Comics, eBooks and Apps – How does a Brick and Mortar Fit in a Modern World?

There has been a dramatic shift in the publishing industry in the past couple of months. This is one that might not be seen as important by many of the readers of this blog, but it is going to have a huge impact on at least one sub-set of the bookstore industry. I’m talking about the fact that DC Comics and Marvel Comics are now both releasing their books in digital formats on the iPad on the same day as the physical editions come out.

I’m not sure how many of you view the comics industry, and whether you see comic stores as part of the bookstore family, but I feel that this is something that will have an impact on everyone. It will change, and is changing, the paradigm between publisher and storeowner in a drastic way.

Let me first talk about why comics being available to be distributed digitally is a big deal. For a long time comic stores in North America have been locked into what has always seemed to me as a monopoly. Diamond Distribution is the sole distributor of the big name comic books to comic stores across the continent. If a store wants to carry comic books, it has to order them through Diamond Distribution. These orders are placed up to 6 months before the actual books are published. This makes comic storeowners speculators, same as any other bookstore operator. They won’t know for sure whether a book will be big 6 months ahead of time. They have to look at trends (what people are buying…what titles are doing well…what authors or artists have huge followings lately) and guess. If they guess right, awesome, if not…too bad, so sad. There was an article here on bookshopblog a few months ago about the need to look at trends to forecast what books to buy.

Through the special DC and Marvel branded apps Comixology will release their books digitally on the same day the print edition comes out. This opens up a new way for customers to get their comics. A person should be able to wake up at midnight and download the new books even before the brick and mortar comic stores open. This is a big concern to comic retailers, as ebooks are a concern to bookstore owners. It cuts stores out of the equation entirely. Comic books can now be obtained from anywhere simply by purchasing them through the app.

I don’t see this as being too much of an issue (pun intended), though. Comic books as a medium are suited for print. DC has recently begun to release what are called Absolute editions of certain books or storylines. These Absolute Editions are printed on archival quality paper in hardbound editions with cardboard slipcovers. I own the entire run of a series called Planetary, yet I have still bought both of the Absolute Editions. I know that even if someone has a comic in a digital format, odds are they will at some point want a physical copy. Comics are not just for reading, they are for collecting, same as books. A digital copy, a thumbdrive full of files, can never replace a longbow full of comics or an Absolute Edition, the same way a digital copy, a thumbdrive full of ebooks can never replace a home library.

The comic book industry will continue to change in the digital era, just as all industries are being changed. The comic store simply has to accept that now than being the sole source of comic books, it now has to provide added value to the consumer as a means of bringing them into the store. Comic stores have always provided a sense of community. This is what I feel all store should strive for. If you provide your customers with a sense of community they will want to shop with you.

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  • This change should not come as a surprise to the “geek culture.” This is integration of comic books and high tech gadgets. I don’t have an iPad but would love to pick up the entire Ultimate Spiderman series to reread on my iPhone. I hear nerdgasms!

    • I have bought an ipad since I wrote this and so have had an opportunity to really make use of comixology and other comic reading apps, and I gotta say, I enjoy it. And I stand by what I said in this article, and will actually take it a step further: I will definitely buy physical copies of certain comics I have bought on the ipad, and I am sure that at some point I will buy digital copies of a few books that I have physical copies of so that I can read it while traveling.

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