At my day job, they just spent a bunch of time and money on some market research, relative to our business. They're having meetings and distributing the results throughout the company now. I can't get into specifics, of course, but the broad theme was "Does this fit in my lifestyle?" That is, people these days are asking -- in broad terms -- whether or not a given product or service, as well as how much and how they pay for it, meshes with the lifestyle that they maintain.
For example, if you grew up on a meat-and-potatoes diet and you quite like meat, you're less likely to cut back on your meat consumption DESPITE news reports about pink slime or the health risks associated with eating a lot of red meat. Your lifestyle is based, in part, around meat and potatoes and deviating from that requires a change to your lifestyle. Frequently, our desire to adhere to a specific set of lifestyle choices trumps everything else when it comes to decision-making.
That's why so many people have trouble losing weight (to continue the food analogies). You can diet for a month or two or three, and you'll lose weight, but as soon as you stop dieting and revert to your "normal" eating habits, you'll gain back any weight you lost. I heard a nutritionist once say, "Diet is not a verb." What he meant was that you can't just diet for a bit and expect long-lasting results; you need to change your whole diet (a noun) to affect a real change. That speaks again to the notion of lifestyle; dieting isn't really a change to your lifestyle, but altering your diet is. Which is why so many people don't do it.
Now, the reason this is significant for comics people is that reading comics (in any venue) is a lifestyle choice. Whether you go to the local comic shop every week, or scan through the day's webcomics first thing in the morning, or soothe your way into a relaxing sleep every night by reading digital comics on your tablet in bed. Any of those is a lifestyle commitment in some manner. Different types of commitments, but commitments nonetheless. This is part of where comics (as an industry) have failed in the past couple of decades -- by relying on the direct market, it forces potential customers to substantively change their lifestyle in order to participate. They have to stop by an out-of-the-way comic shop specifically for the purpose of buying comics. When they were still on spinner racks in drug stores, it wasn't that much of a lifestyle change if you already had to go into the building to pay for gas and get a soda. But a trip to the comic shop requires not only going to the shop, but remembering to go to the shop. Once it's become a habit, it's not at all difficult to remember, but if you're just starting and have to remember when the one book you were looking for will be stocked next? Not likely to be top-of-mind.
This is one of the reasons why many people are looking to tablets as a savior of sorts for comics. Because it doesn't require you to go out of your way to a comic shop to pick up new comics. They're right there, just as readily available as just about anything else online. Click click click and you've got the latest issue of Batman without even leaving your comfy sofa.
Except for two things.
First, this only works for people who own tablets. The last numbers I saw from February put that at a little less than 20% of the population. Not insignificant, certainly, but I don't know that we can call them common just yet. The number of tablet owners will increase over time, almost assuredly, but we don't know when a "critical mass" might be at hand.
Second, it's still a lifestyle change. It's easier to buy a comic digitally, but reading still takes pretty much the same amount of time and thought as a printed version. Which may not sound like a big deal, but we live in a society where 1/3 of the population does not even read one book per year. Roughly 40% of households don't buy books at all. Getting those people to read in any capacity is a huge lifestyle change, regardless of whether we're talking about comics or prose or poetry or anything. For as much as you enjoy curling up to the adventures of Captain America, most people would much rather watch Chris Evans portray the character on a screen.
So the question for you, as someone who's trying to market their comic -- regardless of what venue, is how do you make it easier for potential readers to adopt a lifestyle that includes your comic? How to do you make your comic fit their existing lifestyle? Easy to remember URL? RSS feed? Email? Twitter? Facebook? Flickr? All of the above?
That's going to be a question anyone marketing comics needs to ask and, depending on what their comic is and who they're trying to market to, one person's answer may not be the same as the next person's.
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