Why Comics Readers Won't Migrate to Digital

By | Friday, April 24, 2020 2 comments
Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse
There's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about traditional publishers moving to digital distribution until physical distribution is possible once again. Reactions have been mixed, but one of the primary counter-arguments has been that if readers start reading their books digitally, they'll never go back to reading physical copies and thus will absolutely kill comic shops. The most prevailing counter-counter-argument has been that won't happen because comic fans like the physicality and tactile nature of paper books; it's that inherent physicality that's valued almost as much as the story contents themselves.

While I don't disagree with that last statement, it occurs to me that's missing an even more significant rationale, which I discussed here on this blog in the past. Namely, that comic shop purchasing is often as much about the community aspect of the store location itself as it is about picking up your weekly stack of new comics. The comic shop -- at least any comic shop worth its salt these days -- is a destination in and of itself. The best comic shops don't sell comics -- they sell friendship and community; you can still buy comics there, but that's just an ancillary activity. Comic shops are selling a location where people of a certain mindset (that vaguely defined class of superhero/fantasy/sci-fi/gaming geeks) hang out.

You've been able to order new comics online for years now. With the pandemic, many shops have instituted some version of curb-side pick-ups. You, as a comic fan in the 21st century, don't have to deal directly with other humans if you just want to get new comics. But people (stay-at-home orders aside) generally don't do that. They make a special trip to their local comic shop every week; they pick up their books, but also spend the rest of their lunch talking with the other folks there. Norm didn't go to the Cheers! bar to drink; he went to the Cheers! bar to hang out with Cliff and Sam and Carla and everyone. Comics is much the same.

Whether comic shops survive their current shut-down status is another issue, but once people are able to go to comic shops again, they will. Not because they're able to get comics again, but because they'll be able to see their community again.
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I completely agree. I would also argue, along with the physicality and tactile nature of paper books is the collectability aspect.

You can't put a digital book in a bag and board and sort it away in a long box.

I'm one who has switched to digital, but it's only because I grew tired of "collecting".

To your point, I miss going into the store each week, getting my new stack of books, browsing through the back issue bins, looking over the new comics shelves to see what new book may catch my eye.

I just don't have any place to put them anymore so I buy, when I can, digitally.

So I agree that the idea that once someone goes digital they will never go back is, in many respects, ridiculous, because most folks aren't in it only for the story. They are collectors.

Billy Hogan said...

I also agree. Part of the fun of going to the comic book store was the socializing with the staff and others. But a couple of years ago, after I was laid off and found another job making a few dollars less an hour than my previous job, it wasn't financially feasible to make a 45 minute drive to the store I loved to go to. There was one about 15 minutes drive time closer, but I had more of a connection to the other one despite the slightly longer drive. Now I get my comic books shipped to me. I miss going to the comic book store, but with more of a discount I can squeeze a few more titles into my budget.