Torsten Adair shares the love for the new digital comics distribution system
Meanwhile, over at Comics Beat, Torsten Adair writes a piece on how “Digital Is the New Direct Market.”
Yeah, yeah, I know a piece like this gets written ever four months. The difference now is we sorta know the strategies that the big comic publishers are now implementing to get a foothold in the digital comic industry. Mr. Adair sees a paradigm shift and ties it to trends from years past:
With the widespread influence of the Internet, publishers and retailers salivate at the opportunity to sell to the general public which is unaware of comics shops. Many in the comics industry consider the Internet to be the “new newsstand”, a marketplace which replicates the ubiquity of news agents in postwar America.
Unfortunately, I see a different possibility:
Digital comics are the new Direct Market.
1981 was when the Direct Market matured. That year, Marvel Comics released Dazzler #1 only to comics shops, selling an estimated 400,000 copies. Looking at circulation figures, Marvel realized that Ka-Zar, Moon Knight, and Micronauts were not selling well via newsstands, but could be viable if sold exclusively via subscriptions and the Direct Market of comics shops. By the end of the decade, Marvel, DC, and most publishers distributed more titles via the more lucrative Direct Market than to newsstands.
Here’s where the Direct Market becomes the Newsstand: digital files can just as easily be sold online by comics shops. Just as a comics fan can order comics from Direct Market mail order comics shops, so too can they order them online. Some comics shops have robust e-commerce sites, offering a warehouse of merchandise, usually at discounted prices.
In the past, fans had to journey miles from newsstand to newsstand to find all of the comics they enjoyed. Later, they could find everything under one roof at a comics shop. Now, instead of driving miles (and sometimes hours) to a comics shop, a fan can sit in front of a computer and purchase a Diamond Digital comic online. They do not have to set foot in a comics shop.
Don’t think that’s likely? Look at the e-book market. Amazon reports that e-books outsell hardcover and trade paperbacks. Amazon is an online retailer. It has no physical storefronts. And yet, of everything their bookstore offers, e-books outsell regular books.
Think a store can still be successful if a customer visits? Consider this scenario, one which happened daily when I worked at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center. (This store had five storeys; expert staff selling books, DVDs, and CDs; a packed cafe; and author events which attracted national press.) A customer comes in with a vague request. (“I saw it on a table a few weeks ago… It had a blue cover, and was about vampires.”) An employee accesses databases and product knowledge, and after five minutes of exhaustive searching, successfully finds the book for the customer! The customer is happy, but finds the book too expensive. “Thanks. I’ll get it online.” The bookseller offers to order the book from the company’s website, charging the online price, even waving the shipping. It just takes a few minutes at a nearby computer. Again, the customer declines, leaving the store without purchasing anything….
So print comics seemed doomed, marginalized like vinyl LPs.