The Digital Comics Revolution?

Note from 2020: Obviously none of this post from ten years ago applies anymore, but it was a legitimate concern at the time of the writing. DC’s New 52 initiative was still a year away from being announced, so all I had to go on was what I knew at the time.

I wrote this as a long-winded response to a post made on Comic Zone’s Facebook profile yesterday. I figured posting it as a blog wouldn’t be a bad idea.

FACT: Both Marvel and DC’s editors-in-chief (Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio, before both of their recent promotions) have stated for a fact that they do NOT want to stop printing comics. However, after watching what happened to the music industry, they recognize that by NOT embracing digital publishing, they’re missing out on an entire stream of revenue that will lead to future problems.

FACT: So far, Marvel is doing a good job of keeping 99% of things fair for the brick-and-mortar comic stores, as 99% of what hits their digital store comes out SIX MONTHS AFTER the print version. Yes, there are exceptions – the recent SPIDER-WOMAN series was a motion comic before the seven individual issues were printed, and the upcoming INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL will see physical and digital stores at the same time. But eight items over the course of 9 months is nothing, when you consider that Marvel have had over 1,000 issues published physically six months before digitally in that time frame.

FACT: DC, meanwhile, have announced exactly ZERO plans for digital distribution. They seem to be content with things as they are – Which is an opinion that is hard to argue with; They’re constantly in 2nd place in sales numbers and sales dollars, but they also print about 75% the material that Marvel does (if not even less!), on a per-month basis, and are generally not very far behind Marvel in terms of direct market sales. It’s hard to make a argument claiming that DC doesn’t want to print comics anymore when they have zero online distribution methods in place, currently.

FACT: Smaller publishers (Dark Horse and IDW, specifically) Are the ones who are jumping to the same-day distribution models a lot faster, particularly with their licensed material. However, maintaining those licenses is an added expense that Marvel and DC don’t have as often, so it makes sense that Dark Horse and IDW would want to get an extra stream of revenue going as quickly as possible. Also, both Dark Horse and IDW make up less than 10% of the comics market share (even combined they make up less than 10%), so they’re taking far less of a risk of alienating current fans and finding new ones.

FACT: Paul O’Brien of HouseToAstonish.com is an X-Men completist, and has reviewed almost every single issue of X-Men, ever. Do you really think he’s going to STOP buying every X-family comic in print format just because online distribution is now available to him? I can tell you for a fact that he isn’t, DESPITE the constant problems that the UK’s postal service has, causing him to consistently have books shipped late. (Update in 2020: Paul switched over to buying all of his comic digitally a few years back. Oops!)

It will take several years before online distribution becomes the norm for the comics industry. There are far too many people who have all 700+ issues of the various Avengers titles (Avengers, West Coast, Solo/Spotlight, New, Mighty, Initiative, Dark, Secret, new New, etc.) to just STOP the monthly habit of buying physical copies.

Will there be a shift in current readers who want to jump on the digital bandwagon? Absolutely. But it’s far too early to tell what that percentage of current readership that will be, especially if Marvel continue their six-months-later policy.

But what we DO know is that their online sales have created new readers. And as long as people are reading comics in one form or another, the industry survives. And that’s why the online distribution model began in the first place.

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