Most comic book retailers polled by Newsarama Wednesday and Thursday aren't pleased with the announcement Wednesday by Archie Comics that their entire line will be released digitally on the same day as — and at a lower price than — their print versions.
"Regardless of the publisher, they are now actively competing with my business for my customers," said J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, N.Y. "As one would imagine, I'm not a fan of this program."
The response from most retailers, however, was less one of outrage and more of acceptance that a digital revolution is coming faster than they had hoped.
"It's the wave of the future, and people who want to stand in the way of progress are sure to be run over by technology," said Charlie Harris, owner of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz.
"I don't feel as scared of digital comics as I did when the idea was first presented," said Bret Parks, owner of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Maybe I have come to terms with what will be the nail in the coffin of my business. The main reason is that I feel they do attempt to reach a different kind of comic book buyer and reader."
That "different reader" mentality probably applies well to Archie Comics, since the publisher sells many of its magazines and digests in outlets outside the traditional comic book store. Digital customers for Archie Comics may not threaten comic shop sales, retailers said.
But they added that the real threat comes if other publishers follow Archie's lead.
"As Archie has made more money from newsstand sales than direct market, it's not such a slap in the face as it would be if one of the premiere publishers had done it, although I'm sure they will at some point," said Harris of Charlie's Comics.
"A publisher like Archie is not such a big deal because they're not a significant part of our business," said Mike Wellman, co-owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Calif. "If it was Marvel, DC or any of the other bread-and-butter companies, I'd be much more concerned. Of course, if this program is successful, I can easily see some of the other companies imitating it."
"Archie offering digital comics at a full one dollar less makes me realize that Archie is turning their backs on comic book stores just a little sharper than the other publishers," Parks of Ssalesfish Comics said. "Once DC and Marvel do this — and yes, they will — then the industry will really see the potential for digital comics.
"Archie doesn't really matter. Sure, Sonic is a hit, and if someone actually remembers that the Archie series is still being made, or if they have a publicity stunt, then we sell a few," Parks added. "Basically it is not a big deal unless the big two do it."
But Joe Field, president of the retailer organization ComicsPRO and owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, Calif., said he doesn't think Archie's move has anything to do with Marvel and DC, because the markets are completely different.
"I do think there's going to be a growing use of the day-and-date strategy on the part of all publishers," Field said. "But it's still a leap to look at Archie sales — and I believe their sales are somewhere around 1 percent of the direct market — and subsequently conclude that, now that Archie's done it, Marvel and DC can do it. There's a whole lot more risk involved with Marvel and DC doing it at this point."
Field sees the move as more of an indication that Archie Comics is trying all kinds of new things to reach a new market.
"What I see when I look at this Archie announcement is that it's more about Archie than it is about the rest of the industry," Field said. "Just looking at the different things that Archie has done as a company since the heirs to the founders took over, anything can happen. There's a gay Archie character. There's day-and-date comics. There's Archie getting married, not once, but twice! Anything can happen.
"I really think this is more a reflection of a renewed vigor on the part of that company to try to do more with its library of characters," he said.
But because Archie doesn't sell as many print comics to shops, retailers wondered if lowering prices was a good move for the company.
"I think they're only devaluing themselves," Wellman of The Comic Bug said. "I wish them just enough success to make it worth their while, but not enough that it becomes the new business model."
"I'm not sure what Archie is trying to accomplish, but if they devalue their product too much they will just be picked up at a discount by one of the big 2," Parks of Ssalesfish said. "Hmmmm Marvel Presents: Archie? Or Marvel Adventures: Sonic?"
"Of all the publishers, Archie produces both the most accessible and disposable product in the industry," said Glindmyer of Earthworld Comics. "Their comics aren't really collectable and in most cases passed on. Prices on Archie comics have risen considerably over the last year, so this seems more as a cost saving maneuver as well as keeping the few hard-core Archie readers sated. For the most part, people who read Archie books don't really seek out comic stores to buy them."
But Harris admitted the lower price for digital products makes sense. "Digital publishing should be cheaper [than print comics] as the carbon footprint is absent without the loss of trees and the cost of transportation," he said.
Parks said the lower price isn't a surprise, because readers are used to getting digital comics for free. "The one thing that people are failing to mention is that digital comic books are not selling well," Parks said.
Field told Newsarama this week that, "from any numbers I've seen, digital is far less than 1 percent of the market." Today, he also added that "it seems that a good chunk of those sales are international," and he thinks that's going to be the area where Archie may see an impact from digital marketing.
Anyone who owns intellectual property has to try to find where the money is in that intellectual property, in every way they possibly can, that makes sense within the context of each of the characters or whatever the property is," Field said. "I think this is just an exploration of that."
Although many of the retailers we surveyed didn't like the way digital appears to be moving in the future, most of them don't believe Archie's digital sales alone will affect their bottom line.
"I don't see a significant effect unless other publishers follow suit," Wellman said. "The only time we sell over five copies of Archie books is when they do stunts like Obama/Palin milkshake dates or alternate reality futures.
"The stuff from Archie that sells much better for us are the digests and the collections," Glindmyer said. "Neither are offered from Archie's website at this time, although, if there was a big event comparable to the wedding storylines, I probably would be hesitant to order additional copies if customers have this option to get it the same day and cheaper."
Field said sales of Archie Comics will be something he will watch closely now. "But I'm not going to cut my Archie orders because they're going day-and-date," he said. "What I'm going to do is watch my Archie sales, and order to meet those sales, or to try to meet the sales goals I put in place for that Archie line. To me, that's the reasonable business approach to take on this."
While Archie's digital sales probably won't make much of a difference for their business, some retailers feel like it's just the beginning of the end. "Hopefully the publishers will offer retailers bigger discounts so we can still make some money in the last few years of the industry," Parks said.
"The overall effect of digital comics being cheaper than a print comic will join forces with illegal downloading to more or less end comic 'books.' This won't happen as quickly as some think, but it will happen," he added. "At the moment, digital and print buyers are different people, but I feel that the publishers want this to change."
Maybe a switch to digital is the distant future of comics, but Harris of Charlie's Comic Books isn't waiting around to find out. "After selling comics for 28 years, I plan to close my shop in mid-October," he said. "I'd rather bow out gracefully than be squeezed out by bankruptcy."