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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Comics On The Screen

One of my pet interests is the concept of online comics distribution, or more accurately the lack of it. In the past I’ve bemoaned the lack of huge libraries of comics to be paid for with pocket change and read on the screen. It’s a market that could potentially exceed American print distribution, or at least work in those kinds of numbers., Folk from all over the world deciding to buy and read a few digital copies of this and that from the huge Marvel & DC superhero backlist, or what have you. Offer these at high quality and yet cheaper than single issues or trade paperbacks – the iTunes method, basically. There are already a decent number of people who’ve downloaded the first 300 issues of Uncanny X-Men which they then read in the simple yet tremendously accessible CDisplay software. It’s a topic not often discussed in the comics internet but it has cropped up every so often – the technology loving comics writer Warren Ellis being someone who has expressed a similar longing as I have (though I expect he’d be much less interested in the superhero library of Marvel and DC).

So yesterday’s Lying In The Gutters column over at ComicBookResources offers up some commentary and a short interview on the subject. This section in particular caught my eye:

"If you think comic shop owners scream bloody murder when there's an exclusive with Barnes & Noble, imagine how they're going to scream if you can download your X-Men or your JLA from the publisher website (never mind the piracy), instead of setting foot into the shop."

Despite everything I read about the western comics market (and I read entirely too much about it) I always forget that there are retailers who can get shafted by so many of our grand ideas. I selfishly approach these thoughts from the perspective of a very nerdy customer with too much disposable income, so retailer concerns have to be pointed out to my crumbling brain. It’s true though. Whilst many comics fans would continue to buy the bulk of their material through shops there would still be a significant percentage that would move a chunk of their business to the digital realm. As the article states, many readers would rather not read material on their screen but it’s certainly a less prevalent attitude as people grow up with technology. You could get around this by only offering older material, which would be my suggestion, but this may also have some effect on retailers and their slim profits.

There’s also the Infinite Crisis problem. You have the latest Marvel or DC event that involves a dozen titles and tie-ins which you’re informed “aren’t necessary to enjoy the main story” but inevitably end up carrying things of importance and garnering your interest. Many a superhero fan does not want to or simply cannot afford to buy all these titles off the shelf. Comics are expensive and corporate crossovers have had too many drastic failures to warrant large scale investment from your average reader. So your current internet comics fan will just pirate the stuff they were never going to buy. If these issues cost them then some, if not all, would instead pay for them. These things are never direct migrations from the free & illegal to the cheap and legal (we all like free things after all, and it’s not like we’re stealing actual objects…) but there’s established examples in books and music that suggest that you would convert enough.

Then again, comic fans are a strange breed…

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 8:59 PM


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