JOHN OSTRANDER: The Digital Rubicon
A very intelligent man, one Dennis O’Neil (who you will also find here on ComicMix), and I were talking once about comics’ future. He noted that comics didn’t have to survive. Like the dinosaur, they could die out. Early cars had places for buggy whips; I doubt that you’ll find that feature on your car today. Food we need, water we need, air and so on. Story we need, I think, but comics as a venue for story? Not necessarily.
It’s no secret that comics sales are declining. The numbers of readers are declining, the numbers of stores are declining, the amount of cash being made is declining. It happened once before when comics were sold only on the newsstand, back in the Neolithic Era for you who are too young to remember. What saved it then was the Direct Market but that’s now killing it; the market is constricting and the numbers of readers are finite. What may save it this time is going digital – comics here on the web.
The reason is this is where the eyeballs are. As a product in comic books stores, comics are a very specific market – a destination shop for those who already know the product exists. The problem with selling comics on the internet is that will inevitably undercut the brick and mortar retailers, just as e-books are doing. (Amazon now says it sells more e-books than physical ones.) I love comic book stores. I admire the retailers who have put their hard work and passion into building businesses that cater to we the fans. I’ve made a living for more than twenty years because these people sell my stuff (and, okay, some other stuff, too). However, it’s going to happen. Comics are headed for the digital market big time.
Up until now, the majors have been releasing some titles on the web after the onsale date in stores but that changes in September. DC is renumbering its books and relaunching and all that but, to me, the bigger story is that they’re crossing the Digital Rubicon and putting everything on sale digitally the same day they’re in the stores. If that is successful, expect lots more companies to follow, big and small.
The big question in my mind is – will people buy comics on the web? If so, how much are they willing to pay? If all that happens is that those who go to the stores now buy online, this won’t fly. This has to increase the overall market – the number of eyeballs – or it will not only fail, it could sink much of what’s left of the retail market.
I’m thinking it’s part of the reason for the renumbering and rebooting (despite denials from DC) – to make the books more attractive to new readers. It will also attract some national media attention. It’s also necessary. In an era when superhero movies (and movies made from all kinds of comics – i.e. Cowboys And Aliens) attract huge numbers in the theaters, there is clearly a following for these characters. If even a small percentage of that can be attracted to the comics, it would make an enormous difference. I think DC is making a gutsy move.
Make no mistake, however; whatever happens in September, the comics biz won’t be the same. By this time next year, we may know if we’re still viable or making buggy whips.
MONDAY: Mindy Newell
- DENNIS O’NEIL: Universal Upheaval! (comicmix.com)
- MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Flash Fact – Barry Allen Sucks! (comicmix.com)