I joined the 21st century a few weeks back, and bought myself a smartphone. Not a very exciting story, but the phone I had wasn’t so much on it’s last legs as bouncing on the remaining stump that oozed pus as a result of the gangrene. I hate phone shops, they make me feel like I’m the next test subject for Portal, so I did what I was always do when I have to deal with something I’m not very sure about: I got drunk first.
After leaving the store, having spent money I can ill afford on this thing, I spent an hour looking at it, swearing at it, wondering why it wanted to know if I wanted to download any ‘apps’. I’m a Luddite, I admit it. You have to drag me screaming to new tech. Which is one of the reasons I’ve held off on reading comics on the internet, somehow it doesn’t ‘feel’ like I’m really reading the content unless it’s on the printed page.
But this app flashed up. Comixology. I kind of knew about this thing. Okay, well, free comics. That’ll tide me over getting to work. Turns out I actually am quite happy reading funnybooks on a phone. Looking at this thing, I thought ‘If I wanted, I could just buy all of ‘Blackest Night’ right now. In fact, if I did, it’d work out a bit cheaper than popping to the shop and buying it. Also, I wouldn’t need somewhere in my house to store it once I’d finished reading it.’
Which stopped me for a second, and got me worried.
I don’t know about you, but my home looks like the night after an explosion in a Diamond warehouse, the place is wall-to-wall trades, hardbacks, long boxes, the like. And I’m pretty picky with what I buy. If I spend more than 10 quid on comics in a week, it’s a heavy one. I got very lucky with a bolt from the blue a few years back that said ‘There is no point owning all the issues of Avengers. You will not reread them.’ So I tend not to buy anything I’m not going to read that day.
But still, I’m 34, I’ve been buying this stuff for over 20 years and there’s loads of it. Storage is a problem for me, and God knows what’ll happen if I need to move again.
And again, I’m looking at my phone. Before, the comixology thing was a brief doo-dad. I’d read a 1st issue of something I had been meaning to try out anyway. Now I’m wondering, honestly: ‘If I can simply click on a link, pay via my debit card, have the comics sent to my phone and read them a minute later…. why am I paying the travel fare to go the comic shop, hope that the shop has ordered enough copies of everything I want, read them and then get home to try and find space for something I already don’t have room for?’
Before, the answer was simple; very little stuff comes out on legal comic websites the same day as the hard copy. We’re hardcore; we want the new stuff now. But come September, DC starts putting out their relaunched books online the same day they ship to comic shops.
Thinking as a reader and all round lazy git: WIN!
Thinking as a person who’s been involved in comic shops since I was 15…. SPIDER-SENSE…TINGLING!
Honestly, I think we should be worried. Or rather, more worried. Amazon, eBay and Abebooks have already taken a large chunk of the new trade paperback, graphic novel and back issue market from brick and mortar stores. This is going to hurt, because there’s no way that Marvel aren’t going to follow suit on this same day hard copy/digital release date sooner rather than later. Once that happens, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, etc will have to follow suit. More over. I don’t think that the $2.99 price point is going to stick around. I think it’s an appeasement to make retailers feel alright for a while and it’ll be interesting to see how the online price war is going to manifest itself.
So, the end is nigh, and all that. Except it doesn’t have to be.
The video game industry has gone through a similar problem in the last few years, and I can’t imagine Sony and Microsoft endeared themselves to gaming retailers when they started offering full games to download from the PS3 and Xbox Live community sites, so they upped their game (pun intended).
Instead of miserable, cliquey anti-women dives run by people more interested in looking at the product than talking to the customers, they created an environment that’s pleasant to be in, with knowledgeable, friendly staff. I’m not very aware of gaming stuff beyond ‘plug machine into socket, put disc in tray, pick up controller.’ But I know if I wander down to my local Gamestation, they’ll tell me what I need to do, whether I need to buy a thing and where I can get it if they don’t have it.
There are things to be learned from this, because the one thing comic shops can provide that the Internet never will is the sense of real community. It ought to be a fun, distracting bit of the day to pop along and pick up this week’s new stuff, not a grim pilgrimage. So with no disrespect intended, some suggestions:
If the person behind your counter doesn’t know the difference From Hell, Hellboy and Sin City: To Hell and Back: You’re doing it wrong.
If they, and more importantly, you don’t care that they don’t know: You’re doing it wrong.
If you’re not encouraging your staff to read this week’s new releases, Previews and such so they know the answers to most of the questions they’ll be asked (Yes, that does mean you have to let them borrow stock): You’re doing it wrong.
If your answer to the question ‘Do you have a copy of Maus?’ isn’t either ‘Yes.’ Or ‘No, but we can order it for you.’ You’re doing it wrong.
If you’re not creating a sense of community, getting to know your customers, knowing what things they’d probably like to read but might not be aware of: You’re doing it wrong.
If you’re only bothering to chat to your regular customers and aren’t fostering the next generation of readers by being as friendly to them as well: You’re doing it wrong.
If you’re only ordering the things you personally like, regardless of people asking you constantly for things like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Boondocks, European works by Bilal, Jodorowsky, mini-comics from all around the world and actively being hostile to younger readers by not bothering with Manga, you’re essentially saying ‘I don’t want your money unless you’re buying the things I think are good!’: You’re doing it REALLY wrong. Go home.
I think the step forward is to aim to be like a library, to try to have all the evergreens in stock or make sure we can get them back in fast as possible. Take the holofoil variants off the wall, and push the things we like that are worth reading, not collecting.
We can do this. If we create an environment that people want to come into, that makes them enjoy the experience of buying comics, we’ll survive. If we pretend that nothing’s happening, carry on acting like Bernard from Black Books is a great role model for retail staff, we’ll die. Simple as that.