Saving Comics Stores – Go Local!

February 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog

So a lot is being said lately about the latest attempt at digital comics distribution via comics stores. I encourage you to read the linked article, but for the lazy I will attempt to summarize a few points about the model:

  • Exclusive digital editions of comics from major publishers will be offered through comics retail stores on the day of the print release
  • These digital editions will be released exclusively in comics retail stores for a brief period before becoming available on iTunes
  • You have to go to the retail store in order to get a code to download the exclusive content (in other words, you have to go to the store to get a download)

Let me say that I’m not going to bash comics retailers here nor am I going to rejoice in the disruption of their business model. But this does reek a little of trying to preserve a business model that is quickly becoming defunct thanks to digital distribution. After all, why should Local Comics Stores (or LCS) distribute content digitally that the publishers and creators can so easily distribute themselves? Why should I go through the trouble to make sure my books are carried in a LCS when I can more easily distribute digital editions through stores like The Illustrated Section?

I think what really disappoints me about this whole story is that so few are seeing the disruption as an opportunity to rethink their model and find new and creative ways to add value for their customers. Putting myself in the LCS’s place, so what if Marvel and DC can distribute their digital editions without me? How can I offer something else beyond those books and reach new audiences?

I’m reminded of a talk by Eli Neiburger at a Library Journal/School Library Journal Online Summit, where he talks about the challenges libraries face in the burgeoning ebook industry. The points he makes are more than just an analogy for the comics industry and LCS’s; they’re nearly exactly the situation in our industry.

In his talk Eli refers to what the library’s original purpose was, and why that purpose continues to have value despite the easy and global distribution of digital media. LCS’s are local. If they focus on their local cartoonists (and lets face it, these days you can swing your arm in any direction and point at a cartoonist), they’ll have something that Diamond doesn’t. Imagine a LCS creating a website selling digital editions of their local cartoonists’ works, inviting the cartoonists to in-store events (and publishing these events on their site as videos), recording podcasts with the cartoonists to be released through the store website. In other words, supporting and honoring their local talent by partnering with them as content creators and distributors. This gets the community to think of the LCS as the place to get to know all things comics, and I’ll bet you money that they’d suddenly find themselves sitting on a fleet of new comics content beyond the super hero event goofyness that the general public just can’t get on board with.

It’s my belief that, done properly, this strategy would propel the LCS to a level of relevance beyond the “Big Two” or whatever you want to call the companies that we think of when someone says “Mainstream Comics”.

It’s funny that this came up when it did. I just finished a talk for Ignite Chelsea where my main thesis was how local events trump internet access and how cartoonists need to be more involved with their communities in order to “save comics”. I would extend that philosophy out to the LCS’s as well.

What do you think?


2 Responses to “Saving Comics Stores – Go Local!”
  1. I don’t think Diamond’s plan is really about the local comics shops and what happens to them in a world gone digital so much as it is a completely cynical, totally manipulative, shockingly transparent attempt on Diamond’s part to gum up the works and slow down the industry’s transition to digital.

    I take as an axiom that what’s good for THE business is good for MY business, so I never fear a good idea. Comics moving from print to digital as their primary delivery mechanism is a really, really good idea and will be very good for the business. The things that worry me are the really dumb ideas … because the history of comics is rife with dumb seeds that have taken root and grown into big, lush, stupid trees.

    Diamond’s digital distribution plan however is such a titanically dumb idea that I think it may be the exception to the rule.

    Or at least I sooo hope …