Torsten Adair shares the love for the new digital comics distribution system

Meanwhile, over at Comics Beat, Torsten Adair writes a piece on how “Digital Is the New Direct Market.”

Yeah, yeah, I know a piece like this gets written ever four months. The difference now is we sorta know the strategies that the big comic publishers are now implementing to get a foothold in the digital comic industry. Mr. Adair sees a paradigm shift and ties it to trends from years past:

With the widespread influence of the Internet, publishers and retailers salivate at the opportunity to sell to the general public which is unaware of comics shops. Many in the comics industry consider the Internet to be the “new newsstand”, a marketplace which replicates the ubiquity of news agents in postwar America.

Unfortunately, I see a different possibility:
Digital comics are the new Direct Market.

1981 was when the Direct Market matured. That year, Marvel Comics released Dazzler #1 only to comics shops, selling an estimated 400,000 copies. Looking at circulation figures, Marvel realized that Ka-Zar, Moon Knight, and Micronauts were not selling well via newsstands, but could be viable if sold exclusively via subscriptions and the Direct Market of comics shops. By the end of the decade, Marvel, DC, and most publishers distributed more titles via the more lucrative Direct Market than to newsstands.

Here’s where the Direct Market becomes the Newsstand: digital files can just as easily be sold online by comics shops. Just as a comics fan can order comics from Direct Market mail order comics shops, so too can they order them online. Some comics shops have robust e-commerce sites, offering a warehouse of merchandise, usually at discounted prices.

In the past, fans had to journey miles from newsstand to newsstand to find all of the comics they enjoyed. Later, they could find everything under one roof at a comics shop. Now, instead of driving miles (and sometimes hours) to a comics shop, a fan can sit in front of a computer and purchase a Diamond Digital comic online. They do not have to set foot in a comics shop.

Don’t think that’s likely? Look at the e-book market. Amazon reports that e-books outsell hardcover and trade paperbacks. Amazon is an online retailer. It has no physical storefronts. And yet, of everything their bookstore offers, e-books outsell regular books.

Think a store can still be successful if a customer visits? Consider this scenario, one which happened daily when I worked at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center. (This store had five storeys; expert staff selling books, DVDs, and CDs; a packed cafe; and author events which attracted national press.) A customer comes in with a vague request. (“I saw it on a table a few weeks ago… It had a blue cover, and was about vampires.”) An employee accesses databases and product knowledge, and after five minutes of exhaustive searching, successfully finds the book for the customer! The customer is happy, but finds the book too expensive. “Thanks. I’ll get it online.” The bookseller offers to order the book from the company’s website, charging the online price, even waving the shipping. It just takes a few minutes at a nearby computer. Again, the customer declines, leaving the store without purchasing anything….

So print comics seemed doomed, marginalized like vinyl LPs.


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on February 14, 2011, in digital comics, The Webcomic Overlook and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Good to know. I’m always a little stubborn to adopt a trend just because everyone else does it but I’m glad to see comics aren’t dieing as some prdict but just changing form.

  2. Yeah, we already know that print comics will die out, this isn’t news at all. Thank you for that Mr. Adair.
    So he’s assuming that the market of buying comics online will dominate rather than independent and freely provided webcomics. The ones made by people who realize that when a product can be distributed freely to thousands over the internet then the game is changed and the digital copies have no worth. The money is then made elsewhere; advertisements, t-shirts and other merch, and of course print copies, but that’s ok. Because it’s independent and done over the internet there’s no middleman. The comic makers are connected directly to their audience and given more direct feedback. DC and Marvel shouldn’t care considering they hardly ever make money off the comics anymore because to them it’s all about character franchises, (and I’ve always felt that the idea of ‘comic shops’ and character franchising were bad for the medium to begin with and should never have happened).

    In the end I think the comic stores will mostly die out, DC and Marvel will no longer dominate the industry with their superhero franchises being synonymous with comic books, and free webcomics will always be more popular and profitable for the actual artists (and I don’t just mean financially) than any other form of comic.

    That is what I see happening, it is also what has already happened. Now I just get annoyed when someone realizes that the internet will ‘destroy comics as we know them’ and has to blog about it without supplying anything that hasn’t already been said to death.
    Just my opinion.

  3. “So print comics seemed doomed, marginalized like vinyl LPs.”

    So comics will be as marginal as the vinyl LPs they sell at Circuit City and Fred Meyers? Considering that those big box stores generally don’t carry comics anymore, that would actually be a step up.

  4. I dont know if print will die…….

    not digital manga, and books like harry potter still sells like hot cakes along side the videogames, movies and all the merchandice based on them.

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