There’s nothing I enjoy more than being wrong. Actually, scratch that. There’s nothing I hate more than being wrong. But sometimes you just are.
Let’s go back around two and a half years and look at the beginnings of the digital explosion in comics. I was chief of the Chicken Littles, but my logic seemed so damn sound. Digital had already crushed sales of CDs to such an extent that high street giants were toppling before our eyes and record sales were so low that bands were having to tour again, all our favorite musicians no longer able to just lie around in a daze while their managers converted royalties into class-A drugs. Likewise, the DVD gravy-train Hollywood had enjoyed for a little over a decade, that free money back-end that could often double the gross of a picture internationally, had ground to a comparative halt as people started opted for the cheaper alternative of, y’know, watching them for free online.
I never expected people to go entirely digital because the comic-reading experience is such a unique one. Flipping pages and stacking on a shelf feels very different from downloading whereas music and films look and taste almost identical in either format. My great concern, and I still can’t believe it didn’t turn out to be a problem, is that twenty, ten or even five percent of the traditional print readership didn’t disappear when day-and-date digital became the norm for comic-book publishers and a very sizable number of people started reading online. Those digital readers had to come from somewhere and my fear was a very simple combination of micro and macro-economics where I suspected even a modest ten percent switchover from print to digital would mean all those comic-stores hanging on by their fingernails (and in Nov 2011 that felt like rather a lot of them) would be dealt the same deathblow as so many record stores, suddenly switching from a small profit and into a loss.
Now this concerned me for two reasons.
Number One: I love comic-stores. I grew up in a lovely town, but it was hard to be a comic-fan because I was literally the only one I knew for a very large part of my childhood. Discovering AKA Books and Comics when I was 13 was like Robin peeking into the Justice League headquarters. This is what I wanted to be when I grew up and a comic store is as comfortable for me as a warm bath. I didn’t want to see them go away.
Number Two: We owe retailers everything. Remember those booms in the eighties, nineties and noughties? Well, every single one of them was preceded and succeeded by a bust and the guys who hung on through the thick and thin, usually not making much money and fueled only by a love of the medium, were the retailers. As a creator, I owe them everything from the keyboard I’m typing on to the pajamas I’m wearing (it’s still early). Our first responsibility as creators should be to our readers, but that’s inextricably joined to the retailers as they’re pretty much always the men and women recommending your books to fans.
So: Why didn’t the sky fall in? Where did it all go right?
As always, it’s the economy, stupid. I looked at two and a half years worth of figures, taking the market as a whole, since digital first started becoming a thing… and it looks pretty damn awesome. Every financial quarter seemed to indicate growth and the dip the industry had been feeling prior to 2011 was reversed and accelerated into very impressive growth. There’s a couple of blips (like this most recent January), but the overall trend is a very healthy one and I’m reminded of what happened when we launched the Ultimate line at Marvel a few years back. Nobody could explain it, but all those issues put on the Marvel server to be read for free actually found INCREASES in their print sales. Again, I can’t pretend to figure out the logic, but from speaking to retailers, speaking to other pros, speaking to readers, speaking to distributors, talking online and every other piece of investigating I’ve done since I sounded that death knell two and a half years ago the resounding overall conclusion is that digital has been inarguably good for comics as a whole.
Image told me this before Frank Quitely and I launched “Jupiter’s Legacy” there last year, but I still maintained I wanted a three month window between print and digital to give the comic-stores a head start. Icon told me this the year before when Johnny Romita and I were launching “Hit-Girl,” but I still maintained I didn’t want print compromised in any way by digital and asked them to keep that same buffer window. But all anecdotal evidence seems to suggest (and I’ve had impassioned pleas from many readers on this subject), that the only net effect of my three month delay policy is that people who want to read your book and don’t live near a comic store are being punished. Mark Waid, and he’s a wise fellow with some twenty-five plus years experience in all aspects of the industry, declared the digital comic to be the modern-day version of the news-stand spinner-rack, and he’s absolutely right. It’s the perfect way to get a taste of comics if you’re new, the perfect way to read your favorite books if your local store closed in 1994 and, since the books are the same price as print when they’re released, they’re not really competing or eating into comic-store profits.
So when your readers, your retailer friends, your publishers, your artists and everybody presents this evidence and declare day-and-date publication for print and digital as a resounding success you kind of have to listen or you’re just being silly. I like the fact that comic-stores are making more money. I like the fact that people who don’t have access to our books can now suddenly read them. I like the fact that those big, comic-books ads I sometimes refer to as movies are out there helping us and digital is another string to our bow. Thus, Starlight #1 is out on Wednesday, both in your local comic store and on comiXology. Goran and I hope you enjoy it.