The Digital Future of Comics

EyeMelt logo

Chris Arrant interviews Dan Vado at Newsarama about EyeMelt, his digital comic store (link no longer available).

Whether or not this particular venture succeeds, this is what people have been asking for. Only not really.

They say “I want cheaper legal online comics.” Ok, comics at EyeMelt are 69 or 89 cents (depending on whether they’re older reprints of print editions or new original content, respectively). They’re not copy-protected (because Vado says, “DRM systems are a huge obstacle in the download environment…. Basically, what it comes down to is if you put some kind of heavy-handed DRM on your downloads you wind up making the download more expensive, making it less usable by the end user, and ultimately end up sending that customer back to the torrent sites to get this stuff for free.”). They use existing software standards; either PDF (which everyone can open, just about) or CBZ (which anyone interested in digital comic downloading already knows).

EyeMelt logo

But the big key here is that they’re not DC or Marvel. When a lot of people talk about “comics”, they mean “familiar superhero comics”. So when people say “I want cheap legal online comics”, they mean “get to it, Marvel and DC”. They don’t really want to sample new titles, even though lesser-known and/or struggling publishers are the only ones with the incentive to push the boundaries into new formats and distribution methods… they want the same books they’re buying too many of for cheaper.

That’s why the market is increasingly an either/or structure. Those who sell well through the direct market comic shop cling to it, and the retailers are ever more demanding about what those publishers can do with their competition (both bookstores and online). Others … the direct market is increasingly irrelevant to them, so if they can build a business on bookstore-sold graphic novels or online files aimed at a different audience, why not?

One day, we’ll look back at the Golden Age, where good comic shops stocked almost everything, and miss it. These days, with a few notable exceptions, there’s little to no overlap left.

Update: Jennifer deGuzman at Slave Labor has a roundup of related comments.

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