The Digital Future of Comics

Chris Arrant interviews Dan Vado at Newsarama about EyeMelt, his digital comic store.

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).

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.

6 Responses to “The Digital Future of Comics”

  1. Joshua Macy Says:

    Only if we forget how few choices comprised “everything” and how terrible most of it was.

  2. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I love Eyemelt, and can’t wait for SLG to get more of their backstock online. It’s the best service I’ve seen for downloading CBR comics.

  3. David Oakes Says:

    Ignoring the fact that 95% of all nostalgia is crap, was there every really a “Golden Age” of comic book shops?

    I mean, yes, the economics mean that comic shops are not what they once were. And there were – and still are – some really great shops that carried everything from Batman to Optic Nerve to Hot Gimmick to XXXenophile (OK, not all at once) on organized shelves in well lit environs staffed by friendly and knowledgable staff of both sexes. But were there ever so many as to consitute an “Age”?

    I mean, I have had some great shops, but they were book stores that kept a rack next to the SciFi, or game stores that used comics as a loss leader for Yu-Gi-Oh cards, or vanity shops that had Diamond accounts to buy toys at wholesale for the owner’s personal collection. I have patronized a few of the apochryphal “If we don’t have it, it doesn’t exist” comics super stores. (And not all of them were plesant, either.) But they have always been the exception, never the rule. And from the way other people talk, even having a crummy little shop was something to aspire to in many parts of the country, even during the 90’s “boom”.

    So does anyone else remember a time when comic shops were plentiful, the shelves were lined with product as high as a Sentinel’s eye, and anyone would gladly sell it all for a nickel? Or is it just me?

  4. Dave Mahlin Says:

    David Oakes’ comments are points well taken. As for me….

    I got back into comics around 1994 after a 14-year absence, got a part time job in a shop 5-years later. Within 4 years I progressed to manager, then part-owner, and then (resulting from butting heads too often with my gaming-oriented majority owners) bought-out exile. Now, I make the majority of my purchases from an online discounter as my lifestyle is no longer conducive to the weekly Wednesday pilgramage.

    I feel like Tony Soprano: “I came in at the end of something….”

  5. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Apr. 16, 2007: Webscabs Says:

    […] Tom Spurgeon contemplates the migration of comics from print to Web. For further commentary on the subject, here’s Jennifer De Guzman and Johanna Draper Carlson. […]

  6. SLG Goes Digital-Only for Serialization — The End of the Indy Comic Book Issue? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] own web store and providing downloadable PDF or CBZ files, although getting readers to participate was a struggle. That same year, they offered certain comic series as digital-only, serializing them online and […]




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