IN MY OPINION: Reading And Collecting Moving Into A Digital Future [DOL:IMO]
Back in the winter of 1997 I was a junior cert student in Ennis. I was picking up comics from newsagents all over town. Random issues of Daredevil, Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Captain America could be found by walking to four or five different shops during my lunch break. I was engulfed with enthusiasm by the recently finished Heroes Reborn crossover that was all the news at the time. I was essentially in my element. The last book that I picked up at that time was X-Men #71 from a shop in Dunnes Mall because that was the only shop that carried it. After reading it, I found out that the story was to be continued next issue which I duly waited for and waited for and waited for. In fact the next issue never reached the shop. After walking around town for several days during my lunch break I found out that none of the shops had any American comics at all bar MAD magazine whose humour was still a couple years beyond me so I didn’t pick it up.
The reason that the comics disappeared was because of the end of the news stand era of selling comics. Comics had migrated solely to specialist comic shops. I was gutted. The nearest comic shop was a small shop on William Street in Limerick and I believe that a Forbidden Planet was open in Limerick at the time too. What it marked was a fundamental shift in how easy comics were available to customers. And the next shift on that level was over a decade away.
In later years it became apparent how much the speculator market was to blame as much as anything for the dwindling number of readers that were falling away even as the books themselves hit a creative crescent in the early naughites and later. It took a long time for the industry to overcome it. Many argue that it never really overcame it as the amount of comic shops worldwide began to decrease due to a lack of customers. As a young reader it became apparent to me as both shops in Limerick closed. It wouldn’t be until years later that another would open and even that is gone too as of two years ago. So I turned to mail order comics after a while of reading a friends amassed collection. Sub City in Galway and Forbidden Planet in Dublin have become invaluable resources to me over the last 12 years or so that I have been receiving comics by mail. But even that is beginning to look like that it is going to have competition in the form of digital comics.
Much like the newspaper industry over the last decade has done, in an attempt to counteract the falling readership, one time giants of the field are looking at digital readership to raise revenue. The last year or so has seen a much more open armed welcoming of the platform from the comic companies. Only this week Dark Horse Comics were the latest company to announce day and date parity with their publishing. As a reader of comics I am in a conflicted sphere of uncertainty right now. As someone who loves holding comics in my hands while reading, I am a reader who because of where I live, can only get my hands on new comics only every couple of weeks by mail order which most of the time is fine but sometimes especially when something huge happens like the reveal in last weeks Fantastic Four #600 which got ruined for me because I wasn’t in a comic shop at 10am to see it before it became common knowledge all over the net exactly what happened in the issue.
Another instance of where I needed my books in my hands on a Wednesday happened at the start of September when another web site I write for, comicrelated.com put out a call to arms for its writers for reviews of the New 52. As I wasn’t due to get books for several weeks yet I was ‘forced’ into buying my first digital comics off comixology. I duly bought Grifter #1 and Catwoman #1 to have some content for CR and although I enjoyed the issues for their entertainment value I felt somewhat hollow afterwards. I am a comic collector as well as a reader. My collection numbers in the thousands. I buy collections from estates, auctions, classifieds etc. I was doing this as recently as yesterday (Monday) at an auction in Galway. I want the issue in my hands. I want to smell the paper of my older issues. In the auction yesterday I bought a number of early 1960’s DC comics at an absolute steal, I even bought a 1941 issue of British comic Champion for next to nothing. The thrill of the collecting and the knowledge of what I have in my collection is part and parcel of the collectors mind. All this makes me wonder what place I have in the upcoming world of digital comics.
I am no stranger to digital comics, I have been receiving enough of them from various publishers, creators etc. for review purposes for several years now. The smaller non Diamond publisher can use it as an invaluable cheap resource for getting its books into the hands of readers. Mainstream companies are now opening up to the possibilities of digital comics after signing partnership deals with Graphic.ly, comixology and more. You can now read your digital comic on your iPad or on your PC with no waiting for mail orders or travelling to stores yourself. It has now become a readers market.
Digital comics are not yet to the point where they influence publisher’s decisions and I don’t think they will be for a while. They are not yet at the point where the floppy is dead. And in that one I hope they never will be. I can see the benefit in digital comics in that I hope it causes more people to pick up comics once more. Bear in mind that only 20 years ago comics were selling in the millions while earlier this year the biggest selling comics were only selling about 80,000 issues. But digital comics are a growth area within this industry and as yet no one is making decisions based off digital sales but the potential is there for all to see.
Just like the distribution shift of the late nineties, the arrival of the digital platform is without doubt the biggest change the industry has seen since then. Just what place I see myself having within its readership is as yet unanswerable.