Editorial: Digital Comics Are Not The Future

This is a guest editorial from Brion "Sal" Salazar, co-host of Around Comics. Brion's views do not necessarily reflect those of iFanboy, which is owned by Graphic.ly, a digital comics platform.

Over the past few years, the comic industry has talked about digital comics as if they were jet-packs or space colonies – some sci-fi dream from the distant future. Or more like an apocalyptic vision of the future where warm-and-fuzzy pulp and ink has been replaced by cold and uncaring electronic Replicants. We’ve heard the doomsday talk of a digital revolution when soulless machines take over and lay waste to your local comic book shop. The end is nigh.

There have been some signs of resistance however. Publishers, both large and small, have banded together like rebel forces on the ice planet Hoth. They offer us a glimmer of hope that the future can be fought with weapons like Marvel’s “Digital Comics Unlimited”, “Comics” by ComiXology or the Graphic.ly “Digital Comics Solution”. They have even gone as far to offer a support program for retailers so their customers can buy digital comics in their favorite LCS. Fear not soldiers of the printed periodical – help is on the way!

Unfortunately, the war may have already been lost.

Monthly sales of printed comics are plummeting. Book store chains (buyers of graphic novels and trade paperbacks) have claimed bankruptcy and announced hundreds of store closings. Every month we hear the death rattle of another comic shop closing their doors. Meanwhile digital reading devices like Apple’s iPad have given people an excuse to switch from paper to pixels.

Like books or music, television, and movies before them, it is only a matter of time before reading comics digitally are the acceptable norm and not the rarity. And like record stores, video rental chains, and corner book stores – the writing is on the wall for local comic book shops and distribution centers like Diamond.

Last month Amazon.com announced that for the first time in history ebook sales outperformed paperbacks. “So what?” you say, “What has that got to do with comic books?” How long do you think it will be before Amazon perfects a color version of the Kindle? The T1000 model is coming to kill you from the future.  

Even more dangerous though is the hidden war going on in the shadows by pirates and guerrillas. Internet piracy is not going away. If anything, it will become increasingly easier and in the minds of future generations, more acceptable. As digital readers become less expensive and easier to use more comic fans will look for a digital solution. These tech-savvy individuals will be hungry for content and looking for the easiest and cheapest way to get their fix of four-color funny books.  If society (or Wikipedia) tells us anything it is that humans are basically lazy and willing to cut corners and/or break the law if it gets them what they want with the least amount of effort. Right now, downloading pirated versions of your favorite comic books are easier than trying to get them legally. That is a fact and one I think too many in the industry are ignoring.

Right now if you wanted to buy a digital copy of 95% of the comics that come out next Wednesday, you couldn’t. No publisher is offering day-and-date digital comics for even half of their monthly catalog. Publishers are reluctant to have day-and-date digital comics because they are afraid it will upset the apple cart. The first major publisher that goes day-and-date with all of their comics is sure to feel a backlash from both distributors and retailers. It is hard to blame them though. Who in their right mind is going to anger their best customers by exploring the wilderness of the digital domain? Retailers and distributors fear that once consumers can buy comics online, there is no reason for them not to. So publishers are trying to keep them happy while at the same time pushing back against the inevitable and irrevocable change to their business model. The problem is, the model is being changed whether they like it or not. The longer they wait the more comfortable their customers will become with not paying for their products.

The lack of content is only one part of the problem. Let’s say that all the major publishers did go day-and-date digitally. All of the current digital solutions offer you the ability to buy your comics through their online store and read it with their proprietary software. You don’t physically own a copy of the book and they don’t make it easy to read wherever or whenever you want. You have to be logged in to their system in order to read the books you purchase and you cannot trade them with your friends. It is much more like renting a movie or than buying one but it costs the same and I can’t bring it home.

If tomorrow you go to your local comic shop and buy a copy of the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man, after you pay for it you can do whatever you want with it; You can give it away, you can trade it, or you can put it in a plastic bag and hope that someday it will be worth a fortune so you can sell it on eBay. It is yours do with as you please.

Tomorrow if you want to buy a digital copy of the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man, you can’t. Even if you could, you wouldn’t actually own a copy of it anyway. They want you to buy their products but when you do, they don’t want to give you the actual rights of ownership that normally would come with a purchase.

I don’t know how many people in the comic industry know this but every week, there are people all over the globe that are scanning nearly every comic book that is published and putting them online for free. No, I’m not going to tell you where to get them, but if you are reading this article you are only a couple of clicks away. Thousands and thousands of megabytes in pirated comics are downloaded every single day. There are scanners out there working on having a digital version of every comic book ever published online for anyone with a high-speed connection to download. On the flip side, publishers are making it difficult for readers to get the same content.

Here’s a simple analogy:

Joe Comicbookfan is walking down the street and decides he wants to pick up a big stack of the latest and greatest comic books on the shelves. Joe has two options.

Options A: Joe runs all over town to every comic book shop he can find. Most of the stores don’t have the latest issues of the titles he wants, but they do have some back-issues if he wants to catch up on his favorite character. Does he want to start with the Golden Age stuff or just jump in to the latest Big Event from three years ago? No, sorry we don’t have the hot new issue of that title yet but check back in a few months and maybe it will be here. One more thing, I’m sorry but you can’t take that out of the store, you’ll have to read it here.  

Option B: Joe is walking down the street and trips over a big box full of all the latest comics. There is a note on the box that says “Take me”.

Is anyone out there still wondering why comic book sales are dropping like a concrete seagull?

The worst part to me though is the fact that we have all seen this before. Take a look at the music industry. After the advent of digital music players, Napster and other file-sharing software allowed people to download and share any song they wanted. Millions of songs were being downloaded illegally. Producers, artists, and labels were losing money by the truckload. The industry tried to prevent it using some of the same techniques and in some cases they were successful but in the end they wasted a lot energy and money trying to prevent something that they had no chance in stopping.

Then along came Apple and gave the world iTunes. At first people thought it wouldn’t have much of an effect but it gave consumers a simple, effective and affordable alternative to stealing music. Today, millions of dollars worth of songs, television shows, movies and apps are purchased from them every week.

What the comic book industry needs to do is stop fighting against the inevitable change from print to digital. Learn from the history of other industries so that they can make the transition less painful for everyone involved. Look to the future as a possibility to expand your base instead of simply trying to hang on to something you will never be able to keep. There are generations of kids yet to be born who will possibly never own a printed comic book or walk into a comic book store but hopefully that won’t stop them from reading them.

Digital Comics are not the future, they are already here.

Resistance is futile.


  1. Very well said Sal. It’s kind of astonishing to see the same mistakes made over and over again, as industries convince themselve that somehow their situation is “different.”


  2. Yes, exactly. 

  3. Good piece, Sal. I keep telling people/retailers things very similar to this. The retailers moan about it and say that don’t they feel bad that this could put them out of business. I ask them if they feel for the people who manufacture land line phones, or the people who made telegraphs or typewriters?

  4. nice thoughts. Publishers need to view themselves like newspapers and magazines and realize that they are in the temporary, serialized information business. Comics have a 7 day lifespan before they become “old” whereas a book can sit on a store shelf for months and still be considered current. Digital distribution makes the most sense for comic publishers. Unlike newspapers and magazines, they have an opportunity to print collected editions and this is how i see the future of comics working out. 

    Anything that makes making a product more available and easier to purchase is likely to increase sales. I firmly believe that the current direct market/preorder system is slowly strangling the industry to death. Its back asswards, inefficient and is a barrier that keeps people with cash in hand from buying things because they missed that small window to make the purchase. 

  5. @Mario Exactly. There’s this weird sense of obligation we have in comics (and we’re all guilty of it from time to time). But progress DEVASTATES many industries, and others crop up. Do people not shop on Amazon because of all the shop clerks that are now out of business? Did people stop drinking milk when dairy farms automated much of their process? Did people refused to drive on highways because of all the railroad workers that were no longer employed? Evolve or die.

  6. @mariomuscar –totally agree. Capitalism is always an exercise in survival of the fittest. Adapt or find a new job. its not the comic publishers responsibility to figure out how to keep a bunch of poorly managed independent mom and pop shops in business. That may be harsh but i feel its the reality. 

  7. This is such a tired subject.  I hope that eventually day and date books will come out so we can stop talking about how frustrating the wait is.

  8. Good stuff, Brion. I piggy-backed onto your article and added my 2 cents. http://tumblr.com/xri1qmmco6

  9. Ahh yes, this glorious future where one of the loudest copmanies in digital comics couldn’t make enough money to pay it’s server company since December and hasn’t answered several questions put to it by the comics media and people on its own forum. The future is now where no company has yet to claim they’ve actually made a million sales but stick to the nebulous “million downloads.”

    Companies need to put more digital into practice. If you notice Marvel has always been mum about it’s experiments with digital: Iron Man Annual and 5 Weels to Live. Were they successes, you could be sure we’d have nothing but endless reports on it. They aren’t and haven’t been… As well, I don’t know how much clamouring there actually is for digital comics outside of the web fanbase. I have a gut instinct it’s relatively small – like we say alot on this nsight niche of a niche of a niche. 

  10. Thanks for the article Conor. It’s very appropriate. I bought Walking Dead Volume 8 on digital and realized how much I enjoyed it on my iphone.

    My two cents on this is that digital comics is great when it’s on trade. For the walking dead comic book, I really felt like I was getting my money’s worth at a discounted rate. I don’t need to buy the trade to take up space, but I wouldn’t mind having it on my cellphone/account so I can read it whenever I want. I’ll still keep supporting my LCS by buying issues.

  11. About that Amazon figure, they’ve announced that eBooks outsold print twice before and then retracted it. The first time was around when Dan Brown’s THE LOST SYMBOL came out and it was determined that their statement was midleading. The second time they announced it as a 1:1 outselling and it turned out it was actually a percentage volume, which is not the same thing. So I’ve been treating any news on amazon about their eBook performances with a fair bit of salt since.

  12. I’ve said it a million times, but as soon as there is day and date digital releases for cheaper than print I’d switch immediately.

  13. @s1lentslayer –me too, and i’d read more comics as well, especially indy stuff that is hard to find at my local shops. There is no excuse for the indy publishers to not be leading the way on this. 

  14. very well said. this is the best article iFanboy’s put out regarding the topic.

  15. HEY! Who let Sal in here?!
    I can’t get rid of this guy!

    Nice job buddy. Great editorial.

  16. “Even more dangerous though is the hidden war going on in the shadows by pirates and guerrillas.”

    What rubbish. Piracy is bad, mm’kay? Look on youtube for the video of Neil Gaiman talking about piracy of his books. The short story is, one of his books was being pirated somewhere like Russia and he started to worry a bit but then he realised that since his book had been available for illegal download, actual sales of it had gone up by something like a million percent. I’m surprised you didn’t go all out and say piracy funds drug trafficking and terrorism (isn’t that what they say in those anti-piracy videos?). Good grief.

  17. Sometimes I feel like Diamond has dirty pictures of the major comic book execs.

    Something like that Must be the case- Marvel has been experimenting with digital for like a decade.

    Either some very smart people are either very retarded and not passed their driving test after 100 tries or there are business deals in place that block common sense purchasing logic.

  18. Dude, you really think even a handfull of guys that are pirating comics now would switch to paying for a digital “copy” if it were made available to them and in a cool way and easily?
    Dream on. Guys really feeling bad about pirating, they’d wait for the trade, if they couldn’t get the indi-comic at their store or the digital copy on day one.
    You want your guys to stay true to comics, don’t publish heartlass mass-produced unimaginative shit that guys will want to have… in PAPER form.

    It’s like with vinyl records, it’s something beautiful, something special, it’s not just ones and zeros, it’s evidence to the whole world that you truly love this piece of art and that, if asked about, you’d start this long Ode To Art monologue.
    Katie Perry and Lady Gaga aren’t selling Vinyl(at least not a lot), but Radiohead, The Strokes, Holly Golightly… they DO sell Vinyl pretty successfully.

  19. @AvengersAssemble  iTunes proved that if the price is right and it’s convenient that people will pay instead of pirate (clearly not everyone, piracy will always exist, but lots of people)

  20. Sal… I was all ready to argue based on the headline, but then you pulled the rug out from unde me.  I have to say: Great Article.  Your point about the state of Piracy in this industry and others is poingant.  When people pirate any product in such numbers it means three things.
    1. They want the product digitally
    2. They want to be able to get it easily
    3. They want it cheap

    If you make a digital version cheap and easy to get, then people will buy it rather than going to a torrent site.  And those that still go to the torrents would never buy it anyways.  They’re pirates, not consumers. 

  21. @ deadspace. I was taking Gaiman for a greedy douchebag for some years now, saw that interview a few months back…. brilliant!
    Now for me he’s a greedy douchebag with perspective, balls & brains(business brains, story telling brains he always had).

  22. @conor  To be fair the vinyl market is growing and the comics market isn’t… that said it’s basically the poster boy for niche and certainly not a thriving and healthy industry

  23. Well said, Sal.
    I understand the reluctance by the majors not to go day and date right now. But I would have guessed that DC and Marvel would have released at least the first 100 issues of the Golden and Silver Age titles like Spider-Man, Batman, Avengers, Superman and so on. After all they have been republished in several forms (Showcase, Essentail, Archives, Masterworks) already and Marvel has even released them in DVD-ROM a few years ago.

    I think Graphic.ly and ComiXology are doing their best but they are at the mercy of the publisher. 

  24. @AvengersAssemble  If you’re comparing the comics industry to the vinyl music sales industry then we might as well just pack up and go home because the game is over. The music industry does not survive on vinyl sales — it’s a prestige, super niche format.

  25. @ChrisCCL  See I have no idea why the majors aren’t day and date, the comic shops have to keep buying Marvel and DC no matter what.  If they decide to stop they’re basically deciding to close up shop.

  26. @gobo  Publishers don’t go day and date because noisy retailers would declare war. It’s the only (il)logical reason.

  27. I doubt I have anything to add that I haven’t said hundreds of times at this point.  Regardless of how we feel about this change, it is going to be very interesting to watch.

  28. Whenever I hear the music industry analogy I wonder, “Who’s making money in music now besides Apple?”  Bands seem to make their money through touring or do I have that wrong?

    What’s the comic equivalent?  DC and Marvel have the backing of companies that make money through the control of licensing of already established characters.  Will smaller publishers be able to pay artists and writers enough to make comics a full time job?  Or if the promise of the future is putting your comic directly online without a publisher, how much of your time will have to be spent marketing as opposed to creating?

    Will it take Apple creating an online LCS for their to be a place where all digital comics can be found? 
    Or will the closest be a site that collects all the various comic apps in one place?


  29. @Conor: You’re right, but that’s because so many got rid of their old record players to get CDs. Paperbacks have a slight advantage there. And… I mean… your 20 favorite novels, do you have them on your Kindle? You want them on your shelf!

    And with comics it’s a lot more than 20, because a) we’re addicts and b) a comic trade you read in 1-2 days, a book you read for 2-3 weeks.

  30. @slim  But how would they declare war on Marvel/DC?  Not buying them anymore? That would hurt the shops more than Marvel/DC

  31. @AvengersAssemble  The problem is the “addict” is a non-replenishing, shrinking group of people.

    I read a trade in a few hours and a book in a few days, but that’s just me.

  32. And I think tad is spot on with his “only apple is making money, bands earn their millions of dollars more through concerts now”.
    There are no concerts in comics. Going digital completely, they’d have to reduce wages for their writers and artists.

  33. @deadspace  Man, every time you bring up piracy you give an example not of how piracy is a good thing, but of how piracy can be a catalyst for a good thing.  The two are just not the same thing.  Piracy did not cause a book to sell more, people wanting to read it caused it to sell more.

  34. @AvengersAssemble  @AvengersAssemble  That’s actually not true. There are “concerts” in comics, for artists at least. They are called commissions. No one really likes to talk about it, but the reason that you don’t see many high profile artist actually drawing books anymore is because they make WAY more on private commissions. And this isn’t happening because of digital, this has been happening for years.

    And that’s not even counting convention commissions. Why do you think so many artist go to conventions?

  35. @gobo  They would complain so loudly that Marvel would again bend to their will. What is the other logical reasos Marvel/DC has not put out all of their books into the apps? It’s free money at that point. 

    The retailers have a stranglehold on the publishers that won’t break until Marvel or DC grows some balls.

  36. The unfortunate part is that the comic industry has to go ‘all in’ for this to be effective. For the instant they go full day and date, especially if it is less expensive for the consumers to purchase, then the ability to buy the physical medium is going to vanish. Either in revolt as the retailers will see this as a betrayal and stop buying/selling the product or as a result of just being put out of business.

    The only way this ‘betrayal’ could be avoided is if the comic stores changed their models to exclusively service the needs of those things that you can’t purchase digitally (i.e. figures, statues, toys, games, etc.) and the publishers ‘drive’ the consumption of those physical goods. 

    But we all know the one thing the comic publishers are not very good at is ‘marketing’ their product.

    All I can say with any certainty is that however long the characters of the comic publishers have perceived value, their will be stories told about those characters, whether they be comics, movies, books, tv shows, etc., in order to monetize that value for their copyright holders.

    Disney did not buy Marvel with the idea that they are in a downwards spiral, but rather as a huge market opportunity. We just have to ride out this ‘dark winter’ until the ‘spring blooms forth’, and be positive that there will indeed be a ‘spring’.   

  37. @Ratenef Let’s not kid ourselves, Disney bought Marvel for copyrighted characters, not to make comics.

  38. @MisterJ  piracy is a good thing if… it causes good things 🙂

  39. I mean some people still get giant ice blocks delivered on a horse drawn wagon, most people just have an ice maker or freezer. Marvel and DC are worried about the drivers of the wagons, not with inventing the icemaker.

  40. Its interesting that there is no discussion of Archie’s decision to go Day and Date (or the pile of smaller independent publishers that are doing the same).

    Here is the reality of the the comics business: direct market = 99.9% of revenue; digital comics = 0.1% of revenue.

    The belief is that digital will cannibalize the direct market. Is it true? yes. Will it be bad? no.

    The truth is that collectors will always want to collect something physical. They will want to walk into a store and chat someone up about the latest <whatever> and spend time being involved in their local comic community.

    But the collector is not the future of comics. The collector, for all intents and purposes, is a dying breed. Comics stores are closing, there are less and less monthly repeat buyers (people that walk into stores).

    Is the “mainstream” purchaser the future? Maybe. What does that person look like? Probably 16 – 25, male and probably gets their first taste of the comic stories we all love via movies, tv or video games. They probably go to their first movie or buy their first comic because a friend recommended it — not a store owner.

    The world, and comics, are becoming inherrently social, but social outside of the store. We (the fans – not graphicly) are willing to make that shift, but the publishers, by the by, are not. Its hard to change a business that has (sort of) worked for decades. So they look for different ways to generate revenue – movies, tv, merchandise and video games mostly. The characters we all love become brands and are thought of as such. They are commodities. (See Disney’s purchase of Marvel). And it hurts us to our core. 

    Is digitial the “future?” No.

    What is the future is the extension of the comic “experience” across multiple mediums where we as fans can enjoy and share the art and stories our favorite creators create. It will be a future where we no longer have to “go” somewhere to engage in our passion. It will be a future where it comes to us.

    And we can accept that comics are quickly becoming something different than 22 pages of panels, which will be consumed in different ways across different mediums, or we can continue to complain about the death of the direct market.

    As always: happy to discuss directly: 720-248-8499 / micah@graphicly (gtalk/email) / graphiclyme AIM / micahb37 skype 

  41. @conor makes a great point about artist commissions. And on the flip side of the coin, a lot of writers are making more than decent money in the tv & film industry. By either optioning their previous comic book properties, or actually writing scripts.

    People act like comic books are these talented gusy only way to make a buck in today’s world. Not the case at all, by any means.

  42. @Conor haven’t thought about that concert equivalent. Yeah you’re probably right.
    It’s more like a small club concert in a more private atmosphere with higher ticket prices, but good point.
    @j206 yap, and don’t foget writing for video games these days.

  43. I don’t deny that change is happening, but it still makes me sad. Call me an old fart but I feel like society is losing a LOT by the transition from physical to digital media. My wife works in the publishing industry, and a lot of bright, dedicated, and hard-working people are being adversely affected by this. Sure, it’s easy to say “evolve or die” or “that’s business, tough luck,” but just know that these are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about. Blah blah blah, I know I’m in the minority here…many others have written about this sentiment much more eloquently than I ever could, so I’ll say no more.

  44. Great post even if I don’t agree with all of it. The point is as fans we have to have the conversation and the industry needs to join in as well. A few points though:

    Itunes didn’t stop piracy. Nothing ever will. Piracy has always existed well before the internet.

    Vinyl is not for everyone and does not replace the loss in sales, but it does demonstrate that there is an alternative. What that might be for comics, I don’t know. Maybe the ultimate editions. It wouldn’t be enough to save the industry, but it would be an incentive.

    The comics industry is not just losing money. What’s important is the loss of readers, most importantly, new readers. You could eliminate piracy today and the state of the industry would still be dismall, if not worse.

    What should happen is if we can’t own the digital copies anyway, they should set up a system that works like Cable TV. You pay a monthly fee to, let’s say Diamond Digital, and select the package, say Vertigo Channel, Batman Family and Indie Spotlight. Now you have access to all the books available on those channels, unlimited, day and date. And if you want anything extra along the way, it’s like ordering pay per view.

  45. @Conor your statement about commissions and how much money they can make has given me an idea for a new column :pondering:

  46. @conor –thats incredibly interesting about how artists are making money besides drawing pages. Its interesting in that writers and artists are working outside of comics, to make their money from comics. 

    @Wood — do it! i’m already interested in reading it. 

  47. @wally @wood (heh) Look at Skottie and Scott Morse, they’re each making $500 a week selling the sketches from their new blog!  That’s $2k extra a month, nothing to shake a stick at.

  48. @gobo you’ve said the most intelligent thing on this entire page: it all comes down to marvel and dc. they are more powerful in this market than all the, what?, 1000 retailers in N. America. whether you like it or not, the market is built around thier product. if they go day and date digital, the retailer have to bite the bullet and accept it. they CAN’T stop selling marvel and dc. and even if they did, who gives a fuck, you could just go online and buy it there.

  49. @mikegraham6  And it probably won’t make much of a dent at all in retail sales is the thing.

  50. Fantastic article but I think the title of this is a tad misleading. Might I suggest “digital comics (in there current state) are not the future”. From what I gathered your opinion seems to be that the big two are not giving the customers what they want and ultimately deserve: day and date releases and the freedom to read everything that they’ve paid for on as many devices as possible as easily as possible.

    For what it’s worth I’m typing this on my iPad lol.

  51. @gobo –hey what is that new blog you’re talking about?

  52. @Corey  He’s employing a stylistic tool called “irony”.

  53. Here’s what Apple did with itunes;

    They made a digital music retail store that;

    >Required a special application to buy music

    >Only allowed the said music to be played on their devices and software.

    >only sold music that could not be copied and converted to run on other devices.

    I don’t see how what Comixology,Graphicly and Iverse are doing is any different. But here’s how music retail work in today’s world:

    > you can buy music from Amazon, Itunes, Zune and many other vendors and run it, mostly without hastle, on any device and software you want. you can make as many copies as you want and convert it to any format possible.

    >you can buy subscription services from Rhapsody or Zune for 15 bucks that gives you access to billions  of songs and keep some of those songs forever, and play it on any device ever.

    The original itunes business modle ran it’s course around 2006 and I cant believe comic publishers, and magazine publishers in general, think they can still pull it off. It’s dead, MOVE ON! Apple themselves have.

    The editorial also makes a comparison between legal and illegal digital comics, assuming they are the same thing. Such a comparision is falacious. They are not the same product. If they were, then the legal comics lose the competition even on a level playing field. e.g. consider Ultimate Thor, a day-and-date digital release. Compare the version on sale in the Marvel app to the Minutemen scan group’s version. You will see that besides being higher quality in general, the latter is infinitely more portable and flexible than it’s legal counterpart. People who are paying are getting an allround inferior experience than people who are stealing[sic] it.

    As a great man once said; ‘What up wid dat!’

  54. I believe that monthly sales are being lost to trade waiting and to piracy and convenient, affordable digital comics will help combat that.

    I believe digital distribution can only help idie publishers and titles that struggle to get retailers to carry them.

    I believe that the available digital distribution channels (online, iPad, smartphone, etc) can exponentially increase the number of people exposed to the opportunity to buy comics.

    I do not believe that simply taking the same comics that are a niche market today and moving them out of the LCS to digital will capture droves and droves of none comic readers into regular, recurring comic readers. The industry used to sustain its readership by kids picking a book off a spinner rack at the corner store and getting hooked. Even if we publish all of today’s comics digitally few are even appropriate for kids let alone appealling to them.

    Comics, especially the weekly ritual, is an expensive and somewhat irrational hobby. It is a habbit, and maybe even an addition, and the best way to create a new comic reader who will develope that habit is to get them young. And there is a lot more competition for the hearts and minds of kids these days than there was 20-30 years ago when the more adult targeted direct market took over.

    I am not sure what the solution is but an innovative new way to delivery a comic book is not enough, an equally different approach to the content of those books and the format of those books, is needed. 

  55. @wallythegreenmonster  http://www.skottiescott.com/

  56. @Micah and @Bootmobile make excellent points on the twin phenomena of pulling the comic industry out of the toothy maw of the collector whilst replenishing the readership pool with someone younger than 28. Digital comics, for the time being, are great content delivery method, but very few people care about that content.

    It’s not like when MP3s proliferated, it introduced new people to “music” who hadn’t been into it previously. It was a matter of content delivery, period. Comics risk becoming like thoroughbred horse racing, a province of no man beneath the age of 65. Seriously, look it up.

  57. “It’s not like when MP3s proliferated, it introduced new people to “music” who hadn’t been into it previously”
    @WilliamScurry you could argue that the introduction of the MP3 introducted a generation to tons of different GENRES and bands that they wouldn’t have originally been exposed to. this generation has the most musicaly diverse tastes of any before it and that’s due entirely to the invention of digital music

  58. @mikegraham: I cannot argue your point, it’s completely valid. However, people understood the concept of buying music as an commoditized art form in a way they never have about comics.

  59. @WilliamKScurryJr  Comics weren’t always collectibles, they used to get rolled up, stuffed in pockets and generally treated like the disposable goods they should be in the floppy form

  60. So where are all the cats that post “you cannot compare the comic industry to the music industry”?

    Economic reality perhaps is starting to sink in.

    Yeah, shockingly the vinyl market was the only format of music that grew last year.

    Even digital slipped.

  61. @gobo: Excellent point! Imagine if the guy at your LCS never asked you if you wanted bags and boards ever again?

  62. @WilliamKScurryJr  –well music as a genre is incredibly diverse, reaches every demographic and resonates in some form with almost every single person on this planet. Music is very much a part of humanity. Always has been.

    Comics are a niche product for a very small (and shrinking) subculture. 

  63. @WilliamKScurryJr  Mine doesn’t ask if I want bags and boards. Doesn’t even carry them.

  64. @Josh Ouch! Got me good with that one. In all sincerity I assumed what I was going to read was an article about how digital comics were inherently bad and that the publishers should not even bother. But I was pleasantly surprised. Hopefully one of the Big Two higher ups don’t make the same assumption.

    But WTF do I know? I don’t make a living blogging about this stuff.

  65. Wow. I can’t say that this article and others like it does not depress me. Yet, I can’t argue with the soundness of it’s logic. The comic industry does need to learn from the follies of industries before it and embrace the digital revolution, it’s just the way of the market. The Invisible Hand has spoken! lol but in all seriousness, I will lament the loss of floppies and I may be showing my age in that comment, but it’s true. Quite frankly I do not like digital comics and will read less when that transition to the format culminates, but it’s not just about me, it’s about the survival of the industry. The issue is also a philosophical one, how will the issue of intellectual property ultimately effect the sale of comics? How much of a creator’s/publisher’s ownership be protected in a world of instant retrieval? Can that tide be calmed either? I’m not so sure. I think that we are all in for a big surprise as things transform into something we’ve never seen before. The horse and buggy saw it’s demise, as freeways and expressways transformed the landscape. What next for past-times that we cherish as cornerstones of human progress such as print media? Strap on your seat-belts for I think that events will be far from what we can imagine. 

  66. RE: “Piracy has always existed and always will”

    Internet piracy can be virtually eliminated. We as a society simply choose not to.

    Internet pirates get the internet the same way as everyone else, via phone lines, cable lines or satellites.

    All the information that passes over these lines is recorded by the companies that own them.

    Most of us give companies our information voluntarily. Netflix knows every movie you have ever watched, Amazon knows every book you bought, Google knows every search you’ve ever made. Facebook knows every girl you want to sleep with.

    AT&T is still joined in lawsuits with the Bush administration government about allowing NSA to track all the internet data of “terror suspects”.

    They could easily do this to every American, if we wanted them to.

    No fear though. Americans care more about getting their porn “anonymously” than they care if content creators have a meek existence.

    But it could be different.

    If large groups of artists joined “artist rights societies” and put pressure against phone and cable companies.

    It would be similar to what ASCAP does for musicians. But instead of having to go around to thousands of bars and restaurants threatening to sue for unlicensed rebroadcasting of music…they only have to go to the 5 largest phone and cable and satellite providers.

    The companies would then in turn track what files move where. Then pay the artists society, the society would pay its members percentage dividends based on the amount of content they have moving. The amount of files you download and send would then set your individual internet rate with the phone/cable companies.

    Sorry for the length. It just kills me when people throw their arms in the air and say “gee nothing anyone can do” There is, we just don’t want to give up our “freedom” unless its to an even larger company so that they can send us free coupons. Then we will tell them where we buried all the dead prostitutes gladly.

  67. I think one of the aspects in this Digital Comics debate that doesn’t come up enough is the concept of paying to read comics versus paying to own comics.

    tl;dr — I don’t want an iTunes for comics, I want a Netflix for comics.

    Historically, the comic book industry has only offered a model for ownership. You buy it, it’s yours to keep and do whatever you want with it. The publishers and creators would like you to read and enjoy it, but really if you just used it as toilet paper they wouldn’t care because you paid for it.

    Now, digital offers the potential for a new “readership only” model that really appeals to me and where I’m at in my life.

    I, for one, DO NOT WANT an ever-expanding collection of long boxes. I love having nice trades and hardcovers on a book shelf in my living room, but I don’t particulary want single issues taking up all that space.

    I know, I know, I can donate comics to a myriad of great causes, but as much as I don’t want more stuff taking up space, I also don’t want to go spend $3-4 on a comic, read it in 10-15 minutes and then JUST GIVE IT AWAY!

    But if I could pay a monthly subscription fee that lets me read new issues of a series on my iPad, as well as go back and reread old issues (from the point at which I subscribed, or previous issues that I’ve bought access to) that would be great. If I really loved something, I’d buy a physical collection for my book shelf.

    Now, I’m not sure if Netflix makes a great comparison (with the new restrictions from studios trying to prop up the wounded DVD market), but I’ll make it anyway. Netflix got me watching WAAAY more DVDs than ever, while simultaneously cutting down on the number of the DVDs I purchase and only watch occasionally while they take up space in my house. It gave me an easy, cheap (and legal) way to watch movies without owning them.

    So keep your Apple iComics Store purchases, I want a NetComix Instant subscription plan.

  68. But the publishers AREN’T fighting the transition to digital. They HAVE BEEN putting out digial comics, and no one’s really biting on that option all that much.

    To say that there’s no difference between the transition between print-to-digital for reading vs. print-to-digital for listening is ridiculous. Music has no physicality to it (niceties like album art and the feel of a cd booklet are trivial). Reading does have a physicality to it.

    More importantly, studies have shown that reading physical books leads to greater comprehension and retention of information. Of course, anyone who’s already so inundated with digital media trivia, who forgets the comics they read as soon as they’re done reading them, wouldn’t notice the loss of depth in the experience.

    The Amazon.com claim for ebooks to outsell physical books was a fudge of the numbers. It took into account freebies of books (that no one wanted) which came with purchases of eReaders. But, anyway, must ebook versions of books cost like 90% as much as the books themselves. So if people would want to spend $11 on a bunch of raw data vs. $12 on an actual book, then a victory for digital would only be a victory for poor economic judgment.

    I’m not against digital at all. I love it. I use it. I buy it. But everything has its place. All of you ra-ra pro-digital comics guys are totally discounting about 95% of reality in order to arrive at your extremist stance.

    Yes, we know, the industry is crashing. THE ENTIRE ECONOMY IS CRASHING. So when comic shops go away, don’t blame that on some sort of conspiracy against digital. There is no conspiracy. Even the people who don’t agree with you STILL LIKE THERE BEING A DIGITAL OPTION. But what you guys don’t get is that the audience is simply leaving the medium anyway, digital or no, and the younger kids DO NOT WANT to start reading comics. They don’t want comics for the same reasons that a lot of you guys insist on liking them. There’s a fundamental disconnect between you guys and reality. You guys think that a comic like Ultimate Spider-Man (though it’s great for what it is) would actually resonate with the youth today. It doesn’t. It never did. It never could. Most of the comics you think are “reader-friendly” are really just nostalgia porn for 35-year-olds to read the same stories for the twentieth time. The lack of genuinely new and appealing ideas is why the youth turned their back on the industry.

    If digital is supposed to be the future (or, the “NOW”), then why doesn’t Manga need to sell digital comics to survive? Within Manga circles, digital isn’t even an issue. Why not? Because that’s actually a vibrant artistic industry that doesn’t rely on nostalgia or cater to the self-important conceits of 35-year-olds.

    Digital isn’t the future. Not because it’s “the present”. But because, for this industry so diseased by nostalgia, there IS NO future.

  69. By the way, you got the Amazon.com story wrong: Kindle versions (many of which are free and complimentary with a Kindle purchase, btw) weren’t outselling paperbacks; they were supposedly outselling hardcovers.

  70. Just wanted to say thank you to everyone that read the article and a double-thanks to those that have commented here. Great to see so much discussion come from it. There are a lot of interesting points made in the comments (some I agree with and some I don’t). As much as I would like to, I can’t try and debate each one but I appreciate all the opinions.

    I do want to clear up one thing. A couple people have commented that I was incorrect with the Amazon report. According to multiple sources, Amazon reported that ebooks outsold paperbacks in the fourth quarter of last year. If that information is incorrect, than the BBC, Guardian and others before me reported it incorrectly.

    Amazon had announced last year that ebooks had out sold hardcovers and there were some questions regarding that, but in January 2011 the latest data in regards to paperback sales was reported.


  71. Comic shops will go (are going) the way of music shops and I will be right no matter what you want to say about the differences between the industries.

    As for the cat who says music appeals to a wider audience, storytelling and music have been intertwined since the beginning and storytelling alone appeals to human nature just as much as music.

  72. @WilliamKScurryJr  Finally someone brings up the commodity aspect. No other publication has that kind of secondary market. Nobodys lining up to buy a Newsweek from two months ago. Right?!?!?!?

  73. @ScorpionMasada  –storytelling yes. comics no. Movies, TV and novels are the predominant forms of storytelling in western culture right now. Comics are a sub sub genre appealing to a very tiny segment of the population…thats just the reality. 

  74. I would just like to point out that, although music has made a leap toward the future in ipods and movies with netflix, I can still go to Blockbusters and buy cds at a specialty shop.  So, while digital may be a new forum, it doesn’t mean that print has to go, the two can coexist.  Sales will not be equal between the two. This will probably drive many stores out of business, unless they can expand their focus. But they can still make business work.  The shop I go to sells t-shirts, posters, dvds, statues, back issues dating to the golden age through the modern age, as well as a large selection of graphic novels.  So, while the digital market can claim some of this, that shop can exist on its merchandise that cannot be gotten digitally.

  75. I absolutely understand that the comic buying public is small, but it isn’t because music resonates with humanity more than storytelling.

    Blockbusters is on the deathbed.

    I’ll assume you are in a major city cuz I’m in one too and yeah there is one or two music speciality shops where there used to be a shitload.

  76. You have to ask yourself a few important questions.

    What is a comic book? What is it REALLY? Is the message of comics separate from its current printed form?

    What is a comic book direct market retailer actually selling? How much of it is comics versus ancillary products? Can owning a digital bust or digital action figure be worth anything to a fan?

    What is a digital version of Batman 227 worth compared to a nice paper copy that can be held, read…smelled?

    Good comics shops are not going to be harmed by day and date digital comics. Their business will be enhanced if anything–at least until 3D printing takes off in ten years. 🙂

  77. @ScorpionMasada  —oh yeah i don’t even know where an indie record shop is anymore. All the good ones that have been around for 30+ years are out of business…same for indie bookshops really. 

    Of course music isn’t more important than storytelling, BUT in this conversation i was speaking more towards the iTunes model. Its successful in part because it has something for everybody, and the sheer volume of purchases makes .99 profitable. If you did the same thing with a comics only thing, it might not work. 

  78. I agree. I was looking at the destruction of the industry and not the potential saving of it.

  79. One commonality I’m really glad to see, especially in all the above comments, is the passion everyone has regarding the comic industry. Regardless of which way one feels about it, I think it’s that passion that will drive the comic industry through this next evolution.

  80. I think everyone is making good and bad points:

    1) Piracy is bad! Period. There are no good things that come from piracy.
    2) Piracy existed before comics, the internet or even the western civilization. Some people “steal” because they can. Other “steal” as they feel they have no other options.
    3) Like it or not, at one point or another all major titles will be available digitally. Then the issue will be “how can they charge $3.99 for a digital version of a comic I can get in the store?”
    4) Industries must evolve or die. I remember Cassette Tapes, BetaMax, 8-Tracks, 45’s and 78s. Digital Music Players revolutionized the industry. Piracy kicked in and the industry adapted. Now Tablet PCs are doing the same for Books, Magazines, Comics and Newspapers. Piracy has kicked in and it is time for the industry to adapt.
    5) I don’t have a Tablet PC yet, but I have scaled my comics budget in half! It will be a while before I can afford the tablet I want so in the mean time, the comics industry will just have to work harder to get my money. When I have enough to buy my tablet of choice in a few months … whichever publisher is on board is going to get most of my attention.
    6) I am still going to buy floppies, but a very, VERY select few floppies a month.
    7) Fans have other legal avenues for comics as well, say iFanboy, Around Comics, 11 O’clock Comics and Alt3red Egos to get their comics quota.

  81. Sal makes great points.  Although, with the announcement that DC will be rebooting, and all their digital comics will be available on the same day as the physical comic is, some of his points are made weaker. 

    Still that announcement saddens me.  For every digital comic that is bought and paid for, 50-100 are downloaded for free.  The day a digital copy is available, 20 people make it available to download for free, and thousands of people do it.  I just looked up “digital comics” on a bit torrent site and found everything from Spider-girl to V for Vendetta, and over 200gb of comics, for anyone to download for free. 

    The largest retailer for manga in the U.S. shut it’s doors sometime in the last couple months.  The reason given was too much piracy took away too much sales, and they went bust.  Their products weren’t pirated by people that didn’t like them. 

    As for the arguement that people will still make comics, even if they don’t get paid, sure, that’s true.  In thier garage, the crap you can already download from some guys website, 99.99% of which sucks.  Sure you get the random one that is good, but he isn’t getting paid, so he won’t do it much, he has to spend his time tuning pianos to make a living.  An issue every 6 months. 

    Sure, other industries have to adapt or die, newspapers went to radio, then TV, and now internet, Music went from vinyl records, to cassettes, to CDs, and now are digital, (of course music sales went up last year, but profits dropped drastically, not a good business model), Video went from film, to Beta, to VHS, to DVD, to Blue Ray.  But what is the comic industry’s Betamax?  What is the comic industry’s Vinyl record?  Paper comics have survived for decades.  Paintings are still sold on canvas, I think comics are an art form that will last without following the trends of other industries.

    But, it is too late, with DC going digital, (or as digital as they are) we are fighting a losing battle.  All I know is that I will be cutting my budget for DC comics back by a substantial margin.  I won’t completely stop buying them, but if more people than just me agree, it will make a dent.

    I wonder if anyone stopped and thought, “Hmm… Sales are down, maybe we are a luxury item, and the economy is bad?”  Wow, I never thought of that.  I am sure that has been mentioned here.

  82. @Vidman  Piracy doesn’t exists with or without digital comics.

  83. @conor I am not exactly sure what you mean.  I mean, could you explain?  That isn’t really a response to any of the issues I commented on, and I am pretty sure it isn’t grammatically correct.

  84. @Vidman  Haha – I don’t blame you. I started to write one sentence and changed it in the middle but forgot to take out a word. What I meant to write was:

    Piracy exists with or without digital comics.

  85. @conor I figured that was what you meant, but I didn’t want to put words in your mouth.  

    True, I know it will exist, but the best example of what I mean is Music stores.  Fifteen years ago, you could go into any mall in the world, and there would be a CD store.  Now, unless the mall has a target or a walmart on it, there is nowhere to go to get the CDs.  Now the music industry is reporting massive increases in sales, and losses in profits.  Not that they are losing money, but they are selling a lot more, and making a lot less.  The first industry to really hit the digital market hard, and the only way to make money, if you make music, is concerts.  

    What does that mean for comics?  Whatever it is, I don’t see it yet, but I can’t imagine it’s good. Local businesses support local economys.  Walmart does not support local economys, it kills them, and it doesn’t pay it’s employees enough to actually make a living.  I don’t want to buy my comics from an online company that has no interest in supporting the local economy, and I refuse to buy them from the big box stores.  
    Digital comics are convienient, and easy, but they have no interest in supporting local economys. Sending my money to amazon.com does not help anyone, except the people in the warehouse that send it out, and the people that own amazon.com.  When I buy comics from a local comic shop, the owner uses his profits to buy plants from the local greenhouse, supports a local mom and pop grocery store, banks at a local bank, and uses local plumbers, carpenters, and other handymen when he has a problem with his house or business.

    I love this website, and I realize it is owned by a company that specializes in digital comics, but digital comics are not something that I can support.  I can’t support them and continue to look the people in my neighborhood in the eye.  The same as I can’t support digital books, and if I put music on my ipod, it’s from a CD. 

  86. @Vidman  There’s nothing wrong with not liking digital comics. That’s your choice. And that’s what ths comies down to: increased CHOICE of how to consume a product.

  87. @conor Increased choice is sometimes good.  But increased choice without morality is not good.  Giving me more ways to consume a product might sound good, but at what cost?

    I realize you want your comics digitally.  I realize you don’t like the individual issues as a physical comic, you prefer TPBs to 20 individual issues.  That’s fine too.  

    But it’s the fact that the little guy is hurt so much by this, and the fact that the big companies are hoping to see great short term gains by this change, and they aren’t looking long term, and if we, the consumer, don’t look at the long term, we hurt ourselves most.  

    I still say, digital comics will hurt the industry in the long term.  Support your local comic shop.

    And conor, last word? go ahead, I know you will. 

  88. @Vidman  You’re actually 100% wrong about the big companies not thinking long term. DC’s move to digital is the first long term thinking they’ve done in forever. Up until this point DC (and Marvel and Image and all the other companies) have been focused on propping up the direct market and catering to a dwindling fanbase. Gping digital and allowing for increased distribution of their products is the first sign that someone is taking seriously the long term health concerns of the industry.

  89. @Vidman  –increased choice is always good. The comic publishing industry can’t continue to hold themselves back because of fear of what some small independent shop will have to do to keep themeselves in business. That makes no sense. The form of the comic book has remained relatively unchanged since the 1920s and the comics industry is the LAST media sector to not fully embrace digital delivery. That is not good in any way. 

    If comics continue to be sold they way they have been (pre-orders and direct market) we’re not going to have many publishers, titles or creators left. 

    Support your local businesses….if you want to, and if they are worth supporting. The good ones will adapt, diversify and survive. Remember, a lot of bakeries and butcher shops went away when grocery stores came in, but a lot survived. 

  90. Being the last to embrace a failure of a delivery system is bad.  The music industry was one of the first to embrace digital delivery system.  The only people that are profiting from it are apple, and other producers of side devices.  I am sure apple loves comics going digital, too.  The producers of the product themselves have been seeing a decline in profits, while at the same time seeing an incredible increase of distribution.  The actual bands that make the music (think Writers, artists, and colorists, you know, people that actually produce comics) can only make money with concerts (think appearances, special projects, etc.  I am not really sure on this). 

    So, who is the full list that digital comics screw?  I don’t know about a full list, but short run, it screws the writers, artists and everyone involved with the production of the product, it screws mom and pop comic book shops, and in turn, it screws local economies across the country, and the world, and it screws anyone involved and employed in the distribution of physical comics.  In the long run, the good artists involved in comics will be lured away by media that will actually pay them, and what will be left are the mediocre and suckie artists, so the consumer will get screwed by a lower quality product, (that’s you and me, just to be clear), and ultimately, I guess you are right, the larger companies won’t ever be hurt at all by digital downloads.

    I mean the RIAA was never hurt by digital downloads either, right.  Right?

    I realize I will never change your mind about this.  Assuming you can change another person’s mind about an issue with words is idiotic.  I just want to make the point.

  91. @Vidman  You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  92. @conor That would be convenient, wouldn’t it? But it’s also a poor arguement.

    I know at least a dozen people that are good friends that have bought a kindle, or iPad, or Nook in the last few months.  I have asked them all if they have books on them, and every one of them does, then I asked them how many of those books they paid for, and not a one of them did.  That’s just novels, but they have been selling digital novels for at least as long as they have digital comics. 

    Pretty good for the industry.  The product is out there, all over the place, and 100% of the people I have asked aren’t paying a dime for it.  You don’t have to tell me that my sample is small, I am a mathematician, I know it weak evedence.  But it says somthing.

    But, I “have no idea” what I am talking about.  If you think that, then don’t listen to me. 

  93. @Vidman  Maybe you should just consider hanging out with people of higher moral fiber. 😉