Digital vs Reality, Where Comicshop.net Gets it Wrong
In an article posted yesterday ComicShop.net responded to another article about digital sales, brick and mortar stores and the habits of bloggers for not quoting facts. The article spends the first half attacking bloggers while the second glosses over the bigger issue of digital sales versus real world retail.
When comic blogs speculate about the doom of shops as the digital option increases, they either refer to each other’s blogs as evidence. Or worse they lazily use the “some people say” method where they don’t have to actually cite anything, but speculate openly as if that all that’s being talked about on the street or in the square.
The generalization might be the case for the sites writer Chris visits, but he himself throws out statistics and makes assumptions in this article which aren’t “fact” either. Let me show an example.
When it comes to digital comics, let’s go with the assumption that the target demographic is the same as print which is 18-24 year-old males. Only 15.2% of iPad owners are between the ages of 18-24. That’s a lot of kids, but the majority of iPad owners are older and wealthier. And maybe that’s because of the price. The average income for 18-24 is $15k per year.
The article should be focused on facts about digital comics. It’s a growing area of retail and revenue, that is true. I wish I could throw out stats, but the companies that have shared those with me have sworn me to not divulge them, but it’s increasing leaps and bounds. At the same time, as those digital sales are increasing, physical sales seem to be shrinking, according to statistics published on sites like ICv2 or ComiChron, the year is down. At the same time, attendance is up at conventions. So what is the deal about digital sales and physical sales?
Comicshop.net is more than likely correct when it says that the death of Borders is likely due to poor management, not the state of print. At the same time, this article comes at the same time Atomic Comics announced it’s closing it’s doors. No matter how you cut it, sales are down, the stats show that. Is it due to the economy? Are people just tired of comics? We won’t have a real answer unless someone asks the customers the industry is hemorrhaging.
But, convention attendance is up. So, what’s the disconnect? Could it be people are tired of the idea of monthly serials? Do they not want to make weekly trips? Or, is the metric for sales not showing the complete picture? There is no one measurement that tracks digital, direct market and mass market sales. Maybe people are leaving stores and instead purchasing items from other sources like Barnes & Noble or Amazon? Maybe they’re going to digital sales instead?
The real figures of who is reading digitally is interesting. It’s not the youth Comicshop.net cites in their hyperbole of an argument. Doing a search on Facebook, those who identify they like digital comics is actually in the 31-40 year old range. The largest segment is those age 35-40. That skews older than the rest of the comic market on Facebook by over a decade. Digital comic fans (on Facebook) are older, and more educated. We can also guess that they probably have more income than their younger counterparts (but that’s conjecture).
If you really think comic shops are slowly dying off because of the demand for digital, your privilege is showing. Comic shops are dealing with a tough economy because comic books are a luxury—the first thing that gets cut when people are trying to save money. Food or comics? There’s no app for that.
But, what Comicshop.net fails to cite with this is statistics. Here’s actual sales numbers for DC and Marvel over the years. In a similar economic climate of the lates 70s, sales dipped, but stayed somewhat steady. The market also boomed during the recession of the late 80s and 90s at the same time gimmicks took off. The mass market was shrinking as the direct market grew.
During the 2000’s graphic novels exploded and have seen continued growth in popularity, but during that time period we also saw their increased exposure in the mass market and big box stores.
Instead of blaming the economy, which it seems sales is inconsistent, but slightly weaker, the history actually seems to show that sales has suffered from the loss of the mass market. That’s as much as the economy seems to be a likely culprit and issue. Less exposure in high trafficked and high exposure stores is where we should be looking as much as anywhere.