It seems like everyone these days is talking about the “future of comics” being digital. After all, everything is going digital. I myself spend a lot of time in this new digital world… I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD and I watched the entire last season of the Office on iTunes. I subscribe to a large number of podcasts, videocasts, & blogs. And I know a lot of people who do the same. It has taken over nearly every area of entertainment over the past few years, but here’s the thing…
I can’t think of ONE SINGLE PERSON who prefers to read comics online.
At HeroesCon there was a “state of the industry” panel, and as always with these panels, digital comics were brought up. Erik Larsen stated that he hated reading comics on a computer screen and Mark Waid said something to the effect of “but you’re not a 15-year-old kid.” And everyone took this as fact. That us “old guys” will never get the technology of the youth, but if we want to keep that new audience, we have to embrace it.
Well, Mr. Waid, can you tell me the name of one kid who reads comics online? I can’t. It doesn’t happen. And if it does happen it’s ONLY because they can get it for free online, through torrents and what not, NOT because it’s the preferred way to view them.
The truth is that comics are not meant for the computer screen. Just like novels weren’t meant for the computer screen. Just because it’s “online” does not mean that a younger generation will all of a sudden eat it up. If your desire is to capture the “next generation” of comics fans by going online, you’re wasting your time.
The comics industry is not going to get the “Halo” playing, YouTube watching kid. It’s not going to get the “Iron Man” or “Dark Knight” watching kid. It’s not going to get the “Lost” or “Heroes” watching kid. Because comics are not a “new” media. In fact, sequential art might be the oldest art-form we have.
The comics industry will never get the audience that doesn’t embrace the “classic” art forms.
The quicker we realize this, the quicker we can get onto the good news – We now have a FOCUSED target audience. The comics industry has a great chance at getting the “Harry Potter” reading kid. It has a great chance at getting the same mainstream audience who snatches up the latest Stephen King or Dan Brown novel… and these audiences are not reading the latest blockbusters online… they embrace the classic art form of READING, not VIEWING. It’s a very different thing.
In the broadest terms, comics are literature (apologies to Douglas Wolk). No one is going to flock to comics just because you put them online. Just like books, comics are not made for online viewing. Do you know anyone who read the latest Stephen King book online? The mass-market is never going to embrace that. Even the younger, fringe market is never going to embrace that. To use a bit of a stretched analogy, watching someone cook a meal on TV is never going to be the same as cooking one at home.
Once someone comes out with a high-quality, cost effective digital reading device (such as Amazon’s Kindle) things will certainly change. But only the DELIVERY of the comics will change (as the delivery of books changes). This is no different than going from VHS to DVD for movies. Instead of buying comics from your local store, you download it to your device. But if you didn’t previously watch movies, you’re not going to start watching them just because they are now on DVD. Even if one of these readers comes out, you’re only KEEPING UP with your existing audience, NOT creating a new one.
So, armed with this new realization, let’s focus our marketing efforts. Comics will NEVER be as popular as movies or television or video games. So, why try to compete with those markets? A comic has a good chance, however, of selling as much as a popular novel. I really believe that. I think that if “readers” had an opportunity to check out some graphic novels, they would be surprised by how much the entertainment value competes with the best-selling novels in the market. The audience is no longer “everyone,” it’s “readers.” And as this market is shrinking, it should be getting easier to target
Also, a HUGE related target audience is young kids who are just learning to read. This is where the movies & games industry can intersect the comics industry. If a little kid is into all the Iron Man toys, it could very well be that he learns to read with an Iron Man book. Or if a kid watches the Batman on Saturday mornings, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t go crazy for an all-ages Batman book. The key here is getting parents to realize comics are a great way to get kids reading. But again, even kids will only embrace this as a READING art form.