The week I finally decide to get on my comic reviews is the week they’re all delayed due to Memorial Day because of course they are. Never let it be said that Jet Wolf won’t take lemons and make exploding lemons, so this seems a good opportunity to segue into the other, non-reboot news coming from DC yesterday: Same day and date digital distribution.
This is huge.
Digital comics aren’t a new thing – .cbr and .cbx files have been with us for years – but the proliferation of handheld colour devices alongside hubs such as comiXology has turned a niche form of piracy into a legitimate content-driven business. One which, I admit, I’ve been pretty loathe to explore.
I love my comic books. When we bought our house, we decided to devote an entire room just to house and celebrate them. Two-thirds of my collection remains across the country, and I long for the day when we are again reunited. I literally cannot remember a time when comic books were not a part of my life.
The keyword for me here is books.
I love the feel of a comic book. The thin newspaper pages of a classic, and the glossy sheen of a modern title. I love grabbing a handful of books from my boxes and spreading them out, admiring the way the colours blend and clash. And I love those boxes, the stacks and stacks of them, each containing wonderful stories and living characters, and yeah plenty of horrible and embarrassing stuff too like an entire decade where nobody had feet.
And the memories. I keenly remember when my driver’s license was brand new and driving myself to the comic book store for the first time. I remember week after week, waiting with a packed crowd of eager fans for the guys to come in with the boxes of new issues. I remember being so excited to read what happened next that I sat out in the car for an hour devouring new stories. I remember all of these things when I see that cover or smell those musty pages.
I’m a person who embraces technology. I love my toys, I love my gadgets, and I think the future is awesome. But the experience, the ritual of the weekly pick-up is as much a part comics as the books themselves. I love my local comic shop. I love all comic shops. Give them up? Give my books up? Never happen.
But let’s face it, here? I’m an old fogey – get off my lawn with your iPads and your hula hoops. Digital distribution is the inevitable way of the future. It’s working for music, it’s working for television and movies, it’s working for games, and despite my huffing and puffing, I really do want it to work for comics as well. If we don’t evolve, the whole thing’s going to die, and then my old dead tree books will be all I have left.
DC may very well be taking that huge first step to bridging the gap for a hold-out like me. I think there’s a place in my world for digital and print comics to happily coexist, and the fact that on New Comic Day I could have my choice about how to buy my books has caused me to give the digital thing a much closer think.
With one major caveat: Price.
If the price point on these digital books is going to be the same as their print counterparts, we can stop having the conversation right now. My books are love, and at the same price I will pick the physical object every single time. But let’s assume that DC (and ultimately Marvel, since I can’t see them letting DC stand alone on this for long) will go the reasonable route, shave off the costs of printing and distribution, and pass that on to the consumer. I’m going to go with my hypothetical sweet spot of digital comics costing 50% less. I’m not sure that’s reasonable, but let’s roll with it for now.
There are a lot of books, characters and creators out there that I would love to support. There are even more books that I’d like to try. Back when I was first getting seriously into comics it was a lot easier; comics cost a buck and I didn’t have a mortgage. But in today’s world where the average comic is $3 or $4, I’m forced to be selective. Impulse buying a new title just because it looks interesting is practically a mythological scenario. Anything new I try has to grab me quickly because I simply don’t have the money to keep buying and hoping. Basically the high cost of comics has forced me to become exactly the kind of consumer I hate, fostering exactly the kind of industry I never wanted.
But a 50% less digital option? Now we’re talking. $1.50 to $2 is the perfect “give it a shot” price point for me. Late nights when I can’t sleep but want something new to read? This is ideal. As stated yesterday, I’m not a big DC fan, but at that price I would absolutely try some of the reboot titles.
For me, it would become a scale almost. The books that I adore, the ones I devour or series where I’m heavily invested, those would become my “first class” titles that I would buy physically every month. Consider it a premium. Everything else, digital works for me. Hell, I might even buy myself an iPad specifically to read digital comics.
Money is as always the rhythm to which we all dance. By being the first of The Big Two to seriously put digital forward as an equal, DC is gong to set the tone. This has the potential to be the first heartbeat of the new age of comic books. Dinosaurs like me can grumble and protest, but if we want to save this industry that we love, change is inevitable.
But they’ll never take my Uncanny X-Men. My unbroken run is over 400 issues; I will be 90 and on social security and still buying that goddamn book.