Over the weekend, in a beautiful piece of created news, The Bleeding Cool news website reported that Dark Horse Comics was planning to offer up their books day and date digitally at a cheaper price point.
I say created, as the original release made no actual mention of this beyond the day and date aspect - something which DC have been doing since they relaunched their titles in September, and something which a lot of other companies have been doing for some time.
A mild storm kicked up on Twitter, with a lot of comic book retailers (Local Comic Book Stores, or LCS) reacting angrily at the suggestions of being undercut by the digital market. Many of them announced plans to not carry Dark Horse comics beyond subscriptions (link).
Dark Horse reacted by releasing a statement of clarification.
It was news about nothing - news about the news makers reporting on their reportage.
It did raise some interesting questions over digital distribution in comics, though.
A lot of people have complained about the DC model of digital pricing - the books are the same cost as their print cousins, but with none of the production costs. Why are they charging so much?
The main reason seems to be as a kind of sweetener for the LCS' of the world - to ensure that print remains a viable option to the casual purchaser. In much the same way that the recent "test" by Universal to offer streamed versions of their film Tower Heist on day and date of theatrical release was shot down pretty quickly by movie theaters everywhere, the publishers are possibly concerned with something similar happening at their main point of access.
Comic books are becoming readily available from other sources - both digital and non - but the Direct Market has had such a hold over things for the last couple of decades, that the main place to access content remains the LCS.
Digital has massive pro's for the smaller publishers of the world - it provides a low cost point of sale with smaller risk than print runs. It's return isn't as good, but the DM is so heavily stacked in favour of the bigger publishers, that even this isn't so great an option any more.
DC's relaunch possibly did something more harmful than cheap digital options ever could. It made a grab for shelf space, possibly pushing out smaller books in favour of a heavily publicized product which stores used to make a quick buck on. It also made for a three month period of lame duck product for many stores, with all of their titles effectively being cancelled.
I know the concerns of the stores are valid. They are worried that a shrinking market is going to be made tougher by the ease of use options which digital offers. The cheaper price point may make it a done deal for a lot of people too.
Fact is, LCS' have been the haven of the collector for at least 20 years. Comics are no longer low priced, disposable items. I wish they were - I wish there was a newsprint cheap version of every book on every newsstand and in every drug store across the country and world - a one dollar version of the book which, maybe didn't look so nice, but read just fine, and was an easy pick for kids at stores - you know, kids - the future readers - the ones which most LCS' don't court or couldn't care less about.
You could then have a higher priced smaller run at the LCS' available through the DM - the collector copy.
Digital should be cheaper, too. The production costs are small. Dark Horse, if they were indeed going to offer day and date cheaper digital, would have my support as a consumer. It would be a reaction as a business to a complaint by a client base. Digital should be cheaper.
Maybe stores should be talking with publishers about their concerns and offering up suggestions.
Maybe digital books could be pure vanilla books - no added content? Maybe a code could be added to the end of the book - if you liked this and want to buy a print take this to your local store and get a discount on the book/trade? Something to get the collectors away from their iPads and into the stores.
As a consumer I have not the device to read them on, nor the inclination to purchase digital books at a high price point. I like to use them as tasters for possible purchases later down the line.
However, as a self-publishing creator they are invaluable. Shipping to overseas often makes my books too expensive, but digital sales cut out those costs. Not having access to the DM, and therefore to stores (some stores could be doing a lot more to foster relationships on this - you will probably need them in the future!) means that my books aren't available everywhere. With digital they can be.
Angry reactions to a changing market are what hurt most other print industries and the music industry. Perhaps more dialogue is needed, and a little less bombast?