Today DC Comics announced that they will be bringing their comics to Apple’s iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle bookstore and Barnes & Noble’s Nook bookstore. The comics will be released the same day as the print counterparts according to ComicBook.com. In the linked article Russ Burlingame lays out an argument that this move is part of the challenge of balancing the needs of readers and collectors, dividing the comic industry into two different camps.
He makes a good point that the industry does have a perception that there are two different camps, those who only read and those who only collect. While there are definitely people who fall into those categories exclusively, the majority of comic book buyers seem to fall in the middle. They like reading comic books and they might pick up and hold onto a few issues along the way because they believe they will have value, or perhaps they purchased a sketch cover at a convention to have their favorite artist draw a unique piece of art for them.
Russ is spot on when he says that the industry will need to reach outside of the current base if it wants to survive. Comic book buyers do leave the market and if there is no replacement for the lost buyers, the market will eventually be unable to sustain itself. I don’t think that comic books and video games are different from movies, television in books with regard to consumers leaving the medium. People do stop watching television for long stretches of time, they don’t go to the movies or they don’t read new books. This is a regular occurrence in any entertainment field. The main difference is the ease with which they can return when they are ready. Most books are self contained, so it is easy to pick up any book that catches your eye and dive right in. Television episodes usually are self contained, even if they tie into ongoing story arcs, you either get a quick recap at the beginning to bring you up to speed or it doesn’t really matter. Movies, again, are usually stand alone experiences, you don’t need to watch several other movies first to know what’s going on.
Comic books, on the other hand, require you to read numerous issues to have any idea what is going on and as pointed out, this is even more necessary when the issue is part of a publisher wide event. Even with the continuity reboot of the New 52 at DC, you still have to know the previous continuity, at least in broad strokes, to make sense of some of it. Why is Clark Kent a reporter (now blogger) when he is one of the most powerful beings on the planet? He could have been a professional athlete, but instead he writes a blog. If you’re coming from outside of comics, you won’t know that this is a nod to the earlier continuity.
Television has reruns, on demand, Hulu, Netflix and DVDs to give you many options for catching up on a series if you decide you like it and want to start from the beginning. In the few instances where you need to watch a movie before watching the sequel, DVD, Netflix, on demand, digital downloads and other options can help you out. If you want to pick up Game of Thrones or another long running series there are usually plenty of copies to be found in bookstores, libraries, used bookstores and of course eBooks. In comics, not so much.
Say you wanted to read all of the Iron Man stories. Last I checked there were over 5000 appearances of Iron Man through out his history. Even if these were all available in digital format for download, and I don’t think they are yet, you’d spend over $5000 if each book was $0.99. I’m not sure even a die hard fan of Iron Man is willing to spend that amount of money. While digital is good and I am happy for more options, in it’s current implementation, it isn’t going to solve this problem.
This is one of the problems we’re trying to solve with ComicBin by partnering with comic book publishers to give readers and new fans the ability to read as many comics as they want for one price. If you want to read every appearance of a character, you should have that option, without having to take out a loan.
And, to bring this full circle, by giving publishers a way to monetize their catalog in a new buyer friendly way, it will allow publishers to create collectible editions that are truly worth collecting, rather than relying on market manipulating stunts like 52 unique covers for a single issue. Collectors can buy an expensive, limited edition book without having to miss out on stories that they are reading in other books. They can just login and read the digital edition that’s included in their subscription.