[3 February 2011]
The fate of comic book stores has been an issue of growing concern in some parts of the industry as digital comics—and the means of reading them—increase in availability and popularity. How will comic book stores survive in the coming years when a fan can download titles directly to their computer or tablet without leaving their home? What will owners need to do to adapt their business models in response to changing consumer tastes and new demographics? While digital distributors maintain that they are not a threat to their brick-and-mortar counterparts and many retailers remain optimistic about the future (see my interview with comic store owner Joe Field), when one looks at the damage done by e-readers and e-books to traditional bookstores, it is easy to understand why some look to the coming years with trepidation.
Fortunately for fans and retailers who worry that digital books might one day put their beloved stores out of business, comiXology—an online comics distributor—just announced a new program that may alleviate some of those fears. The company, which has one of the largest catalogues of digital titles available through its free application, is letting comic book stores sell digital comics on their websites using comiXology store and reader software as the platform. According to the company’s media release,“The program will empower comic book merchants to prosper from the sale of digital comics with a comiXology-powered store and reader. Leveraging comiXology’s technology will provide retailers the foundation for future digital initiatives as the program evolves.” This plan, called the Digital Storefront Affiliate, is similar to one recently initiated by Google, which currently allows independent book stores to sell e-books off their websites using the Google Books platform.
If all goes as planned the Digital Storefront Affiliate program can be a mutually beneficial relationship that all parties will prosper from. comiXology will gain a greater share of the digital market while capitalizing on comic book store’s ability to create and nurture a loyal customer base. Comic Stores for their part will gain a piece of the digital pie and the ability to adapt their business models to prepare for potential larger shifts in reader taste in the future. And as Techland noted,”...no longer will fans have to choose between buying digital comics and staying faithful to their local retailer.”
It is still too early to estimate how successful the program will be and how many retailers will choose to participate. However, it does seem to have the potential to help assuage the fears of those who see the death of comic books stores in digital comics, and it provide a means of maintaining continued stability for retailers in the increasingly digital world. As John Harter, the Owner of Waterfront Comics, stated “I want to do some more research on the program to make sure its fair, but I’m optimistic about everything I’m hearing. I still believe that comics on paper will be a crucial part of the industry for a long time to come—particularly for collectors—but as a retailer it is my job is to take care of customers and if some of them prefer to read their comics off their computers, I’ll be happy to provide them.”