About Digital Comics

I've got a lot of stuff to catch up on today (and a misbehaving child who is making it harder to do so then I would like), and a phone interview with ComicGeekSpeak tonight, so I may not finish the reviews tonight. Still, trying the daily thing here, so must Feed the Beast. Veneta Rogers has one of her Talking Shop pieces for Newsarama up at http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=103822, on the topic of Digital Comics. I was one of the people she emailed on the topic, but I wrote a statement, rathering than answering her bulleted questions, so I ended up mostly on the cutting room floor. Here's the entirety of what I wrote:

I'm fairly non-plussed, at this stage, about digital comics.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) Music, our primary source for "how will this impact us" analysis, is very different than reading. Music tends to be either something that is either a social function/lubricant or an activity that is done while doing something else (like, say, taking the bus, or studying or surfing the web). "Listening to music", I believe, in most cases for most people, most of the time, is a relatively "passive" activity -- most of the time you're not putting 100% of your focus ON the music, if you understand what I mean? This is not the case for "reading" (be it comics or prose) -- that's an "active" activity all of the time, and can really only be done alone. It makes sense for you to be able to carry 10k songs in your pocket. It makes less sense to have 10k comic books there.

2) Excluding a few audio-philes, the difference between an song playing on a MP3 over your computer's crappy speakers, or listening to a "tape" on your "Walkman", or playing a CD on your stereo is pretty much nil -- there's a portability between formats and the listening device, and so, naturally whichever format takes up the least space and costs the least will win.

The experience of "reading" is very different, and we're nowhere near the "portability" of music (or video, for that matter, though even that has a while to go) -- until there's a ubiquitous low-cost universal portable reader, I don't see the one we currently have (paper) being especially harmed. And even then I have my doubts.

(the corollary of that point is there's every reason to believe that digital "sampling" can lead to increased sales of physical objects)

3) Unlike prose, the physical presentation of content matters very much -- a comics page is usually designed as a unit, and the "timing" of the story depends on its physical space. Reading comics formatted for a comic's dimension is a wholly different experience on a computer screen. How successful would digital music have proven if you had to fiddle with the balance controls for each and every song?

I think digital comics are inevitable, but I don't think, at this stage, they should be feared by the quality DM retailer, because the disadvantages of the experience, portability, and presentation don't prove much of a "threat" to the physically printed object.

'cuz, y'see, right now this very second, you can get this week's comics, for 100% free, from the net, yet comic sales are on their 6th straight year of rise. Yes, there are some percentage of people who would like to switch to digital, but haven't done so for ethical reasons (yay, them!) or technology know-how ones, but I don't think they'll be statistically significant; and I think they'll be outnumbered by the new people we expose to the art form.

At least for stores that are "civilian-friendly", diversely stocked and focused, and are taste-makers rather than trend-followers.