Tomorrow is here.

Today start’s DC’s grand experiment. Last week saw the conclusion of HP’s TouchPad fire sale. Borders finishes its liquidation in the next few days. The biggest shock to the system of comics’ reading and consumption is upon us. So is the second arc of our new site.Don’t be scared, or maybe you should be. This all depends on your outlook on what’s happening to the comics’ market and how you consume comics. It’s a very exciting time to be alive, if you’re at all a futurist, because a sea change is happening. If you don’t embrace this change, you will be swept away.

The confluence of events between DC’s relaunch of its entire line, the shift to day-and-date digital (though too expensive by half), and the growing acknowledgement of the reality of real sales for digital books (not just a ‘stupid novelty’ that Amazon took to a new level) – especially evident in the collapse of Borders, really means that it’s very likely in less than 5 years the norm for how you purchase and consume content will be different from how you do it today.

Books are difficult to scan and pirate. Or were, until Google figured out how to do it.

To be fair: our humble industry still has a lot to figure out, but it has a lot to learn from. The iPad has kickstarted that growth, but it has also elevated problems that the publishers aren’t ready to answer yet. And more significantly, it means a loss of control for them. The lack of understanding of this, and trying to keep the status quo, severely hampered the music industry, and allowed for Apple to take control of the conversation – partly because the industry tried to prop up the brick-and-mortar sales model that gave them leverage.

The movie industry is the next hump, the early gains they appeared to make (Hulu, Netflix, etc), shows they pretended there wasn’t an issue, and that this ‘digital thing’ was really just a fun experiment. Now that the tide has shifted, Hulu is in danger of collapsing, and the studios are strangling Netflix, while coming out with their own independent viewing applications, walking away from a single path; over-compensating for the damage iTunes did to them. Instead they are damaging consumer goodwill, especially after early Hulu reviews proclaimed it as having struck the magic balance between freedom and revenue. The evidence is especially cutting when looking at the damage Fox did to itself by delaying Hulu additions by a week to support its own proprietary networks: piracy went up.

Books, on the other hand, have no such illusion as to the strength of their retail channels. They thought they were immune to the digital piracy problem which, let’s face it, is the light-facing-argument to their dark-facing revenue concern, why? Books are difficult to scan and pirate. Or were, until Google figured out how to do it.

Amazon’s stupid experiment took off, and now the Kindle has changed the game quite rapidly. Barnes & Noble isn’t in as deep of water as Borders solely because of the strength of their Nook platform, which is telling, if anything.

Book publishers now face the problem of eBooks devaluing the perceived price of their product. They’re looking at the evidence from iTunes and Netflix (perhaps the wrong evidence). To be fair, the product they’re referring to is ‘real’ books so they’ve changed the pricing model of how eBooks are sold. They can’t change this for real books because of sales channels – the MSRP game that consumers are all familiar with where the publisher gets paid a set fee for a product and suggests a retail price that the retailer is free to change. Instead they have done what the record labels have done to gain control of iTunes again (supposedly). They set the prices, and take a cut of the revenue.

The problem, it’s too late – Amazon is not to be trifled with, and now consumers (through Amazon’s savvy design), are able to see the price of the real book next to the price of the digital book, which is often higher. Next to the price a fun disclaimer: ‘This price set by the publisher’, and a call to action to ’email the publisher’ to get books added or prices changed. They are, in essence, the 5,000 lb. elephant fighting for the little guy.

Back to comics. Though a much smaller industry than all the above, there are lessons to be learned here and it’s time to learn fast. Comics have a couple of things going against them over the other industries mentioned above.
1. People LOVE to think they can make comics.
2. The internet lowers the cost to do this to almost zero. Sure you can watch a movie someone made on YouTube, but it’s almost physically impossible that the production values are as high as a Hollywood production.

No such wall exists for comics. Entrepreneurs and talented artists that grew up with a computer, as well as building and editing their own website, will run around the central publishers. Players are already on the field: Comixology,, Comicpress and the nascent artform of iOS storybooks. What’s a reader to do? What’s a publisher to do?

We’re going to spend the next few weeks finding out.

Dustin Davis

Tomorrow is here.