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Randy Reynaldo on Internet Piracy
posted June 4, 2006

I was writing in response to your following comment from your piece on the LA Times article on digital comics and piracy (I get the Times and did read the original article):
it's sort of curious that the bigger comics companies haven't been more aggressive in pursuing on-line dissemination programs of their own, as a lot of people think such programs mitigate the appeal of the third-party efforts.

WIRED fairly recently (perhaps a couple of issues ago) ran a similar article wondering why comic-book companies hadn't been aggressively exploring this mode of deliver either.

I sent an e-mail to the writer of that article, which is attached below. In short, I think one reason may be because any mention by the companies of doing that would really upset the current distribution market, consisting of course of distributors (primarily Diamond of course) and comic-book store owners. Obviously, if that was done in any expanded way, that would seriously threaten sales from the brick and mortar sellers.


Sent to WIRED:

I'm writing in comment to Mark McClusky's article asking why comic book companies like DC and Marvel are so reticent about exploring downloadable/digitized comics ("Free Spidey!" issue 05.06).

I suspect that to do so would likely alarm -- or, worse, alienate -- the current market system that serves as the primary mode of distribution for comics today. This system consists of one surviving major national distributor and several thousand small "mom and pop" comic-book specialty stores (or "the direct-sales market" in industry parlance) throughout the country. Though some people have argued that this distribution model over the long haul has only worked to marginalize and "ghettoize" the comics market by limiting sales primarily to these stores that serve primarily hardcore comic-book fans, in the late 1970s and early '80s, the emergence of the direct-sales market saved the industry when traditional newsstand distribution sales all but disappeared.

In recent years, any proposal that has the potential to undermine the current distribution model has been met understandably with a lot of apprehension, if not outright hostility. Even the introduction of graphic novels and multi-issue compilations, which has been a solid area of growth for comics publishers and retailers, has caused some nervousness among retailers because in practice this puts them in direct competition with bookstores and online sellers who have the resources generally to offer better discounts.

Making the jump to digital comics seems natural and, perhaps, inevitable. But implementing such change at the expense of the loyal distributors, retailers and fans in the small, clannish world of "fandom" who have kept the industry viable for so long is not something companies like DC and Marvel have the stomach for -- particularly with no real safety net if both the current model imploded and the new model didn't pan out.