A New Future For Digital Comics And Retailers, From Tony Panaccio

Tony Panaccio used to run CrossGen’s digital comics line. So, yes, he has stories. But he also has an idea about a possible future for digital comics and comic book retailers.

I think a lot at night. This is what I came up with after reading more of the Mark Waid tweets on digital comics.

Back in the day, I launched CrossGen’s comics on the web. I even reported sales figures that reflected print gains based on digital promotions.

Since that time, the digital landscape has changed dramatically, and retailers — who have propped up the print comics industry on very weary shoulders for years — are starting to wonder how much longer their shops will be necessary.

I have a business model that I’ve cooked up, based on my experience in digital (which dates back to my co-authoring The Guide to Electronic Publishing for Prentice Hall back in 1996) and in comics that I believe is a great launching pad for a discussion on how retailers can become players in the digital realm and even become a hub for the community of online comics consumers.

The basis of the business model is a departure from micropayments. Instead, publishers would offer subscriptions for a deeper base of content, which they all now offer. The three subscription models would go from the low ($9.95 for a month of 6-10 comics, $19,95 for a 3-month subscription, or $49.95 for a full year). Retailers could sell top-up cards like a prepaid cell phone for those subscriptions, taking 10 to 15 percent as their marketing fee for each.

Now, why would retailers sell those? Because it has been proven that digital comics distribution actually helps increase print orders in some cases. I have the numbers from my CG days to support this.

Moreover, retailers could then bundle that subscriptions plan with an in-store subscription plan. The higher the print orders, the more the discount across the board, the same way they do them now. The revenue they generate from the digital subs will be minimal, but retailers could market those subs as a way for customers to try out new series with lower risk. More often than not, those digital subs will result in print sales of the “tryout” book, and pad their bottom line. When new books are launched, their sales typically drop after launch, because most comics shop customers have a limited amount of money they can spend each month. However, creating a way for the store to shift some of those dollars to newer books can help create new growth where it was moribund before. Moreover, it can hep new books survive, and publishers will see them surviving, and be inclined to launch more new titles. As far as comic publishing goes, the key popular titles will always sell. It’s getting the new titles to move that will keep traditional comics alive. That’s how retailers can make the digital paradigm work FOR them instead of AGAINST them.

Retailers can take part in the digital revolution, but their participation must be strategic and targeted so they can reap longer term benefits and keep print comics alive. Make sense?

Possibly. But, I asked, why would people buy these cards from retailers rather than just download the codes?

The idea would be that only retailers would carry the subscription cards. Fans could buy single issues online, but they’d get a better deal with the sub cards. That drives the bulk business to retailers and maintains the micropayment business model for comixology and other download sites.

Why would publishers only sell to retailers? Why not direct?

The smart ones would find huge direct benefits for selling subscriptions through retailers. It gives publishers something they don’t currently have for online comics – a sales force.

Online comics are a passive purchase, driven only by online ads and pr. The sites are up and they wait for people to traffic them. Having retailers as sales agents will make online comics an active sale instead of a passive one, and they will sell a lot more than they would without it.

Plus, those who buy print comics regularly are less likely to buy digital, because they prefer the printed product. Selling to those customers represents much needed growth in online comics sales.

It’s a theory. But what do you think?

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