While at Comic Con this year I attended three panels on the impact of digital comics on the medium and the industry. There were multiple panels this year on the subject that I wanted to go to, but as anyone who has even been to San Diego when the geeks descend knows you never have time to do half and what you intend.
The first panel was called Digital Comics and You. It was moderated by a journalist from iFanboy, and included comic book creator Ben Templesmith, Micah Balwin from Graphic.ly, talent agent Scott Agostoni, and James Sime, owner of Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge. The overall discussion focussed on the potential benefits of digital comics for creators and fans. Templesmith noted that his digital motion comic prequel to the game Dead Space received over a million downloads, and that the new mediums offer a great place to find new readers for his back catalog as it gets digitized. Baldwin discussed the opportunity for creative liberation where creators can do whatever they want instead of being anchored by a particular company's format. He stated that the emphasis should be on creating a stable platform, not worrying about a standardized formula. Sime, whose comic book store is noted for its laid back atmosphere, thinks that digital comics allow companies to access new readers which then become new customers for the brick and mortar stores. The panel as a whole agreed that the industry needed to change its emphasis on monthly single issue comics, and adapt to the new digital reality. They also referred to the term "Transmedia," as a meaningless jargon word that didn't really mean anything.
Thoughts on this panel: Overall I thought it was very interesting. The people offered an exciting look on the potential digital comics have to attract new customers, and allow for greater creative innovation for writers and artists. However, a few things did raise some concerns for me and I would have asked a question had there been enough time. First, I felt that Sime's opinion that digital comics weren't going to hurt brick and mortar stores was a slightly inaccurate view in the long run. He used Warren Ellis' Freak Angels as an example. He stated that after reading the online comic he had customers come into his store and ask if he had any Ellis books. So he was able to sell several trades to a customer that would never have known who the creator was had it not been for a digital comic. While I think his comment is true in the short-term, I think in the long run it stops being beneficial. What happens when Ellis' back catalog finally gets digitized? Once the industry really starts seeing some money from this sources, they are going to rush to digitize their inventory. And since changes to the book publishing market suggest that people aren't clinging to traditional printed material for love of paper the way some thought they would, what happens to the comic book store when all titles are available online and people no longer desire a printed copy, but are content with a digital alternative?
I'm working on an essay for popmatters.com right now that examines this issue. I'm hoping to get some perspective from some other retailers.
Over the next couple of days I'll be posting the notes I took from the other panels.