Super Man grounded? Great!
News that US comic books won’t be shipping any time soon to the UK because of flight restrictions provides an opportunity to examine how purchasing comics could change.
It’s rare that comic book readers are forced to go cold turkey.
Genuine delight in a comic book series can dissipate over time. But the habit of turning up to a comic store each week can mean that the purchase of a book continues well-past the point it ceases to be any good.
A comic is bought not because it is any good, but because it happens to be Thursday and that’s when you buy your new comics.
The result of this Pavlovian response? Money is funnelled into perpetuating bad work and diverted away from publishers who produce genuinely new and interesting work.
Readers aren’t without recourse during the drought.
The option of illegally downloading comics exists for those who really want to get hold of their monthly fix.
Such readers then realise they can continue downloading titles rather than pay, or, out of a sense of completeness download and then buy the print title – but only if they really liked the issue.
The driver behind these actions is that readers have to feel that the comic is worth their time downloading to begin with.
Downloading, as opposed to buying from a store, then speeds the decision of continuing to stick with a series – if a comic wasn’t, on review, worth the effort of downloading, you’ll remember that next time you see it on the shelf in store.
You’ll remember it doubly if you went through the awkwardness of reading the comic on your monitor, rather than in print, and deciding past the third page that it wasn’t worth the strain.
The speed of being able to download and sample complete comics therefore brings the quality and propensity of a customer to buy a print version into sharp focus.
Offering a print comic will have to become a different proposition, in the same way that offering an album has had to become, given the speed that customers can access and digest singles.
The legal download market for comics isn’t mature as yet to support a full publisher switch-over from print to digital, but the soon commonplace $3.99+ price point for single issues will tip this the other way.
But will digital downloads lead to greater varieties of works being produced as well as purchased?
I’d like to say, yes. But I’m doubtful.
As ash spreads through the skies, there is little on the floors of comic shops in the way of UK produced comics ready to fill the gap left by American publishers.
And even if there were, would UK readers be willing to give them a second glance or would they just hold their dollar for more super hero action?
While the channels for buying comics and the medium for reading them will undoubtedly change, our biggest hope for the continuation of a comic industry lies with what we have to offer readers when Super-Man stops flying.