News came out the other day that Diamond, the company that handles all the distribution of all comic books in the west, have raised their purchase order benchmark from $1500 to $2500 - they now demand that each title they distribute generates at least $2500 worth of revenue to Diamond, or lose their distribution. This basically means that, in order to get their comics stocked, indie comics publishers are going to have to raise their cover prices for the second year in a row, row from an already costly $3.99 to a line-crossing $4.99/$5.50 for 20-odd pages of story and art.
“Diamond is in essence asking everyone to sell more in a recessionary environment or find themselves out of the catalog," said Slave Labor chief Dan Vado in an email published on Newsarama. "Short term, a lot of publishers are going to find themselves with no distribution.”
"Diamond actually stopped me from opening a comic shop back in '03 with their unreasonable minimum stock order demands," wrote Colin in an email today. "Now that they have the monopoly, it would seem that they have started to bugger it all up. Soon there wont be any comic shops aside Forbidden Planets, which are great but just the comic HMV. I feel download guilt (Only for comics though)..."
And there's the rub. While this minimum-return policy will force most independent comic books off the shelves and online, along with a great number of legitimate customers, the big Two - Marvel and DC - are still refusing to sell digital copies of all their comic books, despite the rapidly increasing free download culture sweeping the web.
Nowadays, every comic book that hits stores is collected as one illegal torrent download, and upped online every Wednesday, with update packs following every couple of days. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people download them, every week. What we're seeing is pretty much exactly what happened to the music industry between the late nineties and the mid naughties. And the comics industry is reacting in exactly the same, goonish, self-destructive manner.
Right now more people are reading comic books than have for decades. A recent spate of credible comic-based movies has piqued the curiosity of the mainstream, while their image as pure-geek fodder seems to be dissipating at the same speed that geek culture itself becomes celebrated, and accepted, by that mainstream. It is now possibly for anyone with a half-decent internet connection to cop all the comics they could want. Decent comics are now recognised by many as valid art - after decades of scorn, comic inspired art sells albums, books, movies and furniture polish by the truckload. Comics culture is reaching a tipping point.
And the industry isn't around to capitalise.
For as long as I've been alive, the only place you could buy a decent comic book was a comic shop. And there just aren't that many of them around. Where I grew up, the nearest comic shop was a four hour drive away, in another country - I only really discovered comics above the Beano age bracket when I was in hospital in Liverpool, aged seven.
Even here in London, finding a comic shop, and then finding a comic shop that stocks the comics I want to read, is a giant pain in the ass.
Then there's the shops themselves. The vast majority I have visited have been dusty, grotty, stinky bumholes full of overpriced toys and marked-up back issues, staffed by incredibly rude, overweight men with personal hygiene issues. I wish that this were just a stereotype, but in my experience, that has not been the case. Comic shops are usually anti-joy and anti-female (unless the female in question happens to be a cardboard cutout of a triple-F baring vampire that is).
Right now, a person need never visit a comic shop ever again. A person can download one of these illegal torrents, and read all the comics they like, whenever they like. If a person likes that comic, they can cop a hard copy from the publisher, or they can wait until it's collected in trade paperback format and buy it from Amazon. Most comics take 10 minutes to read anyway. I think we can all agree that 5 dollars for ten minutes of entertainment is a bit steep. It's like crack or something. Best to wait for the trade paperback, and enjoy the digital copy in the meanwhile. Its not like anybody sees digital as the be all and end all of the thing - reading a physical copy is, for now, a better experience. Comics, unlike music, are a thing best enjoyed, and treasured, in a physical format.
The idiocy of the big publishers on this one is absolutely staggering. Had they, when the idea was mooted, years ago, digitized all of their published work, new and old, and made it available on a monthly subscription basis, or one off, dollar-a-book charges, they would be rolling around in huge piles of cash, and they would have halted the emergent pirate trade before it became the all encompassing, all-scanning beast it is now. If they'd brought in, and paid those early "pirates", scanning old books in order to preserve them for eternity, to share with friends, scanning new books so that they might be read by more than few hundred people... Well. We can only imagine. What is clear, is that if these dinosaurs don't change their ways immediately, there won't be all those comics for the scanners to upload every Wednesday, and what remains of the industry will continue its long, sad slide into bankruptcy.