DIGITAL COMICS

Before you read my post, it’s absolutely required that you read this interview with Diamond Distributor’s Dave Bowen. He talks candidly about the iVerse/Diamond partnership to sell digital comics and “digital plus” comics through brick-and-mortar shops. It’s a long interview, but for anyone who writes, draws, or publishes comics — it’s essential that we are able to follow these new developments.

Now my thoughts…

Whatever criticisms I’ve had about Diamond in the past are gone now. I’m very optimistic about this model, and Diamond’s approach seems to be well-reasoned, researched, and well-timed. Diamond understands their role in shaping the industry, and they are open to adapting and changing as needed.

In the comments section of the Beat interview, Charles Knight says that no one will stand in line for a digital comic voucher when they can cut out the middle man and buy it directly on their iPad. “It’s like attaching horses to the front of a car.” A fascinating simile, but I think the market for this model are customers who already go to the shops. It’s not seeking to add customers, but maintain a base that may shift to digital and leave the brick-and-mortar stores behind. Dave Bowen says, “We want retailers to have a way to use this method instead of being innocent bystanders.” That’s the key. It will allow stores to participate in the process. It has been used at Game Stop and Best Buy. The scale won’t be the same, but Diamond has no illusions about that.

“If you are running a good relationship-based business, digital comics can’t affect you in any significant way.” Another important point. We’re not only fans of comics; we’re fans of particular stores. When I started buying comics again after a long hiatus, I loved hanging out and talking with the guy behind the counter at Lone Star Comics (South Arlington location). Heck, I would buy comics I hadn’t originally planned to read — just because the store manager spoke so highly of it. Digital in-store comics might be great for regulars who want to “check out” a new comic, but aren’t willing to pay full price for a physical copy. This bodes well for independent and small press creators. We allow retailers to “take risks” with our books through the digital marketplace. If we sell well, it should increase the orders for physical copies as well.

It may be frustrating to some that this iVerse/Diamond partnership isn’t targeting the millions of potential readers who never set foot in the store. Future models for digital distribution will come, especially if this present model is even moderately successful. From my perspective, those “millions of potential readers” are just that: potential. They don’t exist yet. Those creators who have been successful with digital comics in the past, via direct Internet sales, are creators who have already been successful in the stores. (Can anyone think of a digital comic that was successful without already having creators who made a name for themselves in the industry? I’m sure there are examples, but I don’t know if there are enough to render brick-and-mortar stores obsolete.) How do we reach those “millions of potential readers”? I have my own theories. I used to think: it’s so easy, if everyone would just do what I’m suggesting! But now? I’m less arrogant. There’s no easy solution. Since that audience doesn’t exist yet, it might be better to refocus our attention on what can be done in the current marketplace — while still dabbling with direct Internet sales. I’m certainly not opposed to direct Internet sales. (More information coming soon on that front.)

A few other statements that caught my attention…

“I do agree with the assessment that digital comics are the new newsstand. I agree largely because I’m hopeful that it’s true because the old newsstand certainly does not work in terms of driving people or creating new readers. It hasn’t worked for a long time.” It’s true, but it’s a sad truth. Success stories are isolated. Many stores fail. Even the best stores aren’t so secure that they can survive a terrible year or two or three. Digital comics should allow for opportunities to try out and discover new comics.

“I think most large publishers right now are thinking how can I consolidate what I’m doing rather than how can I expand it.” I know a lot of people are saying that iVerse/Diamond will fail because Marvel and DC aren’t a part of it. I bet they will come over once they see how well it works. Large publishers will consolidate, and Diamond represents a safe and familiar place to do their consolidation.

Those are some of my thoughts. What do you think? Feel free to post in the comments section.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Chris Williams told me they’re building comicshop.net to keep retailers relevant and foster smarter business practices, including digital properties. This is great news. You can follow Chris’s blog (click here), make sure to read: “It’s about the EXISTING marketplace.”

4 Comments
  1. In order to be fair and balanced, here’s someone who completely disagrees with my optimism: http://www.indignantonline.com/2011/02/09/diamond-digital-comics-diamond-and-iverse-hatch-a-particularly-silly-digital-download-scheme/

  2. When I first got my prepaid celly from Virgin, I used to buy minutes by going into a store and buying the card and programming said minutes into my phone using the password on the reciept. Until I realized I could just buy them online!

    If properly promoted, this thing of theirs will look successful at first. But it’s only a matter of time before people realize there are easier ways. What Diamond has planned is a grafting on of a system to another system that works better without it.

    I want comic shops to be successful, but I’m not sure this solution is elegant enough.

  3. Good point! Although, I think buying minutes for a cell phone is different from buying digital comics. Minutes are minutes. There’s no need to pick the “best” minutes. However, presumably, a good comic book retailer can direct me towards some comics that I might enjoy. Comics I might not find on my own. Digital downloads are an option for testing new books. Also, for those people who are going to buy the physical comic anyway, the “digital plus” will be good. I have no loyalty to a cell phone company (even though they force into a contract). In contrast, a comic book store is a relationship-based business. I agree that it’s not an elegant solution, but I don’t think this is the “final version” of digital commerce for our industry. In my opinion, it’s a good start for them. They are targeting the existing marketplace.

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