The state of digital comics was recently addressed in a couple of Newsarama roundups by Vaneta Rogers. In this one, she asks is comiXology the iTunes of comics, a position which the recent addition of Marvel’s downloadable comics to the comiXology website greatly boosted

“DC and Marvel have a 900-pound gorilla ability to decide who is going to be the iTunes of delivering digital comics,” said Andy Ihnatko, tech writer for the Chicago Sun-Time and other publications. “And given that DC has put so much torque behind ComiXology, that certainly elevates ComiXology as that one resource.”

Apparently, the “leading position” of ComiXology finally got Marvel Comics to expand its commitment with the distributor. Marvel, which holds the largest market share in the comic book industry, began selling digital comics this week on ComiXology’s website for the first time. The move adds to a relationship that already had Marvel’s comics on ComiXology’s Apple iOS app. Marvel’s stand-alone app on iOS is also powered by ComiXology.

The addition of Marvel to ComiXology’s web store is a significant move for the publisher, because Marvel’s previous web presence was mostly back issues that were available through its own subscription service, Digital Comics Unlimited, or through digital sites like Graphic.ly.

In an article from last week, Rogers addresses the even more gut-wrenching enigma:Will digital put comic shops out of business? The answer is…maybe someday but not for a while.

Joe Field, president of the retailing organization ComicsPRO and owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, Calif., agrees with Lee’s claim. But even he admits the long-term future of comic shops is questionable.

“I still think there’s a long life left for comics because I think it’s a different beast than other print media that have had such a difficult time because of the migration to digital,” Field said.

“I do think that, down the road, there is that generation that’s growing up with all things digital and sure, there’s likely to be more migration. I don’t doubt that,” he said. “But I also think that we’re still … where we are with digital comics right now is where print comics were when Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was hawking his reprints and hoping to turn them into something.”

{snip} “There are people who grew up with paper comics, and that’s how they define comics,” Ihnatko said. “Not only the physical paper, but also the practice of finding a comic book shop you like and going there on a regular basis. Most people that I know that are regular comic book readers have a real allegiance to their local shops, not only because they are good stories, but also because that’s sort of their clubhouse. They really like that 20-second to two-minute conversation they have with the shop keeper or someone else they happen to bump into there from time to time.”

So, you know, it’s kind of like living with some kind of long-term disease that won’t kill you outright but eventually will waste you away.

The question seems to be: are comics shops like a typewriter or a ball point pen? No one uses a typewriter any more because all the functions of it have been completely subsumed by the word processor/printer duo.

However, everyone still own a ballpoint pen (and will continue to do so, even in a tablet world) because every once in a while you must jot something down. Or doodle on a napkin and so on.

We can see jotting and doodling eventually dying out, maybe. They seem to be fairly primal activities for human beings and not a technologically-mandated activity, but eventually a private wacom may take over, even though not everyone carries around a tiny dry erase board.


One of our cultural/technology lessons from history: Before mass electronic dissemination of music, it was considered civilized to train one’s daughters in the ways of the clavichord or pianoforte so that they might entertain the family after evening meals. A lively and lucrative industry for “salon music” lasted for hundreds of years as minor composers turned out pleasing pieces of a technical level that the average youngster could master.

The arrival of the player piano briefly meant that a mechanical amusement could fill in for the young ladies. But that was quickly eclipsed by the phonograph, the radio, and eventually the Napster.

And yet, people still learn to play the piano — and more are better at it than ever before.

Mass availability didn’t kill the need to make music. Based on our recent convention experiences, millennials still love to caterwaul in karaoke bars across the nation.

Will going to the store to buy things that aren’t dinner remain a favorite activity among consumers of any kind? That seems to be the primary worry everywhere.


  1. I’ve been doing some thinking about this very topic recently on my blog and I feel comics shops have a few years of life left in them simply because tablet readers aren’t as cheap and widespread as MP3 players, which have driven down the sales of CDs almost to the point of irrelevance.

    However, once those tablets become more affordable and the digital comics system finally consolidates into one-stop shopping outlets for all major publishers, expect standard brick-and-mortar comic shops to vanish more and more from the retail landscape. Oh, the nicer, more professional comic shops will linger on for those rare collectors of tangible comics, similar to niche record stores, but The Future is coming whether we’re ready or not.

  2. “However, once those tablets become more affordable and the digital comics system finally consolidates into one-stop shopping outlets for all major publishers, expect standard brick-and-mortar comic shops to vanish more and more from the retail landscape. Oh, the nicer, more professional comic shops will linger on for those rare collectors of tangible comics, similar to niche record stores, but The Future is coming whether we’re ready or not.”

    I concur 100%.

    IMO the days of the comic book store are numbered, much like video rental stores and now bookstores, before it…

  3. Give me a wholly digital marketplace, and I’ll never step foot in a shop again. And I came of age in the late ’80s, with all the other zombie dinosaur readers keeping the medium alive today.

  4. The skills that it takes to sell digital comics are the same skills that it takes to sell physical comics in a storefront. Selling your personality, finding an audience, building a reputation for recommendations and then using that reputation to convert the sale. These are all things that comics retailers have been perfecting for decades that will transition nicely into a digital world.

    The real question is “Will digital providers be interested in exploiting those skills?”. With an average of 2,000 resilient comics shops for the last couple decades and an average of 3 staff members per store, they’d be foolish not to take advantage of a potential sales staff of 6,000+.

  5. It is indeed a tough call. I believe comic stores still have some years on them, thanks for the recent boost of Hollywood films bringing awareness to comics and the stores in the mainstream mind think. But will that actually make people *go* to the store? I dunno.

    As for the digital front that will happen. Comic books store are specialty stores, after all. But who knows, *that* very definition might help just as well. Technology often replaces and enhances the mundane, not the *special*. That said… how sustainable could a specialty market be? If it gets down to the level of a Smoke Shop then the impact is not felt at all… especially when more kids are born as digital natives.

  6. Don’t get me wrong, I am not wishing for the rush of technology to sweep away my fav comic book stores. I’m just looking at both sides of the coin. In fact, I have two offers for book signings at comic book stores in the upcoming months– which shows that retail stores can play a unique role in the comic community (signings, gaming, figures, et.).

    I would even go as far as make them ticket venues for local conventions, comic book-based movies, museums, online resources, art supply centers and drawing studios. Whatever it takes to bring people in and continue the awareness as a creative art-based community and advocate for the medium.

  7. We are over looking one aspect of a comic book stores. The majority of the stores I shop carry statues, toys and back issues. Granted the majority of the income is made off of new books, and many stores will fall to the wayside. But there is still a little hope.

    Sadly I look at the number of used CD/Record and Bookstores and there aren’t many left. The joy of going to a used store and finding something that eluded you for years is long gone.

    What is worse the new geneeration of collectors will be electronic collectors…those kids who live on their cellphones. There is no interest in going and find, just get an app and download. That is the challenge, getting people away from the I can have it in a minute or less.

  8. Back in 1994, I figured out that if I was going to open a store, it wouldn’t be a comics shop, but a pop culture store with comics. Half bookstore, half gift shop. Another World, in Georgetown, was a good model. The first floor was pop culture, attracting the tourist and general consumer. The comics fans, the regulars, they climbed the stairs to the second floor where the comics were. (This also meant that rent was cheaper… urban ground floor rents are more expensive than upper floors.)

    I see comics shops following the trajectory of record shops (new and used) and specialty bookstores. (Remember when most cities had a science fiction bookstore? Same type of fandom.) They will continue to exist, but what they sell will evolve. Most comics shops already have reduced the footprint for back issues, which are merchandised better via websites/warehouses. (And I see the paper periodical market shrinking dramatically within the next five years as stores use digital comics as a “back issue bin” to reduce the risk of being stuck with unsold copies of paper comics.)

    My suggestion for every comics shop? Carve out some square footage for events. Signings, jam sessions, workshops, gaming, movie nights (and use it on Tuesday night to process your New Comics shipments). Make your store a destination. Make it a club house. Maybe even “rent” comics like a mangakissa.

    If people move to digital consumption, what will that do to the manufacturing industry? Or will it continue, creating new merchandise, like all the Angry Birds tchotchkes?

  9. Personally i haven’t enjoyed the comic shop experience in many years. Most because of my job with increased responsibilities, getting to the shop before close on Wednesday is a challenge every week. Employees are rude and anti social in my area. I don’t really like my local shops.

    Because of the economy, these shops cut back on what they order and because i really don’t believe in pre-ordering the enjoyment of “discovering things” on the shelves is fading away. I have to run to 3 and 4 shops to find things that i just heard about and its all a giant hassle. So many things that get great reviews, i can never find. I have no interest in collecting, I just want to read cool stories.

    Being able to get comics from my desk or my couch and not have to worry about being at the shop at 10:01am on Wednesday is pure gold. I think it will get me to read more books.

  10. The Beguiling, and shops of similar quality and community involvement, will endure. Just like used bookstores will endure as a cultural/social nexus for the bookish, comics shops will endure because nerds need someplace to go and get their nerd on. If shops didn’t exist, the community would invent something quite like them because they are needed. Social media is great, but a lot of people still like hanging with actual people from time to time.

  11. I have an honest question…

    …why do I always see comic shops compared to music stores. The analogy doesn’t work for me. I think a comic shop has more in common with a used book store. Anyone else have any other more appropriate analogies?

    The Tiki

  12. Heidi, your choice of images always gets me hooked!

    (though this subject is in my particular wheelhouse…)

    So let’s extend the analogy. Vermeer, not just pianos or in this case “virginals”, stands right at the cusp of change. He lived in a world before the true camera that want to make the visual experience know through “camera obscura”. He was an artist that took the act of recording visual experience to the furthest edge of available technology and completely understood the growing market of realistic pictures as a commodity.

    But recognizing these things slowed rather than accelerated his production and his profits because Vermeer’s contact with the scientific end of “realism” caused the artist within him to rise past simple depiction and look for something deeper, something more painterly and more personal. He became a fundamentally important figure well after his lifetime as we started to look at the Modern idea of artists and their proclivity to rise beyond or respond to the known definitions of their time. Vermeer is a “painter’s painter” because he knows all of the tricks of realistic depiction but looks to show them off like they’re nothing more than window dressing; the real art he’s after takes us beyond what we see to how he makes it.

    Comics can do that. We don’t have to worry about being the ball point pen or the typewriter if we concentrate on our uniqueness as an artform rather than our perceived niche as an specific form of entertainment technology. The identity struggle between staple-bound and iPad delivery is, after all, really only about existing market perceptions and has nothing to do comics as a rich story-telling medium.

    Currently the format of digital delivery is by defined by the format of print in the same way that the Famous Funnies was chopping up strip cartoons into the new form of comicbooks; eventually a couple of guys from Ohio are, like Vermeer, going to see past the market conventions and make men leap over the tallest buildings on the page and really make something unique to the new format at a time when the audience is ready for it.

    But comics, as an artform, shouldn’t think of itself as a linear progression of the marketplace while the marketplace is busy changing it’s technology. Publishers might be inclined that way, but artists should look deeper at this and toward the opportunities.

    We shouldn’t follow audience trends from the comicshop to the iPad anymore than Vermeer, looking at the camera obscura, should’ve thought about how science might usher in the end of painting. We should instead be embracing the qualities that are unique about our artform, no matter how it’s delivered, and try to make comics that are interesting to the new audiences these new devices can give us.

    And, eventually, someone is going to make that comic that leaps over the standard page, that makes comics seem like digital is the obvious choice.

  13. The idea of a comic shop as a pop culture clubhouse is a really great one. More shops should start aiming for that vibe.

  14. The comic shop has to be a destination. There needs to be extra value there in the comic shop to entice us to visit.

    Otherwise, it’s all (soon to be) available on digital, 24/7.

    Otherwise, we stop going to a shop that only stocks the very products that we have preordered; that is, a glorified catalog warehouse.

  15. I think comic shops will stick around, they’ll just look different and only exist in artsy urban areas.
    The brick and mortar stores will lose the Wednesday crowds, but there are many sizable publishers who won’t go digital because it goes against their mission statements. Being Object Makers is a big part of companies like Fantagraphics, Drawn + Quarterly, Adhouse, Picture Box, and any number of the smaller boutique publishers.

  16. As a comic shop owner I acknowledge that the life span of the “comic shop,” as with all things, is finite. And that eventually, as with most things paper, most illustrated sequential reading will be sold in digital form at some time in the future (but please, let’s stop calling them comics or comic books, they’re not).

    I just dispute the timetable of many commentators. I think the industry such as it is has got substantially more time and a longer life span than many seem to believe.

    The simple fact is that, in my opinion, visiting my store (or most any comic shop) and buying a comic book or graphic novel is a better overall shopping experience than sitting down with a tablet or computer and purchasing a “comic.” I know that’s not true of all stores, but at least from my experience, it’s true of most comic shops I’ve visited.

    Shopping at a comic store is different than going to newsstand and buying a magazine or newspaper. It’s different than picking up a DVD or downloading a movie or show onto your computer. It’s even different than buying a CD or downloading music. Heck it’s even different from going to a big box book store and buying a book. For the most part, all of those are fairly solitary endeavors.

    Collecting comics has a social aspect that can’t be replaced by downloading from a tablet. It’s the same reason comic convention attendance continues to grow.

    Originally when video tapes and eventually DVDs became popular ways to view movies the movie industry was up in arms – fearing that movie fans would abandon going to the theater to see movies. Didn’t happen – movie attendance numbers are strong and going to see a movie is a popular activity.

    Virtually every baseball and football game is available for free or for a nominal charge (your cable bill, a sports package), but sport fans still flock to sporting events in record numbers.

    If fact, seeing a movie on DVD or online or watching a sporting event on tv are viewed by those industries as ways to promote their products and add to their bottom line.

    Being a comic book fan and collector means more than sitting at a terminal or tablet and downloading something to read. Comic books, comic fans, and comic shops are special.

    So take a deep breath and step back a bit – the comic book and comic shops are not dead yet…

    Dan Veltre
    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison, NJ

  17. @rich Barrett – I think you’re right on some level – at least for some part of conventions. Invariably at least once during a conversation at sdcc I’ll be asked about what I’m working on. When I say I’m just a fan there’s a small bit of awkward silence and then the conversation moves on. Now, a con like sdcc is a far cry from your average lcs, but maybe it’s a leading indicator. How long before shops are catering primarily to pros and aspirational pros?

    Interesting that I’ve never been to a comic shop that also stocks wacom tablets, sketchbooks, brushes, or final draft. I would guess we need to get that insular before comic shops are purely the domain of people also making books.