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  1. #1
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    Default CBR: Tilting at Windmills - May 13, 2010

    Brian Hibbs takes a look at the emerging digital comics market, likening it to the newsstands of old and explaining how - if done properly - sales of digital comics can help boost the bottom line of comic book stores.


    Full article here.

  2. #2
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    Default Look what happened to music

    You truly are tilting at windmills friend. I disagree with your suggestions of what the market could do to grow print sales. I mean honestly, that's ass backwards. Digital is going to transform every distribution network for entertainment. It is in the best interest of publishers to leap at this and do what needs to be done to generate sales and build fan base. And I'm sorry but that does not mean trying to lure more people into shops. Digital comics must and will eventually be released the day the print version is released. Price will be determined by what the market demands, and for publishers to attract new readers that's going to mean cheaper than print. I know this scares the hell out of comic book store people but it IS the future. If anything Marvel and Dc have dragged their feet too long on this. Get those comics out and sell 'em cheap so knew frigin readers will try them! Many of the suggestions you make remind me of catastrophic mistakes the music industry made. They tried to maintain prices too you know and many of those companies went down because of it. Also, and I know this will be unpopular, but new comics would benefit from not being sold in stores that visually appeal strictly to males.

  3. #3
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    Brian Hibbs said:
    "If you're talking about work that doesn't have A+++ creative visions at work, $3.99 is, let's face it, an absurd price point for 22 pages of story content. There simply isn't enough value in a package like that to engage the majority of the readership."


    To me, this is the best and truest line of an outstanding "Tiliting." The $3.99 price for a $2.99 comic is the thing most hurting modern comics. There are so many examples; this week's "Prince of Power" from Marvel, most miniseries from Marvel and DC, IDW and Boom! comics (among others). These are books I am somewhat interested in and would read for the stories if they were reasonably priced. I want to see what comes next in Marvel's Hercules saga, but I'm not willing to pay four bucks for the interesting adventures of a thirteen year-old with no major heroes. How do they expect to sell this?

    On the other hand, I disagree with your suggested price point on digital comics content, Brian. There are no brick-and-mortar stores (for good or ill), no shipping or printing costs. Comics are already horrendously overpriced. Why should I still pay four bucks for comics if I download them directly (and legally) from the company's website? Two to three bucks should get everyone well compensated for their work, I would think.

    Not sure I would ever do this, I like supporting my local retailer, who is a prince. But I'm also past paying $3.99 for a 22-page comic. Something has to change or I will either cut my buying drastically or just get out altogether. And I'm 45 and have been buying comics almost 40 years.
    Last edited by Jerry Smith; 05-14-2010 at 06:17 AM.

  4. #4

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    I think people dreaming of substantial savings from digital will be very surprised on how little that will be. I think there are parallels in the book industry where the major costs are not distribution and material, but in marketing, personnel and talent acquisition. Labor intensive, you know...

  5. #5
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    Default Solution: DM sells digital

    I stopped buying serially when my wife banished my long boxes to the garage. I've been buying hardcover editions, and happily paying the extra $$ to Comix Experience vs. Amazon because I love going into the store (even if it is only once every month or so.) But my bookshelves are getting full and even the nice hardcovers frequently don't justify taking up shelf space (see Old Man Logan!) This is why I'm converting to iPad and digital only going forward.

    However, publishers and the DM should **EMBRACE** that, not try to delay it. Every single comic available in print should be available (SAME DAY) on digital.

    AND, I should have the ability to buy it FROM my local comic shop! At that point, the shop's value is providing knowledgeable staff who introduce me to awesome comics. In exchange, they get paid for selling me digital comics.

    If the publishers really want to support the DM, they should allow them to sell digital comics DIRECTLY to customers. The shop gets money, and doesn't have to take the risk of holding an inventory of books that don't sell. Win Win.

    Brian, couldn't you use a model similar to online comic sales (eg.TFAW or Comixology?) Maybe what's needed is a technology platform that DM stores could use to enable those kind of sales (plus the publisher's making their comics available in a format you can sell - vs. only selling in their app.)

    The reality is that digital is coming/is here. It is going to take a very forceful response for existing local stores, but I believe that it could be a viable path. If you can, I'll go back to buying serial comics (in digital form) from you again!

  6. #6

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    This is where I may reveal my ignorance - by asking this question:

    Is there no chance that the advent in digital comics may mean that the cover price on printed comics may be able to be dropped?

    Having now asked that, I think it's a pretty absurd notion. Corporations like their profit, and why would they pass on any kind of savings (from the possible, extra revenue of digital sales) to the consumer?

    No matter how cheap the digital comics are sold for, if digital becomes the dominant medium, the price will rise in no time. Once they see the addicts amongst us need our fix any way we can get it, they'll jack those prices too.

    I do think that in the long run, Marvel and DC would be wise to not abandon any medium in favour of another, otherwise all the will be doing is a repeat of the whole DM debacle.

    Meaning if they go exclusively digital, and the move doesn't generate a return to a wider appeal in readership, then it seems to me that would be an even more catastrophic blow to the industry than the disappearance of spinner racks from corner stores and 7-Eleven's and various supermarkets.

    No matter what happens in with digital comics, Marvel and DC, et al, have to view the move to digital with at least 2 key objectives (of many, no doubt):

    1) Broadening the audience

    2) Getting that audience - new and old - into comic book shops.

    I know stopping piracy is a major factor too, but I have to believe that in the grand scheme of things illegal comic downloads are most likely hurting retailers. Companies with the size and scope of Marvel and DC can write off those loses easily - not saying this justifies illegal downloads.

    That retailer who runs your LCS? Not so much.

  7. #7
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    Default Price

    I'm sure the price will not reduce below early nineties prices but the removal of distro, paper and printing costs will certainly drop costs. If you look at the book industry, the digital edition costs between 50 to 30 percent less than the paper copy. As a rule, paper can't compete as long as you are purely interested in the consumption and not the collecting of comics.

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    Who says I'm not interested in collecting comics just because I buy them digitally? That's the whole point. If I can buy a comic and have it instantly available anytime instead of having to root around in a longbox, I am more likely to BUY MORE COMICS! And display them on my iPad, iMac, TV, etc. And share them with friends to expand the audience.
    --
    matthh

  9. #9

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    You make a lot of good points and I've enjoyed hearing your views on these sorts of subjects for a while now. However, I'm not sure if you're right about the following:

    Let me digress for a moment to observe that some commenters have deeply misunderstood the nature of the relationship with the actual "newsstand" and comics - saying things that essentially boil down to that the publishers "abandoned" the newsstand in order to chase the DM. That is categorically false. The newsstand abandoned comics first, primarily from the absorption of what used to be a significant network of "mom and pop" stores into large national chains of pharmacies and grocery stores (how many locally-owned pharmacies are there in your city in 2010?); this corporate consolidation largely became about the bottom line - why carry a spinner full of comics when you can put a spinner full of sunglasses in the same space that not only has a higher retail price, but also a better wholesale price, and pretty much never "spoils?"
    I think this is a matter of your point of view. You're right that Marvel, DC and the rest didn't just throw their hands up and say "Screw the newsstands! Let's ABANDON them!" Rather, from what I understand they had to sacrifice the newsstand market because they couldn't handle the overhead of buying back unsold copies, which is a standard practice if you want your periodicals on newsstands/supermarkets/etc. It was the late '90s and the comics publishers were feeling the squeeze of the swift contraction post-speculation boom. In the newsstand market a publisher ALWAYS had to assume that roughly half (sometimes a third, sometimes two-thirds) of the copies printed would have to be bought back. This was a necessary sacrifice that Marvel and DC, through the '80s and most of the '90s, could stomach taking, because the margin of error between success and bankruptcy was very large. If you look back in all those in-house Marvel bulletins of sales figures, then you'll see that even when X-Men was selling like half a million copies on the newsstands alone, they still had "returns" of over 200,000. But, again, when you're dealing with numbers that big, and when there's a secondary resale market, then it doesn't really matter. Also, Marvel could plan to have profitability on the newsstand market with their big titles (whereas some titles were direct market only for a reason).

    But in the late '90s that had to change. Marvel was bankrupt, sales were plummeting anyway, the whole Heroes World fiasco was complicating matters for EVERYBODY, so Marvel couldn't afford to keep paying for newsstand returns--period. The margin of profitability was too thin, there were too many other problems at the time, so any unpredictable overhead (like having to pay for an indeterminate number of newsstand returns every month) was just unacceptable.

    I really think you're way off base when you pin all the blame on "consolidation" and corporate America. The drugstore chains in my area: they're big chains, been around for a long time--and in the '90s they had comics in them, but they don't anymore. The local general "mom n pop" stores I've known: yep, not all of 'em are around anymore, but some of them still are, and they used to have comics until the late '90s, but they don't anymore. I think the Wal-Martification of America has indeed hurt comic sales in that Wal-Mart doesn't stock comics and more people shop at Wal-Mart now, but that's just a corroborating influence. The real factor is the simple fact that newsagents don't carry comics anymore, period: they don't carry them to ANYONE, not mom n pop joints and not to chain stores.

    The consequence of all this, as you point out very well, is that we have indeed lost a generation or two. Kids grew up never even seeing comics in a way that would familiarize them with the experience of reading one.

    I'm not quite sure that digital comics replaces the visibility aspect amongst the general public, though. I mean, it's a different experience when you go into a store and see a rack of comics there. That's a much more natural event, more likely to cause someone to flip through them, than it is to hope someone will DOWNLOAD some strange product they've never used before ONTO THEIR HARDDRIVE after seeing some annoying SPAM--I mean advertising--alerting them to the fact that digital comics exist. I hope you're right, but I just don't see it.

    I'm starting to think that the disappearance of comics, or the consolidation of the medium into a very, very specialty market, is just an inevitability. If you look back: Where are all the pulp magazines these days? Where have they been in the last several decades? They were popular from the '30s to the '60s, but then they trailed off and slowly disappeared. Talking about how to popularize comics amongst the youth is starting to seem like talking about how to get kids (or anyone on a large scale) interested in opera or bluegrass music. You're lucky if you can get anyone interested in ANYTHING that seems a bit out of step with the time, let alone interested in something that takes ACTIVE interest on the part of the audience member. That's one aspect of the video games vs. comics debate that I never hear mentioned: video games don't take (pro)ACTIVE interest, rather playing them is a form of RESPONSE based on what you see on the screen. Over the course of the last 50-60 years, society has been led to engage either PASSIVELY or else in quick, external RESPONSE to technology; this is opposed to the way that one behaves when reading a comic: it takes imagination to fill in the gaps between the panels, and it takes ones own ACTIVE interest to light the fire within you to READ, period. When you read, nothing promps you; you have to prompt yourself to make the time and find enjoyment in the static images and words. One might say that motion comics are a way to elicit interest on the part of the comics reader (if motion comics are to be considered "comics", and if one "reads" them), but I think motion comics would really just be a poor form of a cartoon. At least, that's how the prospective new reader would interpret them.

    People have shorter and shorter attention spans. When the actual comics reading audience THEMSELVES have trouble reading comics with too many words on the page, then we should know that the medium is on its last legs. The last audience that will ever read comics on any semblance of a large scale--is the people reading them RIGHT NOW. When the actual proselytizers of the medium are themselves more interested in: attending conventions (which are more about movies and pop culture than they are about comics), watching movies and television, twittering, podcasting, and writing on message boards, rather than actually reading comics, then we should realize that the medium is basically obsolete. Everyone who says they really LOVE COMICS...all of these people have a "stack" of hundreds if not thousands of comics that they simply haven't read yet. They like the experience of buying comics, talking about them--they like the whole lifestyle and the persona of being a comic geek. But I'm not sure, based on what they actually do, that they like READING comics anymore. The decompression of storytelling (not bad in itself; don't misunderstand me) is a convenient corroborator in this, because the only comics that are really read and discussed the most (except for Morrison's Batman stuff) are by and large very, very simple tales with few words in them. They read quickly, which helps when the actual comics-reading audience doesn't really like to read that much anymore...or doesn't have time (in our technological society in which attention is chopped up into ever smaller bits) to read much anymore!
    Last edited by DarkBeast; 05-14-2010 at 02:51 PM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by RamboMustard View Post
    Get those comics out and sell 'em cheap so knew frigin readers will try them! Many of the suggestions you make remind me of catastrophic mistakes the music industry made. They tried to maintain prices too you know and many of those companies went down because of it.
    The issue, I believe, isn't so much getting people to "try" them as it is what the long-term buying habits of these "new" consumers will be.

    If they buy three issues of BATMAN, then decide it isn't for them, rather than buying twelve-a-year as print customers do, and if these "new" customers don't proportionally outweigh current readers (in order to offset the lower price you're advocating), then there's a pretty decent chance we can utterly destroy the market for ANY comics.

    The difference between music and comics is that music is something people KNOW they want -- I'd imagine 75% or more of the population has some sort of a music "collection". That's certainly under 2% for comics.

    The POTENTIAL upside in "new" audiences is insanely large, but there's also a HUGE risk in throwing it all away in trying to reach those people (who may not, in fact, even be interested in the way that you and I are)

    Also, an observation: flipping through my collection of CDs, and looking at the retail price upon them, it sure looks to me that, in many/most cases it's actually cheaper to buy the physical object then a song-by-song Digital purchase...

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Smith View Post
    [I]Brian Hibbs said:

    On the other hand, I disagree with your suggested price point on digital comics content, Brian. There are no brick-and-mortar stores (for good or ill), no shipping or printing costs. Comics are already horrendously overpriced. Why should I still pay four bucks for comics if I download them directly (and legally) from the company's website? Two to three bucks should get everyone well compensated for their work, I would think.
    I'll start from a premise that I don't really think you SHOULD be paying $4 for a 22-page package, so there's that!

    Still, even without B&M stores, there are still distribution costs -- AFAIK, no one is distributing anything without taking something like 30% of the retail. That's LESS than physical objects, yes, but it isn't zero.

    Also note: where I'm advocating for a D&D "$3.99" Digital release I'm saying that there should be something in that "Digital package" that is unique to that release.

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by matthh View Post
    AND, I should have the ability to buy it FROM my local comic shop! At that point, the shop's value is providing knowledgeable staff who introduce me to awesome comics. In exchange, they get paid for selling me digital comics.

    If the publishers really want to support the DM, they should allow them to sell digital comics DIRECTLY to customers. The shop gets money, and doesn't have to take the risk of holding an inventory of books that don't sell. Win Win.
    I'm not sure how publishers can pay the vig to the distribution service (30% of "retail") AND pay the vig to the B&M stores under this model?

    Unless we're being paid pennies to drive people away from our physical product?

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schnitzy Pretzelpants View Post
    Is there no chance that the advent in digital comics may mean that the cover price on printed comics may be able to be dropped?
    Like I said, I think Print sales could be doubled or trebled with a sensible Digital plan that encouraged people to go into physical stores -- in that scenario, sure, prices could and should drop.

    -B

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs View Post
    I'm not sure how publishers can pay the vig to the distribution service (30% of "retail") AND pay the vig to the B&M stores under this model?

    Unless we're being paid pennies to drive people away from our physical product?

    -B
    Who would be the distribution service in this model? Right now Marvel has their own app, sells directly to consumers, and keeps all the money, right? I know they paid Comixology for the technology (since Marvel's digital comics run on Flash - the horror!) but I don't know that they're splitting the revenue.

    In what I'm proposing, wouldn't it be just splitting the money between B&M & publisher? Does there need to be a distributor if you have a Comix Experience App that sells Marvel comics?
    --
    matthh

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    Quote Originally Posted by matthh View Post
    Who would be the distribution service in this model? Right now Marvel has their own app, sells directly to consumers, and keeps all the money, right? I know they paid Comixology for the technology (since Marvel's digital comics run on Flash - the horror!) but I don't know that they're splitting the revenue.
    Anything that's on the Apple App store in the iPhone/iPap has to, AFAIK, gives Apple 30% of revenue.

    I'm assuming there is also a cut to Comixology, because Comixology isn't a non-profit company. Not a clue as to % -- it may not be much because Comixology is trying to get established.

    The Marvel "DCU" (*shudder*) is likely different, because that's a subscription-based model, and isn't an "App" -- but they're not selling individual comics there, anyway

    -B

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