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The rise of digital comics as viable medium
September 2, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Ah, digital comics. Originally viewed with a wary eye by the American comics industry, the rise of mobile devices has started to turn a few publisher's heads. We may look back and see 2010 as the year digital comics reached the tipping point.
posted by nomadicink (69 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reading (lots of) text on anything but cheap, physical book is already hard enough but reading *comics* that way is even worse because I don't even get the advantage of grepability.
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2010


This is a good post and you are good for making it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:52 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Third. :C
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:53 AM on September 2, 2010


Honestly, I use to think so too, but after checking out the comic apps on the iPod Touch, I was really blown away about how cool and fun it was. The screen was small, sure, but that's not a concern with tablet.

It was a pretty cool feeling, I was actually excited about reading comics again. The idea of having a my entire comics collection in my back pocket (or man purse!) sounds great and yes, I'd be willing to spend money on it.

I still think the current way of doing comics on mobile devices still relies too much on adapting print comics and I long to see stuff really formatted for digital realm (better type with page layouts geared toward such devices) but it's happy comprise, so I'm down with it.
posted by nomadicink at 10:56 AM on September 2, 2010


Not a frequent comics buyer at all, BUT having spent a year with a Kindle I will say that the instant-gratz aspect is a big one. It's not as though I no longer read books that I can't download, but it has become a weighted factor among others in my purchasing decisions.

I expect this applies to comics, too.
posted by everichon at 10:58 AM on September 2, 2010


after googling 'grepability' i still don't understand your comment DU.

why would you need to search within a comic on your ipad or other mobile tablet device? i am confuse!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:59 AM on September 2, 2010


Trying to read comics on a smart phone is a pain in the ass. So much scrolling around. Even reading some large-format comics on a computer can be tricky, if it's a two-page spread.

But if the comic was designed with the intent of being displayed on a smaller format, something like comic strips, I'd dig it. Also, there would be the potential to play with interactivity, or at least dynamic transitions. Scale that up to a larger screen, and I'm ready to swoon.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2010


Reading (lots of) text on anything but cheap, physical book is already hard enough but reading *comics* that way is even worse because I don't even get the advantage of grepability.

Generally I'm pretty skeptical about e-reading experiences, particularly comics, but I really would check out ComiXology on the iPad - that thing just works incredibly well.
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2010


I love how webcomics have been around for what seems like an internet eternity now, and there's been this huge revolution in cutting out the big evil middle man (which it seems has been the goal of indie comics people since the dawn of time. I mean, you don't even have to go to Kinko's or anything!), but of course none of this counts as "digital comics" because it had nothing to do with the publishers. I mean, it might seem pathetic that the publishers don't want to admit that brick-and-mortar stores are dying, but isn't it just as bad that we're still clinging to the publishers?

But no, comics on iPads. That's, uh, cool man.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 11:04 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


why would you need to search within a comic

"Dammit, I know Peter Parker said *something* about responsibility, but I can't find that quote anywhere!"
posted by DU at 11:05 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, DU makes a good point and one of my biggest complaints about digital comics. The type usually sucks and part of the digital art and not searchable or can't be copied and pasted. That seems so anti digital.
posted by nomadicink at 11:10 AM on September 2, 2010


As an aspiring comic reader I find the whole industry to be rather hostile to its fans. Really only the long dead series compiled into one oversized paperback represents a good value for the money. Because of this I read things like Watchmen, which is great but nearly 15 years old.

As a result it's hard for me to know or care about any recent or god forbid still ongoing series. It's unfortunate, but it seems like you have to be pretty hardcore to be an active participant in the cutting edge. Music, videogames, movies and T.V. are a lot more welcoming to new fans and I hope the industry enbrace of digital publication will allow it to grow.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:10 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've bought maybe 3 graphic novels over the past decade, but since I got an iPad in July, I've purchased 6 or 7 comics. I'm amazed by the overall attitude of the comics industry depicted in the last link. Have they learned nothing from the music industry? They're opening themselves up to a huge new demographic who wouldn't take the time to go to a comic book store, but will download a couple of issues for their commute home.
posted by KGMoney at 11:13 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not being able to search comic dialogue is one of the most bizarre complaints against digital comics I have ever heard.

Comics look FANTASTIC on the iPad. ComicZeal was THE killer app as far as I was concerned. It's a great way to read comics.
posted by Legomancer at 11:17 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not being able to search comic dialogue is one of the most bizarre complaints against digital comics I have ever heard.

Thinking about it some more, I'd love to see early layouts or plain pencils or the writer's script as part of the package of digital comics. I think Warren Ellis did this with a couple of print projects, it worked really well, sort of a DVD extras for comics.

Throw in searchable text, with hyperlinks to back issues where appropriate and I'm in love.
posted by nomadicink at 11:22 AM on September 2, 2010


I have spent hours going through my comic collections looking for that one panel with the specific dialogue I half-remembered. Searchable dialogue is number one on my hotlist of digital comic ponies.
posted by Aquaman at 11:23 AM on September 2, 2010


The form factor really seems to work in favour of comics there - something that can't be said of smartphone comics readers ( too small) or laptops and desktops (too cumbersome, generally the wrong orientation, lack of touch interface).
posted by Artw at 11:24 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not a "comics reader," but i love to read, and I'm very visual. So far though, "graphical narrative content" for my iPhone and iPad has been... Pretty disappointing. It looks like the printed stuff - EXACTLY like the printed stuff. I haven't seen any of these apps/editions taking the expanded capabilities into account at all. I know it's not really supported (or even well known) but Apple already has the iTunes LP format, which essentially allows you to encapsulate anything you can do with HTML5/CSS/JS into a single package. I really wish someone would take that and create a whole new storytelling medium, building on the graphic novel base, and incorporating some non-linear fiction aspects... Has anyone more familiar with this genre seen anything that sounds like that?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:29 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but one of the best things about a real comic book is its smell - you know, you get back home from the shop and you hold the big stack of books up to your nose and snifffff and it's that awesome smell of fresh, unbent pages and ink? Then you smell each one of them individually before reading, and sometimes stop to sniff again in mid-story?

You guys do smell your books, right? That's not just me, right?
posted by jbickers at 11:30 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


...lack of touch interface

OH, good point. Flipping through a comic on a mobile device does have that feel, in some ways, of flipping through a comic.

Whether that helps in terms of bringing in new fans or just helps the current fanbase more easily adapt to new medium remains to be seen.
posted by nomadicink at 11:31 AM on September 2, 2010


Not being able to search comic dialogue is one of the most bizarre complaints against digital comics I have ever heard.

I'm not saying I wouldn't go digital in comics because of this. I wouldn't go digital in comics because I wouldn't go digital in any paper format right now. There's just too many downsides that aren't made up for by the upsides.

My remark was more about how one of those few upsides, searchability, isn't even present here, which makes it even less attractive.
posted by DU at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2010


"Dammit, I know Peter Parker said *something* about responsibility, but I can't find that quote anywhere!"
posted by DU


I love (and have used many times) the searchability of Penny Arcade's comics. There is no doubt they should make digital comics searchable. Very much want.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:39 AM on September 2, 2010


What I don't understand is why digital comics don't also shoot strawberry ice cream into my mouth. I mean, we have the technology; why not use it?
posted by Legomancer at 11:39 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Reading comic books was one of the top 3 reasons for my purchasing an iPad. It is a phenomenal comic book reading experience, and I think worth the money (not the price of the iPad, but the price of a digital comic book). Steve Jobs may not acknowledge it, but iPads - and tablets - are almost specifically (albeit totally unintentionally) designed for comic book reading. Imagine my disappointment at the limitations the industry has put on my ability to fully (read: legally) enjoy it.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:44 AM on September 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


We don't actually have the technology, as the heat of the firing causes the ice cream to vaporize, so one is left with strawberry smelling smoke and steam.

Supposedly The Tinkerer is close to releasing a working prototype, but keeps getting distracted by that Spider-Man grudge.
posted by nomadicink at 11:46 AM on September 2, 2010


You can search Penny Arcade? Is that the text of the comic or a whole bunch of keyword tagging? or the big old articles that sit parallel to the strips?

FWIW the PDF comics I've bought have had the lettering as a seperate layer, and should theoretically be searchable. I've not tried it though, and to be honest PDF is a hugely less favoured format than CBR or whatever ComiXology uses.
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2010


Why is nobody talking about the price? This thread is useless without prices!!
posted by Chuckles at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2010


What about prices?
posted by nomadicink at 12:04 PM on September 2, 2010


I kinda like reading comics on my laptop, but I enjoy physical graphic novels/collections a bit more. Buying individual issues is too much a pain in the ass for me; too expensive, and the plot moves at a glacial pace when split into 25-page sections published one-a-month. (On the other hand, comics collected into graphic novels can feel like Cliff-hanger Theatre because of the serialisation. (Y: the Last Man suffered heavily from this.))


The comics publishers need to realize that their work is getting pirated even now, before they've entered the digital sales model. And the way to combat piracy is to make it easier to buy the product than to pirate it. This means getting behind the already-existing comics-reading programs, and setting up a system that makes buying comics for electronic devices easy. These days I mainly use emusic for getting new music just because it works really well.

Set up an easy subscription model, where you pay $x to download n comics a month, where you can select ongoing series to go into your bin automatically, and still have a few left over to try out new comics. Make it easy to get back issues, cross overs, special mini-comics, and all the other cruft that makes it hard-to-impossible to actually be a complete-ist. Include a robust dating system in the format to make it easy to read specials and what-not in chronological order.

They should also include codes on physical comic books that give a free digital download of the book you just bought. Or, alternately, get coordinated with the brick-and-mortar shops to give codes to people who have a given comic in their pull-boxes. In the converse direction, one should be able to get a discount on physical comics if they've downloaded a physical copy, or a discount on the collected versions when they're finally published.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:05 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love how webcomics have been around for what seems like an internet eternity now, and there's been this huge revolution in cutting out the big evil middle man (which it seems has been the goal of indie comics people since the dawn of time. I mean, you don't even have to go to Kinko's or anything!), but of course none of this counts as "digital comics" because it had nothing to do with the publishers. I mean, it might seem pathetic that the publishers don't want to admit that brick-and-mortar stores are dying, but isn't it just as bad that we're still clinging to the publishers?

Good point.
---
Anyway, as I said in the other thread. The problem with comics is that they just cost too much. $3 or whatever for 20 pages of illustrated work is just too much. Comics should cost far less. But apparently designing and processing and printing and distributing a full color comic is just too expensive at the volumes to do it much cheaper. But putting these things on the iPad doesn't do much.

And that said, It kind of boggles my mind the way people just assume 'everyone' has an iPad. It's $500 in it's cheapest form. Not everyone has that kind of money to blow on yet another entertainment device. In fact, most people don't. Making something accessible means making it work either on regular PCs or on televisions for now. Even the kindle, which is approaching $100 now is still over priced for true mass-market distribution. DVDs got really popular when DVD players dropped to around $30 or so. When iPads cost that much it'll be reasonable to expect mass distribution on those things.

On the other hand, from a marketing perspective, it makes a lot of sense that -- if you're going to limit yourself -- limit yourself to rich people. But for now, nothing that happens on an iPad is going to be world changing, except for a select few wealthy people.

Which is too bad. But maybe digital comics will change that. The main stream comic industry seems to be more about coming up with characters for movies and stuff these days, though. Especially now that marvel is owned by Disney (bleh)
I'm not saying I wouldn't go digital in comics because of this. I wouldn't go digital in comics because I wouldn't go digital in any paper format right now. There's just too many downsides that aren't made up for by the upsides.
The upside is cost. Or at least it should be. Why pay $3 for a comic that costs $0 to distribute. The price you pay for a digital comic should be about what it costs to produce. And since that cost is pretty much fixed, the more popular it is the cheaper it should be.
posted by delmoi at 12:13 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


But no, comics on iPads. That's, uh, cool man.

Reading web comics on mobile devices can be a bit tedious, waiting for every page to load and having to deal with each website's quirky design.

Comparatively using comic book reader is a much better experience, but wouldn't mesh well with web-comics as there's no banner ads or donation links in a CBR
posted by MrCynical at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2010


You can search Penny Arcade? Is that the text of the comic or a whole bunch of keyword tagging? or the big old articles that sit parallel to the strips?
posted by Artw


I guess it's keyword tagging (I'd originally thought it was all the text but in testing searching for specific phrases that doesn't work). The tagging seems pretty comprehensive though (but seems to fail at treating singular and plural as the same thing). Link.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2010


Outside of a few crossovers like Freakangels webcomics are largely their own seperate thing and are a very different reading experience.
posted by Artw at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2010


"Reading web comics on mobile devices can be a bit tedious, waiting for every page to load and having to deal with each website's quirky design."

I agree. The webcomics community should come up with a solution for this.

But they've already figured out so much about this whole "digital comics" industry works, I figure they'll get to it.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 12:42 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can search Penny Arcade? Is that the text of the comic or a whole bunch of keyword tagging? or the big old articles that sit parallel to the strips?

I don't know the details for PA specifically, but a number of web comics are full-text searchable, thanks I think primarily to Oh No Robot and the volunteer grunt work of any given participating comic's readers (especially for getting archives up to speed after the system came along). It's a clever solution that is a huge win for anyone who wants to find That One Strip from A While Back without having to hope that the comic's local search turns up a lucky hit or that secondhand sources blogged about it or something.

Full text search for digital comics would be great. It may not be an obvious casual reader thing, but it sure as hell makes sense as a cheap value-add for loyal or attentive readers.
posted by cortex at 1:05 PM on September 2, 2010


The fate of Digital Comics is pretty much doing to determine if I have a career by this time next year.
posted by The Whelk at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2010


but wouldn't mesh well with web-comics as there's no banner ads or donation links in a CBR

But couldn't that be solved with a style sheet for mobile devices?
posted by nomadicink at 2:06 PM on September 2, 2010


We've used Marvel Digital Comics for almost 2 years. It's about $60 a year and you can read all you want of what's available. We couldn't afford to buy the individual issues at a comic store.

Still, having the subscription hasn't stopped us from driving 50 miles to the nearest comic store or bookstore to buy graphic novels or things that aren't on the Marvel site yet.

I've also tried the comics reader on the PSP and the Marvel iPhone app, but I prefer the larger screen of the netbook. Also, the pricing is per issue (and my Marvel Digital Comics sub isn't transferable).

But I like the way Comic Rack handles better than all three of them.

If the PS3 gets a comic reader, we'll see how it goes with any free issues.

Thanks for bringing us the discussion, nomadicink and ArtW.
posted by dragonplayer at 2:07 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've also tried the comics reader on the PSP and the Marvel iPhone app, but I prefer the larger screen of the netbook. Also, the pricing is per issue (and my Marvel Digital Comics sub isn't transferable).

I use comicbook lover for the Ipad and Mac, it's pretty good but the Ipad/iphone app is a bit crashy. Sending files over FTP is pretty nifty though.
posted by MrCynical at 2:25 PM on September 2, 2010


Outside of a few crossovers like Freakangels webcomics are largely their own seperate thing and are a very different reading experience.

Freakangels is more a comic that just happens to be published online.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:35 PM on September 2, 2010


Delmoi said: "Making something accessible means making it work either on regular PCs or on televisions for now."

No, you're missing the point of why comics on iPads etc. are attractive to publishers both large and small: it's all about the "walled garden" and its included controllable path of payment.

Nobody has ever figured out how to make real money directly from selling comics content online. All the successful webcomics let people read for free and make their income via merch sales and advertising.

In contrast, these newfangled devices digitally replicate the cash path of traditional print publishing, with Apple or the Android Marketplace as the choke point distributor that all the transactions run through. This guarantees to a far better extent than any Web based scheme that the folks who sell the content through this pipeline will get paid for it.

That sales path will work for both huge publishers and tiny ones, unlike paper methods. This is why suddenly Marvel and DC are really interested in digital comics publishing.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:37 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had not read comics in many years. I got one of the comics apps for my iPad out of curiosity. I downloaded a few free titles....big mistake. I've put myself on a careful budget and in a few years I hope to be financially solvent. :-). Well that's a snarky exaggeration, but the experience has been amazing. My only complaint is that there is still too limited a catalog.
posted by humanfont at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2010


these newfangled devices digitally replicate the cash path of traditional print publishing, with Apple or the Android Marketplace as the choke point distributor that all the transactions run through. This guarantees to a far better extent than any Web based scheme that the folks who sell the content through this pipeline will get paid for it.

I wonder if the atmosphere will stay friendly to independents or if everyone will just get a marvel app and DL their comics through it without ever checking what else is available. I see other comics available through the App Store on my iTouch now, as well as the big name publishers, I hope it stays that way.
posted by ServSci at 2:51 PM on September 2, 2010


ServSci, on the positive side, since pretty much anyone can make an App and post it, there is at least a somewhat level playing field as far as getting on the "shelves" at this point, providing you can get past Apple's quality assurance/draconian censorship (depending on your view of Apple). As far as we can tell at the moment, that will extend to selling comics via the iBookstore too.

Marketing, on the other hand, is a whole other problem. Large companies with more money will do a lot better.

However, I personally see hope that because of the far, far larger potential audience available (the Venn diagram of present comics readers vs. iPad and ereader owners doesn't currently intersect much), that non superhero comics will find new audiences among people who would never go near anyplace that sells comic books.

I think also that the per comic price will drop radically if several million people start reading comics as opposed to recently where the audience is at best a few hundred thousand, and shrinking fast.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2010


I just "discovered"* the .cbr format and the whole thing this year, due to doing a "transformers" search in the App Store and getting IDW's app in the results... getting some sample copies and then looking into the whole digital comic thing. I guess I'm just a data point in this trend but I can definitely see both sides of this.

I don't like the bottle neck, but I understand why the big guys do.

* just one of those things you feel happened spontaneously but turns out you where part of some trend, unknowingly
posted by ServSci at 3:23 PM on September 2, 2010


I have been pirating comics for nigh on eight years.

Before that, I bought 5-10 books a week. In the last eight years, I have spent maybe $50 on new issues, in total My spending is up significantly on collected editions -- I recently bought seven Absolute editions (the four Sandman editions, Death, and the two volumes of Planetary). But, honestly, the companies are losing a lot of money that I had been spending before I switched over.

(I'm not here to argue the ethics of this kind of copyright infringement. It has no bearing on the discussion.)

I have a 27" monitor and a 37" TV, both in 1080p -- the resolution is such that the experience is better than reading a pamphlet-style comic. I can read comics on my iPad on the bus, or on the toilet, or in bed. I lose nothing from the experience other than the feel of the paper and the space it would normally take to store it away in a box in the bedroom closet.

It takes all of 30 seconds to download an issue on its day of release, and I download everything available. 2TB hard drives are a hundred bucks. I can hardly afford *not* to download everything. But even the simplest, fastest tasks can get tiresome and repetitive; I would gladly pay $0.99 each for digital comics, or $19.99/month for unlimited access (if one company could negotiate with the Big Two and the Next Ten to be able to offer all of their titles on the day of print release, or preferably earlier.)

DC's likely going to see more money out of me at $0.99 than they would with a floppy comic priced at $2.99; they only see 35% of that cover price once they send it to Diamond, and the cost of producing the final readable object is almost infinitely lower with a digital product. I know this. So I won't pay three or four bucks for a digital comic, any more than I would pay $8 for an MP3 single (while I would pay that much for a CD-single).

And the number of people doing what I'm doing increases every week. Someone quoted Ron Marz earlier, saying how a particular comic reached four times as many people digitally as in print.

Would you care to guess when those numbers were last about equal? Would you believe the answer is five years ago? Back in the days when zCult-FM and DCC+ were the primary methods of distribution, any of the top 100 comics reached as many people digitally as in print. Sometimes, more. And this was when it was time-consuming to search for books, new issues were rarely posted to Usenet, and often the best solution was to wait for the weekly "pack", containing everything published in a given week, and which might take hours to download.

The publishers have thus been dragging their heels for at least five years. The gap will continue to widen, and at a rapidly expanding pace, as more and more people switch over from printed comics to piracy as their sole source. They'll come home from work or school on Wednesday, search for the .cbr and .cbz files on Mediafire and have the first batch of the most popular comics of the week on their hard drives ready to read in a matter of a minute or two. And they'll come back over the next couple of days and download the rest.

But, y'know, if I could pay ten bucks a month to get my favourites in my e-mail on a Tuesday, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:33 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wanted to try out Digital Comics on my iPad with a subscription service, but saw early reports that the iPad did not recognize a Marvel Comics subscription. Is this (still, or was it ever) true? Because if it isn't, I really would like to try out an app for this.
posted by misha at 4:55 PM on September 2, 2010


misha, the iPad/iPhone Marvel app only does the comics ala carte, no subscription. It seems to be a separate operation from the PC subscription service.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:12 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's still true AFAIK misha. Marvels iPad app is a la carte, $1.99 per issue.

I think this is a serious mistake, not recognizing existing subscriptions.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:13 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I own a Comic book store in a small Town. We are closing. We won't be the first and I would LOVE to say it is because of the evil nasty digital comics. That would be a lie it is because of the sorry markup that Diamond comics allows small stores when you are making 35% profit without a discount and all your customers expect at least 10% off cover or they can go online and get them cheaper what should you do?

We tried an online store and after 3 months of development we were completely out of cash and had no way to promote it... zero sales. Part of this is being really BAD at business and part of it is that the comic publishers and the monopoly that is Diamond set up the stores to fail. I started my store because I was burned out doing software development years ago, but after a summer of sales that were at least 50% at the same time last year and 62% two years ago. We decided to close up.

I will give a small example in August we made sales of just over $5000.00 roughly translated after paying for all our taxes/bills/rent/new stock I made an average wage of just under $2/hr.

I have just started working on my first application in many years.

It makes me sad to lose our store because at one time we employed 4 Teenagers and two of our own kids... now our kids are working for free and we have let our staff go over the course of the year.

So boot up your iPads and download away because it is the future and the faster we kill Diamond the better... just remember you can't really read an iPad in the bathtub so the world will always have a place for real printed books.

Oh and if you have kids go out TODAY and buy the Tiny Titans...
posted by mrgroweler at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2010


Oh and Ten pounds of inedita I agree with you completely about the economics but if you want a real world example of what pirating does please look at my post. We invested nearly $100,000.00 over almost ten years only to find ourselves broke and tired.
About 2 years ago pirating comics became VERY popular as well... People who steal shit suck.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:56 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The iPad got me reading superhero comics again after a nearly two-decade break. I wouldn't have started if it weren't for the convenience of at-home micropayments. And I'm definitely not going to start going to comic book stores. I can't see any reason not to just keep using the iPad.

Can anyone recommend some good runs available in the Marvel, DC, or Comixology stores? I've liked Iron Fist, Old Man Logan, Planet Hulk, Planetary, the Brubaker Cap and Daredevil runs, and The Walking Dead. (Marvel's tactic of releasing long runs all at once is much preferable to DC's dripping out one issue each week.)
posted by painquale at 8:07 PM on September 2, 2010


Atomic Robo is kind of hard not to like.
posted by cortex at 8:49 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


but if you want a real world example of what pirating does please look at my post

But your post said specifically that it wasn't pirating that forced you out of business. In any case, as I said, I'm not here to argue the ethics of infringement.

I managed a game and comic book shop in Victoria, BC (a fairly small city), for close to seven years, between 1989 and 1995. We stopped selling comics in 1993 due to the crappy economics of dealing with so much non-returnable product during a speculator bust. I understand some of what retailers today are going through.

Me, I have a mad-on for Diamond because they put the far superior Capital City Distribution out of business. Even twenty years later, it still bothers me. I won't shed a single salty tear when Diamond falls, even if it takes the direct market with them.

(And I wouldn't read a paper book in the bathtub any more than I would use an iPad, but maybe that's just me.)

Man, I feel old. I been out of the business for 15 years? Jaysus.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:09 PM on September 2, 2010


just remember you can't really read an iPad in the bathtub

They don't sell gallon-size Ziplock freezer bags in your part of the country?
posted by Lazlo at 12:13 AM on September 3, 2010


Yeah, if DC had something like the marvel $60/yr thingy, I would definitely sign up. I don't think I've read a single marvel comic since high school, but DC (and Vertigo) have piles of stuff that I love.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:23 AM on September 3, 2010


I do apologise for calling you out specifically ten pounds on inedita. I actually said that digital comics are not to blame. Legitimate progressions in distribution models cannot be blamed, because it is the natural progression of media in general. That is a big difference in me saying that piracy did not hurt my business.

I paid for my copy of The Guild and I actually think that indie content producers of comics can and should use that method of distribution, I also will happily buy mainstream comics digitally in a few months.

I read my iPad in the tub.
posted by mrgroweler at 6:57 AM on September 3, 2010


The older I get the less interested I am in having stuff. A lot of folks deride e-books (and e-comics) for not being "the same" as the physical objects but for me, I don't have an abiding romance with the physical objects. I recently got rid of all my floppy comics in favor of trade paperbacks (or in favor of no longer fooling myself that some day I would re-read "Armageddon 2001") and I would happily get rid of all the trades in favor of versions I could read on my iPad. The convenience, portability, and lack of clutter for me more than outweighs whatever satisfaction there is to holding a bunch of paper in my hand or looking lovingly at a shelf filled with trades. I enjoy comic books, but a comic printed on paper didn't pull me out of a burning building or give me a kidney. The iPad screen is sufficient for me.

Unfortunately, I don't read modern superhero comics. So far the ones at the forefront of this medium are Marvel, DC, Image, and so forth, and if I want cape comics, there are tons to be had on ComiXology. Hopefully Fantagraphics and some of the smaller publishers can take advantage of this medium soon. I'd love to be able to get digital versions of all of Joe Sacco's, Kevin Huizenga's or Dan Clowes' books.
posted by Legomancer at 9:06 AM on September 3, 2010


I hope Fantagraphics will get on board soon too, but they are a remarkably crusty old bunch over there (except for Spurgeon, IMO, love ya Ted) and if anything seem the most distrustful and disdainful of digital media out of all publishers.

Not that I don't understand them being paper purists, but it's going to make it nearly impossible for them to expand their market from here on out. They may not care to, however. They're doing fine, in their opinion (which is of course my opinion).
posted by zoogleplex at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2010


No, you're missing the point of why comics on iPads etc. are attractive to publishers both large and small: it's all about the "walled garden" and its included controllable path of payment.
I didn't say it wasn't attractive. What I said was that it was never going to be something that 'everyone' would be able to participate in so long as it requires a $500 + entertainment device to read.
So boot up your iPads and download away because it is the future and the faster we kill Diamond the better... just remember you can't really read an iPad in the bathtub so the world will always have a place for real printed books.
Amazon mentions the 'plastic bag' thing for the kindle. I don't know why these device makers don't make these things waterproof, though. Doesn't seem like it would be that hard. I think most customers would pay $10, $20 to be able to take their readers to the beach or pool.
Oh and Ten pounds of inedita I agree with you completely about the economics but if you want a real world example of what pirating does please look at my post. We invested nearly $100,000.00 over almost ten years only to find ourselves broke and tired.
Except you didn't even create the stuff that you were selling, you were just a retailer. Even if no one pirated comics, your revenues would get eaten away by e-comics and subscription services just the same.
posted by delmoi at 5:34 PM on September 3, 2010


Delmoi you are correct. I said I don't blame digital comics that is a reality that must be faced at all levels of the comic business. My issue is that we use the word pirate to say steal and have some romantic obsession with that word. My store provided employment and a place for kids too hang out... I can except closing because the world is changing, but if you don't thing us as a mere retailer was hurt by pirating at least thing about the creators.

I mentioned that I think creators should get full credit for their work. I accept this as a reality but don't pretend pirating doesn't hurt all the people involved in an industry. If you like something enough to continue to consume it reward the creator at least. Unlike the music industry comic retailers are generally to this day mom and pop businesses and we are not going to survive.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:35 PM on September 3, 2010


Unlike the music industry comic retailers are generally to this day mom and pop businesses and we are not going to survive.

Diamond has managed to force you into an exploitative franchise-like business model. So, ya, it is quite different from the music industry, but..
posted by Chuckles at 10:31 PM on September 3, 2010


I didn't say it wasn't attractive. What I said was that it was never going to be something that 'everyone' would be able to participate in so long as it requires a $500 + entertainment device to read.
Oh, definitely agree there. But, even right now there are what, 3 million iPads out there already? Easily 10x the size of the existing Direct Market. Of course, most of those people won't want to read superhero comics, but with smart marketing and aggressive pricing, they might be enticed to start reading more comics and comic-like content in genres that appeal to them, aiming to some level of emulation of the Japanese market which includes a wide range of demographics and subject matter.

Also, listen to what ten pounds said above: he or she is pirating well over $500 worth of comics probably every month, that he or she would buy if given the appropriate opportunity. Serious DM comics fans often spend $100/month or more on comics (I know I sure used to), with pull lists of 20, 30, 50 or more comics. Buying a $500 device and then actually paying for digital comics would actually save them a lot of money.

And anyway, devices like the iPad won't stay at the $500+ price point for long. It will be like the iPod, where 5 years from now the bottom-end Apple iPad will be in the $130 range, with various competitors being even cheaper.

Actually since it looks like cell phone companies will be the conduit for fielding these things - Vodafone will be offering Samsung's new Galaxy Tab Android-powered tablet soon - Apple's competition is likely to be heavily subsidized and aggressively sold. With the ubiquitous 2-year contract, we might see $199 (out-of-pocket) tablets for the 2010 holidays, and certainly in 2011.

A decade from now these things will likely be in nearly everyone's hands (in the Western world and east Asia), like cell phones are now. The "revolution" will not happen overnight, and nobody knows when the critical mass will be reached.

I will say this: the Direct Market is toast, it's dead already, it's just still acting alive because Marvel (50% of the DM) and DC (35% of the DM) are keeping the print comics biz alive because it lets Warner and Disney keep control of the valuable trademarks and IP that they're making many zeroes with via movies and merchandise. Both companies are owned by giant corporate parents that, once they realize (at their glacial corporate pace) they can keep producing trademark-protecting content and bringing in new IP without spending money on the print market, will both stop wasting profits printing floppies.

According to www.comichron.com, the entire DM only makes about $400 million gross in a single year... which is about what one comic book summer blockbuster movie makes.

This means the retailers make about $200 million, Diamond makes $40 mil and the publishers make $160 mil. There are about 1,200 DM comic shops still in existence, which means each shop averages some $167,000 per year... and that's a very very low retail gross to keep a shop alive with.

If anyone thinks it's important to Disney and Warner to keep the Direct Market alive, to keep Diamond solvent, please think again. It's chump change for both of them... it might not even be worth a writeoff.

I'm sorry for all the people who'll be put out of work by this collapse. I know quite a lot of them, actually. However, any comic shop owner and any publisher who isn't Marvel and DC had better be solidifying new business plans and new market relationships right now... or they're just going to evaporate along with the DM.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:11 AM on September 4, 2010


Labor Day and the Cost Of Doing Business in Comics
posted by Artw at 7:09 AM on September 9, 2010


comics are, as ever, doomed
posted by Artw at 12:59 PM on September 11, 2010


Graphic.ly to offer Marvel titles on multiple platforms, including desktop computers
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2010


Augustmageddon? Comics sales drop sharply
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on September 14, 2010


And, on the subject of one of the possible causes of the decline of comics...
Tell Tom Brevoort what you think of Marvel’s event comics
posted by Artw at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2010


Warren Ellis: Digital Comics 2.01
posted by Artw at 2:25 PM on September 16, 2010


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