Comics Realism: The Injustice of Digital Comics & Trade-Waiting

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Bleeding Cool’s newest columnist, John Babos, has been blogging about comics and pop culture for over a decade. In addition to his weekly weekend column “Comics Realism” at Bleeding Cool, he continues to write “Demythify” a Monday weekly column for Comics Nexus. The title Comics Realism is inspired by the theory of Fictional Realism that asserts that all fictional characters exist out there, somewhere, for real.

After writing about Age of Ultron, Flashpoint, and the enduring challenge of Comic Book time in my latest Demythify column, I’m a changing gears a bit for this week’s Comics Realism column.

Let me start by noting that I don’t read digital comic books. I appreciate that many comic book publishers have added a digital option for their traditional print offerings. I see the digital comics format as another way to get your floppy comics; an option the same as collected editions in trade paperback (“trade”) or hardcover format.

I remember years ago when the “waiting for the trade” mentality of some readers was chided by publishers because that approach was thought to cannibalize the monthly readership of said comic book that was to get the trade treatment. If the monthly comic couldn’t sell well there would be no trade to read later that collected said monthly storyline.

This proved true in many cases and other cases trades only enhanced monthly readership.

The trade format proved so successful, in the 2010’s we now have direct to trade or collected edition books – with new content – being released in comic book shoppes and in with big box book sellers. DC Comics has their Earth One hardcover editions, Marvel has their Season One offerings, while other publishers have generally yet to embrace this approach likely due to economies of scale. I imagine we’ll see more collected-edition-first offerings going forward.

In terms of digital comics, many vocal folks had the same type of reservations when DC Comics decided to be first publisher to offer all of their core comic books, their DC New 52 line in particular, in digital and traditional floppy format on the same date or “day-and-date”. Many folks were still skeptical and suggested that the digital format would cannibalize existing readership.

Interestingly, that didn’t happen. The overall comic book readership grew due to the DC New 52 and later grew a bit more with Marvel Now. More people were coming into brick and mortar stores and buying comics from DC, Marvel and other publishers too.

On top of that, the industry gained even more readership due to the digital option; while, yes, some of the traditional readership switched to digital.

However, due in large part due to the “look at me” branding of the DC New 52 and Marvel Now initiatives, coupled with date-and-date, in both floppy and digital formats there was net industry readership growth.

When I wrote my first column for Bleeding Cool a few weeks ago on the Content-Win, But Brand-Fail of the DC New 52, I ended up having an extensive twitter discussion with Matt SantoriGriffith concerning marketing, audience segmentation, and other traditional branding concepts.

Since that time, I have come to realize that with digital audiences, “traditional” anything is out the window; traditional comics, traditional branding, traditional you-name-it.

What led to this ah-ha? Well, DC Comics, as an example, in addition to doing day-and-date is also doing digital-first comics. The comics are generally distributed in smaller weekly bits and collected later in traditional floppy comic book format.

I had assumed that we had a finite chunk of traditional comic book readers – new readers, lapsed yet returned readers, and veteran readers – that just have more formats to select from: monthly floppy format, weekly / monthly digital, and trade / collected edition format.

However, the DC Comics Injustice “video” game shattered my traditional notions. While I grew up in the video game revolution of the 1980’s, I haven’t played a video game – or should I call the just “games” since digital killed the video star ;) – whether in an arcade, on a computer, on an X-Box, on a phone or whatever since the early 2000’s. A lot has changed since then. I hadn’t contemplated that the gamer audience was a net new audience when it came to comic books.

How else does one explain that the DC Comics Injustice gamer audience has driven the digital comic book “Injustice: Gods Among Us” tie-in to the top of Comixology’s digital comic charts around the world?

For March 2013, Injustice #3 was ranked 118 in floppy comic book sales. Now, that placement means it sold better than that month’s offerings of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, Marvel’s Captain Marvel, and Image’s Spawn, but I wasn’t expecting a comic book that isn’t even in the Top 100 of traditional comic book sales to so significantly dominate Top 10 digital comics charts all around the world; not just with its newest offerings, but its digital back issues too.

Clearly there is a significant, likely a hefty majority, of DC’s Injustice gamers that get their comic book fix – if they are interested in a comic book tie-in to begin with – digitally. That means ancillary properties like online games are bringing in new audiences to the comic book medium.

This may prove that digital comics generally speaking bring new readers into our fandom which in turn means that the comic book – in all its various output format options – will thrive for years to come. Which “format” will endure is another question, but a “comic book” looks here to stay.

What about those collected-edition-first endeavours? Well, they aren’t killing the comic book industry either. When DC’s Superman Earth One Volume 2 was released, it topped The New York Times’ Hardcover Graphic Books Best Seller List at #1 for its initial three weeks.

Alternate comic book formats whether date-and-date or collected-edition-first approaches only help grow the industry and readership. These formats are net positives for all of us comic book lov’n types.

That was difficult for me to grasp. My mind has been expanded.

Thanks for reading. All feedback welcome.

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