28 February 2006

"It's-a me, DiDio!" and the Wednesday Experience: Can we stay serialized?

"We wanted to create a sense of 'must read on Wednesday,' to not wait for the trade." - Dan Didio

And so far, they're succeeding - not so much because the stories are so good, but because the narratives are so byzantine that reading everything in release order is the only way to understand what's going on. And unlike many, I'm actually a fan of this - of the shared universe, plot hints dropped across different books, hell, I even liked the Superboy-Prime fight in Infinite Crisis #4. I think that Dan is doing his job, if his job is to make people want to go get single issues as quickly as possible.

Now, the question is, why in God's name would you want to do that?

Since the '30s, the superhero funnybook has been based off of a periodical structure - biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, whatever it is. This has allowed for a bunch of really fun and neat narrative options (and, unfortunately, cash-cow gimmicks) that can be used to tell stories from a multitude of different perspectives while still allowing the plot threads to congregate into a whole. Right now, this is the prevailing trend in superhero comics, with both DC and Marvel in the middle of massive continuity-heavy storylines that require a hell of a lot of reading. It's expensive.

Except that anybody who actually has the money for these kinds of storylines never gets them on Wednesdays, because they have obligations and jobs. Many of them mail-order their comics because the vast majority of the nine-to-five business world does not have the damned time to stop by the comic store and grab his pull list, nor does he have time to maintain a collection. So who, exactly, is DiDio targeting with this emphasis on the "Wednesday experience"? Kids can't afford it, adults don't have the time, which generally leaves the college market, never a target demographic due to the huge amount of tech-savvy and the proliferation of all kinds of pirated material, comics included - and generally, comics fans are nerds and know how to find this kind of stuff.

This leaves a bunch of people reading scans of comics, not necessarily because they don't have the money, but just because it is a massive pain in the ass to have to wait until after work to get down to the comic store and buy the books, usually by which point someone spoiled them for you on the Internet anyway, and then being too tired to care.

This is a massive, epic untapped market, and only recently are comic companies starting to realize that, perhaps, people *prefer* their comics in digital format. They don't break or bend; the quality is always top notch; you don't have to go out of your way to get them, you don't have to worry about a title being undershipped, it allows for increases in coloring quality, and would also allow delayed books to come out in between Wednesdays, or in piecemeal. The direct market exists ONLY for the proliferation of pamphlet-format funnybooks, with the vast majority of the trade/graphic novel market being in bookstores.

So what the hell are these people waiting for, Christmas? If DC and Marvel really want to concentrate on the single-issue experience, the anticipation and the guessing, they have to keep up with peoples' lives. Downloadable comics will provide little to no impact on the trade paperback market, since the "single-issue experience" and "Hey, this looks like a neat Spider-Man book" markets tend to be completely different. And hell, a lot of people who buy single issues then get the oversized hardcover anyways, just because it's nicer.

Oh wait, I know why they aren't doing this. It'll put thousands of storefront owners and small businesses right on the chopping block. Yeah.

And this, of course, is the dilemma at the crux of this entire thing. The direct market is, despite the fervent denials of many industry figures, broken. Diamond is not only a monopoly, but an incompetent monopoly, prone to mistakes and short-shippings that hurt the single issue experience far worse than moving to a computer would. If DC and Marvel introduce, and then slowly switch to, a truly digital system, they would essentially have to burn their bridges with the direct market and the retailers that support them. Newsstands were more than happy to get rid of comics; they're cheap and they take up a lot of space, and they aren't the bread and butter of the store. The direct market is the bread and butter of every comic store, and the swami/balancing act of trying to predict what's going to be popular from blacked-out solicitation covers and Lying In The Gutters is unnecessary and insulting to both retailers and fans. The way out is here... they just have to be brave enough to take it.

Which, of course, leaves you, the reader, with this dilemma: Are you gonna stop supporting your local retailer if digital downloads start up? Is supporting your local retailer and proliferating the direct market a healthy thing for the industry? From a monetary and convenience standpoint, I'd love to be able to read my comics at 7 in the morning before going to work, so I can really just enjoy the experience every week without feeling stressed or having to go out of my way to do it. But can I look my retailer in the eye and tell him I'm dropping his business because computers do it better? Can you?

That I'm not so sure about.


Blogger Nick said...

Digital comics are a great way to introduce new customers to the world of comic books. This is how I got into funnybooks last year, reading scans of Identity Crisis. But selling digital comics would never work in the long run, or atleast, it would never threaten brick-and-mortar. I think when it comes down to it, everybody prefers their comic on paper.

Even with the best scan quality, I'd rather have the book in my hands. Even with my Tablet PC, which makes reading scans a snap (I can go into tablet mode, and turn/view pages with the pen), I'd rather have the real deal.

I'm stil convinced that the big change the industry needs to do is take a long, hard look at why the manga format is so popular. They're doing something right, and I don't think it the manga's success in America is only the story material.

10:54 PM  

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