Wednesday, June 08, 2011

How We Read Comics

In the past few weeks I have gone over various technological developments that change the way we consume media.  With the tablet computing, it would look like comic books are not far from being revolutionized themselves.  Add to this the announcment last week that DC will be rebooting/renumbering its entire universe, in no small part to transition to a digital format, and it looks like a sure thing.  I don't think it is though.
Comics started out as cheap entertainment.  In the 40's, when the comic book market first took off, they were throw away entertainment.  People that worked on them were so ashamed of what they were doing that they didn't even put their names on their work.  They didn't want credit for what they were doing.  Comic book publishers would steal ideas and talent from each other and when something sold they would do it to death. 
Somewhere along the line, comic books became collector's items.  People would save and take care of the comics they had and would collect whole runs.  They slowly moved from drug stores and news stands into specialized shops.  In 1988 the stock market had a mini crash.  The value of collector's items like baseball cards and comic books did not take a hit.  This started the investment age of the 90's, when the price shot up dramatically, artists where superstars, and every comic had five chromium collector's covers.  Publishers were throwing money at artists and writers to pump out more material and most of it was total crap.  The market nosedived. 
In todays market, comics aren't so much for kids as kids can no longer afford the cover price.  Strong competition from manga books (produced cheaper and faster) have also hurt the industry.  While comic book movies have increased interest in the characters, publishers have failed to see any long term gains in readership.  Comic books stores generally are struggling.
Digital distribution sounds like the answer to comic book publishers.  People can read them on their tablet devises in full color with beautiful resolution.  Print costs go way down, even if they are still releasing a limited number of paper books.  Their may be an initial surge, but the publishers are forgetting that comic books have a collectability factor.  While very few fans are under the delusion that their collection is worth anything (at all!), they still remain collectable.  Downloading takes that away a lot, cloud collections will remove it completely. 
The comic book world will hemorage from this, few titles will be left standing as the quality control on most titles has been dismal and this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  The publishers have been trying to shake up stagnant sales for years and quality never seems to be the answer they come up with.  The tablet while perfect for actual reading of comics is also perfect for animation and why have pictures sitting still on a page when  you can have them running around. 

The tablet and same day digital will not fix the ailing comic book publishing industry.  It may bring upon its death.  Comic books are no longer cheap entertainment and the industry no longer wants them to be collectables, it is sad to say, but if they have to stand on their own as quality entertainment, most titles are going to fall short.  When you read them on what are essentially mini computer/TVs they have to compete with other forms of more interactive media.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds. 

1 comment:

Pat Tillett said...

Another great thing being tossed to the curb. It's too bad!