So with little to report from the con I thought now would be the perfect time to publish a recent interview I did with a colleague of mine, Dr. Julian Chambliss. There is a brief bio at the bottom of this post, but just to provide a little background: I first met Julian when he organized a section on Comic Book History for the Florida Conference of Historians where I presented a paper at a panel he moderated. Since then Julian has joined the staff at Popmatters where he has contributed several excellent articles, and is currently editing an anthology of essays - including one by me - on comic history. As both a scholar and a giant fanboy, I thought his perspective on the future of the industry would be an invaluable addition to this blog. Enjoy and please feel free to comment!
What first got you into comics? When did you decide to dedicate a portion of your academic career to the study of this often neglected medium?
There is no question in my mind that the move toward digital is about expanding the readership for superhero comics. It is important to be specific. Superhero comics have increased their profits in recent years, but that profitability is built on event driven stories, superstar writer and/or artist, and license properties. In many ways, the "old" model of kids loving comics is not strong enough to sustain the comic industry in an era of multimedia digital entertainment. With superhero comic readers getting older, publishers need to find ways to entice customers to try comics. Moving to digital model put the products in front of more customers. For better or worst, the established comic customer is not driving this conversion. Superhero comics are, by definition, a destination purchase. The buyer goes out of his or her way to acquire the newest releases. They often do this by traveling out of their way. They go to a place that is socially and culturally marginalized. They are doing this because they know all of this, and they don't care. The comic book shop is a retail space catering to established customers and the person, driven by interest to seek it out. If the average comic fan's shop closes, they will go to another shop. It is unlikely they will stop buying comics. They are dependable consumer of the product. Digital is not about those readers or retailers. It is about the new customer, the marginal customer, and the curious customer. If Captain America's Essentials were a digital download for 9.99 on July 22nd to mark the opening of Captain America in theaters, how many people would download it? I don't know, but if every trailer mentioned that the deal was available for everyone with iPhone or iPad, I can't imagine it hurting business. This is the fundamental truth driving digital convergence. If you lose one diehard customer converting to digital, the odds are you will pick up one diehard digital subscriber, plus a few quarterly customers, someone interested in the back catalog, and who knows how many one time purchasers. If you don't convert to digital, you will keep one person, but loose the opportunity at many more. I think this is the logic that drives digital. The fact that DC announced the same price for digital and print is understandable. They don't want to alienate the established retail system. Still, the nature of the digital distribution makes the future look bleak for the