Thursday, January 7, 2010

Technology, Comics and Old Habits Die Hard

So I just read the post by DJ Francis about the possibility of the Kindle and the iTouch to save the comic book industry:

I have to say that I like many of DJ's points but some assumptions were made that really should be considered. The Comic Book industry as currently constituted is run by old skool comic book guys who are making comics for people OVER 30 years old. Hell at this point I think they are making comics for people over 40 years old. I'd also not really be going out on a limb to say that most retailers are over 35 too.

When new tech comes along it's generally the youth who stand up and leap into the fray to embrace it. Lately it's been some cats over 30, 40 or 50 to head the companies that give and distribute said tech but that doesn't change the fact that the youth are all about it and the age peers of the tech makers were left in the dust long ago.

Books, are about as low tech as you can get before we start considering writing on brick walls.

Giving people a new way to read books isn't going to kill books and it's not exactly going to save books either because that older demographic of folks who have been supporting books isn't going anywhere, well except death and even then, that younger group who folks are watching work their little fingers into a frenzy reading comics on screens are going to get older too and so will the next generation of comics publishing heads whose job it will be to prtoduce actual books.

The message will be:
"Produce content in book form that will make the masses happy"

The message to some other younger person will be:
"Turn this digital stuff into a money maker that sells our good old paper comic books"

Marvel and DC both produce online content now and there are digital subscription services out there that are ready and willing to take your cash if you're willing to do the one thing that the big publishers have made a living, banking that you will never do.

"Can you utterly change comic book buying your habits AS A GROUP?"

I'd like to think that Marvel and DC know that some folks will always drop titles and fall away from the hobby. This happens in every hobby industry but comics have managed to make the changes that were needed to please the majority of what it sees as it's market.

Here are some things DJ asked for:

· Allow me to buy single issues at a cheap price. You already have the content and you’ll spend nothing on paper or distribution. It’s almost pure profit for you. (Sure, you’ll have to allot some time for scanning and development, but not much.)

This is a fine idea and I don’t see where there has to be a ton of resistance to it. If someone needs to have a copy of Avengers Forever #4 because they really want to see a shot of Killraven carrying Captain America’s Shield and Yellow Jacket acting like an ass, then why not have then pony up a buck for it to sit on their hard drive. If you really want to make it work, spend some time pumping up the quality of the work or the era it was produced in too. Buyers have no reason to give a damn other than nostalgia (older consumers) or curiosity (younger consumers). This works for music on iTunes right now. If you’re selling the Killers and the Strokes, you may as well try and sell some Simple Minds and Velvet Underground.

· Allow me to pay a subscription fee for back issues. I would gladly pay $5 per month to browse back issues of the X-men and I’m sure I’m not alone. The interaction doesn’t need to be robust – just assign a scanner to an intern and collect the (electronic) checks. It’d be the Netflix of comic books.

This is where you have to put your money where your mouth is. People SAY they’d pay a monthly fee for comics download but they go into stores and pay for comics. The services are out there. Not sure what the buyrates are for it but I don’t know anyone doing it and from his post, it didn’t seem like DJ was up on it either.

I will say this though. The current comics buyer may not be all that keen on paying 10 bucks a month to read comics on his computer screen that were published a year or so before. Old habits die hard and comic book readers tend to still want to be current. Folks waiting for the trade paper back versions of their comics might want to consider this but again, it’s a comic book subscription so you’re still not getting entire stories.

This format looks ideal, if you’re a parent with a kid who wants to read comics but you aren’t near a specialty store and you want to have a comics reading experience with your kid but don’t want to acquire a lot of paper.

Marvel and DC better consider the content carefully though. Don’t make me pay 10 bucks a month and then give me a lot of Dark Reign to have to explain to my seven year old.

· Allow me to subscribe to the electronic version. Comic books get mangled in the mail and delivery can be spotty (I know from personal experience). I would gladly pay a slightly reduced rate to have the files sent to me each month. It would be consistent, trackable, and automatic.

Not sure how this differs from the above method but I want to believe that the publishers should be getting out of paper subscriptions anyway and pushing you towards online. If you’re so remote that you can’t get to a specialty store AT ALL and are willing to take a chance on comics coming in the mail, then you can order from several online retailers (including Third Coast Comics) at a reasonable rate BUT this is a choice for older paper buyers. Younger, remote living, tech savy folks may want the above digital subscription but with current content.

I browsed the Marvel digital site and it looks like they are just using that service to get you into current books. Read what you missed and then get out there and buy some stuff.

· Create a website or app that allows me to create my pull list and then prompt me to purchase directly. There are iPod apps that do this, but no real market leader. With this, you would have an ongoing source of income from a customer who asks to be contacted. Plus, consider the market research capabilities (i.e. imagine lots of readers with The Fantastic Four on their pull list who suddenly stop ordering it – that’s immediate notification that something about the book has gone sour.)

Not sure why Marvel or DC would need to do this. This is a retail issue and many options like this already exist. Find a store with an online component AND an online pull list system…AHEM!

You COULD have an app for it or you can just go to a site like maybe the Third Coast Comics website, using your preferred web enabled device and do exactly what you’re asking for. Now if you’d only be interested if Marvel or DC were doing this then you’re cutting out the retailer from the equation but if you’re like most comics readers who read titles from more than one publisher, then this would limit access to the vast range of titles available and wouldn’t be preferable at all.

Now if you were using the Third Coast Comics online subscription system and decided that you didn’t like the Fantastic Four and dropped it, we would know and shortly thereafter Diamond Comic Book Distributors would know and shortly after that, Marvel Comics would know. By shortly, I mean several weeks but it is what it is. The only way to make faster would be to eliminate a distributor and that’s not gonna happen anytime soon, other than with digital media BUT the current services seem to lock you in for a certain amount of time so deciding you don’t like Jonathan Hickmans’s Fantastic Four (and also proving you’re a crazy person) wouldn’t really help you. A pay per current copy scenario is what you really want and it looks like we’re not there yet.

· Wrap in author/artist interviews or other bonus material with each comic book and charge me a premium rate. Again, this is content that doesn’t take much effort to create – just figure out how to package it. Remember that fans open their wallets for access.

I agree but I’m agreeing because Marvel and DC already use this model to keep comic book readers using this model. How many times have you seen an interview that states that “This will change the direction of Company X for years to come”? How many times have you turned to a buddy and said, “Dammit, is it really time for another Crisis/War/Reign again??

You’re getting what you want and at a premium rate and people are paying it. Doing it online might LOOK different but the only real difference is a lack of paper in your house and as long as you’re six month behind the current story, does an interview with the writer really matter anymore? I loved the Wire but it’s a little late for Ed Burns to be interviewed in order to get me excited for that last season. I’ve already watched cit and spent that last year it was on, making my friends not talk about it around me.

I want to see more digital content but for reasons other than "Comics are expensive" or "I need to justify this cool toy I've purchased" I want to see digital comics because it's a great new way to promote comics. Period. I want to see it used that way and it is but I think what folks are looking for is a way to use it to replace paper comics and DC and Marvel are not in the business of helping you do that.

How about something like this for a publishing model:

  • All trade paper back volume 1 releases are $9.99. This is often the only way many reader get into a new series. Why should they pay $19.99 for an unproven product?

  • All collected editions are published in soft cover 1st and hard cover versions are only for special occasions and major story lines and both versions are offered simultaneously. Someone might want to read X-Factor in a collected soft cover and they might do it for 8 volumes but they sure as hell don't need volume 8 in hard cover.

  • Replace many of the limited series on the stands with the original graphic novel model. This will reduce shelf crowding AND purchase drop off. The crowding will allow for retailers to add diversity to their shelves, which in turn will get publishers a chance at more eyes and hands on their books.

  • Offer a digital companion series for books currently being published and set the price point at something like .99 cents to $1.99 for a download or something comparable for a subscription to said material on a monthly basis. Marvel wants me reading Dark Reign books right? Then they can offer me an exclusive series for Bullseye/Sentry/Vanessa Hand that will run concurrently with whatever series it's related to and NOW I have current content as well as older contend and I can afford my damn comics to boot.

Well that's kinda my addl. two cents on the issue.


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