The internet and the floor at HeroesCon were both abuzz with the announcement of Marvel’s first simultaneous print and digital release with INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1. People on the floor generally reacted with a shrug at the inevitability of the move. Online, Brigid Alverson has an excellent roundup of the pros and cons of digital as the print alternative:
That sort of segmentation is important because people will be watching Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 closely to see whether it brings new readers into the comics fold or merely cannibalizes the existing audience. In a way, it’s a good choice for Marvel, as the Iron Man movies have already introduced the general public to the character and the franchise. If it becomes a featured app in the iTunes store, it will be seen by many more people than if it is placed in the window of a comics store. And it will benefit from the instant gratification aspect of the iPad—does this look interesting? Here it is! Your credit card is already in the system, so you can have it in seconds. No driving to an out-of-the-way part of town, no pre-ordering, just one painless click and it’s yours.
Rich Johnston surveyed retailers and despite what you think, many of them vowed to stay in business, like Randy Myers of Collectors Corner:
Luckily I’ve been preparing when they would do this branching out and setting us up for the long haul, but honestly instead of being professional and going on and on about the unique qualities of comic books on paper and the fundamental connection they have to the paper form and function in that format as entertainment and collectible or tangible items, that gives them an edge over disposable media and entertainment like video games, and music, I would rather just say that they honestly should study the past and what worked and thinks of the future of the industry at large, when cannibalization and or marginalization of the marketplace could be a very real thing if this isn’t handled properly.
Jim Shelley, who often covers digital matters, spoke to several people at HeroesCon about both Marvel’s move and IDW’s recently announced four week window, and a general picture emerged:
And what will happen then? Will all comic shops dry up and disappear? The dealers I spoke to had an interesting take on this. Apparently in the industry, there are three types of dealers:
Boutique Shops – small shops with a coffee shop atmosphere
Mega Stores – bigger stores that are destination venues for wide areas
Hole In The Walls – those smaller shops that are orphaned in dying strip malls
According to the dealers, the first two will be okay, but the HitW shops are going to disappear. One dealer I spoke to said that he has already seen several bite the dust as Direct Comic Book Service has snapped up more and more customers. The belief this retailer had was that without something special to drive customers to their shops every week, the availability of digital versions and the higher $3.99 cost of comics is going to crush those shops.
Based on what we’ve been hearing, it’s the $3.99 comic more than the Digital Threat that is winnowing the ranks of the Wednesday Crowd. Digital as a window to a wider audience might not just be a luxury but a necessity.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.