Our story begins a few years ago, when I was still managing another comic shop in the city. A man walked into the store, smiling and humming to himself.

“Interesting place you got here,” he said, slowly stepping his way through the store, eyes scanning the walls in wonderment.

“Why thank you,” I replied, choosing to take this fairly ambiguous comment as a compliment.

“Interesting that you are so close to a shop that rents movies too,” the man continued. He was still smiling, still moving at a measured, deliberate pace.

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“…I… yeah. They’re uh… we like them,” I stuttered, “They’re pretty great.”

“Two dying mediums,” he said, choosing this moment to look directly at me with the biggest and – I honestly believe – genuine smile on his face, “So close together. Huddling against the march of progress. It’s really quite something.”

After he said this, I have no solid recollection of what happened next. Everything previous is crystal clear in my head, his entrance, his slow approach, his smile, his cadence. But after…

I remember being… angry? Hurt? Offended? How dare he. But really, was he wrong? If you lack certain data points, his conclusion makes sense. But then… what’s the end game of this interaction? What’s the intent? To walk into a store and praise the inhabitants with their… courage maybe? Or laugh at the backwards thinking dinosaurs, staring up at a tiny speck in the sky as it becomes larger and larger? Oh, what a pretty speck. Surely it won’t destroy us all.

I don’t know.

What I do know, is that was the moment I started seriously considering the future of this medium, and how people viewed the comic book industry as an entity. It had been something of a hobby before, but after that? It became vital.

Which – to make a much longer story a lot shorter – brings us here.

Every few years, it’s the end of the world. Comics have been dying for decades, and boy howdy, this time we’re really done for. Right?

Well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the industry has been delivering product lately, and how many publishers have landed backwards into a new paradigm that could be great for comics as a whole. A lot of it has to do with rethinking the way comics are currently formatted, and putting the building blocks into place so that the industry can adjust to what would be a far more sustainable model.

First: consider the newspaper. Ages ago, it was the best delivery format to receive news. Today, papers that have yet to adapt to better and easier delivery formats have found themselves floundering. When you’re delivering time sensitive product, the physical format is not the best delivery method, pure and simple. The physical format is much better at creating the idea of permanence, providing an object to attach feeling to – making it ideal for longer form ideas. With me so far?

I am of the opinion that the print medium is not the best delivery system for serialized superhero content. At least, not with the current wants and demands of society.

As people shift more towards models that reward faster delivery, if not outright instant gratification, the age of the superhero monthly has to – has to – adapt. It has not.

Where we stand right now: storytelling demands will often see stories serialized over the course of 3 to… let’s say 8 issues, with longer stories able to break down into smaller chunks within a typical “three act structure”. This typically means that – if a story is shipping on time – two to three stories are being told with characters over the course of the year.

When you marry this with various corporate needs – the ability to hit certain sales numbers, and the general trend of comics to shed readers over the course of a run – that often means you’re getting roughly three to five stories out of a run before the next creators come along to tell their own version’s tale. The churn leaves a lot in the lurch… which is why I’ve found the recent spat of twice-monthly comics to be a refreshing change of pace, story-wise.

With twice monthly shipping, both the creative and corporate needs change the way stories are delivered. Typically, the opening arc runs a bit longer as a means of introduction, but the subsequent stories all run shorter to accommodate for the production time the creators require. It means ideas are moving faster, and are delivered faster – matching the needs of consumers who want stories to happen a lot faster, or at least in a shorter span of time. The downside? Well, the production schedule for physically printed single issues makes it a poor format for delivery. In short: print is not the best delivery system for how a vast majority of people wish to consume serialized content today.

this is the future that liberals want

In a previous column, I implied that DC and Marvel have realized that printing single issues might not be in their future, and have been moving their publishing line towards a model that could more easily sustain the future of serialized storytelling and delivery. After discussing it with my business partner (and after reading a few pointed and well reasoned comments from others), I’ve come to realize that it’s more likely that DC and Marvel are stumbling backwards into a system of delivery that will shift how the market consumes their content.

Let’s break some of this down.

Marvel and DC have started shipping a lot of their higher selling properties twice a month in order to meet content and sales goals for the month. This shipment schedule is problematic on a logistical level, because a comic takes a little more than three weeks to send off to the printer, print, and deliver to comic shops. This means shops are having to decide what their final orders for an issue two will be about one or two weeks before the first hits the stands. Obviously, this is problematic. On the other hand, digital production takes far less time – and can, in fact, be ready shortly after the files are delivered to the publishing company. So: which is the better means of delivery in this case?

If corporate and consumer demands are requiring faster production schedules, wouldn’t it be a good idea for comics publishers to look at the most effective means of delivery quite seriously? And if it becomes apparent that a large logistical headache can be removed if digital production is the primary means of delivery, isn’t that the path a publisher should take? What’s more: if serialized comics are being produced to be distributed digitally, a company could announce a book and have it out that week or that month with minimal spoilers, and capitalize on a single, great wave of publicity. Why would this be the preferred means of delivery or a comic book publisher?

Full disclosure: I don’t like reading comics digitally myself. I’d much rather hold the product in my hand and disconnect from a screen for a good length of time. But the facts are these: for whatever ills it might have, digital distribution of high velocity, time sensitive product is the best system of delivery. On the other hand, as I talked about before, print offers a sense of permanence. It provides a concrete object for the consumer to have and to take up space in their life. Given the inherently more disposable format of the single issue comic, wouldn’t it be a better idea for publishers to focus their print efforts of providing folks with objects worth owning?

Obviously there’s a lot to unpack here and I will never be able to get through all of it through the course of a single column. This will be a discussion that will probably be a running theme through several of these columns in the coming months – and one I fully expect to see discussed in the comment section below. But honestly, I believe that the industry needs to adjust, much in the way that radio adapted its formatting when the television came along and provided a better means of delivering serialized content to the audience.

What shops should be focusing on during this time, is where the industry is seeing growth, and where it will inevitably go. There’s not a sane person out there who truly believes that print will be the primary delivery system for information as time marches on. The change is inevitable and if a business wants to survive, it should taking a long look at sales trends, and should be adapting to suit. The first steps are happening now, whether those steps are intentional or not. Do you honestly think DC charging $2.99 for digital monthly offerings vs. $3.99 in print isn’t a test balloon for some kind of shift? It’s all happening, and will continue to happen as the industry seeks new ways to gain and sustain audience in the face of modern demands.

looks like digital comics are a-o-k

If a shop wants to survive, it needs to start shifting focus over to supplying the buying public with objects – with collected editions that people are going to want taking up space in their lives. The good news? As production schedules ramp up on serialized content, print collections will be coming out at a brisk, comfortable pace. You know those more casual customers who come in once every couple of months to nab comics? How great would it be if the product on the stands featured a complete story, and could easily be reordered without gaps? A solid chunk of content that they want, complete, and delivered to them at a pace that doesn’t require the rough ask of coming in weekly, despite whatever is going on in the rest of their life. Why wouldn’t that be ideal? I believe it would be the best of both worlds – allowing a more casual delivery schedule that works with the production time of print and the demands of a more casual (and abundant) customer base.

So the question, I think, isn’t so much an “if”, but a “when”. When this all happens. When the industry makes the shift. It might be soon. If you ask me, it should be sooner, rather than later, with companies sinking a considerable amount of money promoting digital on websites, and print within the delivered digital content itself. There will be growing pains, sure, but all for the best for the industry as a whole – short term pain for long term health.

So what’s it going to be? Go forward? Or remain attached to outdated delivery methods. Do we go become the bulk of the newspaper industry, or do we find a way forward, and lumber in that direction?

I’d appreciate your thoughts below.

Until next time.

43 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not convinced. Your argument does not address that reading comics on a screen is a crappier experience than reading on a page. Now, that’s a subjective point, but I think, in vacuum, largely accurate. Maybe that isn’t enough to offset the advantages of digital in the long run, but it seems important.

    If the future is digital, I won’t be a part of that future, so my cognitive biases make it hard to see all-digital as the most logical model. Still, it’s alarming food for thought..

  2. @Isaac Kelley I mean, you might believe that reading comics on a screen is a crappier experience. I state in the article that I have trouble with it as well. As you also say, it’s subjective. You and I will probably be left behind in the shift.

    What’s not subjective, is the fact that it remains the better delivery format – especially for future generations.

  3. Oddly, I think your answer is as unlikely as print single issues staying as the dominant form. Look at any other entertainment medium – or, really, anything else that’s struggling with people going digital – and you will find that with diverse audiences come diverse methods of consumption. For music, there’s a mix of digital, physical, and even resurgent, previously thought to be archaic formats like vinyl. For movies, there’s on demand, streaming, iTunes, movie theaters, and beyond. News comes in physical products, websites, newsletters, blogs, social media feeds, etc.

    The reason everything is so splintered is because a) those who engage with it all have different ideas on how they want to consume what they’re engaging with and b) it’s easier than ever to provide options. In my opinion, the future of comics is a little bit of everything: print single issues, print collections (in a multitude of forms), libraries, ComiXology, publisher centric “streaming” outlets like Marvel Unlimited, webcomics, zines, whatever. I think the only thing that’s not going to happen any more is comics being dominated by a single format, and we’re already well on their way.

    Even beyond that, I do think a future completely bereft of print single issues is highly problematic from a pure revenue stream standpoint. Not everyone is Raina Telgemeier or Brian K. Vaughan and can build/sustain a career on previously perceived as “alternative” methods like pure book market or whatever you’d call Panel Syndicate. Print single issues are still important. I just think in the future, the industry won’t be so beholden to them. But that’s my two cents.

  4. Honestly, given the increasingly poor physical production quality of Marvel comics especially, I can see why so many friends of mine have escaped to Marvel Unlimited and/or gone full digital. Down here in humid Georgia, you can’t take one of their books out without it basically warping in your hands.

  5. Your points are quite logical, and you’re probably right. I’ve tried digital, and just don’t like it over paper. Maybe if I started that way it might be different. Guess I’m an old fogey (collecting for 30+ years), but the day DC stops single paper issues is the day I look for a new hobby.

  6. But here’s the trick, David – in the case of music and television, people don’t tend to buy singles in a physical format, you know? If they’re getting a physical object, it’s a collection. Same with movies – the physical edition has all the bonus gear. It’s an object, not just the product. That’s more the direction I’m thinking.

  7. Yeah Mark, I hear you. I’m not huge on digital, but I doubt there will NEVER be a time when there won’t be SOME physical components to this medium… I just don’t see them being single issues anymore.

  8. Also David – I get where you’re coming from, and your last paragraph is more where I’m going with this: the industry is and will shift away from print singles. I think corporate comics especially. It’s the collected editions and graphic novels where the future lies in print.

  9. @Brandon: That’s the tricky part about cross medium comparisons like I made, but I do think it’s still relevant. I mean, here’s another one: look at print books. Still alive and well, with some genres/mediums even growing in recent years for book stores (including trades/graphic novels). And some people buy multiple iterations of the same book for the bells and whistles as you noted. You could go all digital for books, but print is still working overall. But that has its own complications (as I’m sure you will note).

    The reality is EVERYTHING is going to change soon. We’re living in a period where even big box stores like Wal-Mart are getting eaten up by digital retailers like Amazon, and if the Walton’s face a struggle, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for retailers that don’t have billions and billions in their coffers. We’re in a point of major transition in everything, and I think two things will win out: cost/convenience angles like digital and service/personality centric small businesses (including comic shops). But that’s going down a wild path, and as you noted in the piece, it’s so convoluted that there’s no one column that can encompass it all.

    Worth noting, though: my ultimate goal in comics is to open a comic shop, but one that’s entirely focused on trades/graphic novels. Some people I know say it wouldn’t succeed without single issues, but I feel like it could if handled right and the market has the need.

  10. @David Harper – Your shop would be a great future model – but I’d suggest carrying singles as they are available to your customers, but keeping things extremely tight. For the life of me, I can’t understand a store that would order to have back issues in this day and age, but that’s just me and the way I see the business going.

    And I still liken the single print issue to chapters in a book. Novels are still complete stories. I feel as the comics medium has been an outlier, and things will be corrected sooner rather than later.

    Loved your site and love your podcast BTW :)

  11. @Brandon: You know, that’s the same thing several other people suggested. Keep new books in stock at a minimum to have regulars/cash flow but keep the focus on the books. Good idea.

    And thanks for the kind words! I appreciate it.

  12. It comes down to readers vs collectors. I think more and more readers are moving to digital out of convenience. I sure did. Those longboxes are just junk in my closet that are impossible to deal with. I love that print comics exist, but their not really practical anymore for me. I don’t think i’m alone.

    I think print is dominant because its still the legacy choice and people are used to it. If marvel and dc stopped printing and moved to digital tomorrow, they would retain a lot more readers than they think.

    Content is always and will always be king and while there are those that love the experience of holding a printed booklet in their hands that was purchased at their local shop, i suspect that the appeal of the stories and characters is stronger than all that.

    I do agree that reducing the print logistics from the equation could streamline a lot of the production to consumer process, it just comes down to the right market climate and the desire to go there.

  13. FWIW even Marvel trades are getting worse and worse. I can’t justify buying them at their price point anymore. The cover stock is awful.

    I’ve always felt that monthly single issues are a terrible way to consume comics. I can count on one hand the number of series that, on a purely logistical level, that I can remember the plots to on a month-to-month basis and am excited on following up on. DC’s bi-weekly schedule makes things somewhat easier now, but like Brandon argues, it’s pretty difficult for the retailer to wrap their numbers around.

    Floppy comics are inherently disposable. Yeah, publishers dress them up in exclusive variants and whatnot, but even they have the print quality of something like People magazine. It doesn’t feel great to hold like a GN and is impossible to display like a painting (I think it’s weird to frame a book, by and large– if you’re going to do that, you might as well frame a print of the cover art). You can see a lot of creators out there who understand the need to create permanent objects– Chris Ware’s Building Stories, Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying; even DC with their absolute editions. I feel like books like that are made to physically stand the test of time.

  14. I got into single issue comics as a kid, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to get to the comic shop myself, and comics were NOT my folks’ area of interest. I mail-order subscribed instead, and nothing beat the joy of coming home to my very own comic books in the mail. But it always drove me up the wall how I’d miss issues on subscription ​renewal, losing out on major plotlines for my favourite characters. Trades and e-comics solve this. Trades also allow you to collect your favourite stories over time, when your budget allows; since, surprise, surprise, having adult responsibilities means you can’t spend all your babysitting money on comics any more.

    I’m still more partial to the single issues (vs trades), especially when taking a chance on a new series, and hard copies over digital, after years of squinting to get details off of too-small screen versions of double-page action spreads. But I would prefer to spend my money on trades than issues, as they hold up better to my less-than-gentle reading habits, and are more compact on the shelf.

    As a generally non-superhero comic-reader, though, I have concerns about this direction. A) will they even make a trade??? B) is it going to contain the really interesting backmatter? C) how long am I going to have to wait, and what kickstarter do I need to join?

  15. I hate Digital comics!! I hate reading newspapers, books, and magazines on line!! I want to have a newspaper or comic or book in my hand!! If comics go digital I am out!!

  16. I’m with David Harper’s initial comment here. Any system without monthly print serialization will result in far fewer pages of comics being released, because digital revenues alone aren’t remotely adequate to subsidize creators while they work. We’re not structured like prose publishing, where most creators receive advances. It is not just the consumer being served by multiple formats; print monthly comics subsidize content creation in a way little else on the scene currently can.

    (Which is not to say that can never change — nor that the system is equally advantageous for all players in the chain from publisher to consumer. But I have yet to hear of any solution that improves everyone’s lots all at once.)

    To inject some data: the number of periodical comics sold in North America has increased every year since 2011, and when it comes to dollars, print periodicals in that time have consistently remained between 40-45% of the entire print business, including book channel — and between 37-39% of the business when ICV2’s digital sales estimates are added.

    That is, of course, just new material. The secondary market for comic books — which dwarfs that for
    graphic novels — is likely to be several hundred million dollars annually. Recent analyses I’ve seen just of eBay completed transactions confirms that. Whether retailers are flooring back issues or not, many are participating in that market in one way or another. That tends to be lost from the equation sometimes.

    Comics are, as I’ve said before, among the few magazines people tend to keep, and among the only magazines people will buy again in a bound edition — and comics are also among the only books where content is partially subsidized by earlier serialization. Add nonreturnability, and it’s not hard to see why comics continue to one of the healthier parts of both the magazine industry and the book industry. The model has evolved before, and may yet again — but I haven’t seen anything worth moving toward yet where the returns are a lot more certain.

  17. I love digital comics. They’re a far superior reading experience without any of the risks of bad printing, bad paper quality, etc. They mean I can read much more without storage concerns and in more varied places without luggage or pre-planning concerns. The day of print is coming to an end.

  18. I have to wonder…if comics as an industry continues to tie themselves to the past (print media) is that the right bet to make long term? Everything else in society and pop culture tells us the future is digital.

    History shows, esp with media, that companies that fail to innovate and keep up with the world around them tend to fall off a cliff rather suddenly. Is comics exempt from that? I dunno. It just seems like investing in digital delivery to devices is a smarter play than investing in old print media/distribution long term. Sales keep climbing according to the data, but stores are failing and hanging on for life. What does that say?

    The print sales numbers don’t convince IMO. Data can’t really show you what a complete pivot to a new business model can do esp introducing a new technology as the prime thing, but its pretty good at showing you how to maintain the status quo.

  19. John Jackson Miller: I absolutely agree that this can’t happen today. But everyone needs to be cognizant of what the data regarding new releases are telling them.

    It can’t be both ways. The industry can’t discuss and condemn an over-reliance on variants (two covers for ever DC book, and the $2.99 price point bringing in less money, and Marvel’s increasingly bonkers variant schemes) and the diminishing returns of relaunches, but then dismiss change out of hand. If there’s no change, there is just the status quo, and this status quo can not be sustained.

    As for the back market, in terms of who is providing the product, where is the impetus for them to provide fodder for that market? Retailers pay up front, and then the product enters the system. A company can manipulate demand to create interest in further issues, but by and large that could be negligible in the long run.

    What I’m saying is, at some point, and sooner than people think or want, there will be a change. It’s a matter of whether the industry moves there on it’s own volition or is pushed. And if it’s pushed, then it becomes a matter of surviving the fall.

  20. One problem is that, by the nature of the way news circulates, the general public is far likelier to hear of a store closure than a store expansion or a store opening, and as such, the public perception of the state of the market is almost always a few ticks below where the true numbers are. The case has to be made that the numbers themselves must be misleading — which is certainly possible, but we’d like to see the evidence get beyond the anecdotal.

    People are certainly correct that there’s a bias toward the status quo. Revolution in the comics market has tended to come about in response to calamitous, double-digit year-over-year losses, forcing all players into motion and innovation. The collapse of the 1970s newsstand market begat the Direct Market; the collapse of the early 1990s market made the trade collection and bookstore model a lot more attractive. We haven’t seen drops like that in the current context — and digital, at least to date, looks more like it’s going to be marginal and additive, rather than all-engrossing and completely transformative.

    So “the fall” may be a precondition for any new paradigm being considered at all, sadly — but one thing we know about paradigms (at least via Thomas Kuhn) is that the new one succeeds in part by subsuming the old, by doing whatever the old one did just as effectively and more for many, if not most, of the current stakeholders. I haven’t seen a model that does that anywhere in the sea of think pieces out there, but if one does exist, you’d expect it would eventually win out.

  21. So, first, I think that newspapers are a better way for delivering news in that a curated voice presenting things in an order (“THIS is your top story, followed by that, then this, then that”) is nearly always going to leave you better informed at the end of the day.

    I also think that most comics “break” in digital because the dimensions aren’t the same, and it is literally the boundaries of the page that give the weight to the Magic of the Gutters.

    But even putting that aside, since we can call all of that “opinion”, there’s just zero evidence that digital is at all a thing that most people want. In fact, each and every publisher that I discuss digital with says that for the overwhelming majority of books it isn’t a significant revenue stream and that few see even how it COULD get to be one.

    If we could point to even a few examples of folks getting fat and happy solely from digital, then I might buy it, but what I see instead is that virtually EVERYONE who made a big bet in native digital work is/has dropped out. I think Disney and Warner even bother at all because they have whole corporate divisions pushing because they think that everything can work like streaming.

    There’s just nothing more than lunch money (or maybe only coffee money) in digital comics, to nearly every piece of information that we can get.

    -B

  22. Newspapers are having trouble capturing ad revenue, thats whats hurting them. It doesnt matter if it paper or electronic, its good old fashioned revenue that determines success not some prophetic idea of tech progress. The rise of click bait companies that dont even create content could cause online publishing to collapse. It not about medium. Tv was supposed to destroy magazines back in the day.
    Othe thing to consider is how many of potential audience is actually connected. There are a lot of tablets being sold, but alot are bought by people already geared up. Its quite surprising how many people in U.S. alone have no internet. But they may buy paper…. If comics weren’t so overpriced. But they are priced high because poor ad revenue. Always the revenue

  23. Interesting conversation.
    I have a 12.1″ tablet, which shows off comic pages at full print size, and have moved largely to digital consumption. I still buy a few issues a month of print comics, but I honestly read 20 odd issues a month but only buy 3-4 physical issues, and those mostly to add to a collection i have; frequently I have already read the comics I physically buy with the ones I buy digital I only get to my local comic store every three weeks or so.

    I think if stores want to survive there will need to be some type of reinvention. My local store has, like the author mentions, moved to more collected editions. They still get a large amount of single issues, and still have the archive of back issues, but with all of the trades and collected editions, it is starting to look like a bookstore.
    I found myself in an interesting place in Yellow Springs, OH not too long ago: some years back, a local comic shop merged with a used book store, the customer overlap was there, the content overlap was there, and it was a natural fit. The place has proven wildly successful. That merger probably isn’t universal, but for the market they exist in, its perfect.
    Will print ever fully go away? I doubt it. The collector market will keep it alive, but I see my beloved hobby of comics sliding into the background of hobbies, like baseball cards or stamp collecting: it’ll always be there, but it’ll never be what it was. Certainly never be where it was in the 90’s (not that we want that) but even more diminished than today.

  24. If they go away I guess I can just reread the 25 long boxes I have stored in my closet. That should keep me busy for a while. Plus, most of the stories and art were better back then anyway. Honestly, I don’t see singles going anywhere. People always are predicting the fall of the comic books and funny thing; they are still here. Not too worried about it actually.

  25. This is not any kind of measurement of anything, but I’ve found the majority f folks I talk to within traditional areas of the industry are largely dismissing this out of hand – whereas all my peeps outside barely touch single issues as it is.

    There’s a huge, unutilized market out there that the industry actually has the means and formatting to go after, but it doesn’t because… we’ll, as John’s been saying, the industry doesn’t tend to adapt until disaster strikes. But what if we didn’t wait this time? Wouldn’t that be better? Because no, it can’t happen overnight, today. But it will happen, and has to happen soon. All the warning signs are there, and just because the current paradigms are working ENOUGH right now (he said, remembering the regular complaints about the industry from retailers and consumers alike) doesn’t mean we should wait until it breaks.

  26. I think there is one component that’s being missed and that is piracy. There are a significant number of people reading comics that way, but the publishers are by and large only seeing those that are willing to pay for the content, which is probably a small percentage.

    I suspect digital is the way of the future but publishers might not profit from it as much as they were when it was print only – which is no different than newspapers.

    Unless Marvel opens a patreon account maybe.

  27. I think a digital format will eventually win, but not the ones people are using right now. The digital landscape for everything is in a constant state of flux right now, so I don’t think it makes sense to say any one way is going to be the winner.

    I love physical books myself, but I don’t imagine they’ll be anything more than a specialty item soon.

  28. I can’t figure out why at this point neither DC nor Marvel has switched to a weekly model for new stories and full on-demand printing for their collected editions. Seems like a no-brainer.

  29. What’s interesting is Marvel’s digital play – Marvel Unlimited. Large upfront and overhead costs but selling directly to readers means no middle man to take a slice of the pie. I expect the subscription model is also a far more predictable source of income than monthly single issue print sales.

    Per December 2016 Comichron, estimated retail value of Marvel’s single issue floppies distributed to retailers is $13.2 million. Assuming 50% goes to retailers and 10% to Diamond, Marvel clears around $5.3 million. Probably less since they had a lot of free overships that month.

    At $9.99 per month, they need 530,000 Marvel Unlimited subscribers to match single issue print revenue. How many paid Marvel Unlimited accounts are there? That seems a closely guarded secret.

    Alas, a direct “streaming” subscription service probably only works well for DC and Marvel since they own the IPs. Not so much for creator-owned and indies.

  30. I have… so many follow up articles for this planned in my head, and I love this discussion. I really think what the industry needs is a bridge format, because I believe the delivery systems are there… though ComiXology really messed things up by not allowing in app purchases

    I’m not going to get too deep into a lot of my further thoughts just now, gonna put that energy into the next column… but some food for thought: all it will take for this to start happening is either one hard fall (and the industry is looking nervously at Marvel’s fall as the tipping point) or a slightly different piece of tech. Really, if it’s on the industry’s terms, it’ll take quite a while, but be a strong transition, whereas if it’s not, whelp, I just hope folks are prepared, because it’s way harder to stay alive when you start behind.

  31. Everyone likes to compare the comics industry to the music one, and even though its kind of a false equivalency, what if printed comic books are A LOT more like vinyl records than CDs (that everyone seems to compare them to)? Vinyl is seeing a big resurgence do to quality, nostalgia and the preferred format among collectgors and connoisseurs.

  32. “This is not any kind of measurement of anything, but I’ve found the majority f folks I talk to within traditional areas of the industry are largely dismissing this out of hand – whereas all my peeps outside barely touch single issues as it is.”

    @Brandon – If I’ve learned anything in regards to comics (and life, really), it’s that the vast majority of people exist in the non-vocal middle. I think the reality of what the future looks like is somewhere square in the middle of those two sides.

    That’s right: I’m talking about digital comics on paper tablets.

    Okay, no I’m not.

  33. My LCS is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. It’s a comic book store first (new and back issues) but they also have a nice collection of trades that they keep in stock and updated as well as a small amount of other items (action figures, statues, t-shirts, and games). The store has a policy of giving a dollar in credit for every $10 spent on new comics and it has 3 big sales during the year (pre and post-Christmas and one in July). Most of the money made in those sales is from people buying back issues. There are a variety of customers with various interests but it’s the customer service and the sense of community that really help keep the store in business. It helps that the owner reads every book that comes out every week and has an almost photographic memory not only of what happens in the comics but what his customers like as well. I’ve talked to the owner about digital and he still doesn’t feel that digital is competition. Basically, provide a proper place of business and people will come. If someone can download the new issue of whatever or go down to the store, buy the physical issue and get the entire experience, alot of people tend to do the latter.

    On a side note, New 52 and Rebirth have been great for business but Conversion and Secret War really hurt business. The movies tend to send more people to the store as well but not surprisingly, Marvel doesn’t sell well in it’s current incarnation of substitute heroes that don’t reflect the movies. So an unrecognizable product from the Big Two hurts business more than digital form. They do well with Image, Boom!, Dark Horse, and IDW but the more that Marvel and DC sell, the better it is for the store.

  34. I don’t see the single issues go away for a VERY long time. Will we still have 4-500 floppies coming out every month 30 years from now? Probably not. But why would ALL of them disappear altogether? I don’t see any valid argument. “The future is digital”. Sounds like “Cars WILL need to adapt to flight or they’ll be obsolete!”. This is why every scifi cliche starts with flying cars. But back to print. When we look at the trends in the book market (still the closest relative to the comics industry), the sales of digital books have peaked years ago.

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/69048-amazon-keeps-firm-grip-on-e-book-market-even-as-the-format-loses-market-share.html

    Magazines and newspapers are a different breed, in that they don’t really compare in their emotional value. The same thing comic book collectors complain about (takes too much space etc) a book lover could say, too. I wonder why there aren’t more ideas out there of how to store single issues in more flashy/presentable forms. The design of comic book boxes (respectively the lack of it) is a pity and the comics are locked away, out of sight. I think that will inevitably be addressed by a clever person/company in the future. Transparent, hard plastic boxes would help already to make those old comics be seen again. This is why we like books and other digital objects: They are part of our rooms, they blend into our lives, become an important part of it. My gaze regularly wanders towards my book shelves. It’s such a pleasant view! All my papery friends lined up… Nah, digital is like mp3s and streaming: just vapor without any aura. I see no future there.

  35. Why will print issues go away?

    Printing and Logistics costs will continue to rise as other industries abandon and move towards more digital things, raising the prices for all. Printing presses, paper, ink, boxes, gas prices, trucking, distribution…its all en ecosystem, and its foolish to think that comics can’t be affected by the world it exists in. Even if costs raise by a few cents per unit, that’s a massive affects across the board.

    Not predicting that will happen, but its very possible for outside factors to force the hand of the relatively small comics business sooner than they’re ready for.

  36. I’m an old, but an early adopter, so I’m not sure how useful I am as a belweather, but…,

    I’ve bought about 20 cds this century, for the packaging. I buy 8 albums a month digitally.

    I used to go to the cinema every week, and still do now and again. But I watch at least ten hours of video at home a week. Oh, and haven’t bought a dvd or a vcd for at least ten years.

    I buy a lot of books, because they’re still cheaper than digital, if you buy used. Especially if you trade. But I’d rather have them digital, just like my music collection now. Less weight to carry. And more fun to read — or would be, if they formatted better. Which they don’t.

    And I read Marvel Unlmited because it’s cost effective. I signed up for the old stuff — the kirby/ditko — and stuck around to read the weekly installments. Because 16 comics for 2.50 a week. I read a lot more crappy comics than I’d otherwise read. So far, sanity has kept me away from comixology’s offering. Pray for me.

    And like I say: Old. Therefore I’d rather have a physical book and a comfy chair. But early adopter: Therefore I’d rather have today’s media yesterday, which means digital. If the object is, say, an Elephantmen hardcover, then yes please. If it’s some New Avengers fishwrap, digital will do nicely. I probably wouldn’t have read any recent marvel stuff if it hadn’t been for Unlimited. Don’t think I’d have missed it, either. As it is, they get my ten bucks a month.

    Oh, and as far as collectables go? I have close to a full run of Master of Kung Fu. Missing a few early issues. You want to buy them? Even before the omnibuses, they were going for a buck a pop. Not worth my bother. The ones I didn’t have? Pricey. Unless I was a naughty boy. What do you think curious people will do, spend a couiple hundred bucks for the first five issues? Of course not.

    Some people will always want a physical object to keep. I like having some of them around to furnish a room. But if push came to shove, and the price was right, I’d far rather have everything I owned in the kindle in my pocket, and just hop on the bus to New Orleans or Iceland or the Gobi Desert. Why wouldn’t I? The alternative is to drop two grand a month on rent.

    While, on the one hand, youngs want stuff on phones that they’ll quickly forget, and want spotify and youtube over buying a thing, on the other hand. everyone else is being forced to downsize their physical footprint. A book collection becomes as archaic as a record collection — and as infeasible — however much we might want to keep one for utility or pleasure.

    My kindle holds the complete Joseph Conrad, the complete Henry James, and the complete Jack London. Took me a minute and two bucks apiece (paid for formatting). Why wouldn’t you? (I don’t even like Henry James!)

    Just as landlords put the squeeze on retailers, they put the squeeze on renters. And the urge to be a completist compels us towards digital — otherwise, who has the space (except midwesterners)? Those are the material pressures. And material pressures always win.

    I mean, really. I could make room for a comics collection, or make room for my girlfriend’s dresser. Without sacrificing my comics collection. There’s just no choice.

    And that’s before we talk about the youngs and their device addiction.

  37. Paul: YES.

    Market trends show that younger folks are looking to take up less space, not more – partly due to the resources available to them. Clickbait title aside, I *don’t* believe singles will entirely disappear – but as I say in the article, both the market and corporate demands on Marvel and DC will almost definitely see the loss of superhero singles… in their current format.

  38. If it goes all digital stores are gone and that entire sales and more importantly information sharing avenue vanishes. That information is both ways to the customer and back to the publisher.

    The twice monthly schedule is an attempt to squeeze other publishers out. There is already a huge gap between the lucky few who are part of the front end of Previews and “the rest” . It’s simply taking money that they feel is available, it’s not advancing the medium or expanding the audience in any way.

  39. Tim: What this article is supposing is that as the change to digital occurs, comic shops look into shifting their sales focus towards the collected editions model, much like a prose book store. If the industry can get ahead, instead of waiting to fall behind, the whole structure could survive.

    As for the twice monthly, I doubt Marvel and DC are thinking of monopolizing retail dollars and space, so much as they’re trying to maintain their market share – and have landed on this release schedule as a result. In the long term, unless they shift something themselves, it’s going to eventually bring about diminishing returns (and faster, as the sales velocity goes) and they’ll need to figure out something else… and fast.

    Whereas folks like say Boom, who proudly released LESS titles last year, to greater sales, will find their way up by maintaining their current tactics. Short term v long term thinking.

  40. Good stuff!

    “But then… what’s the end game of this interaction? What’s the intent? To walk into a store and praise the inhabitants with their… courage maybe? Or laugh at the backwards thinking dinosaurs, staring up at a tiny speck in the sky as it becomes larger and larger? ”

    the end goal was being a jerk to you. :(

    “In short: print is not the best delivery system for how a vast majority of people wish to consume serialized content today.”

    It’s in the middle. A short chunk of the story every month is neither speedy enough for the folks used to daily page-long chunks of webcomics nor substantial enough for the folks used to yearly book-size chunks of French comics, science fiction and fantasy without pictures, etc.

    “Full disclosure: I don’t like reading comics digitally myself. I’d much rather hold the product in my hand and disconnect from a screen for a good length of time. ”

    And that’s OK!

    there’s got to be a win-win-win here. How about print-on-demand? Digital to the publisher who doesn’t have to worry about printing and shipping paper anymore, Digital and/or print to each reader according to his or her individual preference. :D

    ” Given the inherently more disposable format of the single issue comic, wouldn’t it be a better idea for publishers to focus their print efforts of providing folks with objects worth owning?”

    Niiiice.

    “How great would it be if the product on the stands featured a complete story, and could easily be reordered without gaps? ”

    And could be returned to the publisher if it still doesn’t sell!

    “If the future is digital, I won’t be a part of that future”

    Aww. :( You should be able to buy a print copy of the digital publication!

    What if bookstores, including comic book stores, had pro-quality printers and bookbinding machines? :D

    And then once they *have* the equipment, what if someone comes in wanting to print something else?

    Whoa, what if comic book shops became the new Kinko’s and non-comics fans saw interesting trade paperbacks, maybe even browsed them, on their way to the printing counter to get their non-comic presentations, textbooks, etc. printed and bound? :)

    “Oddly, I think your answer is as unlikely as print single issues staying as the dominant form. Look at any other entertainment medium – or, really, anything else that’s struggling with people going digital – and you will find that with diverse audiences come diverse methods of consumption. For music, there’s a mix of digital, physical, and even resurgent, previously thought to be archaic formats like vinyl. For movies, there’s on demand, streaming, iTunes, movie theaters, and beyond. News comes in physical products, websites, newsletters, blogs, social media feeds, etc.

    “The reason everything is so splintered is because a) those who engage with it all have different ideas on how they want to consume what they’re engaging with and b) it’s easier than ever to provide options.”

    Yes yes yes this.

    “That is, of course, just new material. The secondary market for comic books — which dwarfs that for graphic novels — is likely to be several hundred million dollars annually. Recent analyses I’ve seen just of eBay completed transactions confirms that. Whether retailers are flooring back issues or not, many are participating in that market in one way or another. That tends to be lost from the equation sometimes.”

    yeah – now *this* is closer to the *baseball card* secondary market. How are *they* doing with digital?

    Anyway, handheld digital readers. Reading digital is one thing when it’s sitting in front of a screen. It’s another when it’s on a book-sized device that you can more comfortably read sitting on a sofa, lying down in bed, etc.

    “So, first, I think that newspapers are a better way for delivering news in that a curated voice presenting things in an order (“THIS is your top story, followed by that, then this, then that”) is nearly always going to leave you better informed at the end of the day.”

    Newspapers’ websites do that too. :)

    “Newspapers are having trouble capturing ad revenue, thats whats hurting them. It doesnt matter if it paper or electronic, its good old fashioned revenue that determines success not some prophetic idea of tech progress. The rise of click bait companies that dont even create content could cause online publishing to collapse. It not about medium. Tv was supposed to destroy magazines back in the day.
    Othe thing to consider is how many of potential audience is actually connected. There are a lot of tablets being sold, but alot are bought by people already geared up. Its quite surprising how many people in U.S. alone have no internet. But they may buy paper…. If comics weren’t so overpriced. But they are priced high because poor ad revenue. Always the revenue”

    THIS.

    ” I found myself in an interesting place in Yellow Springs, OH not too long ago: some years back, a local comic shop merged with a used book store, the customer overlap was there, the content overlap was there, and it was a natural fit. The place has proven wildly successful. That merger probably isn’t universal, but for the market they exist in, its perfect.”

    Sweet!

    “I guess I can just reread the 25 long boxes I have stored in my closet.”

    I respect that choice too. It’s much smarter than when some other people complain about newly published stories not being just like their old favorites.

    ” The twice monthly schedule is an attempt to squeeze other publishers out.”

    This is like a leading cookie/toothpaste/etc. company coming out with a million different versions of their top sellers, to take up more of the store shelf.

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