Thursday, September 8, 2011

Living In A Digital World?

There are downsides to digital distribution, of course. And I'm not just talking about the whole 'you are only buying access to a comic' thing. The weather, for example. It's been pouring rain here the past few days which means I've opted to leave my iPad at home, thus putting off any attempt to read or download this week's batch of New #1s to read on the train. (Action Comics is probably the only one I'll go into blind. It'll take some buzz to get me to look at Batgirl, Swamp Thing, or Animal Man). I just can't bring myself to risk a pricey electronic toy on a commuter rail full of dripping, leaning passengers.

So instead I wiled away my (delayed and slow) train playing King of Dragon Pass on my iPhone and pondering digital comics.

Why the need to tie new, digital comics to old, paper comics? If we accept the conventional wisdom that comics are if not a dying medium, then certainly not a growing one, why try to emulate them? The structure of comics, that is the panels and art and word bubbles and so on, is fine to emulate - change that too much and you either have animation or a short story. But the distribution? Why do I have to wait until Wednesday to download my comic? Comic stores have to wait because of the vagaries of the shipping process - because things ship to different locations at different speeds, there needs to be a common release date. Otherwise, well, uh..

Otherwise, I'm not sure what happens. Distribution is pretty much handled by a single entity and shipping rates would be the same for similar geographical locations. So the two and a half comicbook stores in Harvard Square would, in theory, receive their stuff all on the same day. Would it be the end of the world if stores in, say, San Francisco got theirs a day earlier? Spoilers can't be an issue - comics are pretty consistently spoiled online pre-release and nothing has burst into flames yet.

Maybe it has something to do with how sales are counted? But that can't be a driving reason behind Wednesdays, can it? It has to be one of those Traditional things that sprung up after the switch to the Direct Market that pulled comics from drug stores and newstands and sort of ghettoized in specialty shops, the sort of weird arcane tradition that we need to shed if we want comics to re-enter the mainstream as more than movie inspiration or videogame tie-ins. Assuming we can't shed the tradition in the physical distribution of comics, why can't we get rid of it in the digital?

Surely, it would be in DC's favor to have people browsing their app multiple days of the week. Given how my iPhone's Facebook and G+ icons get swarmed by little red numbers over the course of a weekend, I'm pretty sure there's the ability to notify readers that a comic they are interested in has a new issue up, thus mimicking one part of current comics distribution, the pull list, that can actually work well depending on your shop.

One of the things that will help prolong comics is re-integrating them into readers' everyday lives. Divorcing digital comics from Wednesdays while taking advantage of the medium's ability to notify readers of new issues would help to do so. That way, you don't have a Special Day that you must remember to check for new comics. Instead, readers can notice new things they are interested while they are in the middle of other tasks - check to see if the train is running late and then find out that a new comic is available for download. A few taps and it's downloaded and life goes on, except now with comics!

Hell, it could even be a selling point about digital comics that they come out first. That'd help defray the sting of price matching, for sure. Set the 'Comics Week' as being a Thursday to Wednesday with the last day being the day that physical issues are released while allowing digital editions to become available in advance. If you wanted to keep the hype-potential of set 'release dates' then you could tie certain days in with certain titles, so Saturday becomes Baturday and Sunday is the Last Sunday of Krypton or something equally hoaky.

Basically, if I now don't have to go to the comicbook store on Wednesday to get my new comics, why do I have to wait until Wednesday?

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