For those of you visitors who are not regular comic book readers, you may not be aware of the drastic changes being experienced in the industry. I wanted to post my own thoughts, and some predictions, and see if they come true.
About a year ago I predicted (to myself) that the music genre for video games was going to stagnant and die, due to lack of innovation. Today we got an announcement to that effect, that the Guitar Hero franchise was no more, with Rock Band probably not far behind. So I want to see if I am as insightful about comics as I am about video games (call me narcissistic if you will, but I might just be right).
A brief history: the comic book industry has been in a slump since the mid 90’s. After a short lift in the early 2000’s (due to movie successes and–believe it or not–9/11) it has resumed a depressing decline. Now the main comic book publishers are realizing the potential for growth through selling comics digitally (mainly through devices like the iPad, but also on their websites). This is proving to be a lucrative venture, but it poses some problems.
Right now the majority of print comics are sold through locally own comic book stores. If the trend to sell comics digitally grows to the point of digital music, we could see those stores going out of business (the same way Virgin and other CD stores went out of business in the last decade). It also creates a danger to Diamond Distributors currently the only company that distributes comics to stores (yes that is a monopoly, but no one seems to challenge it), because they will go out of business if everyone starts to buy comics online.
So, in light of those realities, digital comic books sales have been executed in the most absurd fashion. Instead of mirroring iTunes and other music stores (which allows the purchase of MP3 or simillar files to download to your computer and sync with your devices), the current crop of digital comics are only available through certain apps, and can only be viewable through this app on your specified device. Yes, if you happen to have this app on a second device (iPod, iPhone, etc), you can read the comics there, but if something happens to the company which created the app–say they go out of business–your comics are gone and all the money you spent on them ($2.99 a piece adds up folks) is lost as well. NOT a good business model (and one of the reasons why “the Cloud” concept has its own pitfalls). Add to that the fact that new releases of comics (which come out every Wednesday) are NOT available on these digital apps, you begin to see a digital ‘revolution’ that tries to keep the old system in tact.
This sort of set up cannot last for long. The demand for digital goods (including comics) is going to rise in the coming decades and industries that are not transitioning to provide their content in these ways are going to suffer. The traditional comic book industry will implode if they don’t–right now–aggressively transition to a digital platform. This will hurt comic book shops, something even I personally regret. I am a big fan of comics. I’ve grown up visiting my local comic book shops, chatting with the owners, pursuing the walls of colorful new issues. I’ve spent HOURS shuffling through long boxes looking for back issues. I understand what’s at stake. But change is unavoidable. With all change there will be casualties. What do we want to do? Prop up an old system and ignore where the market is going (and die)–or adapt and require comic shops to adapt as well? Some will go out of business. Some–like many in my neighborhood–will adapt and sell other merchandise to keep their shops open. It’s not a perfect solution, but nothing ever is.
If in the coming years, Marvel and DC and the rest don’t start providing comics in a method similar to iTunes, the industry will collapse (not completely, but in many irrevocable ways). Sales are declining; long time buyers (like myself) are getting tired of giant boxes of mags cluttering up our homes; and new readers are slow to come to the game. If the publishers refuse to change (really change) then there could come a day when there will be no comic book industry. The traditional publishers will go belly-up, their intellectual properties will be absorbed by their larger owners (Disney and WB) who will not know what to do with them, and individual creators will have to find new ways of earning money.
As it stands now, like it or not, the only people who are in a good position are creators. We have more opportunities than ever to creator meaningful work and get it out to the masses, side-stepping traditional publishers completely. Everyone else is in a position to suffer, unless they are willing to change.
And, as I said before, change doesn’t come easy.