DC Comics unveiled this Wednesday their reimagined universe with Justice League #1, (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams). This isn’t an ordinary reboot per se.
Rather it’s the next evolution for comic books. As every comic book fan knows, on August 31, 2011 DC simultaneously released print copies of Justice League #1 and digital downloads of the same issue. While comic book shops received their copies on Tuesday, they weren’t allowed to put them up on shelves until their stores opened the next day. With the digital downloads, however, they were ready for consumers at 12 am midnight on Wednesday.
That already is one plus side for downloads and in theory this means that everyone, anywhere with Internet connections can get a copy of their favorite comic book. If you lived in big cities like New York that have many comic book stores it’s fairly easy to find any kind of comic book. But if you live in small towns, often you’d have to travel many miles scouring the landscape for a new release and hoping that the small store you find still has a copy of the release. That is if they even carried it in the first place.
This could spell trouble for comic book stores. But if they’re smart they can re-tool their business model and possibly gear their stores more to sell merchandise based on the comic books. That’s just one idea. Either way, they need to adapt or go the way of travel agencies and record stores that were decimated by travel websites and iTunes. But for fans and publishers, digital downloads are the way to go. But it’s not without its drawbacks.
First of all, it’s one hundred percent web dependant. If your Internet connection is poor or the signal is cut off you can’t read the comic book. See, if I was living in the Legion of Superhero’s perfect 30th century world where technology was very advanced this wouldn’t be much of a problem. But today, it is still easier for me to walk five feet over to my bookshelf and pick up a print copy than to turn on a computer or tablet or smartphone and search for the same comic book in digital form. Also, there’s no interactivity with the Justice League download. The word balloons and art are static, but on a plus side, there are no ads and the images are hi-res. In fact, the final four pages consist of costume sketches by Lee and Johns.
Being that it’s a protected download, you cannot copy it and send or sell it to a third party. If your friend wants a copy, he or she can’t just borrow a print copy and give it back to you; it has to be bought. For publishers this is a godsend since I think this may help boost sales.
Speaking of that, I believe that the downloads will wind up selling five times more than print copies. Eventually we may see sales totaling about 500,000 per issue versus today’s dismal 20,000-30,000 figure. Of course, I doubt it will equal or top the World War II figures of millions of copies per issue and that’s because there is so much media for comic books to compete with.
A good ripple effect from downloads is that poor-selling titles may have a longer life. Ordinarily, a comic book with low sales would be canceled for economic reasons. But if it switched to being solely a digital download then production costs will be low enough to keep it going. While fans of that title won’t be able to own a print copy, they can at least follow the title on-line.
As downloads and new apps and technologies emerge and come of age, it will be easier for new generations already accustomed to the new technologies to buy downloads and actually prefer it over running down to the store to buy a print copy. This is truly a game changer not only for DC but the comic book industry at large. Now for the perfect connectivity, what’s the name of that 30th century Internet service provider?