As the market for e-books continues to grow, the release of the Apple iPad this weekend and a new app from Marvel opened the door for color comic books to hit a more mainstream audience.
Over the last two decades, comics have been sold primarily in small specialty retail shops, catering to an audience that seeks them out. Although superheroes dominate the top box office films, it doesn't translate to sales of the comics where those heroes rule, because most moviegoers aren't exposed to comics or don't know where to buy them.
That could change if comics can be sold through devices like the iPad.
Yet as publishers are exploring the possibility of reaching a more mainstream digital audience, comic shop owners are wondering how this device and its potential audience will affect the future of their retailing business.
For this month's installment of "The Q," where we ask one question to a variety of people, we went to comic shop owners across the country to ask:
- What impact, both negative and positive, do you think the Apple iPad will have on the comic book retailing industry now that the device has been released?
Mike Wellman, The Comic Bug, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
I might have my head in the sand, but I think that the iPad will have a much more limited effect than folks are saying. Some customers, a small number I think, will forgo buying physical copies in lieu of digital versions, and other readers will be introduced to books via downloads and come in to purchase hard copies. We still have a very 'collectible' based industry, despite what many say. The sheer amount of variant covers and multi-issue crossovers show that people want to 'collect' books.
In summary, I think it's a nice addition to our industry that will eventually die out like other comic-based media. Remember the 'motion comic DVDs' that were going to revolutionize the industry? I bought most of them on clearance at Toys R' Us a few years back. Comic shops are going to be just fine.
Jason Pierce, Alter Ego Comics, Muncie, Ind.
The app is really cool. Hopefully the companies will use this tool as a way to get a taste of their product out to the masses, getting them hooked and driving them to the comic stores. Not unlike a crack dealer.
Charlie Harris, Charlie's Comic Books, Tucson, Ariz.
A system to catalog comics is all ready to utilize the iPad here in Tucson. I think that eventually, printed matter will be for antique collectors only and everyone will download their reading material to their device, be it a cell phone, iPad, laptop or other. Fortunately, there are still enough of us old-timers that like to hold an actual book in their hands to keep the current system running for awhile.
Amanda Emmert, Muse Comics, Missoula, Mont.
Right now, I think all digital forms of comic books will serve to widen the audience for comic book readers, like a massive new digital ad campaign. Not all new readers will crossover into print, but the potential is there to create many more comic book buyers. Retailers are relying on comic publishers to push new readers toward print comics and toward comic book stores, and I believe our publishers are interested in doing that to keep the print medium flourishing.
Adam Casey, Ssalesfish Comics, Winston-Salem, N.C.
For better or worse, comic book fans are creatures of habit. Those that have always read physical comics will still continue to do so. Young readers who are more comfortable reading on a screen will probably gravitate towards the iPad, but on the whole the iPad stands to pick up more casual readers. I could easily see people who dabble in reading comics, mainly reading the works they've always heard touted (Watchmen, Sandman, Preacher, etc.) by choosing to read these works on the iPad as opposed to picking up physical book (or books, in the case of multi-volume works.
Dean Phillips, Krypton Comics, Omaha, Neb.
These type of devices could go either way.
The good: People can access comics way easier and just might get hooked. If they get hooked, we still have to find a way to get them into the stores.
The bad: It has always felt to me as though comic publishers would love to cut out the middleman (namely, comic book stores). Once people are convinced that comics are purely for entertainment and not collectibles, sales of electronic comics will soar! I fear sales of the paper comics will decline. There are only so many people that are interested in comics books in the world; if a majority signs up for electronic comics, the comic stores might suffer.
But overall, having more people reading comics electronically is a great thing for the industry!
(Unless you own a comic store.)
JC Glindmyer, Earthworld Comics, Albany, New York
As long as it's still profitable for them to produce print comics, Marvel or DC probably won't debut their next big title online. There have been a few collections of comics released on disc, but they seem to be more of a novelty, and haven't caught on. As of now, Marvel comics are not downloadable, rather accessible by the Internet. The collector mentality is to own and possess comics. More than one customer mentioned how great it would be to have his entire collection on an iPad instead of filling an entire spare bedroom.
Many people feel that the although comics on the iPad may look great with the clarity, zoom and colors, there is a feeling by many fans that there's nothing like actually holding a comic in their hands. And if they're done, they can roll it up and put it in their pocket. Let's see them do that with an iPad.
On the positive, it may level the playing field for independent comics. I see many smaller publishers migrating to the Internet to sell their single issues with the idea that actual hard copies of the completed graphic novel will follow. It would also be possible to better gage the interest if such a collection is warranted.
On the negative, this must be how movie theatre owners felt when television sets were introduced in the '50s. Although it may not happen for a while, there is definitely a feeling that this may be the writing on the wall for brick and mortar comic stores. A 99-cent- to $1.99-per-comic download is enticing versus the $3.99 print version, with comic stores totally cut out. Many people shop via the Internet, so it's possible the Wednesday trip to the comic store may become a thing of the past.
With new technology comes new threats. Will comics be able to be traded and uploaded to an iPad as easily as other files? It may be inevitable that comic piracy will become more prevalent, with more fans turning to bit torrent to get what they want for free. I have heard more than one fan in our store bragging how they just downloaded entire runs of comics.
If the actual physical sales of comics take a hit, it may be only a matter of time, and a bit of nerve on a major publishers part, to go Internet only. It reminds me of when Marvel bought Heroes World with the attempt to cut out the middleman in distribution, and we all know how that turned out. But that's not to say they won't try it again in the future...
Kendall Swafford, Up Up & Away!, Cincinnati, Ohio
While many retailers think the sky is falling, I see the Apple iPad having a positive effect on comic retailers long-term. If managed properly, it can be the perfect "gateway drug" into comic books.
No one in the existing supply chain wants to eliminate print; in the direct market, the revenue stream is guaranteed, thanks to non-returnable purchasing. The same material is repackaged many times over; periodical, hardcover, softcover... further milking the same cow.
But what if we imagine properly-timed releases of digital material that lead into the latest print issues on sale, free previews "pushed" to your iPad, or coupons attached to the latest downloads for redemption in local comic shops? The iPad becomes the 21st century spinner rack, putting thousands upon thousands of comic books in front of millions of potential readers, at a time in our history when it's never been more socially acceptable for people of all ages to enjoy illustrated fiction.
The comic book experience is both personal and communal. We not only want to enjoy our favorite adventures, we want to share that experience with other like-minded people, in an environment that is welcoming. I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I think digital comics on the iPad have the potential to throw the floodgates wide open.