Everyone I know loves comic shops. Everyone I know who makes comics, especially creator-owned comics, is hurting, financially. EVERYONE is bleeding, its a bad time. So to what extent does digital as a publishing format represent an additional revenue stream, one on top of print sales through shops, one that can ease some of the suffering?
Don’t know. No one knows, because we aren’t seeing true sales numbers yet. No one’s figured out what the magic price point is, because none of the big players have taken the risk and offered a 99 cent comic, or a 1.99 comic, etc., in a meaningful way. The price point is being kept artificially high out of deference to our retail partners. The price that fair-minded readers WANT to buy digital comics at is starkly different from what’s they are currently set at.
Over the last few days Dark Horse was compelled to clarify what their digital plan was, in terms of pricing, correcting the perception that their comics would be sold digitally at 1.99, much less than the print versions. I have access to the CBIA, a retailers forum, and the pushback was intense, and included overt threats of drastically lowered orders and even total boycotts of the line. Did I mention everyone is bleeding? I get the frustration. But here’s the thing, speaking for myself:
I’ve had series cancelled recently. I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons. I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have). My income from royalties have dropped. Most comic shops don’t carry my books. I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may be drastically reduced in the near future. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too. I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times. But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.
So I’ll have to bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less. The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I’ll just keel over and die from it.
No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt. We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends. We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income. To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems! It benefits no one at all. It will not save us.
When I thought my Dark Horse comics were to be sold digitally at 1.99, I devised a plan to make the print singles a luxury object specifically for the benefit of the retailer community, to make it a unique book with truly added-value content so that the two formats would not be in competition for the same product. So that the “higher priced” print single would be justified in the eyes of retailers and readers. Not sure if this plan is scrapped or not, but I am not the boogeyman here, and when I see these boycott threats, still being issued even after Dark Horse clarified their plans… well, its hard not to feel like an innocent bystander, a bit of collateral damage. My new books at risk even before they launch. Christ, I’m just trying to make it all work out for everyone.
More as I have it.