- Posted by Johanna on May 14, 2010 at 4:47 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
Retailer Brian Hibbs’ latest Tilting at Windmills column tackles the question of digital comics. His focus is firmly on protecting the direct market and emphasizing the importance of serialized paper comics, so it isn’t surprising that he views online comics through that particular lens. There’s a lot of material in the column, so you should read it for yourself, but his conclusion is this:
The goal of digital should be to increase the number of eyes on comics, and everything possible should be done to protect against cross-channel migration until the audience has grown sufficiently. Digital is the new newsstand! Digital should be able to grow the market for periodical print comics, if done correctly!
In other words, print readers shouldn’t be allowed (my word) to transfer their purchasing online, and Hibbs wants to maintain this by either forcing a six-month delay in the release of a comic digitally or by pricing digital exactly the same as the print version (even though the products are not equivalent). His reasoning for this is simple and direct:
Even a small amount of cannibalization between the channels could have catastrophic impact on small stores — I don’t think the majority of the [direct market] could absorb even a 10% permanent loss of traffic from migration. If stores begin to fold, that is more likely to lead to a lowering of regular and dependable readership than any gains in new Digital customers would offset.
In other words, comic stores can’t afford to lose any customers, so they must be protected if we want to maintain the comic industry as it is now. But what if we don’t? Remember, this is a store-centric argument, and on that basis, I think he’s right. But if you look at the digital possibilities from the perspective of either publishers or customers, you might get a very different answer. Especially if you’re a publisher that isn’t being served by the direct market as it is now.
The idea of digital bringing in completely new customers is addressed by Hibbs’ proposal to feed them old comics, because “something a year old (or ten years old!) is just as new as something released last Wednesday.” Don’t you think a customer is going to notice that a Justice League comic with Vibe and Aquaman with a mullet may not be the freshest material?
One long-standing component of comics is how fans encourage each other to shop. I started buying Legion of Super-Heroes (and thus changed my life) in part because I wanted to be part of the Usenet discussions about them. If you restrict digital-only customers to old material, they’re not going to become the kind of long-term consistent buyers the industry needs, because they’re left out of the conversation.
In short, in Hibbs’ world, print needs to remain supreme, and digital is valuable only in terms of how it drives customers into his shop (and the most desirable customers are those who buy every Wednesday, which means DC/Marvel buyers without much discretion). I think that’s short-sighted, but then, I don’t have a store I need to keep going.