Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: The Fate of Comics as We Know Them
If you can recall back, some columns ago, I openly wondered why DC Comics was ignoring the e-reader market when it has been making such a naked gambit to bring new readers into comics via the tablet.
Turns out they weren’t ignoring the e-reader market. They were just busy swimming in the dump truck of cash that Amazon drove up to their offices in return for exclusivity (I’m assuming that I’m being metaphorical here).
Yes, news dropped a few days ago that the Kindle would happily be the exclusive provider of 100 DC titles. Recent stuff like Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, classics like Sandman, Watchmen and gateway titles like Y The Last Man and Fables. This is plenty interesting, but not as interesting as what happened next.
In retaliation Barnes & Noble pulled most of its DC books off the shelf. We will have to wait and see just how this plays out, but whichever way it goes, this is Barnes & Noble’s first attempt to flex their power in their post-Border’s roll as the only major game in town. It’s a gamble, but there are reasons to believe it might work out quite well for them.
Of course unlike with many kinds of publishers, DC does have a network of niche stores to continue to bring in revenue. They’re most likely hoping to be able to subsist on sales from comic shops and wait out the siege. I’d bet money that this isn’t going to work.
The most important thing to consider is that this is a battle over trades. Trades are a collection of comic books into a single story arc, or a well-known graphic novel. The important thing about trades is that they’re aimed at the casual reader, not the fanatical comics fans. When the new Batman movie comes out, Barnes & Noble stacks up a big table filled with copies of Arkham Asylum and The Dark Knight Returns for the newly minted fan to buy without worrying about decades of continuity.
You cannot exaggerate how important these are to comic book companies’ income. DC sold over a million copies of Watchmen in the lead up and aftermath of the film. And that was off of the back of a film that most consider to be an under-performer at best.
That’s the thing to keep in mind. Who exactly is buying these books? Is it the die hard comics fan who already owns them all as monthlies? No. Is it the hardcore completist loading up trades in his cart on Amazon? No. The people buying these trades are casual readers. The type of people who never set foot inside a comics shop. Barnes & Noble is effectively cutting off DC’s contact with the outside world.
If anything they’re not going far enough. There still are some DC trades on Barnes & Noble shelves, and the newsstand is still stocked with DC’s monthly titles. This is because Barnes & Nobles is only pulling titles that are offered on The Kindle. If you’re going to do an embargo it should be a full one.
Still, half-hearted embargo or no, this is one of the first times that physical and electronic media have been pitted directly against each other. Call me an optimist, but I have a feeling that DC is in for a rude awakening on how hard physical media can still hit.
We know we’ve got a lot of comic book readers out there, what are your thoughts?
Check out other entries in The Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: