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Why IGN’s Flickr Map of Comic Book Shops Hurts the Industry

Private information is practically the source of every large modern fortune. – Oscar Wilde

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On Friday, the comic book blog IGN launched an initiative to map comic book shops across the nation by crowdsourcing material from others.  On Saturday DC Comics Twitter account linked to the page and encouraged individuals to take part.  Not long after, we cringed knowing this was not only the wrong way to go in executing a project like this, but also how it could be harmful to the industry.

DC didn’t agree with our cringing about supporting such effort, but to really explain our stance it’d take more than 140 characters.  First off, DC naively claims it helps the comic book industry.  We disagree.

First lets look at who’s putting this together, IGN.  IGN is owned by New Corporation, the same company that owns MySpace, Ask Men, The New York Times and Fox News among other things.  News Corporation, run by Rupert Murdoch isn’t out to benefit the comic book industry, it’s goal is to pad it’s bottom line and make it’s stock holders happy.  That’s through encouraging hits on a website, ratings for a television show or selling newspapers.

As we’ve chronicled, News Corp. division Fox News and numerous other newspapers have used the comic book industry as a punching bag printing hyperbolic articles that encourage rage against the industry and drives sales of News Corps. products, not comic books.  In turn they sell advertisement to that same industry it bashes on IGN.  But in the end, we can’t blame a corporation for looking out for itself.  That’s what it’s supposed to do.  IGN might cover the comic book industry, but it’s not out to benefit the industry, it’s not supposed to.

What we have a major issue with is there’s already a service like this, the Comic Shop Locator.  The service is sponsored by Diamond Distributors, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Image, Gemstone Publishing and Previews.  You’re able to search for comic book shops using your address and get addresses of the shops, maps, driving directions, images and websites if available.  This data is already mapped on Google Maps.  By encouraging the participation in IGN’s mapping project, it takes away the focus away from this already available service.  It minimizes this existing industry supported and supportive tool and instead encourages fans to go to a walled off garden.

How do I know the Comic Book Locator benefits the industry?  Try Free Comic Book Day.  Using this existing tool and database, comic book companies, publishers, distributors, writers, artists and fans promote a day a year where comic books are given away for free, encouraging an audience to give the industry a chance.  I don’t believe News Corps. provides this.

Instead of launching a competing service we should be encouraging improvements in this already available and useful source of information.  The data is already there.  It’s already mapped.  Why reinvent the wheel?  There’s no need for a publisher to encourage fans to crowdsource data for a private company whose focus is itself.  We don’t need another walled off data set controlled by a not always friendly corporation.

Where do we go from here?

Data yearns to be free.  I’ve spent years doing data work in politics, mashing together supporter data, donation data, voting history among other things.  We should be encouraging the Comic Shop Locator to “free” the data so, we the industry supporters can enhance it, manipulate it or best, mash it up with other data.  Think a Sunlight Foundation for the comic book industry.  Here’s the basic gist of what the Sunlight Foundation does:

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike. We are committed to improving access to government information by making it available online, indeed redefining “public” information as meaning “online,” and by creating new tools and websites to enable individuals and communities to better access that information and put it to use.

Through APIs or making the already existing Google Map available, we the industry, bloggers and fans can use that data to better promote and analyze the industry.  This goes beyond comic shops, this also should be encouraged for sales data.  Imagine a mashup of store locations and where comics are sold.  How about a map of stores and events?  How about adding Flickr channels, links to social networks, private events, our imagination is our limit.  All of this, and more, is possible with some simple changes.  We should be encouraging crowdsourcing that benefits each other, not one corporation.

The comic book industry’s future is with it’s fans and allowing them to evangelize on it’s behalf.  By putting the data out there for those who know what’s possible and how to do it, we could discover patterns others might not notice, and tools that could benefit everyone.  We need encourage transparency and open source, not walled off data silos.

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