Marc Alan Fishman: Paper Is Dead!

For those uninitiated to my writing process, allow me to be transparent: I write my column Tuesday evening. This is helpful for many reasons – mostly all revolving around having a full-time day job, a family, and Unshaven Comics. With that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t come clean.

Today, I’m sure there were a bevy of topics I had on my mind (whether the Sonic Screwdriver is really just a magic wand, the appeal of Attack on Titan, or why fantasy football renders my mind numb)… and then I watched Apple’s keynote. With the unveiling of the Apple Watch (sans i?!) and the new iPhone 6, I am sadly forced to deal with my Mac-ness once again.

It’s a terrible disease, kiddos. One that strikes me every few years. There was a time, in the long-long ago, when I was stronger. I was raised on a Compaq Presario, and the PC age. I openly mocked Appleites with aplomb. “My mouse has two buttons! I can upgrade my computer without voiding the warranty! And it’s so much cheaper!” I’d yell at them. And always, they would snicker, look me right in the eyes, and whisper “You’re right, and I still don’t care.” Not a semester into college, and I buckled. That is to say I forced my parents to buckle. Don’t worry. I paid them back. And funny enough, that first iMac I own still works, and still lives in my house. Natch. But I digress. Apple is great, and I love them, blah blah blah.

After seeing the debut of the iPhone Phablet (or 6 Plus if you’re being obvious) the never-ending death of paper consumed me. With each passing generation of digital technology being released to the public,  tangible media and products continue to become more artifacts of history. Even a decade ago, the notion that we’d be able to call up one of a million movies and beam it to our television instead of renting or purchasing the special edition DVD was somehow laughable. And even five years ago, could you honestly convince Johnny Average that he could cut the cord on his local cable provider and his home phone and just exist with amazingly cheap subscription services and a hefty data plan instead? I doubt it.

With each of these arguments, the last bastion of the printed form – the comic book – continues to hide in the dark recesses of specialty shops and tiny convention halls (stop snickering).

For those ready to flame me for forgetting books, just look at the sales figures for all digital publications, and count how many Barnes and Nobles still exist. You’re welcome. As screens become permanently affixed to our wrists, hands, and eye-wear, the notion of a printed piece is truly novel. As with all digital distribution models, eventually a price and delivery system becomes ubiquitous to the public at large, and eventually, the physical media is reduced to the collector’s market alone.

DC, Marvel, and the lot of mainstay publishers have all adopted digital practices. Readers of Mike Gold here on ComicMix no doubt know about how certain digital only pieces are trumping the quality of their printed brethren. As with everything else, it’s only a matter of time until our medium at large is thought of as digital first. Scary, no?

No, in fact it isn’t. With the eventual death of paper comics – aside from the collectors market (akin to how the music industry is moving back to vinyl) we’ll soon be privy to something new and amazing. Instead of odd motion-comics, or narrated comics, we’ll soon be able to purchase truly interactive comics.

Think of it. A cover with a well-rendered animation to draw you in <>. Single panels on a page being able to be instantly full-screen-zoomed so you can relish in the artwork. Interactive commentary on particular moments. Editorial annotations that actually call up the other issue in question. The possibilities are endless (and yes, some of them are potentially true now, and I don’t know it). And all of it could eventually be monetized in such a fashion that a subscription-based model could provide an unwieldy catalog of back issues for a price that feels like stealing. The best part of all, all of this could happen in another five years or less. The future is here, and its battery life mostly sucks.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit of an early adopter. But I also see the forest for the trees. Those trees needn’t be cut down en masse to make way for new comics. As I’ve explored in the recent past (Freakanomics, anyone?), we know the major publishers are likely not sweating over per-issue sales so much as potential licensing opportunities. As the appeal of moving away from ink, paper, bricks and mortar… so too will our industry look more like the music and television models.

Paper is dead my friends. And you can pay for that on your iPhone too.