'Slammed' By Peers, Comics Retailer Advocates Digital Publishing During Diamond Pause

Batman #91
Batman #91 as seen on comiXology's platform
Credit: DC

After the announcement by Diamond Comic Distributors that printed comics will effectively stop shipping to retail stores in April, retailers across the country are waiting for a response from major publishers like Marvel and DC, whose offices are in the hard-hit New York and L.A. areas. 

But one retailer is calling on major publishers to continue creating and publishing new products despite the crisis, suggesting a digital option that could still help retailers - although he admits the idea is unpopular among his fellow retailers.

"I tweeted my suggestion, which seems to have a lot of support from readers but slammed by retailers,” said Ryan Higgins, owner of Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale, Calif. His suggestion involves publishers “work[ing] out a deal with comiXology and Amazon” to provide digital codes that retailers can sell to customers — with the promise of a free print copy when stores reopen.

Despite the feeling that digital would threaten comic book stores, Higgins said digital comic sales are roughly 10% of the market, and the option for digital has always been there. “Our customers don't want it, by and large,” he said. “My store is in … the heart of the Silicon Valley. My customers work at Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech companies and they still want print comics. With no print comics, there's no comiXology because the companies won't make enough just from digital sales. This helps everyone.”

The idea of selling codes now and delivering printed comics later was specifically criticized yesterday in an interview on Newsarama with well-known retailer Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif.

He said the option of publishers continuing to distribute new comic books during the shutdown - with or without codes - was “unacceptable.” Field also suggested the industry should stick together during the shutdown, and encouraged readers to support their local shops that are open by purchasing existing comic books.

Higgins is concerned, however, that a lack of new books might mean customers will dump comic book reading altogether. “If you stop those Wednesday customers from coming in for six to eight weeks, many of them might stop buying comics,” he said. “This break could be the thing they need.”

According to Higgins, the digital codes will allow stores to continue selling something new each week, and it will give publishers the ability to predict the number of physical comics they will eventually need to print and ship.

“I understand the fear of customers switching to digital and abandoning the comic book stores, but at this point, we literally can't sell new comics,” he said. “If Marvel and DC are going to continue to publish their books through comiXology with no option to support stores, that will push piracy even higher and hurt stores even more. Give us a temporary option.”

Higgins said his store is currently closed to the public, with delivery and limited pick-up only, but he is moving to delivery only after his final pick-up window hours on Saturday. “It's going to affect us quite a bit,” he said. “We do well with back issues, graphic novels, and walk- in customers, but the main source of income is new, weekly comic books. There's no reason to reorder stock or have pick up times if we don't have new comics. We will continue to ship orders from subscribers paying for their pull box or orders from our website, but that's it.”

Higgins said the silence from Diamond, Marvel, and DC since Monday’s announcement by Diamond has been frustrating.

“Assuming Diamond is able to reopen in a few weeks, with the printers closed, best case is we'll see new comics in, what, six weeks? Eight? All invoices due to Diamond must be allowed to be put on hold until shipments are out and all stores in the US are reopened,” he said.

“I think we can survive this, assuming the big companies and landlords work with stores and give us time to get back on our feet when we're allowed to reopen,” he said. “I expect a surge in customers showing support once this is done.”

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