Robot 6

The Fifth Color | My life in digital, and at the comic store

but I hate embracing change!

but I hate embracing change!

I work in a comic shop (Metro Entertainment in Santa Barbara, California — cheap plug!), so to say that I’m wary of digital comics is an understatement. My livelihood depends on people wanting a physical copy of a comic book; if everything went digital, no more retail job. My store happens to work very hard at providing those physical copies of comics in every form we can put under one roof, including the rare opportunity for a deep back-issue selection. I can’t say it’s very cost effective, but having back issues from decades gone by available to customers has made many people happy and seek out our shop when traveling through California.

Buying comics from an actual person behind the register is a little like talking to a bartender: They know your name and what you like, and they can chit-chat about your woes with the business and give a few words of advice. I know the customer base, so I can provide off-the-cuff information about who’s on what book, when a title might be ending or, say, offer to save a Warren Ellis fan a copy of Moon Knight #1. I’m not saying that all this information isn’t online, but it’s nice to get that personal touch that we secretly crave. From a pile of 50-cent issues for a school art project to a rare copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, physical comics are still needed and wanted.

But for how long?

You see, I also own a tablet, despite my teeth-grinding reluctance. Mark Waid sold me on one a couple of years ago at a WonderCon as he pitched his Infinity Comics ideas to a curious and intrigued public. There are some things you can do in digital that can’t be done in print, and the possibilities for an evolved artform are still being tried and tested. Having digital copies does help fill in holes in a collection, as Diamond Comic Distributors shipping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can also be a form of instant reference (and much better embedded images!) for this very column.

As 2014 is here and we look to the year (or years) ahead, is the comic world changing with this new medium? Are we looking at a more digital world and will long times fans adapt to the format?

from Wired's" Secret Lives of Comic Shop Employees"

We’re here to help.

At this point, it’s still a personal preference full of pros and cons. Digital comics provide an instant access to your books on Wednesday morning or whenever the whim strikes you. You want The Superior Spider-Man #5 at 2 a.m.? You got it! No comic shop in your location, or are you stuck at home under winter’s brutal thumb? Break out the eggnog and head online.

On the other hand, comic shops — I speak of good ones here; we all have horror stories about bad retail service, so just assume I’m talking about the best possible scenario — can help you figure out what Thor issues to get. Do you want the God of Thunder trade or some Walt Simonson stories? What was that one issue you got as a kid, and do they make a reprint of that? There are some comic questions that need to be solved in person, and instead of fighting through online forums or asking unanswered questions to reviewers, you could go into a shop and speak to someone in person. Comic shops are like technical support, and sometimes that personal connection can make all the difference.

On the other hand, sometimes that physical copy just doesn’t arrive at the store. Shipping delays, human error, being out of print — there are plenty of reasons why it happens, but the result is the same: You want an issue, and it’s not there in your hot little hand. Digital solves this for the most part; not everything has been digitized just yet, so there’s older stuff that will still be a find but more and more comics are going online (and legally, I want to make clear).

Marvel Unlimited is a big library of comics that gets better every day as far as content and accessibility, and the faster publishers got on board with making new titles available through platforms like comiXology, the faster we acquired an online history. Now, the easiest counterpoint to this would be monetary appreciation and the fact that digital comics will never be sold at a higher cost than they were bought at. No one’s going to come to comiXology with a tablet and demand their Superman #75 be worth more than what they got it for. But collector’s aside, let’s talk about another kind of appreciation: lending a comic to a friend or loved one. Ever want to recommend a comic to someone, so you just hand them the issue or trade out of your collection? My house is a mine field of books placed strategically near chairs, just to provide me with the opportunity to say, “Oh, hey, have you read that yet? Check it out!” Then again, I’m a proselytizer for good comics, and I know not everyone is as generous with their collections, but there is something to be said for being able to try out a book on a friend’s recommendation or to flip through an issue at your leisure to see if it’s worth adding to your library (but don’t read the whole issue in the store, we’re not a library).

Digital also allows publishers to sample new series with less risk.

Digital also allows publishers to sample new series with less risk.

Then again, there’s something about the digital market that doesn’t seem like real money, does it? It’s why micro-transactions in games are so quick, easy and profitable. Sales and discounts are more regular and generally more deep; I picked up Empowered Vols. 1-7 plus extras for $30 bucks from Dark Horse Online knowing full well that my store couldn’t offer that kind of deep discount. If you get a hankering to see what all the fuss is about Hawkeye, you’re just a couple of clicks away from having every issue right at hand. Online purchases can lead someone to impulse buy or just try something new they wouldn’t pick up in person. However, when you do have a physical object in your hand, you’ll spend more time with it. Whether that’s bagging, boarding, filing or flipping through idly on a cold winter day, physical comics stay with you in a way digital comics can’t. You can easily read from one comic to the next and back again with little more than a few pages flips. You can spread them all out on the floor and really take in the storyline. Those old issues of Deathmate Black can become an ironic sort of decoupage for a present or diorama about ’90s comic excess. There’s just a lot more to do with a physical comic than the couple button click interaction of digital comics.

Whether the art is better between either is based on personal preference. Some like the clearer and crisper feel of digital art, some still have a harder time following the flow of the story onscreen. Artwork, for the most part, is designed to fit the physical medium, and everyone from editors to letterers work with the finished printed page in mind. Therefore, where your eye falls on a page is just going to be different than where your eye falls on screen. There’s a disconnect there that we as fans and they as publishers are figuring out.

There’s still a long way to go until comics are as comfortable digitally as they are physically. The middle ground, in the meantime, isn’t a bad place to be. Marvel’s digital codes not only offer a way to lend comics to people over long distances, but ease you into your own digital collection without feeling like you spent a bunch of money. Heck, even stores get a little kickback from using up those codes, so it’s all good and getting better as publishers and fans fine-tune for their needs. Could the rise of digital comics solve our numbering woes once and for all? Looking into the new year, it’s clear the medium of comic books are evolving from what they were 10, even five, years ago, and digital might just be the mutation the genre needs. Just don’t stop loving your local comic shops, please?

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Comments

18 Comments

If stores want to survive, they need to offer services and experiences that cannot be replicated as easily online. Principally, this usually means offering game nights (Board games, Magic, 40k/Fantasy, Warmahordes, Heroclix, D&D, etc.), signings, parties, etc. You have to do fun and exciting things that draw people into the store on a regular basis on days other than Wednesday and the weekend.

The fact that you have made it through this economy is no small thing either. The store I go to here in LA (my LCS is DJ’s Universal Comics, since we’re plugging…but there are about a dozen other stores I know who’ve been around for at least 15 years or more in the area) survive because of two things: customer service and quality products. Honesty, being easy to talk to, nice discounts and sales helps, and walking away with quality products and the feeling of camaraderie will never replace hard copies for digital for me. Throw whatever gimmicks you want to get people in the door, but great customer service and great books will keep them.

Problem is, most comic shops are terrible these days. The good ones are too few and far between.

Digital is killing the LCS for a reason.

I’m moving to mainly digital this year (aside from maybe 10-15 favourites) due to one thing: space. I recently moved house and I’m at a loss as to where on earth I can store 60+ longboxes of comics that I’ve accumulated over the last 24 years of collecting. If I’m struggling with what I have I seriously need to slow down what I’m adding to it, so down from 50-70 comics a month to less than 20 has to happen.

The other benefit of digital (as is alluded to in the article) is I don’t have to buy a comic unless and until I’m desperate to read it. No buying stuff “just in case it sells out and I can’t buy it later”. Means less of my weekends will (hopefully) be taken up reading comics. I hope going digital will curb my excesses so I end up buying less out of habit and just buying, say 5 – 6 issues of Avengers so I can binge read a story arc in one sitting when I have an hour or 2 to kill.

It’s 2 a.m. your in an undisclosed location in the middle east. You are lucky enough to have internet on your FOB, but a sand storm just knocked out your service in the middle of reading your digital copy, or your power is out or you’re in the middle of no where with time on your hands, no access to a power outlet and a dead battery on your personal mobile device. What electrical avenues you do have availible must be used for official communications and survival purposes.

Good thing you have your physical copies ;-)

Did you have to wait for then in the mail? sure. Were they worth the wait? Damn Straight they were! Did you have the time to read them on demand when they came out? Not really. But when the hurry up ends and the waiting begins, you have all the time in the world. You can stare at the dirt, kick rocks, smoke and joke, and you can read your comics. They’ll be the highlight of your day until it’s time to do what you’ve been stuck out there to do.

Electronic Media can’t argue with a power outage or a dead battery or a lack of means to correct either. When you are at the mercy of your environmental limitation factors, at least with a physical copy, you have a back up plan and can still enjoy your comics.

The premise of this article is actually not correct. I exclusively buy digital comics *BUT* I buy them exclusively from my LCS (Isotope in SF) via their Comixology digital store. This has the downside for James that he makes a lower percentage on digital sales than he does on print. But it also has the upside that any time I buy a comic from anywhere in the world, James gets that same digital percentage, regardless of whether or not he was involved in selling them to me.

This gives all the benefits of having my local retailer knowing my tastes and making recommendations, while also giving all the digital benefits listed above. It also keeps my store making money in the digital economy.

Lazarus Pit Foreman

January 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I buy mostly physical books. Two reasons: 1) I’m lucky to have a great comics retailer close by I enjoy going to every week, and 2) Most digital comics are still too expensive at 3.99.
Until both those things change I will never go exclusively digital.

I am lucky enough to have access to Midtown Comics actual stores (so glad they’ve got three physical stores in Manhattan), so when I want to pick up a new or back issue before work I can. Or I can pre-order, order issues through their online store any time.

The folks at Midtown have always been very good to me (even when I was one of a very few female customers 14 years ago) and they will always get my $.

Digital…I’ve tried, but I prefer reading physical copies. I am not a tablet person.

I do not like paying full price for digital and there’s always that caveat you’re renting the digital issue.

Digital comics are plainly superior for my needs. The ability to zoom in is unmatched on the iPad – comics suffer from glare in the wrong light. The ability to download my comics 9:30AM every Wednesday without driving is also unmatched. I have too many books that aren’t worth a fraction of the money I spent on them and the boxes I have literally weigh over a ton, so I’m trying to get rid of them before I move next year. I’m done collecting anything but digital.

As a digital buyer, and only digital buyer, I believe digital was meant for comics. The artform, the platform, and the experience cannot be explained through aditoey terms. Is artistic. Is art when you read digital. You don’t have the hassle of your peripheral vision interupting your focus and you don’t have the distraction of ads interfering your flow. The reading experience, at least in theory, gets you more attentive at every detail. Some will argue that reading a physical copy is already an art, since you are marveling at the beauty of the texture. But in digital, you see the art coming to life. You understand how it was made. And that’s an experience worth checking out.

Of course my bias has a motive behind my selection of choice. The nearest comic book store is about 20 mins from where I am. And that’s one of the reasons why old-fashioned buyimg is not a priority for me. But most importantly, this is a business-friendly market. And my neighborhood, or community, are not big fans of comic books. Why open up a comic book store nearby if no one is going to buy them? Is a waste of time and money. Is best to open up a business where you will succeed. And you succeed with college, caucasian, sophisticated neighborhoods.

Digital is only and only a perfect fit for me for so many reasons. And without Comixology, I wouldn’t have this medium in my hands. Lucky for me, I’m Independent. I check diverse and different opinions about a character or comic book. Individualistically, it works wonders, but sociologically, I don’t get the social benefits like many traditionalists buyers. I will say that is a buzzkill but is not a big concern in this age of social media. As long the internet is not infringed or regulated, my drive for knowledge will only continue.

Digital buying can be good and bad for many reasons. I like it because I can download any of my over 500+ books, with DC taking a majority of them(57% precisely). And for me, with personalization becoming a crucial priority in digital economics, is huge. And is not just for my personal interests: is also situationally important. Showing my nephews a Batman art is more than just art. Is making sure the next generation get groom with these heroes. Is also educational as well.

Having resisted digital forever because I’m a “physical book purist” by heart and for all the reasons everyone has stated in the past five years, I resolved to try it when I received a Kindle this Christmas. And I’m very impressed. Reading digital IS pretty cool for all the reasons everyone has stated in the past five years. Granted, my tablet is a 7″, so I equate it to reading manga, or those old comic digests I read as a kid. However, I realize now there is no reason why shops can’t stay in business. Comics are perceived in two different ways: an art form and a delivery method for visual entertainment. Music lovers enjoy downloading music, but for many, nothing compares to seeing it performed live. Some people avoid movie theaters like the plague and opt for On Demand or DVD, while others don’t believe it’s a movie unless you’re in a movie theater. It’s all about perception. As long as there are people who like the more immersive experience of enjoying a comic, aka going to a shop, purchasing and reading a physical art form, there will always be a shop where comics are sold. It’s the job of the industry, not the shops, to create a product people want to be entertained with, regardless of the medium.

Im sorry but those magic card games are NOT helping comic stores…. well NOT comics that is. Those silly games are an entirely different industry on themselves. The stores that i see cater to these nerdy tornaments- 90% of the time treat comics as an annoyance. The majority if not ALL the people playing the games dont buy comics… It would be like selling baseball cards. Its a totaly different product. One doesnt help the other in sales.

Magic card games are an ENEMY of print comics.

It depends, being a minority reader, I originally had a major problem finding and ordering minority lead books. I remember when the blue marvel series came out, I went to my comic book shop every week for a month looking for it and they never got it, never ordered it, never told me they could order it and I had to wait months just to get the last issue. With digital I don’t have to worry about that. I don’t have to worry about the lcs ordering low amount of copies because he doesn’t believe they are going to sell. With digital I am guaranteed my books, especially minority based books and that’s something that can’t be replicated by my lcs

I buy mainly digital for mainstream comics because the comic shops in my area suck and like the commenter about the Blue Marvel series above will simply refuse to order items of interest. all these new image series that are big hits? Never ordered and I get the run around if I per order. Comixology and amazon are my main friends.

I can see the future of comics leaning heavily towards the digital medium. Just as games and movies are moving away from their physical counterparts. Everything seems to be moving towards a cloud environment so that information and entertainment are on hand wherever you want, whenever you want. However, what companies like Marvel and DC are overlooking here is nations where internet speeds are not equipped to handle such an expansive digital marketplace.

Take Australia for example. We have suffered for years with rubbish internet connections and the powers that be in this country have no clear idea of how to fix this particular problem. The solution they are proposing at the moment is ridiculous and will cost the average person an arm and a leg to be able to utilise.

Furthermore, digital content tends to be more expensive outside of the US. For me, this is a disincentive to collect digital issues because I am being slugged more without any real reason. I can understand with a physical copy why you would pay more in another country (shipping costs, currency conversions etc…) but when I am forced to pay a premium just because of my physical location in the world, I think it is a little unfair.

I know that there are sometimes external factors at play here such as international laws and taxes which can affect the price of goods and services from other countries, but if they don’t provide this justification, then it just seems like profit mongering.

I can’t say with any certainty that I will be converting to digital comics anytime soon. I still enjoy the experience of buying physical copies way too much. As many other people have commented, the experience of being in a comic store with like minded people just can’t be replicated in a digital medium.
Social media can replace some of the interaction, but I enjoy going to my local comic stores (shout out to Quality Comics and Comic Zone in Perth, Western Australia) and knowing that the guys there have my stuff put away and always know what to suggest.

Maybe one day the local comic shop will go the way of the dinosaur and become extinct. But while I still have a burning desire to read comics and money in my pocket, I am always going to support my local store and the brave men and women who own and work in these businesses.

I have to disagree with Jay on the fact that digital content is more expensive outside the US.
For us in Indonesia, for example, digital comics are getting cheaper and more affordable by the minute.
The US Dollar is stronger than ever against the Indonesian currency and keeps rising in value.
That being said, the comiXology pricing with the Indonesian currency remains the same, meaning it’s not affected by the rising value of the US Dollar.
As other commodities rise in prices for us here in Indonesia, including print comics, the prices of comics in comiXology actually remain the same in Rupiah (the Indonesian currency) as it was 3 years ago.
Compounded by the fact that the only way i can get comics here are by going to Kinokuniya (a major Japanese retail book store) or online ordering via one of the major comic store sites such as Mile High, etc, which are deeply affected by foreign currency value againts the Rupiah.
Again, the prices in those stores become more expensive as the US Dollar keeps getting stronger and the Indonesian Rupiah becomes weaker.
I just bought collections of Fear Itself and Civil War for Rp.78.000 on comiXolgy. These days, that’s around $6.10.
Can anyone show me how i can get those two collected editions cheaper than $6.10?
Thought not.

well i lived in Indonesia too , still buy Printed Comic books , it is just getting reduced each month because of high $ , hope when the election is ended this year the rate will be good again :)

“There’s still a long way to go until comics are as comfortable digitally as they are physically. ”

I disagree. From the first time I read a digital comic using Comixology’s reader, I entirely stopped buying paper comics. Digital comics are clearer, show better detail and color, and are generally much easier to manipulate than paper comics. I’m SO happy that I no longer have to twist and turn a paper page to get rid of glare. Yeah, you don’t own the comic…and if the power goes out the Kindle is useless…but digital is where it’s all headed and it’s not that bad of a development, in fact, I think it’s a great new opportunity for all creators in the medium.

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