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Looking at Longbox

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Ron Richards at iFanboy takes the most in-depth look yet at Longbox, new software that could become the iTunes for comics. Richards is enthusiastic overall but also points out potential pitfalls, such as getting content from the Big Four publishers. And of course, there is the brick and mortar element:

Now the emergence of a digital comics distribution system is surely to be seen as a threat to Diamond (the main distributor of comics) and local comic book stores. I don’t really have anything to say on that other than that they’re going to need to change or die. I don’t want to be in a world where the local comic store doesn’t exist, and I don’t think that will happen, but the direct market has been a problem (mainly due to Diamond) for years now and the future is inevitable. They’re going to have to evolve their business if they want to survive, it’s just that simple and could be a whole other article so I’ll stop for now.


See also the lengthy comments section, which seems to view the idea of downloadable comics quite positively.

  1. It’s easy to say “they must evolve” but how does a brick and mortar store “evolve” when the items are sold digitally?

    I don’t understand the warning.

    the Tiki

  2. “Digital comics are inevitable. Change or Die.” Yes, I agree with this statement. Music, video and television content is now available digitally, and legally. TV episodes and movies available as instant “On Demand” Pay downloads.

    It’s time for the comic creator and reader to adapt to reading from a screen.

    As far as the discussion of the situation where comics are being distributed illegally as pdfs and such, perhaps we can refocus the hysterical claims of “theft!!!” to understand that file trading highlights the interest that exists for digital content. Try to look at this interest as “opportunity” and a potential market to exploit.

    That would be the way to make a buck, (okay, 99 cents) from each and every file download.

    Imagine, the upside being an abbreviated supply chain ( no printers, no couriers, truckers, warehouses, “holiday shipping delays”). Better inhouse quality control ( no press checks, or print proofing). No reprints needed. Assemble a trade version of a comic arc in a few hours. Be able to distribute versions with variant digital covers at any time in any quantity. Get accurate sales figures instantly, and on an ongoing basis. Back issues available FOREVER.

    Downside: No Point of Sale centres. (why will I go to a comic store?)
    No “collector/bag and slab” appeal.

    Go for it.

  3. I’m curious about the digital rights for the creator-owned properties at Image Comics. Could Kirkman choose license “The Walking Dead” to Longbox or does Image Central need to approve/okay this?

    As for the evolution of the “comic book” from print to digital, I think there will always be a market for a tangible product. It may not be a huge billion-dollar market but there will always be a market. I also think the evolution is generational with younger and subsequent generations more accustomed to the ditigal formats.

  4. Okay… people say this is okay as long as the comics shops can sell Longbox gift cards. Unfortunately, many music stores sold (note past tense) iTunes and Napster cards, and look what happened…

    How do you mitigate this?
    1) Paper is published before the digital copy.

    2) Comics stores set up online stores where a customer can subscribe to the digital download, as well as order paper comics, trade collections, toys, t-shirts…

    3) Diversify your product offerings. At B&N, CD racking is being replaced by DVD and Blu-Ray displays. If a comics shop sees periodical sales dropping, then shrink that display and feature something else. If your store is cool, people will come. Make it a destination. (It helps if you have a notable landmark, like the tallest building in New York, or are easy to find.)

    4) People who read the digital file will probably want a paper copy, either as a single issue or as a trade paperback. As fewer copies are printed, scarcity increases, making paper copies more valuable as collectibles. Digital files will also increase demand for backlist, some of which will not be digitized.

    5) Comics shops must decide: Does your store become a specialized bookstore, or a specialized hobby shop? If you sell back issues, can you also sell used and rare books?

    6) Store employees offer expert advice which is difficult to replicate online. Emphasize amenities which can not be offered online. (Store events, outstanding customer service, freebies…)

  5. I see discarded Kindles and Computers, broken and grown over with tangled weeds, and no hope of ever recovering what was in them. The people of the future will look upon them with no understanding of what came to pass… a great gap in our history. EPA! EPA!

    Become a fan of print. Rediscover your freedom.

    Having said all that silliness I do think long box is a great idea. If someone could come up with an affordable enough device that (your local comic book store could have) prints up the comics you want while you wait, then we can have our cake and eat it to. Imagine all the comic book stories I haven’t been able to read, because I can’t find the back issues, and/ or the trade is out of print.
    We just can’t abandon print altogether and let our great works of art fall into some buzzing, electric, phantom zone. In the end that place isn’t real. The illusion will be gone one day, and we might as well have pitched those works into a great bonfire.

  6. Interesting ideas Torsten. It would be good to see the printed comic continue, just as we can still buy music CDs and movie DVDs. With DVDs of a Season Collection of weekly TV episodes being perhaps the equivalent of a Trade collection.

    To make the comic store a destination. That will require some retooling on behalf of the industry to support the stores, which I suppose might be a hard sell. (“We need to continually spend money in these brick and mortar stores to advertise our products?”) Likewise, can we visualize comic shops becoming more like hi end jewellery shops, where you would ask to see the new $10 printed copy of Batman #943, one of an edition of 500?

    But allowing printed comics to coexist alongside online comics could keep the tradition of comic collecting to continue.

    It all depends on how the distribution system would work. Some would fear that Diamond or even Amazon could become an online portal where customers could order everything from monthly printed or online comics, to coffee mugs.

  7. As someone who both desperately wants a legal digital alternative but loves her LCS and does not want to see it die, I can think of a few options.

    For one, there will always be a market for trades; Freakangels proves this. And personally speaking, about half of my trade/hc collection are comics I pirated first. I did not buy them out of guilt, but simply because I wanted a hard copy that I could put on my shelves/take to bed with me/lend to friends/get signed by creators. Longbox seems to be encouraging this with the trade vouchers.

    Longbox could also offer referral deals with LCS websites like Amazon does. Of course, this would not be a large amount, but I think that a digital service would naturally result in more comics being purchased, thus mitigating the disparity some what. For instance, I personally budget $20-$30 a week for comics; this means the maximum number of comics I buy a week is 10. If I tripled that, my shop would get more referral money (probably not the same amount they would if I bought $30 worth of single issues, to be fair) while I spent the same amount of money. Not to mention, I would be more likely to pick up the trade for series that I currently get in issues simply because I don’t want to wait for the story.

  8. I will always want a hard copy. I would prefer the stuff come out in print first, then online later, but I’d settle for online stuff being collected in print at some point.

  9. I think all publishers not Marvel and DC take a very small portion of overall periodical sales. I suspect only a small portion of those readers will drop the books and go digital only. If any, it’s a good bet a lot of their readers who are interested in digital copies vs. printed are already getting them via unauthorized scans. The amount of lost purchases will likely be very small for the individual store.

    Boom! readers (for example) probably by and large also follow monthly Marvel/DC books. If they do opt to get their Boom! books at Longbox for a cheaper price, they may end up spending their savings on other books that interest them in the store.

    There is a good chance that Longbox customers will be from people who aren’t going to comic shops on a regular basis, be it because there isn’t one in their area, or just choose not to go there for some reason. If Longbox can sell the books internationally it’s possible a large chunk of their customers will be from outside the USA.

    Longbox will generate new sales for publishers. Retailers may opt to just order them for pre-orders customers only, which is probably how they are ordered at the majority of comic shops now.

  10. Regarding how many publishers will join Longbox, and whether it will be successful: IDW has proven via iTunes that if a publisher offers material of interest to the general public, the general public will find it and pay for it in large numbers.

  11. I don’t think that Digital Comics will kill the comic book store. Not if they start to evolve there business.

    Digital Comics are coming. It can only be avoided so long. It is inevitable.

    The Stores which survive ten years from now will sell action figures and collectibles, posters, vouchers for Digital Comics and have an incredibly extensive range of trades, hardcovers and graphic novels.

    Those won’t go away. People will always want physical books in their hands, and those trades will form the majority of the business.

    Diamond will die. And frankly the only way the comic industry will survive is if they do.

  12. That read like a whole article of lots of flash but no substance. What was even said in there that hasn’t already been said before? I think it would be more beneficial to get behind the idea and save the poo-pooing for later. Can you imagine someone writing an article like this just before iTunes hit?

  13. Here’s why I think Longbox is usefull: I grew up 45 minutes, by highway, from the nearest comic shop.

    Guess how often I was able to convince Mom to drive me there? When I got there, I had to choose too: comics, or magic cards.

    Longbox gets comics TO the readers, and if there is one thing I have heard for years upon years following the comics industry, its” How do we get out comics in front of more readers?” I live in NYC now, so its not a challenge anymore, and I trek from Jersey City to Brooklyn in order to visit Rocketship because they have such an awesome fucking store. I wait to buy books I want until I can make it out there.

    If they can make Longbox absolutely vital, absolutely essential, then Marvel and DC will come along eventually. Hell, even the Beatles signed with iTunes.

  14. I think some of you have it wrong: the digital version should be the first, free (or cheap) taste that gets people to go buy the complete and printed version the way people could read Garfield every day for free (or cheap if you count the newspaper subscription) but still went out and bought millions of books. NOW is the time to get people downloading comics on their portable devices while habits are still being formed. If comics people think they can “wait and see” the train might be well past the station before they make up their mind. For myself, I’d be more inclined to download stuff the way most people decide which movies to see in the theatre, which to rent and which to purchase on DVD/Blu-Ray.

    Saying that comic shops should get some exclusive first-look access seems to be the kind of back-assward thinking that keeps the industry stuck in the mud. Comic shops should look out for their own best interest while comic publishers and creators look out for theirs. Sure, it would be nice if everyone could agree on what is best but that is doubtful. So, I don’t think the industry should be held back by brick and mortar stores who’ve often engaged in practices that have hurt the industry (speculation which drove many of them under being a prime example). I hate to think of a mass extinction of comic shop retailers but those horses are already out of the barn. In most areas of the country people don’t even have a LCS. It’s time for the industry to find a way to reach out to the 90% of the country not within a short drive to a DM retailer.

  15. No doubt Longbox and other services will kill the floppy.

    Good riddance.

    The floppy is inefficient, expensive and wasteful. Digital is more cost effective, has more distribution and marketing reach and doesn’t kill trees.

    If properly done, digital comics will be able to start pulling in ad buys from more traditional media and products. It always amazed me that comics weren’t able to generate more and better ad buys from movies, toys, computers, phones, video games, apparel, skateboards, etc…

    It was always because of the limited number of comics which were printed. Now that barrier has been removed…

    Digital will not kill comics. Digital will make the trade collection more desirable and valuable. Digital will allow companies to advertise the trade release DIRECT TO THE CONSUMER who will be able to pre-order direct from the publisher.

    Your local store will discontinue the floppy experience and instead concentrate on trades and other related materials (toys, posters, apparel) to create a “comics lifestyle” experience at the store. They will save money and provide a more rounded entertainment experience for their customers.

    Those that don’t will be the dinosaur.

  16. Not everyone who reads comics collects comics – at least, not in the traditional sense of “my first edition worth $100, let me show you it”. Personally, I own several of the Marvel digital archive dvds (40 years of insert name here) and I can hardly wait for the day when DC lets me get something other than Zuda in a digital format. On that day, DC will get a *lot* of my money.

    I know a number of people who buy the floppy copies of books they like *then* download the pirate scans. Why? Because they just like digital, and they have no legal source for it.

    Why do I like comics in digital format? Why does anyone like digital? Because they’re easily portable, take up less space, and have the potential to be cheaper. I love print, I want the trades of things I’ve fallen in love with, but for a quick fix of something new, or for an in depth look at decades of issues, nothing beats digital

  17. the big 2 (MArvel and DC) could make soo much money from making their back catalogue available online. Hell, you could make promotion for your new storylines that feed of old issues.
    Imagine DC linking to the individual issues of Batman that inspired Grant Morrison for his current Batman series.

  18. Like to watch Stargate Atlantis episodes and also Lost. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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