Welcome to another installment of Coffee and Comics! We hope you had a great Holiday weekend. Or, just a great weekend, in general. Now that things have gotten back to normal, let’s do what we came here to do: get nerdy!
Many have been surprised by several announcements Amazon has made in the last few years. From pre-emptive shipping, the newly minted drone delivery fleet, and the super top-secret space project, Mr. Jeff Bezos has been very, very busy. As a few weeks ago the world’s largest digital comic book provider, ComiXology, is now owned by the creators of the cloud, the owner of The Washington Post, and who knows how many other investments Mr. Bezos has made in the last few years. Who knows? Maybe he’ll start a company called BezCorp and revitalize a major city after a certain caped superhero destroys it during a battle with General Zod?
Of all of the new developments, this one is sure to impact the comic book community, as almost all of the first, second, and third tier publishers offer digital content through ComiXology, except for Dark Horse. They continue to use their own proprietary digital content application. This week we’re talking about what this means to us as readers and what it could mean for the community on a whole.
How often do you find yourself using digital over printed comics?
Mai Byers: I actually never chose digital over print. I read some of our advance copies in digital but my favorites like Rat Queens and Black Science I still buy on release day.
Asaph Bitner: I use digital comics almost exclusively. I don’t think I can get the physical issues on the same day as in the US where I live currently, so digital comics are the way to go for me. I’m also not really a collector. The print comics I own are mostly trades (many of which I bought before I got a tablet).
Jesse Quick: I always buy hard copy when I can but being that I live two hours from the nearest comic book store at the moment digital has started to enter my life.
Alex Smith: Sadly, I haven’t taken full advantage of the digital realm, most likely due to a lifelong love of print media. There’s just something about going into a comic shop and seeing what’s in your box (variants!). It also promotes a lot of conversation and discussion. I’m lucky enough to live in comics-thriving Seattle, so someone is always talking/disagreeing about something!
Mike Sains: As a reader, I find myself utilizing digital comics mostly when I can’t find a copy of the book on the shelf at my local store. Books that get very limited releases that might slip past me usually get this treatment. For example, Bullet Proof Coffin: Disinterred was a big favorite of mine a few years ago. But I couldn’t find but a few copies of random issues at the stores. So I was forced to buy the digital issues, rather than wait for the trade. The same goes for just about any book that takes a long time to get made into a trade paperback.
Are there any digital only comics that you read?
Mai Byers: Like I said, just advance review copies. I make sure I have Wednesdays off so I can go hang out with my buds at the comic shop. Hanging out is half the fun so I always want to support their business and buy from them.
Asaph Bitner: The only digital exclusive I can think of that I’ve read is Captain Ultimate, a kid-oriented superhero comic created by Joey Esposito and Benjamin Bailey. I even reviewed issue #4 when it came out close to Halloween 2013.
Jesse Quick: There are several web comics that I read including xkcd and Subnormality. And while I’m interested in the Marvel “Infinite” comics I haven’t been able to check too many out.
Alex Smith: I started reading Batman 66, which began as a digital first, and loved every second of it. It had that pop-up book feel that evoked nostalgia better than most things I’ve read. I’m still waiting for it to return to the brilliance it had during the debut, as the series has lost a bit of spark. Other than that, there a few, like Batman Eternal or Justice League Dark, that I read digitally but only because I don’t have much space to collect all of them (especially a weekly series). As far as web comics go, Penny Arcade has always been good for laughs, especially if you’re a gamer.
Mike Sains: Right now the only digital comics I read tend to be more of the comic strip variety. Although, The Oatmeal can border on full-blown comic books sometimes. I love their sense of humor mixed with a real talent for telling stories that have uplifting or unique points. Their strip about jogging is something that helps me in my everyday life and the strip about the Mantis Shrimp could be the greatest thing ever.
What do you think this acquisition means for the industry? Is this good or bad? Why?
Mai Byers: I think it means it’s going to be easier to get digital comics. Hopefully that’s all. Audible (the audiobook website) was also bought out by Amazon. At first I was horrified thinking it was going to change how I get audiobooks. It did change but for the better. Amazon is a big company with a whole lot of people working for it. The only difference now is when I log in I use my amazon login and get bonuses for subscribing on my amazon card and now I have a fancy app. I’m guessing that we’ll still have comixology the way it is, if not better, and we’ll also be able to buy digital comics through amazon easier. Maybe Prime members will also get some comic benefits.
Asaph Bitner: It’s early to tell what exactly Amazon buying ComiXology means for the industry, but I have a feeling not much will change. ComiXology is a very good service as is, so I think Amazon will let it function. Maybe we’ll see some integration with other Amazon services in the future, but I don’t see consumers suffering from this. ComiXology’s too valuable (at least seemingly) to risk on shady moves that could cause ire among consumers.
Jesse Quick: Well it means that big players think there is going to be money made in actual comic books which is a good sign. I’m hoping to see some kind of connection between Amazon Prime and Comixology which could lead to more subscription based services like Marvel Unlimited. I guess its one more reason to get a Kindle as that device might become the go to for reading digital comics.
Alex Smith: There’s been a lot of grumbling, but I think this is a massive win for comics. It’ll only help exposure. I know Amazon is now a massive company, blah blah blah, but they still almost always beat prices of other retailers. I’m sure we’re going to see specific sales that might make it much easier to start collections. I’m a proud Prime member, so I hope they add tons more comics to the lending library. Think about the possibility of using Amazon gift cards to grab digital comics. Everyone has those lying around, and now they can be put to good use. An absolute positive.
Mike Sains: I agree with all of you. I think this is nothing but a good thing for the industry. Unless it turns out that Amazon has somehow obtained rights to the books or the characters themselves, I can’t see how this is a bad thing. Especially when children and young adults are reading the majority of their content online or on smart devices. This is the way of the future and I am happy that a company like Amazon got the acquisition and not someone like Walmart.
What are some printed titles that you think would benefit from a digital only transfer?
Mai Byers: I don’t know any that would benefit from digital only or print only. Why limit yourself? There are all kinds of readers. I just know that kindle saved me when I was in Japan. If I moved out of country again I would want the option for all of my favorites and soon to be favorites to be in digital format so I wouldn’t have to wait on a family member to send them to me. But right now I’m in the U.S. and I want a print copy in my hands.
Asaph Bitner: I don’t really know why any printed title might need to become digital-only, unless it was selling well digitally but poorly in print. I don’t see any reason at all for a digital title to become print only. Basically, every title should be digitally available, weather or not it is available in print. There’s no reason to not market your title in a medium with low manufacturing costs like digital stores, and from which you can generate highly profitable, quick sales.
Jesse Quick: I’m not sure of any comics that aren’t already one that would benefit from being the other. The only thing I would say is that some comic publishers seem slow to digitize their hard copies too early for fear of cutting into the hard copy profits and that seems like a bad idea to me. All the companies could benefit from digital copies as they are cheaper to produce and could be cheaper for the customer, allowing more purchases.
Alex Smith: That’s a tough question to answer. Because digital is so prolific these days, most titles are already doing well through both mediums. I imagine brilliantly realized artwork probably translates best, so something like Umbral or East of West would read nicely on an iPad. I also think weekly titles could be digital only, because that’s way too much to store away after a year.
Mike Sains: I think it is interesting that no one thought to toss this idea out there: why not put some of the less successful books that died in print in a digital-only format? For example: Beta Ray Bill and Sif had their own comic but it didn’t do well in print. Why not save the print costs and keep it going in digital only for .99 cents? I guess what I mean is similar to how TV networks take a show that was set for prime-time Monday nights and fails, then they move it to Friday. Like Hannibal. Maybe there it could find it’s own place in the market, or even find enough of a consistent fan-base to bring it back to the prime spot. I think that was more of what I was aiming at, rather than say a specific title. But I see what you all mean, as well.
Which print publisher could you see going completely digital only? Who goes first? Why?
Mai Byers: I can’t. Not really…
Asaph Bitner: I don’t really know if any of the big publishers (even the bigger indies like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, etc.) will be going digital-only any time soon. Sure, digital comics are the future, but I don’t really see them going away completely in the near future. I see a gradual decline in print sales in favor of digital, and an eventual point at which print sales will be lower than they are now, but still exist, even if only as a niche.
Alex Smith: Definitely not the big two or Image, so it would most likely be one of the smaller, creator-owned publishers. Honestly, I don’t see anyone going completely digital for a LONG time, if ever.
Mike Sains: Interesting. I’m not sure there are any publishers that show a current need to stop printing, altogether. But if someone where to transfer first, it would be either the smallest, or the least popular of the bunch. Or, maybe it is a company that sees the foresight in leaving printed media altogether. Initially, I thought my candidate would by Oni Press. They make great content and I do not know what their sales numbers are like. But, I could see the majority of their content looking spectacular on a tablet or book reader. Who knows? I guess only time will tell..