Digital distribution has undeniably been good for comics. Even though the research shows that all DC really managed to do with the New 52 was bring back former readers, the industry doesn’t really care, as long as it can keep selling comic books.
That said, that was also largely limited to one or two apps, mostly notably Comixology, which has implemented some frustrating design changes over the last year or so. There was also the question of not screwing your local comics shop: Retailers were understandably a wee bit worried about digital pretty much driving them out of business.
Well, that didn’t happen. Sales of actual books on glossy paper are up 12% over at DC, even while digital sales are up nearly 200%. In fact, DC is rapidly expanding their digital availability: you’ll be able to buy books day and date on the Nook, Kindle, and iBooks storefronts. So, in an age where record stores are a dying species, Blockbuster is now a shell of itself, and bookstores are getting jittery about the Kindle… why are physical comic book stores not only not bleeding… but thriving?
Unfortunately, Only The Urban Shops Survived
I’m an exception when it comes to comics fans: I live in a major city, and there are no fewer than four comics shops ten to twenty minutes walk from my apartment. But as comics fans go, I’m the exception.
My dad is a pretty typical example of the comics fan left adrift. He lives in rural New England, and already had to drive thirty miles to hit the local comics shops. Then his nearest shop closed down its retail operations; now the closest place to buy floppies is two hours away. Keep in mind this means no fewer than five shops in the area have closed between 1995 and 2005.
More than that, comic book shops are more and more the only retail outlet left for floppies. When was the last time you saw this at a drug store or grocery store?
About the only comics you can reliably find in grocery stores anymore are Archie Digests, and even those are lately a dying breed. There’s a lot of reasons for that, the most basic being that in the aftermath of the comics collapse of the late ’90s, only Diamond was left. So if you want your single issues, you either have to be very dedicated or very lucky.
Subscriptions Are… Less Than Ideal
Diamond is infamously not great, as our commenters can tell you. But, having fought with subscriptions departments before, it can be frustrating, and smaller publishers may simply not offer subs. Also, getting your comics in the mail not only sets you up for trashed comics, but also lost comics. The reality is comic book shops are not in the mail-order business to any true degree anymore, and the postal service will not be treating your comics with any real respect.
Some of Us Just Don’t Have The Space For Floppies
Ask anybody who has ever had to move longboxes: being a comics fan requires not just money, but space. And lots of it. Also, when you inevitably have to move somewhere else, a reasonable amount of upper-body strength.
There are a few comics I own the complete run of because I can’t read them otherwise: John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s run on The Spectre, for example. But I just don’t have the room. I have too much other stuff, like clothes and furniture. I had to buy a tablet to read comics, but that, I’ve got room for.
So, for now, at least, digital and physical comics can co-exist. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as DC expands its digital plans, and whether other publishers such as Image or Dark Horse follow.