At Wondercon this week, Mark Waid announced that he was selling his entire comic book collection to fund his new all-digital comics venture.** Here is the link he has provided so that fans can go see a sample of the product. And here is the site to watch for more once this is fully live. It is pretty decent, and may well signal good things to come. There has been a surprising number of responses, but then again, responses of any kind are surprising to me on this subject. Is this really that out of left field? Waid has been talking up digital for a while, and if there is any major creator out there in comics currently that is not at least considering it, I would be very surprised. The advantages to a writer, artist or other creative person to be able to put your product out in the world for consumers to enjoy digitally are growing daily while the disadvantages of print only continue to grow. Digital is less infrastructure intensive as there is no need to own or pay to use a printing press, no physical distribution or warehousing of the product. The actual production of the product is similar in that you have to pay anyone that helps you either up front (or on delivery of the product) as would traditionally be the practice or on the back-end once the sales start to trickle in. In Waid’s case any artist, colorist or letterer at least. You do not need to pay someone to defray the staggering printing costs by selling ads, but I suspect that the site that hosts will want to sell ads. And the overhead of large unwieldy office staff that comes with printing a lot of books is simply not part of the math. The eventual need to maybe hire someone to handle the books and correspondence is there and is a good problem to have, and means that things are going well. Once you put the product out there it is only about accepting money and some ongoing promotion of the product to grow and maintain the audience.
The main negative is the same with any small business start-up, you may find yourself without customers. But with the above initial outlay so much less, and the possible rewards so much greater, why not try it? As to those rewards, there is the ownership of the property, and the financial rewards of same. You as the creator can own as little or as much of your product as you choose. Why would anyone choose to own any less that 100%, I hear you ask? Easy, the need for the involvement of other people. As Waid is not an artist, he will need some help. That either means paying them in a work made for hire manner, as is his right (the artist is equally free to say yes or no), or giving them part ownership. This of course leads to an outlay of cash for lawyers. Ugh! Ask Tony Moore if he thinks that he should have maybe been more concerned with those kinds of details. Realistically, I imagine it will be a mix of both. I have heard that Peter Krause is already on board as a partner to some degree.
The inevitable backlash from people with only their own short-sighted interests at heart is the real story. Bleeding Cool posted an open letter to Waid from a dissatisfied retailer in Florida. He claims that Waid is now the enemy of print and his (the retailer’s) way of life. Right. Yes, that is what he said. The retailer continued to state that he has not been promoting any book Waid is involved in and will now be actively crusading against it in his stores. This alone is short-sighted to me, or perhaps his store is the only place a customer in the area there can go to get comics. Push a customer away, for any reason, and they are very hard to get back. I love my LCS and the guy who runs it is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable around. He knows that the vast majority of what I now buy is from Amazon or In-Stock Trades. Does he like it? Probably not, but I know he understands it. When I purchase something from the brick and mortar store, it is because I cannot get it anywhere else, and that supports a segment of the market and encourages him to get more like it that I and other fans will buy. He is not afraid of digital. He knows that for the foreseeable future there will be enough readers that want to own the physical copy of a book to keep him in business.
The reason comics shops have been on shaky ground for the last 20 years has little to do with the fans or the product but rather more to do with the business model. The current model that shops are using was never really meant to be a long term one. The publishers have no interest in changing it because they don’t really care is comic shop X goes under. Publishers are slowly beginning to diversify and they have always been good at sticking their collective heads in the sand. The industry as a whole has faltered for similar reasons, but mostly because it is an industry with no desire to look to the future. Some of the publishers, such as Dark Horse are actively trying to partner with the stores. But for the most part, the industry is perfectly content to eat its own children and act as though the consumer is only interested in the next big thing. The product and the lack of quality that tends to go into it has been the death knell for the industry. The creator owned market has never really sustained solid growth, but neither has it really suffered from a lack of interest, at least since the black and white implosion leveled the playing field somewhat. If the creators need digital to maintain independence, then jump, I say. The future of comics is no more 100% digital than it is 100% print. If Waid feels this is the best option for him, I applaud it. Since I have generally enjoyed what he puts out there, I will also support it as much as I am able to.
Another thing to consider is that digital can actually enhance sales of the print book, particularly in the independent realm. Just ask the guys that produce Atomic Robo. They have stated publicly that the free books and digital DLs are improving or at worst, not affecting the print sales at all. I believe I heard that Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels was a huge seller in print and it is and has always been, free online at the same time.
Resistance to change is natural. The real survivors are the ones that can adapt to change. Destroying the agent of change never works out well for either party. But then, that is what comics are all about these days, it seems.
**Selling it all!?! Egad! Even that first appearance of Bat-mite!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!