Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 29, 2011

Go, Read: Brian Hibbs On Rejecting The DC Digital Retail Deal

You should read the whole thing. I think Brian's characterization of the new retailer-as-digital-storefront deal as essentially brick and mortar retailers serving as agents for the digital retailer is reasonably dead-on, or at least as close as it has to be for a certain class of retailer to push away from the table. I expect there to be changes to the program to deal with some of these concerns -- if there haven't already been modifications. In a new initiative, there tend to be rules that are put in as boilerplate where no one sees the downside until someone flips out, rules that people are only too happy to modify. But the general theory of "who is doing the retailing?" as it were, that seems clear. And it ain't the direct market shop owners. Plus there's something to be said about how one side perceives the relationship that this kind of deal was offered in the first place.

The second half of Hibbs' essay, where he doubts that digital in and of itself will drive anyone to a comics shop, also seems rational to me. I would add a few things. Hibbs seems to get to his conclusions by characterizing the likely audiences and casting aspersions on the exposure model as a general theory. I think he's right that exposure as a driver across a product group tends to be a dubious proposition, but I think a potentially more fundamental key is that the digital experience is going to be different than the comics shop experience to the point that there's no reason for anyone to link them on some sort of continuum. Buying stuff on-line has never driven me to a shop; it's replaced a kind of buying or maybe supplemented a kind of consumption -- and that's with a consumer good that's exactly the same. Here we're talking two different kinds of products, and a percentage of customers that will have no previous, significant experience with brick and mortar as opposed to knowing one and then being introduced to the other. (If I suddenly found out there were brick and mortar stores that sold discs of last night's television shows, the kind of thing that I only began to access when they showed up on-line, I'm trying to figure out if there's any way on earth this would appeal to me.) I also think that when Brian lists the kinds of comics customers for whom digital works, he kind of skates by people that prefer to shop from home as opposed to going to a store just as a general rule now. You don't need to have a bad shop or no shop at all to prefer digital; you just have to prefer digital.

The other thing that I think one should maybe keep in mind is that even if the digital and brick/mortar combo is to work, it's unlikely that it's going to work for everybody. As I recall, the new program launched with something like 100 stores signed up, but more than that it's a fundamentally different way of doing business and not everyone is going to figure it out to advantage -- just like only a percentage of stores were able to utilize manga or alt-comics and not everyone in comics retail even makes good use of trade paperbacks. To put it bluntly, the system the DM has now barely works; a new, more complex system seems to me to have less of a chance of going smoothly even if there's 100 percent buy-in.

Ultimately, this seems way too damn close to the re-launch to have people like Hibbs finding out that the program is a dud for them. This deepens the impression much of the entire DC initiative has been slapped together, on an artificial deadline, for no particular reason anyone cares to share.
posted 11:30 am PST | Permalink

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