Monday, October 29, 2007

INDUSTRY RANT: The game has changed!

Oh, wait, comics aren't music... damn!

A couple weeks ago though, the music industry changed, with another huge move towards all digital, when Radiohead announced they're new album, In Rainbows, would be released online, and by them, direct. Regardless of what you think of their decision to make the album available at whatever cost, including free, they'll still take in likely bushels more than what a record company would give them. No middleman, no media, just 0's and 1's for pennies on the dollar. Artist makes more, fan pays less, that's what digital can, and I think should, mean.

That's the future of entertainment (at least the near one), and hopefully comics.
I know in the past I've ranted here about the pending switch to direct digital distribution, and the Radiohead model (one adopted suddenly by a slew of other big name artists including NIN, and Madonna) is a perfect illustration, providing the content, directly from the creator, to the public model, with no distribution or manufacturing required.
Holy shit that's nice!
Look, I don't want to bemoan Diamond, or any other cogs in the wheel of the comic book industry, but if an artist can release their work directly to the market, without inflating prices and sharing profits, that's the ideal state. Don't cry for the retailers or any other party who loses out here, they only exist because the artist needs them to reach an audience, and well through the magic of technology, we don't any longer.
Sure, for music, it's much more streamlined, there's no loss (perceived or otherwise) in quality, the product is the same, whereas comics, are still waiting for a better application to replace, or at least make it not so radically different, from paper.
With PSP's, and now Iphones, and other ereader/digital tech on the horizon, it's getting closer at hand.

In Rainbows is just the latest step in that direction, and possibly a big one.

I for one can't wait for the next!

And yes, I know the great majority of comic buyers are old school paper purists, but you can't argue spending $3 for a read vs .25 cents, or even a dollar, you just can't, not once you can nearly replicate the experience via some portable device.
And if you want to further argue that print will always exist, to some extent, fine, no doubt, just like Radiohead plan to release a deluxe disc edition down the road, there will of course still be a potential market for tangible edition items.

Also, before anyone gets too critical of me for wanting a bigger cut of my profits, consider that I'm a self publisher selling in the bottom range of market, a market that's increasingly hostile and unreceptive to my efforts. So to me, digital is an even brighter opportunity to make my art, and passion, viable.


Keath007 said...

I agree wholeheartedly, although I wonder with everyone able to upload their own creations how readers are going to be able to filter out what they want.

A benefit to mortar and bricks retailers is they provide a knowledgable person able to guide a curious reader to new titles. There's no shortage of websites offering reviews and commentaries on both mainstream and indie comics - I suppose they'll fill that void.

But much like what happened when it became cheap and easy to record your own songs and put them online, there's going to be a sudden proliferation of, frankly, bad art and bad storytelling. That's fine - everyone's got to start somewhere - but it also means creators will have to step up in getting their work above the noise, connecting with potential new readers, and finding a way to market themselves in a flooded corner of the web.

In short, the easier it is to get your work online the harder it is to get it noticed as everyone gets in the game. Readers get more selection but it gets harder to find what they want.

I don't know which is easier: a creator working to establish themselves within the current system or a creator getting their work known in the coming digital explosion of content, but at least with the latter the creator can do whatever they want since there's little to no financial risk for third party publishers.

I can't wait to see all the cool stuff that's going to come out of it!

Jason Martin said...

Yes, there are certainly a myriad of issues, no arguing that, and getting your work in front of people is surely one of them (though signal-to-noise in today's direct market comics industry is certainly similar), but I'm just excited about the potential of artists setting reasonable costs, and consumers potentially being able to sample a much wider array of material.

Keath007 said...

Absolutely - that's one thing I love about small press comics - a wide array of styles and stories at a price cheap enough you're willing to take a chance :)

Javier Hernandez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Javier Hernandez said...

Good commentary by you here (as usual). Of course, even with the online/downloadable comic books, the eventual collection in a trade paperback seems like it'll likely stay. Plenty web-comics seem to go that route. It puts a bigger chunk of money in your pocket and keeps your comic out in the 'real' world.

keath007 is right about an artist trying to get their book 'seen' in the coming tide of online comics. But the same is true about trying to find shelf space at the comics store. Basically, a well done and interesting comic book will find it's audience, as long as the creator is aggressive and creative in reaching the marketplace.

Jason Berek-Lewis said...

Jason, I always thought you were spot on with these sorts of ideas. I used to hate reading comics on screen, but this is something that I am becoming more used to and, hey, the future is coming, if not already here - there's no point running away from it!

The fact is that the print-based, Diamond centric market crushes the little guy - so forget the Diamond centric market! Up until now indy comics have always struggled to find a new distribution and marketing process; now it's here - it's the internet, stupid.

I don't think online comics content is a panacea for indy creators. There is a plethora of online content that creators will be up against. In a comic store, your book might leap off the spinner rack in a way that is appealing to a customer; that won't happen online. So product differentiation and marketing are the key.

But with thousands of industry websites, forums, chat rooms, blogs, etc the opportunities for promotion are endless and largely cost free.

My problem isn't so much with the online future, it's that I lack any tech savy to be a part of it. So, the key will be making it accessible to tech geeks and ordinary comic geeks too!

And, yes, I think online and then later printed collected editions will become the norm. I will be happy to read things online (for a small fee) and then buy the TPB to get all the extra goodies - I love having TPBs on my shelf and that isn't going to change any time soon!

So, how about making SR online and then coming out with a kick @$$ hard cover?