Monday, June 7, 2010

Are Comics Shops In Danger?

Marvel to Release Digital Comics same as Paper versionsLast week, two bits of digital comic news shook up the industry and were the talk of the HeroesCon convention (where I met and talked with quite a number of comic shop owners over the weekend.)

First, IDW announced that they would be shortening the time between printed paper comics and their ipod/iphone version down to one month. This may work out well for IDW as they have had quite a bit of success with their comics on the iPod.

Their Star Trek: Count Down digital comic was a huge seller on the iPod last Summer, with all 4 issues selling well into the thousands. They also have their own in-house iPhone developer, which saves them from having to job out the work to another company (which is what I think Marvel does with ComiXology.)

For smaller publishers pushing the lead time on digital versions makes good sense as their comics are often quickly pushed off the racks by the flood of titles from Marvel and DC. A shorter lead time will allow them to more quickly gauge what repurposed printed comics have a digital audience and react accordingly. For a small company, the ability to keep the momentum on hot projects is more important than it is for the big two. (Whatever happens, we can always be sure that there will be some form of Hulk comic in two years. However, who is to say if the Green Hornet will still be a hot selling comic then?)

For the most part, the dealersI spoke too about IDW's move seemed in favor of it. Some comic shop owners were less than enthused, but generally understood IDW's position and seemed to think the one month delay was a fair compromise.

Several dealers did express the concern that if other companies follow suit, this might play havoc with their monthly orders while they make adjustments.

However, the other digital shoe that dropped this week was the one causing the most hand wringing - and that was Marvel's trial simultaneous digital and print release. I don't see this as quite the end of the Direct Sales market as a one dealer put it, but rather as just one of those vague, half-hearted/half-assed sales experiments that companies make all the time. With just this one comic to go by, I doubt Marvel will obtain enough useful sales data to make any real business decisions.

I will say this - this move does feel like a spiritual 180 for Marvel, as when they first launched their Digital Comics Unlimited, they said...

To protect current sales of comic books, new issues won't be on the Marvel site until six months after they are published.

One could argue that this promise is about their Online versions, and they have never made such a promise about the iPod/iPhone versions. Still, it's hard to not see a blurring of the lines here that might eventually lead to same day digital releases for all Marvel comics.

And what will happen then? Will all comic shops dry up and disappear? The dealers I spoke to had an interesting take on this. Apparently in the industry, there are three types of dealers:

Boutique Shops - small shops with a coffee shop atmosphere
Mega Stores - bigger stores that are destination venues for wide areas
Hole In The Walls - those smaller shops that are orphaned in dying strip malls

According to the dealers, the first two will be okay, but the HitW shops are going to disappear. One dealer I spoke to said that he has already seen several bite the dust as Discount Comic Book Service has snapped up more an more customers. The belief this retailer had was that without something special to drive customers to their shops every week, the availability of digital versions and the higher $3.99 cost of comics is going to crush those shops.

I was also told that while I, and many other fans, put a lot of stock in the monthly sales numbers that are posted on the internet for comics, that those numbers don't necessarily reflect the shift of sales from Direct Sales Shops to DCBS - so there isn't really a good way to measure that.

So, if you are a smaller shop that isn't doing anything but cutting open Diamond boxes every week, tossing your comics on the racks and kicking back to watch a Godzilla movie while your customers wander in, then your shop might be in danger.

With that I present today's free comics

[ Danger 12 ]

[ Danger 14 ]

Have a great day!

- Jim


Sean Kleefeld said...

Excellent post, Jim. I love the boutique shop angle, and have been trying to talk that up that basic idea for the past few months. :)

Jim Shelley said...

Thank you Sean - you know, seeing your post, I wonder if the retailer I spoke to was familiar with the Isotope?


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