Byte Me!

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when I said "There's a big announcement coming!", and then I had to walk that back a little? Well, hey, it's here, below the jump! So, like first off, I'm just going to lay this out person-to-person. You understand that I am a retailer, and I sell things for a living, but I don't sell here at Savage Critic. I (and my wonderful cohorts) tell you what they think, whether that's good or bad or indifferent or [Schrodinger's Cat]. While I'm working up to a good and/or service, I'm going to speak to you how I like to be spoken to: largely focusing on ones/(my) Perception of The Truth, rather than trying to Sell you on anything.

People think of me as anti-digital, I guess; though that's really not accurate at all. It's more that I'm against any kind "Everything will be 100% better with digital" thinking, because I don't think the "problem" with the comics market is access and availability, but, rather that we're a niche market, not a mainstream one. Even at our highest highs (boy, isn't Walking Dead doing pretty super?), we're still at just a small fraction of the viewers of that TV show.  WATCHMEN is past a million copies but, I think, short of two... while maybe something on the order of 15+ million people paid money to see it in a theatre, and hell, probably 3+ times that have watched it on DVD or streaming or cable or something else.  Meanwhile, it's extremely unlikely that the "Before Watchmen" books will sustain 100k+ sales, and it wouldn't shock me if some of the involved titles bottom out below 50k.

We've been through "The grass is greener!" more than once, most recently with the bookstore market, and, guess what? We can still count the number of million copy best sellers... well, probably not on one hand, but it certainly isn't a large club. And that's in a population of 250+ million people.

Comics are an acquired taste. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Hell, I think we're smarter and sexier because we know comics and "they" don't, but "they" are a long long long way from even beginning to embrace us.

Further, I truly think that comics that are created for paper are inherently better ON paper, because physical space is an important part of how comics "work". I especially think that panel-by-panel viewing thing that cmX has is the absolute work of the devil -- the gutters are exactly where the magic of comics fundamentally lies, and you can't remove that panel border and have it still be comics, exactly. I truly think that comics belong foremost as a print medium, and I think that most of the audience agrees, which is why we're running entirely counter-cyclical to any "normal" digital trends in this medium.

Having said all of that, it is obvious and clear that some people disagree, whether it is from honest cognitive disagreement, or "well, that would be nice, but there's no place within 100 miles that sells any form of comics" or, just, "fuck, I don't want clutter any more". What *I* think about the "purity" of the medium really means fuck-all, doesn't it, when there ARE obviously some number of people that want digital.

cmX has a retailer participation model, but I've actually read the contract that you have to agree to, and I thought it was flatly one of the most lopsided, unfair, and kind of blatantly evil documents I've ever read. Others surely disagree, and there are certainly some retailers who will say that they're generating large sums with no overhead. But I'm totally unwilling to do so under the contract cmX offered.

So, that brings us to Diamond comics partnership with iVerse to bring digital comics directly into retail stores. Most of Diamond's focus has been on a kind of "do you want fries with that?" digital copy upsell in store. Hell, maybe that can even work -- though I have a hard time picturing it, and, besides, the physical print market is already niche enough that physical retailers would be, I think, largely foolish to even raise the possibility that customers in their physical stores might migrate to digital (not that I think they WILL, as a mass) (but the REAL problem is that if the "wrong" 10% -- the heavy users who buy most of the comics; the cats who buy 20+ comics every single week -- shifts their business, the entirely possibility of much of the physical market kind of disappears for the other 90% of the participants, whether they want it or not)

All I know is that I'm sure as hell not going to promote digital within my individual physical sales environment. I think that's plainly counter-productive to my physical print-based business.

The internet, however, is different. I'll be surprised if even 1% of my regulars read this blog posting, or even an aggregation site's picking up on the "story". But there are hundreds, thousands, lots! of readers reading these words who will never set foot in my store for the simple reason that you're nowhere near me whatsoever. SOME of you are interested in digital comics.

And so for you few and proud and awesome!!!, I've very proud to announce that because I'm one of the very very few people who has both a Diamond account, as well as an internet review site, boom, now we're selling digital comics.

Yeah, didn't expect that, didja?

We're selling digital comics through iVerse's program, but as you see from that URL and site, that's branded as SavCrit, and ComixExp; and all sales are pretty much under Diamond's Terms of Sale, with the main exception of the split. As it is set right now, I get one third, Diamond and iVerse get one third, and the publisher gets the last third. I don't know how Diamond and iVerse are splitting dollars, but even in a crazy unfair world, I bet Diamond is still preserving most of the profit slice they normally get, while having almost no overhead at all.

(I'm losing 33% of my gross profit on publishers that cap in print at 50%, and 40% of my profit on a brokered publisher like Image, where it's 55% off. But the upside is zero inventory expense for unsold copies.)

I know that there's going to be a vocal contingent of people who will say "yeah, but I use comiXology, and don't want a second system", and I feel you, I really do, but y'know, in this app based world I kind of have to file that one under "white people problems" -- switching between apps really isn't hard.

I don't expect anyone to really just go and "graze" at the store, instead what we'll do is, when we're reviewing a book that we also have for sale, there will be a hotlink to that book. I wish this happened a different week (Onomatopoeia, and order form this week!) so I'd have a proper review up at the same moment to show you how it works in practice, but pretend as I reprint this one from last week:

PROPHET #24: Ugh, now THIS is comics! Man, I don’t even know what this bit has to do with anything in the first three issues (same character, wholly different scenario), but I also don’t care, because it’s such fun science fiction, AND we get some wonderful artwork from Farel Dalrymple. I think I’ve said this before, but this reminds me of nothing less than HEAVY METAL from the 1970s, amazingly inventive and lavishly illustrated science fiction that may or may not make a ton of sense, but who cares because the passion just drips off it. I think this is truly EXCELLENT work.

Something like that, anyway -- I may not link the review summary word now that I see it looks kind of ugly. Either way, it's meant to be unobtrusive and not all "Buy!"-y

There are drawbacks to iVerse & Diamond Digital -- the first being that the back library  is, right now, only a few months behind. The second being a fairly small number of publishers represented -- Ape, Arcana, Archie, Bluewater, Boom!, Broadsword, IDW, Image, Top Shelf and Viper. More, we presume, will be added as time goes on.

Also, I'm told that while you can buy comics using Firefox, you'll have to READ THEM (if you're doing so on a browser, rather than using the app) on a different browser for now. That kinda sucks.

All of "my" (1/3) share of the digital sales will be split evenly amongst the SavCrit participants while we test this -- so if you've always wanted to support the site, but have felt like you didn't want to do a direct Paypal donation or something (though certainly feel free to do that, as well), now you can buy comics and understand that it keeps Graeme and Jeff doing podcasts (and maybe even written reviews again, wouldn't THAT be nice!), or John one step closer to that high powered telescope, so he can watch EVERYthing that Howard Victor Chaykin does, and so on and so forth.

Oh, the last thing is that I, like Mark Waid before me, intend to be fairly open about the success and / or failure of this initiative. I suspect that once a year I'll pop in with a "this is how digital is doing" post.

Well... that's about that, I think? Please feel free to offer comments in the thread below, though I doubt I'll be able to answer any tech questions whatsoever.

So, what do you think?