My goal is to discuss why the industry needs an iTunes model of distribution that provides cheap and disposable comics to the general public. This is part one, I’ll discuss the current environment of the comic book industry.
BOOM! Studios (home to one of my favorite comics right now, Heroes Squared – Sloat makes this comic worth the purchase alone) recently put out a tongue in cheek PSA in Talent#4 about comic piracy. A fan scanned it and put it up on his blog and Boom’s Ross Riche chimed in about his studio’s position about scans/piracy:
Actually, let’s clarify BOOM! Studios’ policy on comic book piracy:
What you’ve scanned is a comic strip. It’s two guys having a laugh, making fun of me.
Our official stance shouldn’t surprise anyone: for a company as small as ours, every single comic we sell counts. So we appreciate anyone buying our books, and would really appreciate it if anyone pirating them would buy physical copies instead.
And honestly, there isn’t anyway to argue against this position. The direct market system makes sure that if no one is purchasing physical copies of a book it will die. Dan Slott laid this out on Demonoid as simply as he could, and many people get what he is saying but disagree. These days Diamond Comics Distributors basically makes up the entire direct market. They have the contracts with the major studios and drive how the industry operates. If Diamond can’t get enough people to purchase the book from them they drastically cut back on their orders, thus killing off a title.
I won’t bash Diamond. They are a business that was smart enough to position itself as the lead player in the market and you can’t really fault them for that. (You can fault them for botching orders, shipping late, etc but those are non-issues in this discussion.) Nor will I bask the direct market. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: saved comics from the dying newsstand distribution model, allowed fans to dictate exactly what they wanted, allowed for better paper, allowed for more mature content, and made comics more profitable for comic book stores due to demand.
That last bit led to rampant speculation, inflated prices, and made comics even more valuable – at least until the market tanked in the ’90s. I won’t go into details about why the market tanked but I agree with Chuck Rozanski, who has a great article on the Mile High Comics’ site, over how over-marketing led to an uneducated public buying comics specifically for their value, thus causing the market to collapse under its own weight. He specifically blames the Death of Superman: