Dark Horse Comics going to day-and-date release, and the subsequent kerfuffle over the pricing has lead to a renewed look at the digital comics insurrection or opportunity, depending on how where you’re looking from.
Comic book writer Brian Wood (Northlanders, DMZ) posted his own thoughts on the rise and mystery of digital comics as a major issue in the current comic book market. It’s worth it to go read the entire post, but here are some selections of note. This is one of the few responses I’ve seen from the creative side of the industry, as other corners of comics make many proclamations, almost none with the hard use of historical evidence, since there isn’t any, hence his title, The Digital Question Mark.
Everyone I know loves comic shops. Everyone I know who makes comics, especially creator-owned comics, is hurting, financially. EVERYONE is bleeding, its a bad time. So to what extent does digital as a publishing format represent an additional revenue stream, one on top of print sales through shops, one that can ease some of the suffering?
Don’t know. No one knows, because we aren’t seeing true sales numbers yet. No one’s figured out what the magic price point is, because none of the big players have taken the risk and offered a 99 cent comic, or a 1.99 comic, etc., in a meaningful way. The price point is being kept artificially high out of deference to our retail partners. The price that fair-minded readers WANT to buy digital comics at is starkly different from what’s they are currently set at.
This speaks to many of the thoughts that readers have had, and the dream price point of $0.99, which I tend to think is a dream we’ll never see unless the current market multiplies many times.
Did I mention everyone is bleeding? I get the frustration. But here’s the thing, speaking for myself:
I’ve had series cancelled recently. I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons. I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have). My income from royalties have dropped. Most comic shops don’t carry my books. I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may not survive as it is now. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too. I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times. But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.
So I’ll have to bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less. The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I’ll just keel over and die from it.
Digital hasn’t taken over for the physical sales loss, and at a much lower price point, it never will. It is possible that eventually, a lower price point would lead to increased sales. We don’t know yet. Wood wants to try it, and obviously readers would support lower prices. But how do you keep the stores going? Wood wants to try it like this.
No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt. We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends. We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income. To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems! It benefits no one at all. It will not save us.
When I thought my Dark Horse comics were to be sold digitally at 1.99, I devised a plan to make the print singles a luxury object specifically for the benefit of the retailer community, to make it a unique book with truly added-value content so that the two formats would not be in competition for the same product. So that the “higher priced” print single would be justified in the eyes of retailers and readers.
Things to note: Brian Wood is the writer of the upcoming Conan the Barbarian and The Massive from Dark Horse. Also, iFanboy is owned by Graphicly, a digital comics company. Everyone in comics has a horse in this race.