November 6, 2013
GroupThink Results: Comics Consumption, 2013
The question on the table is how you might improve the way you, as a consumer/patron, interact with comics -- not what comics should do for itself or should do out of a sense of justice, but what might work best for you. I suggested three areas: print comics, digital comics, everything else.
I went first.
As a consumer of print comics, I continue to find frustrating the fact that I can never get a firm answer on what is available to me as a consumer through the direct market system of hobby and comics shops. Print comics is my preferred way to read comics and buying them in comics shops is my preferred way to purchase them. However, with digital comics generally and with print comics purchased at major bookstores and through Amazon.com, it is very easy for me to determine if the book I want is available for sale and/or order. As someone in a town without a comics shop, knowing if I can pick up a comic or have it ordered and waiting for me when I do get to a comics shop would lead to hundreds of dollars spent through those retailers. What I tend to get in phone or in person when I ask for a book is a) confusion, b) outright falsehood, c) someone suggesting I not buy the book there, d) someone expressing uncertainty that this book can be ordered at all, let alone in a timely fashion.
Not all stores are like this. But three of the seven I've spent money in this year were.
I urge comics to make a greater industry value of being able to quickly and professionally ascertain what's available and when it can be made available in all of its primary markets. I believe this is possible because of the small number of major distributors working this market. If it's not possible, if there is a mechanism or a difficulty with which I'm unfamiliar, I would like to see the orientation of those shop owners with whom I work change in a way to better reflect that they simply don't know and/or can't give me the information I require. I am sick of being exhausted out of making a purchase.
In terms of digital comics, as a consumer I'd like to see more curated back issues in comic book form. I would enjoy being able to pick up several underground series -- say something from Gary Hallgren or from Bill Griffith -- in the comic book form rather than as part of a later collection. We have a number of small publishers working the trade collections market that it seems to me there would be room for something similar aimed at digital. Where are the curators and packagers for this new wave of digital comics consumption?
In terms of everything else, as a consumer I'd like to see conventions and festival continue to play with alternatives to the comics-as-flea-market model. I love a big convention sales room, I really do. I enjoy buying comics, and like meeting the cartoonists. But I enjoy other interactions as well. I'm encouraged by shows like The Projects and Autoptic that give over a significant part of their core identity to something other than the big convention room; I am similarly interested when comics shows primarily focused on the traditional model stress these elements, like this year's MoCCA Fest and its surprisingly strong, back-of-the-room, original art display. I would like to see more and more people play around with the basic model not because I hate the basic model but because I think those flourishes are everything.
John R. Platt
As a consumer of print comics, I'd like to see more printed publications embrace formats that take full advantage of being physical objects. Think of different papers, different sizes, different page orientations. Look to the minicomics field for inspiration. Make print something that can't be replicated digitally and make the printed book a tactile *experience* that has to be held to be believed.
As a consumer of digital comics, I'd like to see a bit more thought put into certain publications. I have just started switching over to digital pubs, and more often than not the text pages are not formatted in a way that could ever be read on the screen (or at least not on a regular monitor or a Kindle). Don't just dump your print format online -- re-format or re-think for digital.
As a long-time comics reader currently living in a relatively rural area, I'd love to see more online "events" of some sort. Quite simply, I can't travel to many signings or conventions. I'd pay a few bucks to attend an online launch party or panel discussion or something like that. Everything doesn't need to be in person and nothing needs to be regional. It's a global, online world. Take advantage of it.
This is very much what I'd like -- I have no idea how relevant it is for other comics readers. My comics consuming habits have changed as I've gotten older. I no longer go to a comics store every Wednesday. Over the past few years, I've gone to a comic store less frequently because my local store, Bedrock City Comics, doesn't carry a deep line of art/alternative comics, which are the kinds of comics I'm mostly interested in. I'm pretty sure they order most everything, but only a small number of copies. These get sold out quickly and are gone for good by the time I stop by. It makes for some pretty poor browsing -- I can't find something I like by accident.
(It should be noted that Bedrock City just moved into a bigger store that I haven't seen yet -- which may make it easier for them to stock the kind of books I like in more depth.)
I was OK with Bedrock's lack of what I was looking for because Domy was here. Domy was an alternative/underground bookstore,but it was closed recently. Sucks to be me, right?
So now, I pretty much depend on the internet. For example, you recently published a list of overlooked comics
. I went through that list and ordered what looked appealing online.
But that's not what I'd like to do! What I'd like to do is walk into a physical store and browse. I want to pick up a book, flip through it, and then decide to buy it or not. I would like a new Domy-like store (with less toys) to open up. They could easily expect me to spend hundreds of dollars a year there if they did.
I don't know how I would improve my access to digital comics. I've never really developed the habit of reading them in that format, even though there are some I read when I learn they've been updated. (Dylan Horrocks announces a new page on Facebook, for example. I like that.)
I like alternative/art comics conventions. You really can see a lot of stuff at such events that you can't anywhere else. But Houston doesn't have such an event. I recently went to ZineFest Houston and got some lovely stuff including some good comics, but I'd like to see an SPX/TCAF style event in Houston. I don't expect that to happen anytime soon, but a lad can dream.
Selfishly I'd like to be able to purchase comics the way I did when I was 12. This isn't because of any nostalgic impulse, but just because it was so easy. Comics were everywhere. A kid in a small town could walk to four or five places which had them for sale, and could bike to a half dozen more.
There was no having to page through a catalog and place things on a list or take them off. There was no need to drive to a remote location with nothing else in the area to make the trip more than a one stop destination.
The one comics shop left in this area is far away in what is a large decaying strip mall. There are large vacant spaces which once would have been occupied by a grocery store, a department store, and a drug store. There are other empty spaces where once there may have been a hardware store, and ice cream parlor, and a place selling fabric, sewing notions and arts and crafts supplies. Now the place is empty except for a comics shop, and check cashing place, and a low end Chinese restaurant.
Obviously this experience is not common among people in larger cities who have a variety of shops around and shops which are located in areas with other things of interest or which are at least convenient.
The way I buy physical comics these days is largely as trades or collections, from proper bookstores rather than comics shops. The odd time I do get into a real comics shop I get a bit too much that clubhouse feel, even in a good stores, which is a bit off putting if you're not there every week. Making comics stores more accessible to casual, once a month fans like me would be nice.
Digitally I keep thinking that prices are too high, especially for back issues -- who the hell is going to pay $1.99 for Cable
#1, from 1993 -- and there's too much hassle buying them. In general, no, I do not want to establish a comixology or a marvel.com or a whatever account to buy comics, I just want to be able to use Paypal or other service to pay, then be able to download them DRM free, in CBR or CBZ format and not have to use yet another piece of software to read them with.
Because currently, if I want to, I could download almost everything DC has published since 1936 and get the latest issues of X-men
quicker than the local comic shop receives them. The music business had to take about a decade to learn that they needed to make buying music as easy as downloading music and even then it took Apple to rub their noses in it. I don't want comics to do the same.
In print comics, I think we have something of an embarrassment of riches. When I was a kid, there were plenty of comics out there that sounded fantastic, but I couldn't afford. Now I earn enough to buy pretty much buy whatever new books strike my fancy but there's so much great sounding material out there, I'm constantly behind in my reading. And for the number of books I discover that seem to have flown under most people's radar, I can't help but wonder how many others I'm missing. I feel like I'm several years behind the industry and ill-suited to speak to what's going on.
With webcomics, too, I feel there's a wealth of great material out there and, with a decidedly decentralized distribution system, it's even harder to keep abreast of new material. And geez, then you add in manga and other translated books, and newspaper strips, and then prose books about comics and their creators, and academic books and journals... there's no way to even stay on top of everything that's being released much less having the time to read it all!
So for my own selfish consumer interest, I'd want to see a site* that spoke to ALL of comics facets in equal measure. A single location where I could make sure that I'm not missing anything that I would have an interest in. Too broad a scope to be realistic? Probably, but this is me thinking selfishly.
I'd also like to see conventions organized a bit more for better interactions with creators. The standard format of having them seated across a three foot table is awkward for both parties. How about putting the tables and the seated creators on a small dais that raises them closer to eye level with passers-by? And the standard 3-foot table isn't particularly conducive to either displaying a variety of wares and/or allowing for personal interactions with the creators. Even a simple handshake requires both parties to lean in a bit more than is comfortable. Perhaps a narrower table with a kind of ziggurat effect up the front to place for sale items on?
Traffic flow varies from show to show, of course, but it would seem that there are people out there that have a good handle on this and know how to set things up to provide the best experience for walking through. All cons should hire these people.
The long and the short of it is that there's just a LOT going on, and I want to see better ways to follow, process, and get access to everything.
* Strictly speaking, it wouldn't HAVE to be a website, but that strikes me as a better way to get all the information across, as opposed to other media options. But, hey, if someone can make it work in another venue, I'm open!
Here is what I want. And this is not me thinking of the best interests of the industry, the publishers, the creators or retailers. This is just what I want right now in exchange for my money.
I want everyone on the Comixology train and I want digital codes in every comic at no additional charge. I want to be able to buy print comics at the comics shop, then redeem the digital codes and read those comics on my pc or cell pad pod phone and share them with my kids on their cell pad pod phones. I've been doing this for over a year now with the Marvel comics and it has at least tripled my comics purchases. Once I started sharing the codes with my daughter she started requesting more and more comics and now I'm buying almost as many comics each Wednesday as I did before I had kids.
Marvel has done a great job with this and honestly, it makes me angry when I buy DC, Valiant, Image, Boom etc. comics and they don't have the digital code. Dark Horse has the codes but it is for their own reader. Their reader is nice but I want them on the Comixology train too. I don't keep my print Dark Horse comics in a different room from my other comics. I want my digital Dark Horse comics on the same app as my other comics. Sorry, Dark Horse. DC especially should be ashamed at themselves for having gone this long without matching Marvel's value.
I also want small press and even self publishers to get on the Comixology train. I know it is not quite yet feasible for someone to have digital codes in their minicomic but they can get on Comixology. Take advantage of Comixology's Submit program. I want you guys in my cell pad pod phone too. In the past few months I have bought several small press and self published comics that I already own in print again on Comixology just because I wanted to re-read them on the go. Get in my phone!
I want print comics to cost around three bucks and come with the digital code. If you are going straight to digital, I want them to be two bucks or less. Preferably one dollar. I'll give DC some credit here. I love their weekly one dollar digital comics.
I don't care about day and date and still think it was a terrible idea. It's selling movies for online streaming the same day the movie hits the theaters. But, that bird has flown and here we are. For my dollars, I don't care when you put the stuff on digital but I want it for less. I'd rather the digital version come out a month later and cost a dollar less than for it to be the same price as print. I am never going to pay full print cover price for digital. I'll wait. I'll go on eBay. I'll find it in a dollar box at a con a year later. But I'm never, ever going to pay full print cover price for digital as long as there is still print.
Another note for small press and self publishers. I like your PDFs. I buy plenty of your comics in that form and really, you guys have been way ahead of the mainstream publishers as far as making your work accessible and offering a good value. But, look into the Comixology Submit thing. Please, get in my phone.
Graphic novels. I don't want 'em. I can't afford them. I don't have enough bookshelf space left. I'm done with the graphic novel. Please publish your comics in periodical form. If your comic is 100 pages long, that's three or four comics at three dollars each, not one damned hardback book that costs me thirty dollars. I don't ever want to see another hardback comic book. Done. I want periodical floppy comics and I want them cheap. Quality, while appreciated, is not even something I'm looking for. Who the hell did we think we were making and buying thirty dollar hardback comic books? I'm embarrassed for us all.
So here's a weird thing... From the perspective of my personal consumption, I think all of my needs as a comic fan are being met. Comics are being made by artists whose work I enjoy and I don't have any trouble finding that work for purchase. For a guy who is almost always in the minority opinion of what's cool or hot, that's pretty cool.
I suppose that it would be nice if more of my local shops (comic or otherwise) picked up some of these books and save me shipping costs of ordering on-line, but that's pretty minor. As a fan of the small press stuff I'm used to paying a premium.
Like you, I'd like to see some conventions with less of a focus on the sales floor, at least for the big conventions. I know I could use some creator and publisher oriented classes and workshops. It'd be nice if cons featured events that resulted in actual output from the attendees. In general I hear a lot of people talk about coming away from conventions energized to create. It seems like a shame that there is no way to immediately capitalize on that energy.
That said, I really like the small flea market style shows. I just hope someone cracks the code that will make them free admission to the general public. Besides the fact that charging both a vendor’s fee and admission has always struck me as double dipping, I think it creates a barrier to new faces at these shows. Why should a casual fan pay five bucks (or whatever) to shop?
I'd like gift sections, personally. If somebody walks into a store and all they know is "my friend likes Spider-Man," then it'd be nice for there to be a place they could go to find stand-alone, continuity-free Spider-Man stories. I wouldn't want to buy somebody the first trade of a fifteen-trade storyline as a gift -- that's locking them into a massive expenditure. I'd prefer to know where the complete stories are kept, like Criminal
, and have those displayed where casual shoppers can find them.
Also, if there is something like that -- for the books to have a bigger 'mature' or 'all ages' sign on them. The first Invincible trade is for all-ages -- but after that things get decidedly mature. A gift section that offers single-purchase stories, and advises the buyer on what kind of audience the book is for. Most comic shelves are broken down publisher-by-publisher, A-Z -- but perhaps there would be merit to having a "crime" shelf or "superhero" shelf?
I'd also like for there to be better broadcasting by publishers, regarding WHEN their books are coming out. There are sites like www.comiclist.com
, which offer a weekly run-down of what comics I'll find at the store this Wednesday -- but it seems mad that nobody has any idea of any release dates beyond that. I keep seeing creators on twitter say "has anybody been to the store yet? is my new issue out?" because not even THEY know what the release dates are! It's all very vague.
If companies actually told me what comics are out for every week of, say, December -- and stuck to that -- I could plan everything ahead. It'd allow for easier budgeting and save me trips to the store if none of my comics are out this particular week.
Thankfully, i don't have to go into any bad bookstores. I live within 45 minutes of Copacetic in Pittsburgh ( i think you know Bill, right?) Before that TOTALLY had a lot of experiences like you did around here...very sad. But i digress. Here we go:
Stop putting the round peg in the round hole, that square hole over there is wide enough for about everything. What i mean is, start putting stuff in different areas where people can come into contact with it. The majors have an upper hand in this with business connections. But, in coffeeshops/stands, department stores, i don't know....the DMV maybe?!?! Have the chance for people to interact with comics where they are spending a lot of time. Online, it's here/it's gone. But if you put a physical object in a physical space-people have to deal with it one way or the other. Even dismissing it is an interaction with comics. And for me, when someone dismisses something, it kinda intrigues me to pick it up after they left ya'know? If i want to pick a up a comic to read, even a bad one, i have to pretty much drive home. Would be nice to have the option to pick up even a bad one along the way in my travels, just to see what "the kids" are reading.
Oh, and i know this isn't all on you print media by and large, but can't we get an Epic line started again or something so these kids can get to see Moebius' work...bums me out to no end!
I am a print guy, so i would ask for (if this is possible and can be done with some quality) a type of Print on Demand type of thing. Or at least archive it for public access later. I think WE ALL want to support what we like and not everything should be a kickstarter. Yea, i know us "olds" whine a lot, we're not happy about our attitude either, but deal with it already.
The more and more time goes on, the more and more i think my totally joking tweet to you about holding a BBQ in Bethesda's parking lot @ SPX that friday makes some type of weird sense (i was more than proud to hear you were recycling that in conversation that weekend). Nice fresh air, car radio's on and hey, don't forget the "Junk In My Car Trunk Sale" you wanna get a little more personal, come on back for "The Backseat/Backissue Romance", the serious fan who needs that exclusive something special you got 5maybe 3 copies of left-"Don't Open That Glovebox Dude! Extravaganza"
But seriously, more, i guess you'd call them "pop up" events. You couldn't do it in the middle of nowhere, but if you got a tweet on a thursday that there was gonna be a little mini-con in, i don't know Central Park, or somewhere in Chicago or LA that coming Sunday... no fees or whatever. A public place where there would be a lot of foot traffic...Something way more informal than a convention. SPX this year felt like being herded through market like a cow a bit...didn't like that, but don't know what else is to be done. Isn't there new places where these things can be held that isn't so sardine like??? Rent a club, have a band/bands. God forbid i hold a comic and beer in my hand!
I will add your responses as quickly as I can.
posted 8:20 am PST
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