To Quote Buddy Lembeck: "Doncha Geddit?!?"

By | Friday, August 22, 2008 2 comments
In case you couldn't figure it out, I tend to be a bit progressive when it comes to technology. My school reports were typed and printed with digitally drawn covers back in 1985; I was logging in to BBSes by 1987; a friend and I started a virtual design studio in 1993; I was fully invested in and using my PDA for daily tasks by 1997; I got a robot to vacuum my floors in 2004... I'm not bleeding-edge, by any means, but when I see a technology that works and improves my life in some fashion, I try to take advantage of it. I see the potential it was designed to achieve and maximize it as much as I can.

That's one of the reasons I'm loving the exploration of web comics -- how the medium is being taken advantage of during a digital revolution. My biggest surprise so far is just that it's taken me so long to get on board. And now, seeing how great the possibilities are, am almost as surprised that more isn't being done in this arena. Recent articles like these two tells us what we already knew -- that the big guns in comicdom are being extremely cautious about this whole online comics notion. Now, granted, I'm coming to the online comics venture with full eagerness relatively late, but I know Marvel and DC at least both have people specifically hired to put their content online. Their job is, in part, to give their respective companies the best presence possible online. I know I would have been arguing for developing more comic content online for several years now if that was expressly my business.

Now, to be fair to those tech guys, they're only allowed to do what their superiors let them. If Levitz and Quesada say, "Don't put our comics online" there's not a whole lot they can do. But if I were in that position, I'd have gone back again and again with different methods to get something out there and new business models and get the bean counters to run numbers and whatever I could to drag those companies into the 21st century.

Now, this is Marvel and DC we're talking about and, like the Titanic, they don't exactly turn on a dime! But I know Marvel at least made some initial experiments over a decade ago, and they haven't made even a year's worth of progress since. In a lot of respects, they've back-tracked considerably. At least those experiments were with original content!

And DC, to be fair, has their Zuda arm. But from a handful of reports I've seen online, coupled with a few out-of-school anecdotes, it's abundantly clear to me that Levitz completely does not get it. (Quick question: after the initial hoopla of High Moon winning the first Zuda competition, how much advertising have you seen for them in DC's pamphlet books? Oh, there's plenty of full page ads for Batman and Superman -- the guys you don't really need to advertise for -- but nothing for Night Owls or Bombshells or anything!) The Zuda folks are the red-headed, bastard step-child with only one arm, a club foot and Asperger's as far as DC is concerned.

Now I don't expect Quesada and Levitz to be lead champions of online development. They're not tech kind of guys. Which is fine; they're not supposed to be. But you're supposed to hire talented tech kind of guys to tell you how to improve your company in the tech area and, more importantly, listen to them! They have expertise for a reason!

Yesterday, I started reading The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. His basic premise is that technology has gotten advanced enough that it levels the playing field for everybody. The fact that you've been around longer or have more cash to spend on marketing matters less and less with each day. The old ways of doing business are being superseded. The global village is virtually upon us (pun intended). I was talking about this exact same subject last month (albeit from a different starting point).

Despite name-dropping them, I can't fault Levitz and Quesada too much. Part of whatever vitriol you sensing from right now stems from the fact that I've spent a good portion of this week watching usability tests that bore out the notion that I (and my peers) know what the hell we're doing, and second-guessing our suggestions about online development shows that we weren't trusted as subject matter experts in the first place. And if that's the case, why the hell was I hired?

OK, a message to all you publishers out there: if you've got an IT team telling you how/why to sink more money in online development, listen to them. If you're a smaller publisher that doesn't have those resources on staff, pull aside a friend who is pretty web savvy and pick their brain. These guys and gals know what they're doing, just like the creative folks who churn out your comics and the bean counters who keep you in the black. They have knowledge and it's absurd not to take advantage of it!

Jack Kirby was once asked in the 1980s what he thought the next big thing in comics was going to be. He said that he didn't know, but it was almost assuredly going to come from some guy sitting at home by himself, and not from some corporate office. Jack was mainly talking about style and genre, but I think it applies just as well to business models. You want to know what the next big thing is in online comic development, Marvel and DC are the last places you want to look!
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Anonymous said...

I am sure your post is amazing but my eyes glazed over when I saw Friedman. This is all you need to know about THE WORLD IS FLAT.

The concept of a round world means that the distance between any two points presents multiple paths of departure, allowing the traveler to choose the easiest, most economical direction in which to move.

A flat world means that the distance between any two points is fixed on one path. Using a typical 2D global map as an example, a trip from Alaska to Russia must be accomplished by traversing across the entire span of the flat surface, rather than, as we do on a round globe, going in the opposite direction and saving thousands of miles of travel.

A flat world makes things farther apart. This is a dumb metaphor. You are a smart man, thus I am sure you do not require Friedman's help.

Anonymous said...

Forget Marvel and DC, what gets me is why don't publishers like Oni Press, IDW, Dark Horse, or some other publisher use digital distribution to get their books out there.

Top Shelf does to a certain extent with their line of web comics but that's it as far as I know from the middle-tier publishers.

One of the advantages of being a new, small publisher (Ambrosia Publishing, by the way) is we can take chances such as with digital distribution. We have to take advantage of every form of distribution out there. And I have a feeling that within a couple of years, the top and middle-tier publishers just might be wondering how they can get in on this digital distribution thing while us forward thinking publishers are already there.