Congratulations are due for DC Entertainment on account of them fully embracing the future. It was announced a couple of weeks ago that DC is now offering their new releases (and some back library) through Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble. Not only that, but it was announced recently that starting this week DC is also releasing digital content to these outlets on the same day as print. Amazingly enough, they are the first publisher to do so.
Even though print sales are up 12%, it is obvious that we live in the digital age. Between January and September of 2011, digital sales were up 197%. That is not a typo. Digital sales rose almost TWO HUNDRED percent in nine months. When DC launched the New 52, it was met with resistance, as is to be expected, but combined with their digital outlook, it has been wildly successful. Whether you agree with their move or not, you can’t deny that it has worked.
So why isn’t everyone else jumping on this bandwagon? Mainly, what is Marvel’s deal? They have a subscription service already, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, that at first blush seems like a great idea. All the comics you can read for $50 a year? Yes please. As the saying goes, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. That “Unlimited” part of the title? Not so unlimited. In order to read the comics, you have to be on a computer, on the internet. There is no way you can download to your computer to read at a later date, and if you happen to not have internet service? You are screwed. Surely they are watching DC’s numbers surpass their own, for the first time in quite a long time, and have to be asking themselves where they are going wrong.
Perhaps they should take a look at the music industry as a cautionary tale. People don’t buy CD’s any more. It is rare that the average consumer purchases an entire album (I’m an album girl but I realize that I’m in the minority) anymore, choosing instead to pick and choose single tracks to build their music libraries. The music industry refused to recognize this in time and as a result, is hurting. Had they been a little less cocky and had a bit of forward thinking, they could have introduced digital platforms of their own instead letting piracy take over and then having iTunes pick up their fumble and run it in for a touchdown. Unless Marvel realizes the path they have chosen is not the most fitting to the times, they will find themselves in the same situation.
But what about the local comic shop? What about it? Look, I love a print comic just as much as the next girl. There’s something about going in and having that human connection (as awkward as it might be- let’s be honest, we geeks aren’t really the most socially suave people out there) and feeling the actual paper in your hands. Seeing the stack of books to be read on your desk and the collection of carefully preserved editions in boxes lining your dining room walls. I get it. If nothing else, it provides a link to our childhood and past that we are reluctant to give up. Think about it this way though, I am 34 years old and vividly remember going to a record shop and searching through the stacks of CD’s looking for that one that a friend of mine mentioned was good. I’ve spent countless hours with a pair of headphones worn by countless others before me on my head as I sampled whatever the store had on tap that day. People who are even just a few years younger than I, have absolutely no idea what that experience even looks like. Does that make me sad? Of course it does. Much like I imagine people older than I miss the times where you’d go into a soda shop and sit at the counter and the ordering a malted. Does anyone even know what a malted is anymore? Not I. It is the nature of the beast and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
Nostalgia aside, there simply are not that many comic shops around anymore. I live in south Georgia and there is one shop in town. That’s it and there is never anyone else in there when I go in so sadly, I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be around. There are plenty of people who might read comics but have zero outlet to them. Until now. The digital age has opened up the world of comics to such a wider population and surely that’s a good thing right? I think so. The more the merrier and all that. No, I don’t want anyone to go out of business. I want everyone to be able to man a comic shop if they so desire and do so until their dying day, or until they retire, whichever comes first. Frankly, that isn’t a reality anymore. DC recognizes that the print stores still (for however long) have a place in the world though and they have set up a digital storefront that enables those brick and mortar places to place that on their site and then receive 30% of the sales. Better than a sharp stick in the eye I guess.
Another good thing to the digital revolution in the comics world? It has allowed smaller publishers to find success. Even on Comixology you can find small publishers but it’s the small vendors that are finding a small bit of success as well. Sites likes Dark Horse, an outfit that pulls double duty of publishing and sales, are becoming more popular. Dark Horse has a variety of comics, including a personal favorite of mine- The Guild, and has in the last week announced that they too are going to be offering their graphic novels (Hellboy for example) through Amazon. Not only that, but individual artists have set out their own shingles.
Mark Waid, of The Flash fame (at least that’s where I know him most from), has set up a site of his own called Thrillbent and it is comprised solely of digital content. He even makes a point of saying that it isn’t his intent to bury print media but rather that he believes that print and digital can coexist in peace. If someone of his caliber and experience believes so, then who are we to doubt? Want to hear more of his thoughts on the matter? Head on over to GEEK for an exclusive Q&A where he discusses his new site and his current work on Daredevil.
As with so many things today, we find ourselves in a situation where the “future” has collided with the present time. Now if only those hoverboards were to come to fruition, I’d be a happy woman. For now I’ll just have to settle for reading Batman on my iPad.