I don't write here very often. For a long stretch my involvement with my political blog (and the other blogs with which I engaged in one manner or another) consumed all of my blogging time. Recent medical issues had me away from the computer for longer stretches and I find that politics are depressing me more and more. Worse (for me, at any rate, as I always expect to be depressed by politics) is the fact that I am actually beginning to get frustrated by the argument/debate that goes along with this activity. This is rather significant for me, as I love an intelligent argument and this love was one of the reasons I began blogging.
However, as I have begun to recover, I have been spending more time at Comic Book Resources than I did before my illness. I still haven't begun to budget reading comics back into my monthly luxury allowance (I dropped them when I was let go from my last job working for someone else) but I am planning to do so and like to keep an eye out at what I think is the best fan site out there.
As I was working today, two articles caught my attention. The topic was digital media versus print media and how digital media would affect the comics market. The first article I read was by Brian Hibbs in his 'Tilting at Windmills' column. Mr. Hibbs was championing print over digital and explaining why there was not going to be an immediate digital revolution.
The second was by Erik Larsen in his excellent, but sometimes inaccurately named, column 'One Fan's Opinion.' Mr. Larsen's article was championing digital media over print and explaining why the digital revolution, regardless of its immediacy, is inevitable.
While there is some appearance of opposition in these articles, they are actually less opposed to one another than they first appear. Mr. Hibbs does an excellent job of outlining the reasons for which the digital revolution will not be immediate and I agree with him one hundred percent... but Mr. Larsen points out just how quick and easy it would be for a smart businessperson (perhaps an oxymoron today, especially in the comic book industry, but one never knows) to eliminate those obstacles and get the digital revolution rolling very soon thereafter.
Now, I have very selfish reasons for preferring print media to digital media: I am nearsighted and wear glasses to do everything but read a book in my hands. My computer screen is at just the right range that I have to wear my glasses to read my screen and type. It is much easier for me to read a book without my glasses and with no risk of eyestrain from staring at my computer screen. I do have several comics on my computer, but they often sit there unread for long periods and I cannot devour them the way I can a print booklet or a trade. It's just unpleasant for my eyes. If I want something badly enough for repeat reading then I buy it in print unless it is simply impossible for some reason. As soon as it becomes possible, I get it.
I agree with Mr. Larsen that the digital revolution is inevitable in some form. When someone markets an affordable reader and prices content reasonably, we will see an increase in electronic media for reasons of convenience, disposability, and storage.
I understand why Mr. Larsen, as a creator and publisher (and let's be frank, it is creators and publishers to which the digital medium primarily appeals, for economic reasons that his column outlines very eloquently) would be drawn toward the opportunities created by digital media. Nor is it hard to see why Mr. Hibbs, as a retailer (the people with the most to lose from a digital revolution), feels very much the opposite. The fact that I agree with Mr. Hibbs' sentiments but think Mr. Larsen's predictions are likely accurate does not sit well with me.
The problem with digital media is that, despite the statements to the contrary made by supporters of the internet, digital media is not democratic but rather fundamentally elitist. It presupposes the existence of disposable income to purchase a means of viewing digital media. Whether that is a personal computer, a cellular phone, or a Kindle is beside the point. One pays an added cost to view digital media that one does not pay to view print media, and it is generally a far more significant cost than charged for the content itself. Reading comic books already tends to the expensive side and the current comic book readership is very likely to own a personal computer. So this does not appear a significant obstacle at first glance.
Creators, publishers, retailers, and critics all note the need for comic books to pull in a wider readership than they do at the present time. Sure, when things are great they ignore this and many publishers address the issue poorly even when they pay it attention: a case in point is the (very good, but quality is not the sole point in drawing in a wider readership) attempt to bring in more female readership by Marvel with their 'White Tiger' mini of a few years back (or the Daughters of the Dragon series before that, or the Dakota North mini before that, or the original Daughters of the Dragon mini, or Spider-Woman... see my point?) which attempted to drag in female readers with a female main character and a popular young adult novelist writing the title. The concept was perfect, but the book was Daredevil with a female lead rather than a book designed to appeal to a different audience than Daredevil already reached. Despite this failure of execution, however, even publishers agree they need to reach a wider audience.
Which turns back on the elitism of digital media. I just don't see the typical casual reader abandoning books for Kindles on a large scale. People who don't buy comics because of the price tag aren't going to buy digital readers.
I don't mean to say that the comics book industry won't do better than it is now by switching to a digital medium. They might.
I do mean to say that the elusive wider audience we all wish comics would pull in is not hiding on the internet. The people who will buy digital comics are the people buying print comics now. The industry may make more money off them, but as difficult as the project has been the wider audience is in print. Not in silicon.
The digital medium just might be successful enough to drive people like Mr. Hibbs out of business, however.
The history of American business suggests that this is inevitable, but I don't have to like it.
Hopefully, I'm not the only person who doesn't care for the eyestrain that comes from reading comics on the computer and that will make the difference.