because the “hot product” of the moment is a Tablet that this means all that much. The “hot product” of 2001 was an Audrey. No one talks about those any more. Maybe the tablet DOES have real staying power, I don’t fucking know, but I think to construct a syllogistic argument that because it is hot today it’s therefore culture changing… well, I don’t buy that, and history would tend to argue against that. Consumer electronics change with the wind.

Or let’s talk about distribution. Many commentators say things like “Yay, we can break the Diamond stranglehold on the market!” to which I ask, do you really want Apple to take over that monopoly position? Really? Because I really think the concept of Amazon and Apple being the two gatekeepers of entertainment to be pretty insanely terrifying.

I really really wonder about the motivation about some of the loudest pro-digital commentators — because some of the things they scream for (like day and date) are really not attractive or necessary for the huge massive untapped “civilian” audience out there that digital could reach. Johnny I-have-never-read-a-comic-before isn’t especially likely to start reading SPIDER-MAN cold at #674 and decide that he absolutely has to start reading the comic monthly from there on out. I sell comics to Johnny and others like him EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR, and I can tell you 98% of the Johnnies out there want a complete story in a book, and, more than that, they want a specific recommendation for a specific great Spider-Man story.

(Yes, you CAN get Johnny to read periodicals, but it takes epic efforts like New52, and, guess what folks? That’s a once-a-decade at most tool)

See, what I actually think is that the majority (like the OVERWHELMING majority) of the pro day-and-date voices are people who are trying to fulfill their own desires, instead of what’s best for comics. And, right on, you do get to express those desires, but the people making actual decisions in this business need to take a longer view.

I personally believe there has to be price parity between ALL FORMATS because otherwise you’re cutting the legs out from underneath one or another. Let’s not even make this “digital” versus “print”, it’s just as true for “periodical” versus “collection”, and I suspect will be as true when we can project comics directly onto our corneas in the future.

I think it is moronic, literally moronic, to ever sell a copy of WATCHMEN for less than it’s $19.99 price. Why? Because it sells fab at that price, and it’s not going to sell better, in any kind of a sustained fashion, by cutting its price in half, that’s not how pricing works. I also think that by having that $9.99 Kindle version, there’s some amount of pressure that that is the “real” value of the work.

I can (just barely) see the wisdom of offering HELLBOY v1 (an $18 book) for a measly $5 IF it were being used as a gateway to selling the ENTIRE SERIES of HELLBOY. But… it’s not. Fuck, type “hellboy” into the search box over there, and the v1 “bundle” ISN’T EVEN LISTED ON THE FRONT PAGE.

What’s the sense of that?

I mean, if it was “Hey, we priced our books at half price, and we sold TWICE AS MANY as print, without impacting print sales negatively!” then I could see the wonder and joy in dropping prices down radically, but I see digital comics pricing as doing certain things “because that’s how it is done”, rather than “does this make sense as a part of an entire HOLISTIC pricing strategy?”

Urgh.

Anyway, no sensible retailer is “against” digital — they’re against dumb and anti-competitive moves that appear likely to cause channel migration by their lonesome. Go ahead and do day and date, I’ll put my real world comic book store up against any existing digital portal any day of the week — physical stores are more conducive to browsing, to discovering something new, to having someone help guide you through the experience, and so on…. but once we start getting away from price parity, I think we have some pretty significant problems.

I’m of the opinion that you should be paying for content, not format, because if you were actually paying for content on it’s own, your consumption price would dramatically increase on digital alone, not decrease. It is the very existence of print that even allow any content provider to even consider reducing the price in the first place.

The notion that any content on the internet should be inherently cheaper than the “physical” item is very skewed, and while I TOTALLY respect the consumer WANTING a lower price (because I, too, would be VERY happy if print comics went back to $1.99, thanks), let’s not set up an economic system which will preclude the comics being created in the first place because no one at all (including the creators) can make any money doing them.

Anyway, I’ve been typing for like 3 hours now, time for me to shut up and actually get some work done, I think. Chime in, if you dare.

 

-B

93 Responses to “ Questions I have about digital ”

  1. I made an almost full (I have to get DQ and Fantagraphics titles somewhere) switch to digital comics over the summer, mostly out of convenience, and the desire to avoid ending up on Hoarders. In general, I don’t have any problem paying the same as physical copies for day-and-date issues (though I’ll wait a month on some DC titles to save a buck). I think that the bett comparison, though, may be to the difference between physical and Kindle/Nook books: on any list of digital bestsellers, the titles that retail for the same price (and sometimes more!) than the print copies are absent, even if they do very well in hardcover (David McCullough, for example). I have trouble believing that the publishers wind up worse off because of the conversion to digital sales: if it was hurting them, they could easily take themselves out of the market. On the other hand, there aren’t many local bookstores left, but the industry itself doesnt seem to be dying, the sales process is the most open its ever been , and I haven’t noticed any decrease in the quality of the offerings. There are some dissimilarities: books don’t have of a piracy problem, there’s much lower entry and production costs for a digital book, but I don’t see any reason why a shift to digital comics would kill the industry any more than a shift to ebooks has killed the publishing industry.

  2. Most of this (recent) debate was sparked form one or two specific squeaky wheel retailers.

    Brian Hibbs writes a great article about the market, one might see a couple of links about it. Some other retailer launches a tourette of tweets about boycotting and everyone has to chime in.

    Anyway, great article. I’m looking forward to Heidi quoting it out of context and then editing herself when you call her out for it.

  3. I want to comment on one specific point probably not related to anything.

    Comparing tablet computing to the Audrey is insane. INSANE, I say! I get where you are coming from–it’s just impossible to compare a massive failure (quick Google tells me 25,000 Audreys were made) with a runaway massive hit (something like 9 million iPads sold in Q3 2011 alone, according to Apple).

    Now, does the fact that Apple is selling all those tablets have anything to do with the success or failure of digital comics? I don’t think so; buying comics and reading them is just one of many, many things you can do on an iPad, or a Fire, or a Nook.

    But MAN, you are way off if you think the tablet computing phenomenon is ANYTHING like a flash in the pan. I think penetration will exponentially increase once someone cracks the sub-$300 line for a REAL device, not a simple content munching screen like the Fire or Nook. Heck, Apple may do it with their next iPad, if they bust up the line into a lower-cost model with low memory and processing and a higher-end one, like they did with the iPhone over time.

  4. One related thing…

    The biggest point I take away here, in terms of a “god, YES” agreement moment, is that publishers are missing the boat on what they should be selling via these apps, and how.

    What they think they CAN do is to draw in a new/lapsed/transfered audience of regular buyers getting their 22-page fixes on a weekly basis. Same delivery method as print, different device.

    The problem is yes, that form of storytelling is pretty foreign if you haven’t been doing it for a long time already.

    So why aren’t they selling some of their catalogue titles at a competitive price point as whole chunks? I hear your point on Watchmen and value; on the flip side, it seems the perfect example of a book that has sold a LOT of print copies and thus ripe for a reinvention as a lower price point digital offering.

    Or hell, sell it in two parts and charge 9.99 for each. Or four installments at 4.99 apiece. So much of this shit is so poorly defined by the print allegories. Would comics shops feel as threatened if Dark Horse sold digital bundles of titles at a somewhat lower price point, rather than this day-and-date bullshit? What does “day and date” even mean on a tablet computer? What’s “new” to someone who hasn’t been in a comic shop in ten years, or never? Why would they care about anything but good shit to read?

    Properly marketed, I think there is more potential in strong catalogue titles selling as complete packages to new/lapsed readers than these 1.99 chunks that are meaningless in form. Is that potential huge, or small? I have no idea. But it makes no sense to carry over that same release model for a new method of consumption.

  5. Oh wow…I got a name drop! ^_^

    I *really* 100% agree with your main point of contention that bad product is what’s killing the market. You’re right, other than people who are already emotionally invested in…I dunno…Nightwing, who’s going to start reading those comics just because they’re 99 cents/issue? No one…it’s not the medium, it’s the content.

    On the other hand, there are a *lot* of bad comic stores out there. That’s not helping things either. There are a *lot* of good non-Marvel/DC comics out there but finding them is a pain in the ass because the majority of comic stores only speak in a Marvel/DC language.

    BTW – Bookstores *have* changed the game…trades seem to be the market leader right now. Sales of trades have seem to gone up significantly.

    I think the biggest thing with pricing is we all know Marvel’s $4/issue price is a blatant attempt to see how much money they can squeeze out of the market because they’ve said as much.

    Digital costs less to make and sell. There’s *no* reason to price it the same other than to keep retail stores alive and honestly…if that’s the reason, ok. Cool. But they should say that rather than taking the, “We’re selling gold! You’re not paying us enough!” route.

    I think the music and comic analogy is kinda apples and oranges. I’m related by marriage to someone who works closely with Apple and iTunes and according to them, yes, people buying one song at 99 cents is beneficial to them. They’re more concerned with the volume being sold, so if a million people buy Raspberry Beret, then awesome. It works better with the long tail and how much volume they sell in the aggregate of lower profile music.

    As far as music artists needing to sell music at a decent price to live off of, I think you skip over the cut of the record labels too quickly. Independent artists make as much selling 100K albums as a major star on a major label makes selling 1 million albums.

    Making another The Wall or Tommy…this is happening all the time, but the major labels are missing out. Odd Future is putting out incredibly genius albums and making a fortune out of selling them independently.

  6. I think in order to frame the conversation about defining a sort of “national interest” for the medium of comics, you have to properly identify the necessary agendas and relationships between and for the publisher tier, the retailer tier, the creator tier, the consumer tier and possibly the internet douchebag-pundit tier?

  7. “I personally believe there has to be price parity between ALL FORMATS because otherwise you’re cutting the legs out from underneath one or another.”

    Except that selling digital at the same price as print undercuts digital because people don’t value digital content the same as physical and I don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to convince people otherwise.

    “I’m of the opinion that you should be paying for content, not format”

    But people do pay for the format which is why hardcovers cost more than paperbacks. Whether you buy a paperback or a hardcover or a floppy, part of the cost is to pay for the production of the item of itself and to distribute it. Digital is just data and if you are not going to have the benefits, or perceived benefits, of the physical item, why should you have to pay the associated costs?

    And yes, content matters but so does pricing. Comics have to stay competive with other forms of entertainment in terms of cost-to-value and I’m not sure most people are going to find $3-$4 for 20 pages a good value no matter how appealing the content is, for print or digital. Hell, even dedicated comics readers have found the $4 price point unacceptable.

  8. “Independent artists make as much selling 100K albums as a major star on a major label makes selling 1 million albums.”

    I wonder if there are as many Indy artists selling 100K as major label stars selling 1 million.

    Hibbs knows waaaaay more about this stuff that me, but there are three points I’d like to clarify.

    1. There’s an element of the “we want digital now!” crowd that’s exactly the same as the “we want trades now!” people back in the 90s. They don’t give a crap about economics or any other thing except that want something cooler and more socially acceptable than grubby old comic books. Sometimes it’s because they think another format/medium will benefit the type of stories they prefer. Sometimes it’s just an ego thing. Either way there’s really no reasoning with those folks because they don’t care about comics as a whole, just their own tiny sliver.

    2. To some extent, this argument mirrors the debate we’re having over the economy as a whole with whiny comic readers playing the role of the 1%. Do we have a system that benefits every participant (creators, distributors, retailers and readers) or do we have a system that focuses the benefits to one element (readers) under the theory that it will “trickle down” to every other part of the system. Consumers ultimately want perfection for free but no sustainable economy can meet that demand.

    3. Price might make a difference if it were linked to radically different content. Today’s version of Nightwing isn’t going to sell that much better at $.99 than it does at $2.99. But if someone could produce a Doctor Who reboot/Star Trek: The Next Generation version of the kind of comics that used to regularly sell 150,000 copies a month at $.50, those sorts of comics at that kind of price point could possibly have the same sort of broader appeal within the digital universe.

    Mike

  9. I’m not trying to be insulting, Brian, but the Audrey/tablet comparison truly is the silliest thing I’ve seen you write.

  10. So, let’s not focus on the Audrey: maybe we can talk about the millions of Palms sold, or the Apple Newton.

    I think the underlying point is that the “casual” digital customer (the mythical lost or lapsed buyer) may stick with books for six months before drifting away. They however, don’t care about every Wednesday day and date or they wouldn’t be lapsed readers. So if chasing them costs the comic macroeconomy the direct marketplace, then what happens on month seven? The casual customer is gone, and the nerdcore fans find their stores closed.

    I guess then we see what the IP is really worth. Do comics characters survive without comics? I guess Popeye has, but even Peanuts felt having the core product (i.e., comic strips) before audiences was essential. Aside from 5 or 6 core pop culture characters, how many survice as IP without actual books?

    Put another way: How many Phantom movie flops do we need before the marketplace decides the Phantom comic book IP is worthless?

    So yeah, I guess I’m with Hibbs. Does the comics industry want to be kitsch, or does it want to be comics? Chosing kitsch is fine; and likely even profitable, to an extent.

    It just means there won’t be comics.

  11. “I wonder if there are as many Indy artists selling 100K as major label stars selling 1 million.”

    I bet you there are *way* more indie artists selling 100K than major artists on major labels. Record industry sales are anemic and then you have guys like Frank Ocean doing everything in their power to get out of their major labor contract to get the indie money. Or groups like the Black Keys who are just killing it with indie only careers. Or labels like Mad Decent that have *very* dedicated fan bases buying everything they release. Hell, the punk scene alone is practically all indie and even the minorly successful groups in that scene are killing it. It’s actually a big problem in the music industry…the majors no longer offer anything to justify their large cut of music sales.

  12. One more, then bed….

    Matt *really* hit it perfectly in his comments. The iPad is such a huge success it’s hard to even describe it. And when they have a cheaper model available, sales will be out of this world. The Audrey and Newton are *awful* analogies. Palm Pilots are a poor analogy, too. Apple created a new market and that market is growing fast.

    And Matt’s right again about how stupid the units of sale are. Why sell this stuff in single issues? Why not break Watchmen up into 4 parts at $5 apiece? It’s so genius….

  13. This comment come from the point of view of a decade-long on-again off-again reader of a wide range of comics, from classic to the modern. I also suspect I am in the younger range of readers, being in my 20s.

    My thought follows on the observation that digital distribution transformed music from sales of collections to sales of singes. I strongly suspect it could do the opposite for comics.

    There has already been a shift in the industry with the growth of trades, but comics are still very much a singes-driven industry. Regular readers buy their singes one bit at a time and there is very little access to past titles or content. Even with trades, someone who wanted to read the whole run of, say, the Wolverine ongoing is basically out of luck.

    Yes, it has been collected in bits and pieces but even Amazon doesn’t carry most of the trades. There is no way anyone could walk into a shop and expect to pick them up the way they could a whole book series. Given time and effort they could be tracked down, but crosses the line from being a reader to a collector. The idea that someone who loved the newest entry in a series should be unable to conveniently pick up the previous volumes would be insane in any other industry, but seems to be accepted wisdom in comics.

    95% of the potential audience for comics (or any media) will never be collectors. They will be readers. Unfortunately the current industry is mostly built around collectors. The format lends itself to scarcity and there is a deliberate mystique created around generally inaccessible past issues. When things are collected in more than dribbs and drabs it is rarely on a predicable schedule or availability.

    The industry acts like it is a privilege to get the occasional chance to give them money. There exists a massive catalog of past material and, in the event something interests me, no easy way for me to exchange money for it. Worse, if I do get my hands on a copy I can not recommend it to friends as they will not be able to follow suit.

    The digital transition will happen. Eventually. It might be successful or not. Graceful or not.

    But it would be a great thing if the industry took this chance to really make the back catalog easily and conveniently accessible. Instead of trying to see people on a five minute read that ends on a cliffhanger, sell them on three thousand pages of Ultimate Spider-Man as a complete story. Oh, and the first chapter of the sequel is already available if you want to read it as each bit gets done… but if not here’s when the next edition comes out.

  14. And having written a mini essay I realized I had some completely unrelated comments to make too.

    I think the best indicator for how ‘digital’ is going to affect the comic industry long term is the current web-comic industry. Newspaper comics are effectively dead as a format. Half the creators are physically dead at this point. But there are hundreds and probably thousands of people around the world making a living through web-comics.

    The industry model is completely different of course, but I would not be surprised if there are more people making a living off daily and weekly short form comics now than any time in the last thirty or forty years. Of course, almost none of the old industry has made the transition…

    Which brings me to the real feel I get every time I think about the subject. Honest to god I think the current industry and infrastructure is doomed. The industry is too focused on eating its own young and the infrastructure that supports it (and that is supported by it) has no good alternate.

    Twenty years from now comics-the-medium is going to be alive and well and vibrant and kicking. Comics-the-industry is going to die bloody. And that’s a shame.

  15. get real, comics will either die printed or survive, nobody is gonna read ‘digital’ comics.

    (except for the same amount of people who eat their pickles with peanut butter)

  16. – “I personally believe there has to be price parity between ALL FORMATS because otherwise you’re cutting the legs out from underneath one or another.”

    Hardbacks and trade paperbacks should also cost the same then? :) Don’t like that? Then that argument is rubbish. Every single comic of the same length should also be the same price then, too? Also, the digital comics should be $7 here, shouldn’t they? No? Right, transport is a big factor in getting huge lumps of paper around. Fast air freight, or chucked in the back of van depending on the country and area. Therefore digital is cheaper because of simple physics.

    Not so long ago, at least here, you could buy ALL the popular songs as singles for 2 bucks – and an album would be 8 bucks or so. Gradually increasing with inflation, of course.

    Then later on CDs came along which were twice as expensive as LPs, basically. Plus the removal of the single except the various rare massive ripoff $5. So, format changing gouging, basically. When people can get singles again, which is what they actually want in most cases. Like Iron Man or Avengers vs X-Men or third string Batman or JLA comics most of the actual pop music product is shit.

    There’s only a small number of League of Extraordinary Gentlemens and Pink Floyds that lots of people want. If the rest didn’t exist society as a whole pretty much wouldn’t care.

    Publishers don’t want to be beholden to third party distributors? Then sell the product yourself, you idiots. Sell ‘collectable’ downloads and don’t let the distributors have that option, or whatever to differentiate. Some people will still want to buy through iJobs or whatever, but if you make it worth their while a chunk can buy through you at a better deal.

    Currently : -

    1. Sure, we’ll sell it to you, but you have to wait. Doesn’t matter that you live in Chile with nowhere to buy, you have to wait because of some yanks in some timezone you have never heard of.

    2. a) You’ll also have to wait for the sensible price – thereby permanently losing sales as people forget about stuff (and I’ve done this.) or decide they no longer give a rat’s arse. (I would have bought the new Stormwatch 1 if I could get it straight away and not have to wait for some New York shop whiners I have never even heard of. Found out it was very crappy and hence money gone forever.)

    b) We are currently all too hopeless to send email to accounts that have bought the others in a series when there is a price drop on the latest newish issue.

    3. We won’t sell you a subscription because we are actually too incompetent/unprofessional to actually get product out on time in a lot of cases. Non-periodic periodicals are somewhat useless.

    4. We are also too hopeless to say ‘click here to buy all of Wonder Woman v3, 30% off!’

    5. We try and sell back issues like they are ‘new’ in a lot of cases. Crappy Iron Man from 1989 that is 50c for the paper version – $2!! (or worse, $3) That’s just nuts. Good for Mile High Comics though, I suppose. :)

    6. Can we tell you what is coming up on being made available so you can preorder and we can make money on your money? No. EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE A PULL LIST FUNCTION etc.

    7. How about the dumbarses that thought reading comics digitally should be for rich people and refused to sell comics via web browsers. Genius.

    You might think you have it tough, but what about Australian comic shops where the product is often TWICE AS EXPENSIVE. Locked out of various digital programs, etc. If the USA doesn’t care about them, what reason do we have to care about yours? Especially given Australians aren’t going to care at all if there aren’t 127 X-Men and 115 Batman comics a year. Neither will anyone in any other country, really.

    And yeah, currently the search engines are shitty and superhero focused in general. Where’s the ‘go here for fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance’ etc. navigation and drilldowns. Not there. Not there in any comic shop I’ve ever been in, either. Maybe they exist, but the whole anglo industry is useless in this regard.

    American industry definitely has a big insularity problem. In content [Hey, I have a new Moon Knight idea - he'll now be Moon Knight in Los Angeles, not New York! How rad is that!!!] and distribution. Every other media type loves to restrict access and sales by location – plenty of buyers in the rest of the world you could sell to and block US buyers for four weeks, for example. Could even be rash and sell them cheaper in countries with less money where you currently sell SFA.

    Amazon or Diamond (or Apple, or Google or whoever)? The global really good at it international vs a local pissant organisation that is too hopeless and underresourced to be able to pack a few copies of an independent comic in a box for shipping? Again, insularity. What if someone shuts down said minnow January 7th 2012? Sell them yourself boys and girls.

    If DC and Marvel drop dead tomorrow, I’ll still be able to get 2000 AD or The Phantom or Death Note, or whatever. Plus someone who is not braindead will take up The Walking Dead and Alan Moore and Warren Ellis etc. Speaking of there being too many comics published.

  17. “PHYSICAL CDS STILL OUTSELL DIGITAL DOWNLOADS today!”

    Hmm, well. The page you link to only goes up to 2009, and if the trends shown there have continued, I doubt whether this IS still true today. At any rate, if it is still true, it won’t be for long.

    In the UK, at least, singles have outsold albums for a while now, and singles sales are overwhelmingly digital. (If only because, following the collapse of most of the UK record chains over the last few years, there’s simply nowhere else to buy them.) Digital album sales have been slower to pick up, in part because digital consumers have been more inclined to just cherry pick the tracks they want.

    For what it’s worth, I now prefer digital to print, at least for books that I’m not capital-C-Collecting. I don’t WANT the adverts. I don’t WANT boxes of unread paper cluttering up my house. The lack of a physical product is a positive selling point as far as I’m concerned.

  18. Having lived in Oz for most of my life and now in Ireland, I pretty much agree with Blue Tyson.

    On a sidenote, if I can’t get digital comics cheaper because people go crrrrazy over that, I’ll still be able to get them cheaper from Amazon or (in the UK, Books Depository). I remember when the Brubaker Cap Omnibus came out, it was €30 cheaper (with free delivery) ordering it online then buying it in a comic store. That’s a crazy price difference.

  19. First off, I’m a digital marketer, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I actually love real stores and do almost all of my shopping in them, regardless of cheaper prices online (even when buying clothes).

    But I have a question for you: is digital a choice? People are already scanning stuff onto the web illegally. So I’d say it’s not a choice. Play in that market or completely miss out. Next, is pricing online a choice? Again, I’m going to have to say, not really. Unfortunate as it is, the digital products are up against piracy. So they have to be at a price point where people don’t mind supporting the artists with their own buck and foregoing the free, illegal, versions.

    Finally, the solution I actually see is making the store experience (and as you said, it is an experience because it is so nice to just browse and walk out with something new!), making that store experience a premium one. I actually say, raise the prices on physical books! Make them something special, too, with little snippets of conceptual art or a fold-out poster or something. Then charge more. They who complain should go online, meanwhile those who have been online and now want a thingy (because humans love thingies we can hold), can have an awesome thingy that has a better margin for you.

    What do you think?

  20. [...] Brian Hibbs weighs in about the potential risks to stores like his and boils it down brusquely, with contempt [...]

  21. [...] Digital | Retailer Brian Hibbs responds to recent comments around the price of digital comics, commenting on how “channel migration” could effect comic retailers: “The concern of the comics retailer isn’t that there IS digital — fuck, I’m totally all for a mechanism to drive a potentially wide segment of customers to the medium of comics itself. How can that NOT help me? But, rather, that enough customers will ‘change channels’ (of purchase), so as to make segments of work unprofitible to carry. I’ve been pretty straight with you — most periodicals are but marginally profitible; most books are largely unprofitible. That we have stellar, break out, oh-my-god-it’s-like-printing-money successes like WALKING DEAD or BONE or SANDMAN doesn’t mean that this is the way all books can follow. Quite the opposite in fact! So what this means is that even losing a TINY portion of the readership through Channel Migration could potentially have dire effects. Seriously, if I lost just 10% of my customers, I’m done. And what we also know is that when physical stores close, most of that readership for comics UTTERLY VANISHES. The gist of this is that losing 10% of sales to migration could mean that the other 80% of that stores’ sales are COMPLETELY LOST.” [The Savage Critics] [...]

  22. Pronouncements about the future of digital media are premature because the technology is still evolving.

    I make webcomics and have a catalog that goes back a few years. Thanks to leaps in the technology, I’m considering other file formats for my work. Graphics files just chew up hard drive space, but if you store books in a cloud, your device is relatively unburdened with that data. The first twenty Superman comics might jam up a hard drive, but if you can store every single Superman comic in a remote location and access them when you want, that changes the shape of the digital frontier again.

    For the record, I suspect the digital comics add new readers to the mix. As some of the digital readers convert to trade buyers, sales of the New 52 trade paperbacks next spring could be a glimpse at the market to come.

  23. “I bet you there are *way* more indie artists selling 100K than major artists on major labels.”

    Not to make a thing of this, but you don’t know how many indy artists are selilng 100K or what percentage of indy artists do that well. You don’t know how consistent those sales levels are for indy artists who manage to hit them. You don’t know if they’re going to be able to hit those sales levels in the future. Let’s remember that digital music file-sharing and downloading has been a mass activity for less than 15 years.

    Mike

  24. I actually agree with most of what Brian says here (the silly Audrey comparison notwithstanding). But I disagree that new readers don’t care about same day digital releases. They don’t care AT FIRST, sure. They just want something that looks interesting to read at a good price (it’s good that ComiXology has all those 99 cent sales). But IF what they read really connects with them, even if it’s only one series, they’re soon going to want to catch up and read the latest and greatest. Sooner or later, young adults are not going to want to settle for two year old issues of Waking Dead or Amazing Spider-Man. They’re going to want to know what’s happening with those books NOW. Partly because it’s fresh and partly so they have the option to discuss the content with others (even in cubicle land there’s sometimes one other comics reader where they work). Worst case scenario: if the last issue of Waking Dead on sale at ComiXology is a year old, they’ll think the book was cancelled, or isn’t available digitally anymore, and they’ll just put away their wallet and forget about it. Other worse case scenario: they learn there are newer issues out there that aren’t available for sale digitally, but after reading a few dozen issues digitally they have little taste for switching to paper, so they use Google and find out where they can download the new issues for free. And after that, it may be a challenge getting them to pay again.

    I think the right approach is exactly what DC is doing: selling digital comics for cover price, and dropping the price a dollar after four weeks, along with frequent 99 cent sales and a growing amount of slightly older content available for $1.99. The wrong approach is what Marvel is doing: charging $4 an issue for same day digital releases and never dropping the price (Ultimate Thor still sells for that price after over a year) and marketing digital to their paper readers via bundles. I don’t think giant “events” are particularly welcoming to new readers either- the price tag for Avengers vs. X-Men will probably be north of $300 with all the branded tie-ins over a six month period, and it’ll be a logistical nightmare without the help of a friendly shop owner. Meanwhile, DC is currently offering a whole lot of entertaining standalone series for just $3 an issue new.

    There’s already word of a $100 tablet on the way with Android 4.0 ( http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-57338163-64/$100-tablet-now-shipping-with-android-4.0/ ). The $199 Kindle Fire is already a big deal. I believe in a few years tablets are going to become nearly as common as smart phones. It’s going to be a big market, and the publishers need to be there with an attractive product. I think by and large they’re doing just that.

  25. “Do you seriously think that a readership that has rejected the print comics is going to magically swarm back to digital version, even if they are a third cheaper?”

    I think you’re missing the point completely, Brian.

    This isn’t about the readership that has rejected periodical print comic books. It’s about the readership for whom periodical print comic books dont even register as an entertainment option. Which is rather a lot of people.

    Consequently, it doesn’t matter at all whether digital comics are cheaper than print comics. What matters is whether potential readers think they’re priced FAIRLY.

  26. MBunge,

    “Not to make a thing of this, but you don’t know how many indy artists are selilng 100K or what percentage of indy artists do that well.”

    Well, a thing has already been made of this, but I personally know 15-20 indie artists who sell at least 10K units/year and are clearing at least $100K/year…not including concerts or merchandise. And I’m not a super well connected person. I find it impossible to believe I’ve somehow lucked out and know the only 15-20 successful people. Sure, I know indie musicians struggling by on peanuts, but not that much….

    But I do personally know 3 who have literally made millions from selling their music independently in the digital age. And while they’re very talented musicians, none of them are business geniuses who have scammed the system.

    I don’t know why you want to make a thing of this. Is your position digital in untenable?

  27. If anyone’s skimmed by it, Kate Davids’s comment is *phenomenal*. I couldn’t click enough Like buttons in the world for it.

  28. Kate David is absolutely right about making physical books special. Content is undoubtedly important, but people do buy the format. Even though I had bought the original two volumes when they came out, I bought the hell out of Parker: The Martini Edition; I upgraded my Hellboy tpbs to the Library volumes; and I haven’t decided whether to get OMAC digitally or the tpb, but if there was a Wednesday Comics size collection I would snap it up.

  29. “So, here is question one: is “digital”, in your opinion, equally portable and interchangeable between various media? Do people consume those media in the same ways? There appears to be an advantage to the consumer to be able to store every song you own on a device the size of a deck of cards — does that same advantage naturally and inexorably extend to other media?”

    While many (and probably most) of the benefits of digital versions are applicable across different media, there are some areas in which print is different. One big one is that you don’t need electricity to read a printed product. That is not something that was ever true for recorded music or film/video. While I can imagine music becoming an entirely digitally distributed product, I don’t think that will ever entirely happen for print. The market will change but it will not disappear. Print is similar to games in that respect. You can play many physical games digitally (and there are times when that is preferable) and there are entirely digital games that couldn’t exist physically, but there is still a desire to have a physical object like a deck of cards which has no prerequisites or external dependencies.

    The advantages you mention of reducing physical storage space and accessibility of everything you own from anywhere are the same between media. I don’t believe anyone ever means that the digital comics industry would behave in *exactly* the same way as some other digital industry, but in broad strokes most of the lessons learned can apply across different media.

    “And what we also know is that when physical stores close, most of that readership for comics UTTERLY VANISHES. The gist of this is that losing 10% of sales to migration could mean that the other 80% of that stores’ sales are COMPLETELY LOST. To put this in a more specific way, in the last 90 days we’ve lost/are losing THREE comic stores in SF (out of what were at a dozen); I’ve spoken to at least half of the remaining stores, and while we’ve all picked up a couple of customers, there are logically 3-500 comic readers who have not seemed to showed up in any of the remaining nine stores. They disappeared, into the wind.”

    I think it’s odd to expect that all the customers of those three stores would distribute themselves over the other stores and odd to assume that all of the ones that are unaccounted for are no longer purchasing comics. Some will certainly have decided to stop, but I think it’s entirely plausible that some will have used the event as the impetus to investigate other options for purchasing comics.

    “Why do you assume that current print readership WOULD switch to digital? Dude, I can assure you that 60% or more of the exciting print audience will NOT switch to digital if they stop making print comics tomorrow. Most of those cats have 10-40 years invested in their mechanism, and the mechanism of delivery is AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT to that audience as the content itself.”

    I don’t assume that. I think some would, but I think most digital readers would be people who don’t spend money in comics stores right now, either because they aren’t physically near a comics store or because the products offered there aren’t attractive enough in content or form.

    “I remember, god, do I remember, the strident voices that used to scream “Yeah, motherfucker, let’s get comics into book stores, and the whole game changes!!!!”, and so I really cringe at the concept that the existence, the very fucking existence of a tablet computer changes shit. IT DIDN’T WHEN WE WENT INTO THE BOOKSTORES.”

    I guess I disagree. I think it definitely changed the game. There was a ten year span where a new generation of readers devoured book-format comics in chain bookstores. Speaking personally, almost the entirety of my comics purchases have shifted to that format. I have enjoyed comics more and spent more on comics because book format comics were a viable option.

    “Or let’s talk about distribution. Many commentators say things like “Yay, we can break the Diamond stranglehold on the market!” to which I ask, do you really want Apple to take over that monopoly position? Really? Because I really think the concept of Amazon and Apple being the two gatekeepers of entertainment to be pretty insanely terrifying.”

    No, I don’t want Apple or Amazon to take over Diamond’s monopoly position. I want there to not be a monopoly position. Diamond does not seem to serve the physical comics market well at all. I want digital comics to be offered via Apple and Comixology and Amazon and Marvel and Google and whoever else.

    “See, what I actually think is that the majority (like the OVERWHELMING majority) of the pro day-and-date voices are people who are trying to fulfill their own desires, instead of what’s best for comics. And, right on, you do get to express those desires, but the people making actual decisions in this business need to take a longer view.”

    I think arguing that what’s best for comics stores is “what’s best for comics” is pretty disingenuous. Bluntly, the people making actual decisions in this business are deciding what’s best for their businesses and not “what’s best for comics”. The most important thing is that creators can make a decent living telling stories they want to tell and that readers enjoy the products they’re buying. Those two endpoints of the spectrum are the most important. I don’t wish any harm to come to any current retailer, publisher, distributor, or any other middleman, but their interests are ultimately secondary to the actual producer and the actual consumer.

  30. Ralf’s comment is really strong. The level of discussion here has been phenomenal.

    I was just thinking…I miss Alan Coil’s commentary at times like this. He always had interesting things to say no matter if you agreed with him or not.

  31. Actually, I don’t think Apple and Amazon are likely to become the gatekeepers for digital comics. Not with Google and Microsoft waiting in the wings. The more immediate question is, will ComiXology become the gatekeeper of comics? Probably not, but I wish there was more competition for them.

  32. I’ve gone digital since getting an Ipad2 two months or so ago.
    What I’ve found interesting is that I still buy single issues off the stand when they come out, it’s my buying of trades that has gone down.
    This partially out of habit – curling up on Thursday night (comics day in Oz) with a pile of comics has become an essential part of my R&R each week – and it’s mostly because there’s no way in heck I’m paying the same price (more on $3.99 books) for a digital file as I will for a physical object. Will not ever happen.

    99c is the perfect price point for a single issue I’ve found – you can show me anything at that price, and if I’m slightly curious, I’ll bite.
    $1.99 for a standard single issue is the most I’ll pay.
    DC does it well with either free or 99c first issues to get you in, Marvel seems to have $1.99 as their standard price point for everything, though their twice weekly 99c sales are great.
    With 99c books I’m willing to just dive in and grab a bunch of issues, but at $1.99 I buy an issue at a time.

    Trying to get me to pay the same for digital and for print is an insulting idea, especially in comics where paper price rises were used to justify so many price rises. If print and shipping costs are being taken out of the equation, I don’t see why I should be happy to pay at a price point that factored them in.
    I’m actually shocked that across fandom and industry columns/chats, people keep referring to digital prices being kept up on day/date to help physical retailers – why are people buying that one? It’s price gouging, pure and simple. They are hiding it behind helping out retailers, when really they are just making an extra two bucks per book.
    I don’t care how good a serial is, I’m not paying more than $1.99 for 22 pages – hell, that’s what it cost me when I first started reading comics at age 10 and that was for a physical copy.

    As I’m able to buy at any time, at any level of sobriety, I think the publishers are making more off of me than they did before – I’m getting more comics to read for my dollars, but I am spending more dollars.
    I couldn’t reconcile getting a New Teen Titans Omnibus, just to try the series out, but when huge chunks of the run were in a two day 99c sale, I grabbed damn near the whole bunch (I stopped at Titan Hunt).

    The big point which made me want to switch to digital, other than old comics at cheap prices – and seriously, comic publishers should be ashamed at taking so long to get their back catalogs up there, WE WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY FOR THEM PUBLISHERS, WHY WON’T YOU LET US??? – sorry, the other big reason was that I’m out of space.
    After buying singles in my teens, in my twenties at the start of this decade, I found trades to be a much better option. More bang for my buck, fit on a shelf, and easier to take on a commute with me.
    Recently though, after filling up a lot of shelves, I went back to singles under the theory that some books I would drop quicker and it would be cheaper to sample. Only I’m out of space to store those as well.
    Physical comics are great fun to read, but not so much to store/sort. With digital I was able to take a massive assortment on a plane with me, and it took up sod all space, and I can sample books I’m not sure about, without having to worry about where I will keep it.
    The ipad is smaller than a comics page, but I feel like I’m losing less on the smaller page than I did with Essential/Showcase editions in B&W. I thought Dark Phoenix saga was alright when I read it in Essentials, with colour on the ipad, it blew me away.

    I think my early morning coffee kicked in there, and I’ve probably rambled without saying anything worthwhile, so sorry about that!
    Basically, I think digital comics are here to stay, I love ‘em, but at the moment I use comixology mostly for back issues, and comic shops for new issues.
    How long this will be my status quo I don’t know – I’m sure comic publishers won’t do anything crazy to make me change my game…

  33. I want to thank everyone for the sane and sober conversation today; this has been great to read. I’m going to slowly work my way through some responses; have patience with me, please!

    -B

  34. Regarding moving the conversation here from The Beat because they are missing a notification system, am I missing something? It doesn’t seem like there is a notification system here either. :-) Keep this post or the other one open in a browser tab I refresh every once in a while … six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  35. After a few months with a Kindle I can definitly say that digital don´t has the same worth then the “real” book. It is just a file, and I would never pay the same price as the paperback or the hc costs. A book is not just about content. It is also about experience. To hold it, to sample a few pages. To enjoy the cover. An Ebook is just a glorified manuscript.

    Now digital comics may give more worth. As I don´t own a tablet – and don´t plan to buy one in the forseeable future as I don´t need another expensive toy at the moment – I don´t see myself buying digital comics.

    But as I have come to the firm opinion that most of the current comics are even in print not worth 3.99 an issue the idea that I would pay the same for just a file? Not going to happen.

    If comics companys have planned to change buying habits from single issues to trades, they have succeded with me. I depend on mail-order as there is no shop any longer in my vicinity. After one comic too many which I had to pre-order and feeling disappointed and ripped-off I now wait for the trade, read the reviews and the previews and then order the trade from Amazon.

    ComiXology as the gatekeeper of comics? Scary thought. I browsed through their preview section and had to pity the poor guy who blacked out every swear-word on a Garth Ennis comic.This kind of behavior doesn´t bodes well for the future.

  36. OK, starting from near the top…

    @Matt: Yeah, I wasn’t trying to necessarily draw an EQUIVALENCE between any kind of tablet or dedicated book reading device and the Audrey, just laughing at the notion that being “the hot electronics item” means anything for… really anything really. Sometimes our consumer culture goes through buying frenzies for items that end up meaning very little for long time cultural change.

    Speaking purely personally, I see absolutely no attractiveness in a tablet computer — it looks to me to be an unweildily-sized smartphone, to be honest; but if people are enjoying theirs, hooray for them!

    From what I’ve seen so far for iPads, they don’t seem be very inviting devices for reading on (whereas the original Kindle is very easy on the eyes; haven’t seen a Fire or Nook), and I think it’s just flatly crazy to make any straight line thought comparison between tablet sales and comics sales.

    @ Chris Hero (5):

    I don’t know how much I can accept “there are bad stores” as a great argument — if stores are staying business, paying rent, paying Diamond, paying taxes, paying employees, and keeping the doors open… then they logically must be servicing their audience. Maybe not your segment of the market or mine… but I tend to think that’s true for most things in America :)

    “Digital costs less to make and sell. ”

    Yeah… not as much as some people seem to think. Marvel and DC don’t pay for print runs individually — they book time for everything they print as one sum, and I have to suspect that things like Time magazine’s printing (last I checked, also printed at the same plant) figures in to the cost basis. I feel like they told us this at a RRP in Montreal, at the printing plant tour. I think you’re looking at dimes “less to make and sell”, and not $1+

    -B

  37. @Tim (6): I’m just sort of hoping the internet douche-bag lobby recognizes that they don’t actually get a vote?

    @Eric Rupe (7):

    “selling digital at the same price as print undercuts digital because people don’t value digital content the same as physical”

    Welll… that’s kind of stupid, isn’t it? I’m not necessarily denying that people think that way, but content is either worth your time/dollar, or it isn’t.

    “But people do pay for the format which is why hardcovers cost more than paperbacks. ”

    I’m sorry, I was less than clear there — if one wants to charge premium prices for something (eg: HBO vs basic cable, HC vs SC) that’s perfectly fine — but I strongly believe that the BASE price of that content should be shared among whichever platform it comes out on.

    I also think publishers should strongly enforce their SRPs as well, however.

    “Comics have to stay competive with other forms of entertainment in terms of cost-to-value”

    I think that video games cut off the head of that argument and shits down its throat. Even buying AAA games at full retail, is going to yield a 10-to-1 or better to ANY other media… and yet people are still willing to pay $1 for 3 minutes of music.

  38. @MBunge (8):

    “1. “Yes, probably

    “2.” I’m not very comfortable casting readers as the 1%. The entitled ones, maybe?

    “3.” We have enough history within the DM to show that price for content is almost never a barrier if the content is worthwhile and interesting. Conversely, dropping the price does not seem to yield anything other that less money for all concerned. (Poor UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN)

    @ Correy (Ottawa) [10]

    “I think the underlying point is that the “casual” digital customer (the mythical lost or lapsed buyer) may stick with books for six months before drifting away. They however, don’t care about every Wednesday day and date or they wouldn’t be lapsed readers. So if chasing them costs the comic macroeconomy the direct marketplace, then what happens on month seven? The casual customer is gone, and the nerdcore fans find their stores closed.”

    That’s pretty much exactly what I think, yes.

    “Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush” maybe?

    @RyanH (13)

    “Even with trades, someone who wanted to read the whole run of, say, the Wolverine ongoing is basically out of luck.”

    Sure, but the reason for that is that generic collections of generic issues of WOLVERINE generally don’t sell with enough velocity for anyone to both with them.

    This is a place that digital can do very well, and where I, as a retailer, ABSOLUTELY support the publisher leveraging their 60 or 75 year old catalogs. If there’s material the print market doesn’t want, but ALL MEANS, “long-tail” it and sweep up all of the pennies that are lying about on the ground — but I think that material that DOES sell (eg: WATCHMEN), and the mechanism for creating all of the new material (serialization) should be at least husbanded, if not jealously protected.

    -B

  39. @ Blue Tyson (16):

    I’ll leave the Aussie pricing issues to the Aussies, since $7 comics are all down under to me. (sorry!)

    “There’s only a small number of League of Extraordinary Gentlemens and Pink Floyds that lots of people want. If the rest didn’t exist society as a whole pretty much wouldn’t care.”

    The problem is that without all of the pop, there isn’t an infrastructure to sell the “good” stuff.

    @ Kate Davids (19)

    “is pricing online a choice? Again, I’m going to have to say, not really. Unfortunate as it is, the digital products are up against piracy. So they have to be at a price point where people don’t mind supporting the artists with their own buck and foregoing the free, illegal, versions. ”

    This is an honest question: is there any evidence whatsoever that torrenting has significantly decreased with the rise of iTunes (or day & date releases)? I suspect that the people who are willing to steal will do so regardless.

    “I actually say, raise the prices on physical books! Make them something special, too, with little snippets of conceptual art or a fold-out poster or something. Then charge more.”

    Well, some things can clearly be objects and more expensive objects at that, but your bog-standard comics package is already borderline-priced as it is. Marvel books at $3.99 are clearly overpriced.

    There’s been a great deal of discussion about adding more/new content to the physical book (though the idea was to make the current prices more palatable, than anything else), but if GOOD “backmatter” was easy to create, everyone would be doing it.

    -B

  40. @Goodman (24)

    “But IF what they read really connects with them, even if it’s only one series, they’re soon going to want to catch up and read the latest and greatest.”

    Then… they can pay the going price for it.

    Like I said: I don’t have a PROBLEM with day-and-date (though I wouldn’t do it as my first choice), but let’s not try to slash the price at the same time and think we’re doing anything valuable.

    @ Marc-Oliver (25)

    “This isn’t about the readership that has rejected periodical print comic books. It’s about the readership for whom periodical print comic books dont even register as an entertainment option. Which is rather a lot of people.”

    Yeah, and I think that periodical digital comics are going to continue to not register as an entertainment option, at nearly any price.

    But, really, I may have phrased it badly, but we’ve given “the general public” many different attempts at buying our superhero material, and generally speaking, they’ve shown that they’re not very interested… lowering the price a bit, in and of itself, isn’t going to do a lot to change their minds, IMO.

    I don’t have fewer customers than 10 years ago, but the specific penetration of of any given series is at its lowest point ever — we’ve made super specific niches of our already super-nichey product.

    “Consequently, it doesn’t matter at all whether digital comics are cheaper than print comics. What matters is whether potential readers think they’re priced FAIRLY.”

    See, if I think what matters is “can the people who make them, make a fair wage”?

    -B

  41. @Ralf Haring (29)

    “I think it’s odd to expect that all the customers of those three stores would distribute themselves over the other stores and odd to assume that all of the ones that are unaccounted for are no longer purchasing comics.”

    No, you misunderstand — I don’t “expect” that (or anything).

    This is actually the inverse of a solid piece of data that Mel Thompson researched — something like 75% of the customer base of a mature comics store is “new to comics” because that store has opened; only 25% draws from other, neighboring stores.

    The converse is also true, I believe — 75% (ish) of a store’s audience disappears entirely when a store closes. No one, however, has actually done market research on this datum, so there’s some anecdotal evidence to support the supposition.

    @Ben Lipman (32)

    “and seriously, comic publishers should be ashamed at taking so long to get their back catalogs up there, WE WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY FOR THEM PUBLISHERS, WHY WON’T YOU LET US??? –”

    They have the digital files for anything published in the last 5 years, maybe even 10 years back — older than that they’ve got to scan and correct and color and do blah blah blah to get the files to you. This costs money (it also boggles my mind when people insist there are no additional costs for digital distribution. Um… not true!), and if certain works aren’t in demand, they’re going to spend their human capital doing other things.

    -B

  42. @Ralf Haring (34)

    Heh, um, well, *I* get a notification of each and every message posted here, so there’s that :)

    And we, for certain, scroll off the front page slower!

    Oh, I hit the end, whew!

    -B

  43. 39

    Brian, no, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter, now, as they can sell it themselves. Middlemen just aren’t as necessary. May need contractors to make CDs or do your mailings when you are really popular – but not paying them 95% of what you are making.

    40

    Fair wages? That doesn’t happen now or ever taken as a whole – they use tons of freelancers etc. that don’t have nice secure jobs don’t they? So this is never going to happen unless you can get some sort of expansion of your market so you can get more fulltimers. Which is clearly not going to happen with Avengers vs X-Men, as you say.

    So what would you think of this :- take the slowest lamest month for comic sales – try a one month experiment where you don’t do the charge 50% or 100% more than the usual digital price, and see what happens. Maybe when the latest New 52 X-renumberings start to run out of steam, say.

  44. “I see absolutely no attractiveness in a tablet computer — it looks to me to be an unweildily-sized smartphone, to be honest”

    “From what I’ve seen so far for iPads, they don’t seem be very inviting devices for reading on”

    Whistling past the graveyard.

  45. ” is there any evidence whatsoever that torrenting has significantly decreased with the rise of iTunes”

    A study done of the Swedish music industry linked the growth of Spotify to a marked decrease in piracy.

    Just wait until the comics publishers adopt the Spotify model! I could definitely see them doing this for “stale” material at least.

  46. “See, if I think what matters is “can the people who make them, make a fair wage”?”

    Okay, I’ve got three sincere questions for you.

    One: Can you name five publishers that will pay writers and artists of stapled comic books “a fair wage” right now?

    Two: Do you believe Marvel or DC will be able to pay “a fair wage” to more artists and writers of stapled comic books five years from now than they are right now, without other formats entering the equation?

    Three: If you’re convinced that price isn’t a factor anyway on the superhero material, as you say, then what exactly are you afraid of when it comes to lowering prices on digital comics?

  47. I think the problem comes down to this. The industry is caught in a dilemma.

    On the one hand, comics are outrageously overpriced compared to any other form of mass market entertainment, and it is difficult to see how they can ever expand to a more casual readership at the sort of prices now being charged.

    On the other hand, the industry has eroded its audience to such a degree that it now finds itself dependent on a fragile direct market distribution system that it simply cannot afford to undermine further, for fear of sawing off the branch it’s sitting on. Brian is surely right to say that most readers of physical comics would not instantly migrate to digital.

    Personally, I think the digital product is (in most cases) vastly superior to the physical one, in terms of convenience, timeliness, lack of adverts, and lack of need for storage space. But that’s on the assumption that I actually want to READ the thing rather than merely collect it; and the industry is dependent on the collector mentality. God knows it’s hard to imagine any other reason why you’d buy some of the books Marvel and DC have put out in recent years.

    I think in the short term the way forward may be to push the back catalogue on digital at knock-down prices as a loss leader to bring people into the market. Brian’s right that books like Watchmen are not good choices for that role – they sell anyway – but Marvel and DC have vast tracts of passably diverting back catalogue that would serve the role quite respectably. And in fairness, Marvel is trying something like this with their Monday sales.

    The fact remains, though, that the “people will always want a physical copy” argument has proved to be at best vastly overstated in the fields of music and books, and I don’t see why it should be any different in comics. The next generation isn’t going to have that emotional attachment to physical copies, and certainly not to the physical serial format, which really does have nothing to commend it other than nostalgia.

  48. They have the digital files for anything published in the last 5 years, maybe even 10 years back — older than that they’ve got to scan and correct and color and do blah blah blah to get the files to you.

    Some old issues of Superman and Batman that I picked up during 99¢ sales on Comixology look to have just been scanned in, no color correction involved. We’re talking about the reproduction quality you’d find in that Chip Kidd-Art Spiegelman Plastic Man book from a while back (if not worse). And at 99¢ a pop, I’m OK with that.

    The fact remains, though, that the “people will always want a physical copy” argument has proved to be at best vastly overstated in the fields of music and books, and I don’t see why it should be any different in comics.

    It took me a little while to get past that hurdle for comics, but for most superhero titles coming out from the big two and Image, who cares? I mean, sure, I’m never getting rid of my physical copies of any of Darwyn Cooke’s work, All-Star Superman, Elektra: Assassin, Daredevil: Born Again and other high points of comic art, but for most monthly superhero comics, which rarely get reread anyway as I move on to the next thing, not having a physical copy to store is, as you note, an attractive thing.

    The next generation isn’t going to have that emotional attachment to physical copies, and certainly not to the physical serial format, which really does have nothing to commend it other than nostalgia.

    Maybe at current prices it doesn’t, but (and I think Brian Hibbs has talked about this in the past) in the hands of a skilled writer, that monthlong wait between issues can become a big part of the reading experience. I guarantee you that my experience of waiting for the next issue after Preacher No. 10 was a lot different than that of anyone reading the trades who could just flip to the next issue to find out what happened next. Serial fiction has always been with us, and it has its own unique pleasures. Otherwise, all of TV would just be two-hour movies, no?

  49. I said the PHYSICAL serial format, not all serials. Nothing wrong with serialisation, and I can see it working fine in digital. And I can see people wanted a collected edition to put on their bookshelves. But the monthly physical comic? It’s a lousy format.

  50. I found this comment from Brian hard to equate:

    “To put this in a more specific way, in the last 90 days we’ve lost/are losing THREE comic stores in SF (out of what were at a dozen); I’ve spoken to at least half of the remaining stores, and while we’ve all picked up a couple of customers, there are logically 3-500 comic readers who have not seemed to showed up in any of the remaining nine stores. They disappeared, into the wind.”

    This in the face of the highly touted sales of the “New 52?”
    How do three stores shutting down in a 90 day period, which sounds like it comes close to overlapping the first month of “The New 52″ up to today, fit with the remaining nine stores picking up only a small number of comics readers. I had thought “The New 52″ was bringing in readers, but you’re saying they are vanishing.
    It seems to me DC and more clearly Marvel are anticipating the death of the Direct Market. It may not even be that they want to move to digital, the fact is it’s very hard for me to believe the Direct Market can survive with more and more comic books shops shutting down.

  51. I said the PHYSICAL serial format, not all serials. Nothing wrong with serialisation, and I can see it working fine in digital. And I can see people wanted a collected edition to put on their bookshelves. But the monthly physical comic? It’s a lousy format.

    Sorry for the misread. But I still kinda disagree when you call the floppy a lousy format with “nothing to commend it other than nostalgia.” I actually love the format as an object in and of itself, and not just for superhero comics — you’ll have to pry my old issues of Eightball, Optic Nerve and Palookaville from my cold, dead hands. Take away storage issues and give me something like Hank Pym’s Infinite Avengers Mansion in which to house my comics, and I’d never have made the switch from floppies to digital.

    Of course, I’m nearing my fourth decade of reading comics, so I’m willing to admit that my attachment to the current format probably has a little nostalgia attached to it. OK, more than a little.

  52. Marc-Oliver (46):

    “One: Can you name five publishers that will pay writers and artists of stapled comic books “a fair wage” right now?”

    Not really — I’m not privy to specific details. I can make an educated guess on five, but not with enough certainty to write it down.

    “Two: Do you believe Marvel or DC will be able to pay “a fair wage” to more artists and writers of stapled comic books five years from now than they are right now, without other formats entering the equation?”

    More? With or without other formats, I’d largely judge that to be a “no” — we’re already overproducing as an industry.

    “Three: If you’re convinced that price isn’t a factor anyway on the superhero material, as you say, then what exactly are you afraid of when it comes to lowering prices on digital comics?”

    The 10-25% of the audience who think The Rent Is Too Damn High, who might be willing to switch to digital — thereby crashing the market for the other 75-90% and making it so the rest CAN’T get comics.

    Am I that unclear? I’ve been saying this for at least a year….

    -B

  53. @Patrick Ford (50)

    “This in the face of the highly touted sales of the “New 52?””

    Neon Monster closed the month before, Al’s hasn’t had new comics in… a year? and Caffeinated hasn’t quite shut their doors yet (3 weeks, but no new subs from their neck of the woods, certainly)

    “I had thought “The New 52″ was bringing in readers, but you’re saying they are vanishing.”

    We’ve gained “wholly new to comics” (actually, mostly 10+ years lapsed, in reality) readers with New52, and we’ve taken a few people from what I would consider to be the worst store in SF because they don’t have any stock, as a result of n52, but that’s a different impact and phenomena of the “store closes — those customers stop buying comics entirely” one.

    -B

  54. “Digital costs less to make and sell. ”
    @Chris Hero: “Digital costs less to make and sell. ”

    @Hibbs: Yeah… not as much as some people seem to think. Marvel and DC don’t pay for print runs individually…. I think you’re looking at dimes “less to make and sell.”

    Okay, and you’ve been saying that for a while… but that’s on the PUBLISHER end. That affects the price that DC/Marvel charge the middleman (Diamond) and what they subsequently charge you, the retailer. But that cost is NOT the cover price.

    From my understanding, Amazon is able to frequently viciously undercut brick & mortar stores is for three reasons: (a) economies of scale, including (b) lesser overhead costs per title; but perhaps most importantly (c) form the publisher end, Amazon appears to act as a distributor (buying books in bulk at wholesale prices) while from the consumer end, they look like a retailer. Amazon is able to keep its prices obscenely low in many cases because they are cutting the retail price as close as possible to their invoice cost — which may be much, much less than a small independent store’s due to B2B negotiations and economies of scale.

    I understand that the creative costs are high and are a constant across all media; and that printing / paper costs are a relatively minor factor. However, the distributor’s cut and the retailer’s markup are factors that could be SIGNIFICANTLY reduced — if Comixology was moving enough material, I don’t see why their retail price couldn’t be roughly equivalent to YOUR invoice price, while they (and DC) still made a profit.

    Also, digital doesn’t have to absorb losses like a brick & mortar store — while a comic shop uses stacks of a much-hyped bomb to prop up the legs of wobbly tables and pad gaps in the quarter box, the digital store probably never made the risk of buying them in the first place. (I say probably because I’m not sure of the deal structure or commitments Comixology may have established with DC, etc.)

  55. > losing a TINY portion of the readership through
    > Channel Migration could potentially have dire effects.
    > Seriously, if I lost just 10% of my customers, I’m done.

    I’m curious. I can see how losing 10% of your customers overnight would be fatal. But if you lost 10% of your customers over a period of a year, and you saw it coming, would it still be fatal? Do you expect some of them would still drop by now and then for t-shirts and such?

    Have you not been losing any customers until now?

    Also, I’m curious how you feel about DC dropping the prices of their dame-day digital releases after a month. Does it have much of an impact on you, do you think?

  56. interesting tidbit…the all ages comic “Pocket Gods” based on the popular app game, just passed 500,000 downloads in the Apple App Store. The comic sold for .99 and is now free after reaching the milestone.

    The audience is there, its just a matter if figuring out a way to reach them.

  57. (41) “This is actually the inverse of a solid piece of data that Mel Thompson researched — something like 75% of the customer base of a mature comics store is “new to comics” because that store has opened; only 25% draws from other, neighboring stores. The converse is also true, I believe — 75% (ish) of a store’s audience disappears entirely when a store closes. No one, however, has actually done market research on this datum, so there’s some anecdotal evidence to support the supposition.”

    If you think a new physical store near you draws in customers who aren’t already spending money on comics, why don’t you think a digital store will do the same?

    (37) “I think that video games cut off the head of that argument and shits down its throat. Even buying AAA games at full retail, is going to yield a 10-to-1 or better to ANY other media… and yet people are still willing to pay $1 for 3 minutes of music.”

    Personally, I consider money I spend on music to be the best value for money of any entertainment choice. It takes minimal investment to listen to a song (as opposed to greater focus needed to read or watch or play something) so I have a very high chance of recouping that investment over the years and years that I will listen to that music. I still consistently listen to music I purchased 15 years ago. A video game I bought 15 years ago probably hasn’t been played in 14 years.

    (37) “Welll… that’s kind of stupid, isn’t it? I’m not necessarily denying that people think that way, but content is either worth your time/dollar, or it isn’t.”

    No, it’s not stupid. People value digital products less because there are real, demonstrable downsides to buying digital products the way most producers want to sell them. Content is not all that matters and it is odd that you think it should be. If you pay real money for a digital item yet find it has disappeared tomorrow through no fault of your own, then that is a giant downside that should be factored into the price. It’s no different than renting a VHS from blockbuster costing a consumer less than actually buying the tape 20 years ago. The customer should pay less because they don’t actually own the thing for which they’re paying.

    Digital has advantages over physical but it also has giant, giant disadvantages depending on how producers choose to sell their work.

  58. 57 Ralf Haring – a great point, but then why does Apple open very slick Apple stores in most malls to sell cords and such.

    I think my original point way back at #10 on comics being an IP industry holds. Comcis are expected to generate the ideas, maintain an affluent client base, vanguard market penetrtaion at ComicCon(tm) and supply a ready made audience.

    “Cool. A Spider Man t-shirt”

    But what happens when that sizable logistics chain, that market penetration, that database of disposable customers starts folding up.

    So many people here are discounting nostalgia, but with a comics reading audience in the low 100,000 how does that explain all the people who saw Dark Knight? It was people who had been exposed to Batman, likely in the old floppy media, or in TV lord help us.

    How many people get a free Starbucks download of a song of the month from iTunes (they do those in the US right) and imediately go and buy that band’s whole back catalog?

    I think not many. But comic stores are expected to make the investmentr on prodcuts, but not get the customers. Hardly fair innit?

  59. @Steve D (54)

    It is my understanding (probably flawed) that publishers going through an app and the Apple store give 30% of the sale price to Apple, and 30% of the sale price to the app provider (Comixology, etc). I’m not sure if that’s 30% of the NET amount or the GROSS amount, and would be the difference between a 60% discount or a 51% one.

    That’s not dramatically out of line with the wholesale discounts in comics — DC and Marvel, in particular, sell direct to DM retailers at this point, and certainly some accounts (the smaller ones) are buying books at at effective (INCLUDING Diamond’s cut) 45% or so.

    Thus, I am fairly certain that at least on SOME DM sales, DC and Marvel are making a LOWER percentage of cover price on a digital sale.

    I’ve spoken to several publishers who tell me that their MARGIN on print is better than that of digital, but understand this is all second hand.

    @ Goodman (55)

    “Do you expect some of them would still drop by now and then for t-shirts and such?”

    My business model is on selling periodical comics and graphic novels; I’m not a t-shirt store.

    (or, UGH! a game store!)

    “Also, I’m curious how you feel about DC dropping the prices of their dame-day digital releases after a month. Does it have much of an impact on you, do you think?”

    Too soon to tell, ask again in 24 months.

    I originally pushed for a one-year window, and was willing to settle for one quarter.

    @Joey (56)

    I’ve tried stocking POCKET GOD in both comic and book version, and we’ve never sold a copy yet, oddly enough.

    @Ralf (57)

    “why don’t you think a digital store will do the same?”

    Because a digital store doesn’t have a physical presence that people in the neighborhood will see twice a day every day of their life as they walk past it on the way to the bus?

    Digital is being primarily marketed to (IMO) existing print customers.

    “I still consistently listen to music I purchased 15 years ago. A video game I bought 15 years ago probably hasn’t been played in 14 years.”

    My iTunes tells me that in the 5-ish years I’m had it installed, the song I’ve listened to the most (and no, Decline To State, thanks) has been heard 17 times in that period, and it is roughly 4 minutes long — that’s “an hour and eight minutes of entertainment.” I also have 40 or 50 songs I’ve paid money for that I’ve STILL never ever listened to once :)

    Steam tells me that I played FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS 169 hours. (and in 2-3 years I will probably play though that again as well)

    (Which surely means that I’ve heard SOME of that game’s songs more than seventeen times, though…)

    Anyway, this has become a silly thread!

    -B

  60. Is this conversation still going? Maybe I’m late, but this is something I’ve thought a lot about as my own comic buying habits are drifting more and more to digital. I don’t have any expertise in the subject, I can just say what I would like to see.

    First of all, digital subscriptions. Let the content download automatically, like a podcast, and have it available on all my devices (cloud access is not okay, since I am often in areas without wifi.)

    Second, “general admission” browsing. As a member of Marvel Digital Comics Universe, I like being able to casually read any number of back catalogue stuff. This is as a supplement to what’s above, as I see it more as a library that I’m browsing, not content that I want to carry with me. In other words, general admission into the park, but separate E-tickets to ride the major rides.

    Third, more “Previews-style” blurbs before I buy. Just having a title and/or a cover will not be enough for me to purchase and/or read. I often have to surf the web for things to learn enough if I want to buy something. For example, Batwing. The more I know what I would see inside, the more likely I will go on to jump into it.

    Fourth, more done-in-ones. I am getting very tired of a single plot point taking three months or more to resolve itself. Subplots I am fine with– bubble away under the surface as long as you want. But I need some kind of resolution each month to make it feel satisfying. This is the number one reason that I have been shedding titles recently.

    Not that I want to see it, but I would also add an idea– bundle all physical comics into smaller magazine-like formats (and more expensive), but keep digital sales separate (and cheaper). For example, getting the X-Men magazine would have a handful of issues of content packed together for 10 bucks (no more single issue floppies on the stands), or you could buy them issue-by-issue online for 2 bucks each. I would even go so far as to suggest that digital stuff could be broken into once-a-week 6 page serials for a 24 page comic every month.

    I often call this game “as long as we’re wishing, I’d might as well also give myself a mansion and a yacht.”

  61. What I don’t understand is the charge that us digital readers who clamor for day and date digital are somehow being selfish and not looking after the good of the industry. It’s not like we’re buying what we pay for and not giving the books we love their due.

    Digital has actually made me buy more comics. I used to spend $50-70 every month back when I went to the store. Now it’s closer to $100-120 thanks to ComiXology.

    Thus, I can simply throw back the same charge — that the reason digital isn’t growing as a whole is because the LCS has held the industry hostage. Hence, we’ll never see 0.99 and 1.99 comics as long as the LCS-centric industry has to bankroll so many things.

  62. (59) “It is my understanding (probably flawed) that publishers going through an app and the Apple store give 30% of the sale price to Apple, and 30% of the sale price to the app provider (Comixology, etc). I’m not sure if that’s 30% of the NET amount or the GROSS amount, and would be the difference between a 60% discount or a 51% one. That’s not dramatically out of line with the wholesale discounts in comics — DC and Marvel, in particular, sell direct to DM retailers at this point, and certainly some accounts (the smaller ones) are buying books at at effective (INCLUDING Diamond’s cut) 45% or so.”

    If the purchase is made in the app, then Apple/Google take a 30% cut. Amazon doesn’t have in-app purchases available for apps on the Fire yet, I think. If you buy the same item for the same price externally from the app (on the comixology site for comics, on your kindle or on amazon.com for books, etc) then that 30% cut disappears. All of those items are still available for reading via the app just the same as in-app purchases. Some app makers are fine paying Apple/Google 30%. Many app makers like Sony, Kobo, Amazon, B&N, and Rhapsody balked at those draconian fees along with Apple’s mandate that there be no links to make out-of-app-purchases this past summer and removed the ability to make in-app purchases entirely.

    Just think about it for a minute. The processes diverge at the point of having the comic ready to go as a digital file. On the one hand the publisher has to send those files to printer which go to a distributor to be sent to retailers. Those three entities (and all the shipping companies involved) all need to make some money along the way. On the other hand the publisher needs to reformat the files for the app and then send it to the digitial retailer. I find it very hard to imagine that the costs associated with the latter process are anywhere close to the former. (The smart publishers will want to control the entire process end-to-end and run their own digital storefronts, but I don’t think any have the quality control necessary to force their content to be exclusively available through their own store, i.e. there’s no HBO of comics.)

    It’s fine for the fewer # of players involved to make more money than they did before, but the naked greed involved in trying to charge the same price and keep *all* the money with *no* savings passed on to the customer is astonishing. Customers aren’t stupid and realize when they’re being gouged.

    (59) “Because a digital store doesn’t have a physical presence that people in the neighborhood will see twice a day every day of their life as they walk past it on the way to the bus?”

    I see this as being analogous to the consistent placement of comixology’s comics apps on the top ten lists of the various app stores. They even have a spot on the default home screen(!) of all Kindle Fires.

  63. @DanielT (45)
    “Just wait until the comics publishers adopt the Spotify model! I could definitely see them doing this for “stale” material at least.”
    Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited is kind of close.

  64. Comics Publishers have been so desperate to get out of comic books for the past 10 years they broke readership from a monthly base and by doing so killed off off the rack buyers in a big way. Digital is just the next step, digital has taken a sledgehammer to every entertainment medium it devours, devaluing everything available in that format to the consumer. If the movie industry went date and day with digital release and theatrical, they’d go under as well.

  65. “Comics Publishers have been so desperate to get out of comic books for the past 10 years”

    I’d say that’s much more true of Marvel than DC. How much money do you think Marvel would have made if they’d grabbed the Transformers and G.I. Joe licenses when they were available, given both properties previous association with the publisher? They didn’t get them because Marvel isn’t in the comic book publishing business. They’re in the intellectual property warehouse business.

    Mike

  66. Brian:

    “The 10-25% of the audience who think The Rent Is Too Damn High, who might be willing to switch to digital — thereby crashing the market for the other 75-90% and making it so the rest CAN’T get comics.”

    Since it appears neither of us can name five publishers for whom periodical print comics still provide a viable business model and we also agree that the situation is unlikely to improve, I don’t find your logic very appealing.

    Sure, a percentage of people might switch. But the specific format we’re talking about is fading anyway, so it’s a matter of WHEN, not IF, it’ll stop being viable altogether.

    And, for that matter, as Kate points out above, those digital comics are available and downloaded for FREE anyway. To me, that’s a pretty strong indicator that the risks of further diminishing the existing print audience by lowering prices on the OFFICIAL digital editions are being vastly overstated here.

    Don’t get me wrong. I know you’re a brick-and-mortar print retailer, so all you have to care about is selling print books. It makes sense that even the remote possibility of losing a single customer would suffice for you to take a strong stand against cheaper digital comics. I get that.

    I just don’t think anybody should listen to you, because your concerns don’t make sense for anyone BUT you, let alone readers, publishers or creators.

  67. Marc-Oliver:

    I don’t think you can draw any 1:1 conclusions between stealing and legitimate digital purchases in audience behavior. More than that, I’m willing to presuppose that comics audiences are more pre-disposed to behave ethically, because of the content we’ve been reading all of these years.

    I firmly believe (and I really don’t see how you can’t believe, given your efforts in putting together sales reports for years) that “digital only” wouldn’t yield a too-small market for anything that’s not Superman, Batman, or any of the other “major icons”. That there CAN BE a “new 52″ is because of the existence of the print market…

    -B

  68. “I’m willing to presuppose that comics audiences are more pre-disposed to behave ethically, because of the content we’ve been reading all of these years.”

    That’s a pretty huge assumption. Everyone I know who used to buy comics now steals them for free.

  69. I guess all your friends are dicks, then!

    -B

  70. I guess all of the local shops are shit-holes that stock poorly and have bad attitudes.

    I guess all of the publishers are asking too much for their product.

    I guess digital comics are readily available across several sites.

    I guess that iPad makes a pretty damn good comic reader.

  71. Sorry – that wasn’t very constructive.

    Just trying to point out that the elephant in the room is a pretty big fucking elephant. Digital comics are easy to get, take zero space to store, look great on a tablet, AND you don’t have to deal with a comic shop. Great stuff for anyone with low moral standards and access to a computer. Comic shops and comic companies have done very little to win that audience back. The product needs to change and the way its sold needs to change.

    Brian, your store has always sounded like a great place to shop. I hope you’re able to weather the change in store for you and your industry.

  72. “I just don’t think anybody should listen to you, because your concerns don’t make sense for anyone BUT you, let alone readers, publishers or creators.”

    Hmm. A retailer with years of experience in the comic industry vs. some internet dick whose career in comics seems to have peaked with translating The Walking Dead into German. Which one has a better handle on the issue?

    Mike

  73. No one is arguing for digital only. That any attractive pricing on digital editions would doom all retailers and force such a digital only world is purely your own supposition.

  74. Ralf, I think it’s reasonably clear that IF digital follows the same path as music, a majority of retail will vanish; and (unlike music) every piece of evidence available says that the majority of those print customers will vanish from the market entirely.

    The open question is if the Wednesday audience will switch formats if at-release books go cheaper-than-print. I suspect that (something like) 75% of the current comics print audience has absolutely NO interest in switching formats, but that the other 25% could be swayed on price alone.

    I KNOW that $3.99 for 20 pages of Marvel/DC content is really unacceptable for much of the audience, because I hear it every day from customers.

    Given that the risk for catastrophic damage is enormous, and that the upside is apparently marginal (the sorta-reported audience for New 52 in CBR’s Rood interview doesn’t sound like anything particularly exciting, and it appears to be declining, just like a standard print audience! And a large portion of DC’s marketing was on the digital copies, and they DID try to drive new readers in that direction), I think that the industry should be extremely cautious about pricing. Bird in the Hand, and all that.

    ***

    Rudi, thanks for the change in tone, I appreciate it, and I was almost certainly too snarky with my “your friends are dicks!” cracks, so I apologize as well.

    -B

  75. Brian:

    “I firmly believe (and I really don’t see how you can’t believe, given your efforts in putting together sales reports for years) that “digital only” wouldn’t yield a too-small market for anything that’s not Superman, Batman, or any of the other “major icons”.”

    First up, I don’t think I’ve been arguing for “digital only,” so I’m not sure where you get that.

    That said, that market you mention is “too small” already, and has been for some time — digital or no digital. And it’s not growing, either.

    That’s the point.

    The industry, as it stands, has two options. (1) Price digital comics attractively for non-existing readers and risk losing a portion of the existing print readership in the process. (2) Keep pricing digital comics prohibitively to protect the progressively declining business model of periodical print comics, which, as you know, is ALREADY failing to pay the vast majority of creators not working for Marvel or DC for their time and work.

    It’s true that Option 1 comes with risks and no guarantee of success. We’re not disagreeing there. But the thing is, Option 2 comes with a guarantee of failure.

    So I’m not sure what you’re proposing, in terms of a viable strategy. It’s not your job to propose anything, of course, but you’re pretty vocal about this stuff, and you’ve been in the business for decades. So, given that you’re lobbying to stonewall Option 1 above, I’m wondering what your alternative is, and where you see the comics market 10 years from now. Selling 15-page issues of BATMAN for $ 4.99 each to a dedicated audience of 20,000? Surely not.

  76. Ah, if only I had, I don’t know, maybe written a monthly column for the last umpty years that described things that I thought were wrong with our strategic planning, and how we might combat them!

    /grumble

    We could, for example, produce fewer titles within each franchise, cross them over less, ship them on time, not raise prices just because, work to build and promote the serialization model, have saner trade collection policies, offer more co-op and opportunities for both advertising and promotion, treat our readership like valued customers instead of walking ATM machines, offer better programs (POS, rack credits, etc) to grow better entrepreneurs, speak more outside our established constituency, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.

    Barring, pretty much only, the losses to torrenting (some percentage will always prefer to shoplift than pay, but hopefully that’s a low percentage), every other problem with the marketing sale and distribution of comics are self-inflicted wounds, most in the name of short-term profit.

    -B

  77. Brian: To be clear, you’re saying you believe that those steps would be sufficient to prevent any further movement along the higher cover price/lower page count/reader attrition death spiral over the next decade, right?

  78. And to try to be a teeny more productive, can I point out that this discussion over digital is practically a carbon copy of the argument over trades in the 1990s? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with digital or trades or that there isn’t a role for them to play in the marketplace. But when people bring up economic concerns over those formats based on logic and historical evidence, those concerns need to be addressed by more than non-responsive “We must embrace the future!” crap.

    Mike

  79. Those, and others, and (CERTAINLY!) 20 different things I haven’t/won’t/can’t thought of.

    I don’t think reader attrition is INEVITABLE (or generational, for that matter), but rather is a DIRECT result of policies that publishers (Marvel and DC specifically, but ALL publishers share *some* culpability) have pursued.

    -B

  80. Brian:

    That’s a good list. The thing is, I’ve been reading your column for years and agree with a lot of what you say, and there have been other suggestions from other people, and Marvel and DC and other publishers have been trying all kinds of things in the last 10 years, some of them with success even, like the “New 52″ thing, and… well, we’re still where we are now.

    We’re still looking at a direct market based on monthly comic books that’s very effective and very good at serving its existing readership, and very reliable and stable in a way — but, at the same time, the market for 32-page periodicals has not been growing, and it’s been barely getting by on the skin of its teeth for anyone who doesn’t have a Top 50 book at Marvel or DC.

    It’s utterly failed to bring in new people. And there’s absolutely no reason to believe that’s ever going to change, because the format all this is based on just keeps getting more expensive, and good luck finding that average guy on the street who’s prepared to buy expensive monthly 20-page pamphlets that he’ll have to store in longboxes.

    So don’t you think it may be time to maybe resign ourselves to the idea that, whatever growth there will be in comics, will NOT happen with 32-page periodicals?

    Don’t get me wrong: Nobody says they’ll be going away or that we need to get rid of them or anything like that. In some instances, they work very well, and even when they don’t — as in the majority of cases today — they can still be useful as loss-leaders or provide a (relatively) easy way for creators to get their own stuff out there on their own dime and their own time. That’s all good. I LIKE periodical print comic books, and the existing audience for them will be around for years to come.

    But there’s no growth in them. They don’t bring in new people. At best, they can be kickstarted every now and then, like DC just did. But the ceiling on this market and format remains the same that it was five years ago.

    So I guess if you honestly still believe there’s any growth in serial, stapled 32-page print comic books, then that’s the point where we’ll just have to disagree. I’d love to understand what exactly inspires this type of optimism at this stage, because I don’t get it at all.

  81. The optimism comes from running a good store that sees new faces each and every day of the year, some of whom very much are interested in serialized comics.

    The optimism comes from New 52 (well, -ish, y’know, since they surely overproduced there as well) and seeing the new customers. The optimism comes from WALKING DEAD and the new serialized print comics customers I’ve been able to create there. The optimism comes from BUFFY, which has it’s own crowd of new readers constantly coming in. Or SIMPSONS. or MAD.

    The optimism is because I think there *could* be another SANDMAN, even if we can’t see it right now. or an Y THE LAST MAN.

    The optimism is we’re just one creator, one book, away that sets us all on fire again, and draws in the “civilians”

    And so on and so forth.

    -B

  82. Okay. I’m glad it’s working out for you — sincerely. I’ve been to your store (once, a couple of years ago; you were on the East Coast, unfortunately, or else I’d have said hi), and I have no trouble at all imagining that it’s the kind of place that doesn’t just attract hardcore fans, so fair enough.

  83. Brian,

    Do you envision DM sales growing over the next decade to a point where you would NOT see a decision by one of the major publishers to abandon print/digital price parity as a direct and immediate threat to the existence of your shop and others like it?

  84. Probably not, but more because I’d like to see physical stores (be they DM stores or not) selling most of the goods, not because of growth… DM sales could double, and I’d still argue for price parity because I think the content is what you’re buying, not the base format.

    -B

  85. Or, hm, maybe let’s go the other way — I’m all for $1.99 digital comics… let’s get the circ up on print comics to be able to drop their price to that!

    -B

  86. Yep, we’re solidly in “agree to disagree” territory if you think that expanding the DM enough to drastically shift the economy of scale in that direction is genuinely possible. I figured as much.

  87. Hunkering down and hoping for the Harry Potter of comics to show up is a strategy I don’t think will work. Aggressively embracing the new is one I think could.

  88. That’s clearly not what I’m saying, Ralf. Who the heck is “hunkering down”? It takes work, hard work, to grow and expand our market, work that we do every day, on many levels of this industry.

    “Aggressively embracing the new” does not, I don’t think, even remotely describe day-and-date shipping, or moving to price points that IN AND OF THEMSELVES are not possible for Marvel & DC comics to be profitable in producing.

    I hope digital has tons of crazy success in creating new customers, I really really really do… but I think it should be fairly obvious that replicating the DM is not the path forward on that. IF digital was going to be a proper success for superhero universe books, DC’s efforts of launching D&D at the same time as a repositioning of their ENTIRE line, that, for the first time in comics history actually spent real world money to advertise it’s existence…damn you’d think we’d be hearing “Woo hoo!… but we’re not. We’re hearing very measured statements that indicate digital iterations of print products are largely following print sales patterns and are, at best, a nice additional revenue stream, but certainly nothing that can carry the company.

    (at least… that’s how I read the 2 interviews with Rood this week)

    We have an existing infrastructure that works what I would say is “very good”, but what others might say is “adequate”, at moving a very niche product to an EXTREMELY profitable (when things are working right) business model. Why do I say that? Because no publisher in the DM ever ever ever has to have inventory that they can’t sell unless THEY choose to print over the orders. Non-returnable best-sellers is something that I think the book publishers would love to figure out how to have. My point is that the system “works” — it has a couple of fairly heavy systemic problems, but those systemic problems are still, I feel, more amenable to creators and their rights and their ABILITY TO ACCESS THE MARKET than any other media that I can think of — so why not attempt to keep it in parity with all other markets, when the potential downside could mean throwing the whole thing away?

    -B

  89. Also, Barry: given that there’s really only probably about 1300 “real comic shops”, and given the Mel Thompson dictum (right as rain, as far as I can tell) that 75% of a stores eventual customers are new, I think that with a $40 million investment, a $10k investment package for 4000 entrepreneurs (that is: low cost racks, POS packages, cheap starting inventory, and so on) and figure half of them fail out of the gate, you’d still more than double annual DM sales… which is still a greater than $400 million dollar business. Even if a full 90% of your “seeds” failed — so 400 stores — assuming an average resulting business of $300k/yr, you’d still create another $120 million a year in gross economic activity.

    That’s more than a quarter of the way to doubling the market size, and you’re still entirely divorced from content.

    And what it’s really about is all about content.

    Look, I know that that IS pollyanna, because humans can’t get their shit together to that degree to leverage and magnify what they have… but I think a fella should dream!

    (and do their own part in enacting that)

    -B

  90. “IF digital was going to be a proper success for superhero universe books, DC’s efforts of launching D&D at the same time as a repositioning of their ENTIRE line, that, for the first time in comics history actually spent real world money to advertise it’s existence…damn you’d think we’d be hearing “Woo hoo!… but we’re not. We’re hearing very measured statements that indicate digital iterations of print products are largely following print sales patterns and are, at best, a nice additional revenue stream, but certainly nothing that can carry the company.

    (at least… that’s how I read the 2 interviews with Rood this week)”

    I actually don’t doubt Rood at all (or his Marvel counterpart, David Gabriel) when he says he’s delighted with DC’s digital sales. Looking at his company’s digital strategy, I don’t really see why he would have much reason to be disappointed; they’re treating digital as an ancillary revenue stream for print comics* (partially due to their own inexperience in the digital market, partially due to the nascent state of that market and the limited penetration rate of tablets, and partially just to keep DM retailers like yourself appeased), and getting the exact outcome they should have expected, and at this point seemingly want: a market where digital is – surprise! – an ancillary revenue stream for print comics.

    You can maintain if you want that the current state of the digital market is the ceiling of what’s achievable in that medium, but I consider that wishful thinking from those who have a vested interest in seeing that scenario play out, and I have little doubt that the next few years will prove you wrong.

  91. “You can maintain if you want that the current state of the digital market is the ceiling of what’s achievable in that medium”

    No one can fairly say that Hibbs is saying anything like that. All he’s objecting to is economic decisions that hurt the actual Direct Market in order to promote the theoretical potential of digital.

    Mike

  92. Mike: I’ll concede that Brian might not believe that current digital sales are LITERALLY the ceiling of what’s achievable, but in the paragraph I quoted, he does cite said sales to argue that digital will never be “a proper success for superhero comics,” or capable of “carry[ing] the company.” I don’t think I was wildly off base there.

    As for your latter point, I think Paul put it quite well in #47; as much as I personally loathe print/digital price parity, I can see why it’s a necessary evil for a few years. But that doesn’t explain away other pricing moves the big publishers are making that are hobbling digital at no apparent benefit to the DM, particularly pricing 95% of their back catalogs at twice what they should be.

  93. 89

    One cheesy 40 million dollar movie might produce 120 million in gross economic activity, though? Without the 4000 sets of loan paperwork? :)

    I’d say given the usual greedy media giant modus operandi, the chance of them funding a few thousand small businesses is probably less than the chance of a snowball beating Ghost Rider in the annual Dante to Acheron race. In fact, is probably negative.

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